Anil Paranjape, an active member of the Pune Tech community, one of the driving forces behind PuneCleanTech, director at FusionTech Ventures, (and owner of Grubshup Restaurant) is joining a new cleantech fund, Infuse, as a Venture Partner.
Here are details of the announcement in his own words:
I am happy to announce my association with a unique new cleantech fund: Infuse Capital. I will be helping them as a Venture Partner.
Infuse (Indian Fund for Sustainable Energy) is a new fund with some of the most influential promoters and investors in India and the world.
Infuse is anchored by MNRE (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India), DST (Department of Science and Technology, Government of India), IIMA (Indian Institute of Management, India’s most renowned business school) and BP (the global energy giant). All four of these institutions have made substantial investments in the fund.
This first close will be followed by the second close thru a few other investors: mostly institutional and a few individuals (both Indian and Global)
Infuse is an early-stage fund focused exclusively on Clean Technology companies. We believe that our influential investors (such as MNRE, DST, IIM-A, and BP) bring us the best chances of developing a good pipeline and will make the crucial difference in helping our portfolio companies thru the right policy mechanisms, technical help, unparalleled business network, and global cleantech reach. No other fund can boast of active participation and funding by such institutions. As you all know, Cleantech investments and business is very tough because many issues such as technology, talent, business models, and policies need to work together. We feel that Infuse covers all these aspects with active investments from the best and the most influential Indian and Global institutions to do that.
Besides that, Infuse is backed by a very strong advisory committee (and investment committee) consisting of some of the biggest and most successful stalwarts of Indian and Global cleantech industry.
My role with Infuse will focus on building a robust pipeline, making investments and managing the portfolio with active help to the portfolio companies. All my current associations and engagements will continue.
Infuse is now open for business (inaugurated last month by Mr. Narendra Modi who is the most forward-looking politician in India and Dr. Faroukh Abdullah, the Minister of New and Renewable Energy) and we are actively building a pipeline. If you know of entrepreneurs and/or companies working in Cleantech and could be looking for funds, please connect them to me at email@example.com
Note: this is a very, very basic introduction to REST and should only be considered as an appetizer to get you interested in REST. There are major important aspects to REST that anyone who’s really interested in REST must understand, like server statelessness, hypermedia as the engine of state, which are not covered in this video.
(Mahendra Palsule is one of Pune’s most well-known people in the technology news / social web space in the world today due to his role as Editor at TechMeme, which is one of the most influential technology news websites. BlogAdda has a great interview of Mahendra where they cover his blogging, his work, personal life and other things. We have excerpted here, with permission, portions of that interview that are related to his work, for the benefit of PuneTech readers.)
Q: 19 years in IT industry and counting. You have been a witness to the fall and the rise of the industry. What have been your prominent observations in this period? Based on these observations and your experience, what changes do you predict in the next 10 years?
A: In the early days of my career, the entire IT industry in India was purely services-based. I always lamented the lack of product-based companies in India. Seeing the proliferation and rise of many Indian product-based companies and startups, is the most fulfilling observation in all these years.
Predictions for the future are always a dangerous game with many unknowns, but here are some I’d dare to make:
The Indian startup ecosystem will mature significantly in the coming years, making life a bit easier for entrepreneurs who undergo a difficult struggle today.
Indian IT outsourcing companies will face significant challenges and opportunities in several areas – getting qualified labor in India, diversifying geographically outside India, capitalizing on the growth of SaaS, etc.
In terms of overall online space, we are already witnessing a shift to a personalized experience. This will only get bolstered further in the coming years, with relevance filtering, giving you an optimal experience in everything you do online.
User behavior online will increasingly tend to share more publicly, leading to continued discussions and concerns about privacy.
User behavior online will increasingly tend to share more publicly, leading to continued discussions and concerns about privacy.
Q: Being a first ranker in college for all the years, is a fulfilling achievement. Can you share some very special moments from your college days that still bring a smile on your face when you think of it?
A: I was once asked by our Electronics professor to take a guest lecture on Multivibrators, in the middle of the year. When I started the lecture, I realized that my class wasn’t following me, because they had not understood what had been taught in the earlier months. So I reverted back, asked them if they knew how a transistor worked. By this time, our class got bold enough to be frank and replied in the negative.
So, I eventually ended up starting with basics of how diodes worked, followed by transistors, and then covering multivibrators over a span of 3 lectures. After I was done, my fellow-students suggested that we get rid of our Electronics professor and just use me instead.
Q: ‘Mahendra embodies the ideal Program Manager I would like to be working with’ & ‘He is one of the best Project Manager I’ve worked with’ is what some of your ex-colleagues say about you. You are now an editor at Techmeme. How and Why did this shift happen? Was it because of your keenness to explore new frontiers and realization that communicating well is your forte or was it something else? How did your friends and family react to this move?
A: The Project/Program Manager role in large Indian IT companies is a stressful balancing act dealing with challenges on three fronts – your bosses, your client, and your team. After 18 years of working in this role on several US & European projects, I realized I wanted a change.
I have always been an avid researcher, with a huge appetite for scanning a multitude of information sources and filtering the best from them. My present job goes hand-in-glove with this innate skill, and makes me think I was born to do this kind of work.
I have a hard time explaining what I do to my friends and family. Initially, they were skeptical, but over time, they’ve slowly realized the fulfilling nature of my work and accepted it. The fact that I work from home is an added benefit.
Q: Your current role at Techmeme is ‘Editor working as a human filter for automated algorithm’. Do you think an automated algorithm, no matter how intelligent it could develop into, can replace the intelligence and editor skills of a human? Also, is it better to ‘crowdsource’ and let users decide the relevancy and usefulness of a story, rather than an editor or team of editors doing it?
For a news aggregator, automated algorithms have limitations that can’t be overcomed.
A: For a news aggregator, automated algorithms have limitations that can’t be overcomed. Gabe Rivera, founder of Techmeme said it in 2008 when Techmeme hired its first editor.
Whether one decides to crowdsource or use an internal editorial team depends on one’s target audience – both models have been used online to varying degrees of success.
Q: ‘Relevance is the only solution to the problem of information overload’, according to you. Relevance is subjective. Do you feel the relevance could be influenced with popularity and things that might not have been relevant to someone would appear like one, just because it was shared by his/her friends or popular personalities? This seems like a constant challenge and it’ll be great to hear your views on how do you think this issue can be addressed and your suggestions for an individual to handle the information overload he faces everyday. You can even suggest tools if you like.
You will find both popularity-based and personalization-based relevance models to continue to coexist in the future.
A: Yes. As I described in the article, relevance is very dynamic and difficult to pin down. There are times when what is most popular is most relevant, and there are other times when a personalized approach is more relevant. This is why you will find both popularity-based and personalization-based relevance models to continue to coexist in the future.
My tips for handling information overload are listed on Quora:
Q: In one of your recent post, you opine that Facebook and Quora should be worried about Google+ but have not mentioned about Twitter, where asking questions, sharing links and speed seems to be the key. According to you, will Twitter not get affected by this? What kind of innovations do you want to see happening on Twitter, to counter any threats from other networks?
Twitter’s 140 character limit will remain its USP against Facebook and Google+
A: Twitter’s 140 character limit will remain its USP against Facebook and Google+. This limit makes it more suitable for sharing links & hence its suitability as a news-discovery network. Twitter needs a better on boarding process for new users and a flourishing developer ecosystem – both of which are weak areas today.
(The Harbinger Group is a Pune-based software company that has products in the e-Learning space (http://harbingerknowledge.com), and also provides software outsourcing services (http://harbinger-systems.com) to software product companies all over the world. As an example of a successful product company out of Pune, as an example of a company that managed to do both, products and services, and as an example of a company that uses latest technologies in a hot field (e-learning), we felt that PuneTech readers would find it interesting. This article is based on a conversation Navin Kabra and Amit Paranjape from PuneTech had with Vikas Joshi, CEO of Harbinger)
The Harbinger Story
Harbinger was started in 1990 as a software services company. Vikas had just returned after doing a Masters in Computer Science from Syracuse in the U.S. and was a visiting faculty at the University of Pune. He, along with Swati Ketkar (one of his students) were the cofounders of Harbinger.
They started “Intelligent Tutoring Systems” and Agrawal Classes was their first customer. The first 10 years, they grew very slowly, with customers mainly in Pune/Mumbai, and only a few in Bangalore/Delhi. By 2000, they had grown to 28 employees. This was a period when they learnt the basics of how to do business, slowly and painfully.
In these early years, they were mainly helping companies with building CAD automation, and other systems that help in the engineering lifecycle. A few of their projects involved the use of computers/multimedia in training. Around this time they created their own product, CBTPro (Computer Based Training), which, in 1998, won MCCIA’s prestigious Parkhe Award (given to companies with the most interesting new products and ideas). From this point onwards they really started growing fast, both on the services side as well as the products.
From the beginning, while Harbinger was focusing on domestic customers, the Indian IT industry had been heavily involved in “body-shopping” (i.e. sending Indian programmers to the US for outsourced (but on-site) work). Harbinger were very clear that they did not want to do this. By 1999-2000 internet in India had advanced to a stage where it became clear that it would be possible to take on outsourcing work from the US without the need for programmers be moved to the US. This is when, after 10 years of existence, Harbinger went international. From that point on they have grown their international business to a point where the Indian market is now an insignificant part of their revenues.
Their services business has 300+ employees, and their portfolio is in these major areas: e-learning, web development, testing, and mobile development. Microsoft is a major customer.
Harbinger’s products are described in more detail in the next section.
While services business was being built up, product business (CBTPro and e-learning) was going well in India. In 2002 they actively started exporting the products.
Their product business started based on a pattern they were seeing in their services business. They noticed that existing e-learning solutions were not interactive. In terms of technology, it was clear that adding Adobe Flash to e-learning products would easily give the required interactivity – but there was big gap in the industry between instructional designers and flash developers. Flash developers were engineers who were not good at designing instructional content, and instruction designers did not have enough programming skills to be able to create content in Flash.
This led Harbinger to their Raptivity product line. Basically, Raptivity is an interactivity building tool, which includes a huge library of ready-made interactions, which can be used by non-technical people to quickly add interactivity to e-learning content.
The main customers of Harbinger’s products fall in these segments: US High-tech companies, US Traditional Companies, US Educational/Non-Profit/Government organizations, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and India-MiddleEast-Africa.
Some interesting drivers of Harbinger’s success
One major decision that Raptivity took early on, was that they would make it work with other authoring tools (not just Harbinger’s authoring tool). This was a key decision, which reduced the barrier to entry for customers. As a result of this decision, they have to stay in close contact with various authoring tools (including new ones), and work with them to integrate Raptivity. In the process of interacting with the vendors of any authoring tool, they are very open about disclosing Harbinger’s own authoring tool.
Another important area is the sales channel. Harbinger has its own sales force, but also sells a lot through resellers and other channel sales. One major mistake many companies make when using channel sales, according to Vikas, is to think of the sales channel as an external entity. Much better results can be obtained if you think of them as a part of your team. What does this mean? Include them on road-trips, conferences, and education about your products. The channel employee assigned to you should be treated as your salesperson. Because he is your salesperson.
A third area that a products company needs to be aware of is that the value proposition for a sales channel, and the value proposition to the end customer are two different things. Sometimes they are aligned, but sometimes, they can conflict. So, both need to be managed separately.
This means that the various sales channels should be segmented carefully, and the company should create unique product offerings for each channel. For example, in case of Harbinger’s products, one channel is Training System Integrators, and these vendors are interested in building the most comprehensive and feature rich system possible. They are not as interested in margins as they are interested in the fact that your products should be cutting edge and should have all the important features. By contrast there are “box pushers” (hardware vendors) who are more interested in margins and volumes. A third category of resellers is companies who wish to be seen as thought leaders, influencers and visionaries. Their motivations on selling your products is very different from those of the previous two categories.
Thoughts on Future Trends in e-Learning
Vikas believes that the primary pain point that they were focusing on (i.e. allowing e-learning authors to easily incorporate interactivity in their systems) is now a solved problem. The next challenges will come from these areas:
Touch Tablets: Touch tablets are likely to have a profound impact on this industry. Not only does this give rise to a wide variety of screen sizes and hardware capabilities (which was rather limited in the PC/Desktop days), but also the fact that touch is a fundamentally different form of interaction.
For example, a customer recently rolled out 1500 iPads to their entire sales force and would like the desktop/laptop e-learning products “ported” to the iPad. However, iPad is a very different beast, with a different paradigm. A simplistic port will fail. It needs to be re-thought from the ground up and a completely new offering needs to be released for this market.
Harbinger believes it is well positioned to play in this space because of their research on interactivity (and a couple of patents they have in this area)
New forms of interactivity. With Kinect and other forms of interactivity becoming a reality now, very soon, there will be an opportunity to use them in e-learning/training systems
Testing the limits of what is possible. For example, one person used Harbinger’s products and created 250 courses over 5 years and trained 20,000 users. A huge impact possible by doing such things – as compared to traditional training. There is an opportunity for e-learning technology companies to provide more and more tools to make such things possible.
Using e-learning/interactivity concepts in other areas: Capabilities of human-computer-interface systems are the plumbing. Interesting products are possible if we use the latest plumbing and build the most interesting, compelling, and impactful interactive products on top of it. Examples:
Every student has a internet connected device
And can be used to enhance class participation
And the presentation changes based on participation
Richer business presentations
Using a Raptivity-like technique in presentations (PPT)
e.g. interactive graphs pack
Don’t show all information at once
Bring relevant information up via interactivity
Thoughts on the Indian Market
Right now, the Indian Market for technology products is very small. As mentioned earlier, it makes up for a small fraction of Harbinger’s revenues even though Harbinger started off as a purely domestic company. However, Vikas points out that the Indian Market is still extremely important. Without Indian market, Harbinger wouldn’t have gotten started, and the first trip to US was only possible due to the sales in the Indian market. Also, for the future, Vikas is extremely optimistic about the Indian Market. Things are changing so rapidly here, so while he is not sure of when exactly it will take off, but take off it will.
Advice to Young Entrepreneurs
Vikas writes a blog at http://teamharbinger.blogspot.com where he regularly gives advice based on his experiences. He points out though that his advice would be applicable only to people who are not more than 10 years younger than he is. Basically, someone who is very far ahead of you (and age is a very rough indicator of this), should no longer be considered a subject matter expert in the challenges you face, since they’ve forgotten what it was like to be in your position.
An important point Vikas makes is that the patterns of entrepreneur mistakes – haven’t changed in 20 years. The biggest one is that early entrepreneurs (especially the technology entrepreneurs who abound in Pune) tend to focus too much on the product itself and the features of the product. It takes quite a while for them to transition to the next stage of entrepreneurship – which is to be able to see their offerings not in terms of products and features, but in terms of benefits that customers get from using their products. During the sales process, the entrepreneur needs to clearly be able to articulate the benefits, and this is the most important thing for an fresh entrepreneur to learn.
The next step for an entrepreneur is to be able to transition from simply talking about the benefits of using their products, to creating or painting a vision of experiences for the customer. A 43-year old accountant wants to zip through downtown on a motorbike. Is there anything in your product that gives him a fraction of that experience. How do you give your customer that feeling? This is a very advanced art, and the ultimate goal for an entrepreneur.
(In this article, Nina Mukherji profiles Harshad Oak, who is very active in the tech community in Pune, who has done many things rather different from what most software technologists usually do, and who has started a number of interesting initiatives. Specifically, we would like to draw our readers’ attention to the TechNoProfits initiative, and his work with the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, which, we hope, at least some of our readers will get involved with.)
Harshad Oak has always chosen the road less travelled. After completing Computer Management in 2001 he worked for IT firms like I-flex & Cognizant for about two years. But he’d always felt a strong urge to venture out and do something on his own. He wrote tech based articles for many newspapers and magazines and even managed to get a number of certifications under his belt.
Harshad then decided to quit his job and set up Rightrix Solutions, a software development firm. By this time, he had also authored a few books on Java and Oracle. This gave him additional credibility and helped him land some good projects for his newly set up firm.
He was invited to participate and speak at various technology conferences abroad. This made him realize the criticality of having such forums in India – such independent conferences were non-existent till then. So with zero experience in the field, he launched the first Annual IndicThreads Conference on Java in 2006. After that they have had many more conferences in the different areas like Mobile Application Development, Upcoming Technology & Software Quality.
Now Rightrix does IT research and advisory services, software outsourcing services, technology portal (IndicThreads), 4 different and technology conferences every year.
Another recent initiative on his part has been starting TechnoProfits – a non-profit entity dedicated to connecting software professionals and NGOs. TechnoProfits enables volunteers to make a positive contribution to society and also come out feeling enriched from the experience. Harshad believes that technology today can connect and enhance lives like never before. “However, most non-profit organisations use no technology beyond making calls from a cell phone. The overwhelming majority of organizations run on passion & dedication but no technology” says Harshad. Please register as a volunteer.
Being of an analytical and rational mind, Harshad abhors superstitious and credulous behaviour. That a ring or pendant will ensure success or modifying their homes so that a bathroom faces X direction will end marital disputes were beliefs that left Harshad feeling frustrated and irritated. “A bathroom door can affect my health only if I accidentally bang into it” he jokes. But this was a serious matter to him and he decided to do something about it.
He started working with Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANiS) a 20 year old organisation. Though they have done remarkable work in Maharashtra towards eradicating blind faith and promoting scientific temperament amongst the youth, Harshad believes that technology awareness is very low. “At the recent ANiS 20 year anniversary event, more than a thousand people from all over Maharashtra turned up, but I probably was the only one using the web and writing about the event on my smartphone. I have been pushing for some kind of an Internet awareness workshop so that the ANiS team can not only leverage the net to reach more people but also be able to convey it’s point of view swiftly and accurately” says Harshad
In order to address this need, TechnoProfits is conducting an Internet Awareness Workshop for ANiS this Saturday the 19th of February (1-5 pm). The topics for the workshop include Internet Basics, Search, Email, Chat, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, Using Indian languages Online, and How to make best use of the Internet for social work. Harshad told me: “While the workshop is planned for ANiS, anyone else wishing to use this learning for social good is most welcome”
(You can get in touch with Harshad by emailing harshad aT rightrix doT com)
(Pune based serial entrepreneur, Ajit Shelat, passed away yesterday. This article and photo are by flickr user drona and are taken from this page. They’re reproduced here under the terms of the Creative Commons (BY-NC) license under which that page is published.)
My friend Ajit Shelat passed away today. He was driving on the Mumbai-Pune Highway, and had an accident at about 530pm September 1, 2010.
He was a fellow alumnus and contemporary of IIT-Mumbai.
Trained entirely in India, he was perhaps the first Indian engineer who designed and developed a very complex LAN security chipset at Nevis Networks, entirely based out of Pune, India.
He was a co-founder of RIMO technologies, Switch-on Networks(with Moti Jiandani), and Nevis Networks. Switch-On Networks was sold to PMC-Sierra for $300M+.
He supported a wide variety of environmental causes and an avid hiker and naturalist. A prolific entrepreneur himself, he generously gave his time and money to his favorite causes: The environment, education and entrepreneurs.
Said Yatin Mundkur, a venture capitalist at Artiman Ventures, who used to work for Ajit at Godrej Industries, in the mid-eighties: “I am who I am today, because of Ajit. And a lot of us who reported to him at Godrej would gladly say that.”
I will fondly remember the many hikes I took with him, and particularly the many discussions I had with him during the early X Window System days.
He is survived by his wife Radha Shelat and daughter Arundhati, and mother and sister.
Ever since Toyota introduced the Prius in the 1990s, hybrid vehicles have become an exciting new development area in the Auto Industry. With ever increasing fuel prices and environment concerns, hybrid technology will increasingly play an important role in the automobile of the 21st century.
Hybrid vehicles use a combination of power from an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. The electric motor is powered by a battery, which is typically charged during braking and decceleration. The battery can also be directly charged from an external electric source (these vehicles are known as ‘plug-in hybrids’). Hybrid vehicles typically deliver significant double digit savings in fuel economy and emissions.
Last week Pune based KPIT Cummins and Bharat Forge announced a joint venture for the design and development of a plug-in hybrid solution. PuneTech interviewed KPIT Cummins SVP, Anup Sable, to get more details about this ….
You announced a joint venture with Bharat Forge last week in the exciting new area of hybrid vehicles. Can you explain the new solution that you are planning to develop?
The hybrid solution developed by KPIT Cummins is a plug-in parallel hybrid solution that consists of the following key components:
Electronic motor controller
Mechanical assembly & coupling
Proprietary software for control algorithms of the motor & batteries
Intelligent battery management system that enhances battery performance and battery life
Plug-in: The batteries used in the solution can be charged from a standard external electricity source such as a domestic power outlet.
Parallel hybrid: The motor and engine work simultaneously at all times. The vehicle will, at no point, work like an EV (electric vehicle) only and hence will continue to operate as a conventional fuel vehicle if the batteries are fully discharged. The solution is battery-agnostic, in other words, it can be adopted to work with various types of batteries such as lead acid batteries or Lithium Ion batteries. The tests were performed using a lead acid battery based solution. The solution works without any interaction or interference with the existing Engine Management System (EMS) of the vehicle. The system is thereby also adaptable to vehicles without EMS and without electronic engines. It requires low maintenance and has a reliable three phase AC induction motor.
11 global patents have been filed in areas such as integrated system, motor design, motor mounting, and control system and battery management.
Is this a full-fledged hybrid vehicle you are building, or a sub-system that will be sold to Auto OEMs?
Our solution can be retrofitted in every car – new and used. Small, mid-size and large. This will not be a complete vehicle that we build.
Can you talk about the advantages of plug-in hybrids over other conventional hybrids?
Doesn’t interfere with Manufacturersâ in-vehicle systems
It is battery chemistry agnostic
Is compact yet delivers high peak power
Fuel efficiency improvement of over 40% as observed during tests at ARAI. The solution however provides 60% to 80% improvement during city driving conditions & above 50% during highway driving.
Solution is capable of reducing GHG emissions by over 30%.
Since the consumption of fuel will go down on account of the hybrid solution, the government would be able to save through the reduction in subsidy and foreign exchange outflow.
Retro-fitment of this solution can be expeditiously done in 4 to 6 hours.
Solution does not require additional infrastructure investments from the government.
What markets do you see for this technology?
After-market, vehicle owners & OEMs
What unique capabilities does KPIT and Bharat Forge bring to the table?
The technology for this intelligent plug-in, parallel, full-hybrid solution has been designed and engineered by KPIT Cummins, while the solution for automobiles would be manufactured through a joint venture (JV) between Bharat Forge Limited and KPIT Cummins Infosystems Limited. As part of the joint venture, KPIT Cummins will license the technology to the JV while Bharat Forge would bring in its manufacturing, assembly & integration expertise to the JV. The solution will be marketed to OEMs and fleet & individual vehicle owners through a network of certified and authorized dealerships
A general question – how do you see the future of embedded electronics space evolving in the next few years?
The embedded electronics space will see growth in its application in the Indian Vehicles at a rate faster than what happened in Europe, US and Japan. The key difference between application of electronics in the vehicle in Western world and in India would be that in western world it evolved with the advances in technology(and regulations) but in India it will be driver by market demand at the appropriate price.
About Anup Sable – SVP, Automotive and Allied Embedded and Tools, KPIT-Cummins
Anup heads the Automotive line of business which is a leading product engineering partner to the automotive industry.
He is responsible for managing relationships with customers and helping them to globalize & standardize efficiently. He has been instrumental in creating a robust delivery ecosystem which supports clients in bringing complex technology products and systems faster to markets.
Passionate about technology in cars, Anup began his career as a research engineer at the Automotive Research Association in India (ARAI). He joined KPIT Cummins as a software engineer in 1994. With over 15 years of experience in the field of automotive electronics, Anup has played a key role in setting up the Automotive Electronics practice at KPIT Cummins.
Anup has done his engineering from Government College of Engineering, Pune.
ShopSocial.ly is a Pune-based startup that launched a couple of weeks back and immediately got coverage from both TechCrunch and GigaOm – which is a major achievement for any startup.
To give PuneTech readers some insights into what it takes to build and launch a startup like this out of Pune, we talked to a bunch of people associated with ShopSocial.ly.
First, here is a short interview with Jai Rawat, CEO of ShopSocial.ly:
Congratulations on the launch of ShopSocial.ly and the coverage from . Can you give a brief overview of ShopSocial.ly from your point of view?
We all trust our friends advice much more than what the advertisers tell us. Yet, currently most of our shopping is influenced by the ads. ShopSocially is built on the vision that the influence needs to shift from ads to our circle of trust – i.e. friends.
ShopSocially allows you tap into the collective wisdom of friends to get trusted recommendations. Friends can not only ask questions, they can also share their purchases to get comments and feedback.
The idea of social shopping is not new. In fact, many people in the Pune startup ecosystem will be familiar with the success of Kaboodle which launched in 2005. So how is ShopSocial.ly different?
First a disclosure – Kaboodle CEO happens to be a very good friend and fellow IIT Kanpur Alumnus.
While the original premise behind Kaboodle was similar to ShopSocially, they have really focused more on shopping search rather than creating a network for friends. Recall that at the time Kaboodle started, social networking had not taken roots.
On the ShopSocial.ly about page, I notice that you appear to have used a lot of small Pune companies/freelancers in building your product. I recognize Shashank Deshpande (of Clarice Technologies) who usually does usability, Prakash Thombre (of widemediaguy) who does graphic design, Rohan Dighe (of SocialWebFactory) who does social-media/facebook apps, Mangesh Yadav (of Joomlian) who builds websites, and I’m sure there are others that I do not recognize. As someone interested in the Pune “startup ecosystem”, I’m thrilled at this level of collaboration amongst Pune’s small companies. Would you comment upon how you approached this aspect of building your product, and whether you see this as a continuing/sustainable approach in the future?
There is certainly no dearth of great talent in India – even for the cutting edge web 2.0 technologies. My previous startup, AirTight Networks is also based in Pune and was one of the first product companies born out of India. Just like AirTight, ShopSocially product development has happened completely in Pune. The team has done a phenomenal job. In fact when people visit the site, one of the first question they ask me is who built the site and where did I find these people. They are quite incredulous that we were able to find such talent in India.
So yes, I very much see this as a continuing /sustainable approach going forward.
What do you see as the primary challenge for ShopSocial.ly to tackle now?
The immediate priority is to really understand and analyze user behavior and make necessary changes. If we can delight our users, they will feel compelled to invite their friends and it will go viral.
Your previous company, Airtight Networks, was an enterprise software company, and this one is a consumer web service. Can you talk about the difference in approach required for these two different kinds of companies? What extra efforts does a Pune-based startup need to take to be able to succeed in these two markets?
Enterprise software and consumer web service are two very very different animals. Enterprise products sell on functionality. Usability is important but it is more of a race to build the most number of features. The product comes with a thick user manual and is used by a few people who get special training to use that product.
Consumer web service on the other hand needs to be very intuitive and simple. It is very tempting to add a lot of features and the hard part is to maintain the discipline of keeping it simple.
I would say that building an enterprise product is a little harder especially if your customers are abroad. Unless developers understand the customer mindset, it is hard for them to build the right product. For consumer facing products, it is a bit easier because you can think like a consumer yourself. However, at the same time, consumer facing products require a lot of iterations on the user interface which can be very frustrating.
What are the most common mistakes you see amongst the young entrepreneurs these days?
I think one of the biggest mistake I see is that often they are more focused on perfecting their VC pitch rather than their idea. Their goal is to somehow convince a VC to put some money into the company. This is exactly the wrong approach. First and foremost you need to convince yourself that it is worth spending the next few years underpaid and overworked chasing this idea. Your energy should be focused on researching and refining the idea until you can honestly sell it to yourself. Once you are fully convinced, even if you don’t get VC funding, you may still find the passion and energy to pursue it anyways.
I always tell them to ask a simple question to themselves – is the idea worth failing at? The odds are stacked up against you. 9 out of 10 companies fail. However, even if you fail, you should be able to look back and say it was still worth it.
As indicated in one of the questions to Jai, we at PuneTech absolutely loved the fact that so many different Pune companies have been used by ShopSocial.ly in building their product. We tried to talk to some of them to get a feel for the interesting aspects of working on ShopSocial.ly.
Rohan Dighe, Pune-based founder of SocialWebFactory, who did the tight integration of ShopSocial.ly with facebook, points out that this exercise had some interesting challenges:
We noticed that people end up with two different networks of friends – one on ShopSocial.ly, which is smaller and more focused, and another on Facebook, which is larger and more diffuse. The conversations + comments that happen around any post are very different in these two settings. To ensure a seamless experience, what we now do is pull the entire Facebook discussion around any ShopSocial.ly post, and display it on ShopSocial.ly along with the native comments.
Another great thing about the Facebook integration is that ShopSocial.ly does not have a user registration or user login mechanims. We fully leverage Facebook for this, and thus we are able to get a full profile of any user (from Facebook) without them having to provide any data, and without them having to remember yet another username and password.
Shashank Deshpande of Clarice Technologies who helped ShopSocial.ly on user interaction design & product branding, points out that one of the most difficult things to do in a product like this is to keep it simple:
Shopping and socializing are two activities that we all have been doing for years, and hence we know a lot about them. Due to this, the first instinct would have been to add lots of features related to shopping and lots of features related to socializing to the product. However, doing that results in a product that non-techy consumers find a little confusing and overwhelming. We had to work really hard to reduce the functionality of the product and bring it down to a very small number of actions that are intuitive, and yet powerful enough that encompass the most important aspects of the product. The “Shout” and “Share” actions that you see on ShopSocial.ly are the result of that process.
Visual designers at Clarice Technologies had a challenging task to create product brand that would appeal to the international audience. Choice of product logo, colors & overall visual treatment was critical to make the product stand out from the plethora of consumer portals.
At the end of all these conversations, doubts still remain about what potential is there in this area, and we decided to get an expert opinion.
Basically, Social shopping is not a new concept, and there have been a number of startups in this space, including successful ones. For example, was started 5 years ago, and sold to Hearst corporation in 2007. Luckily for us, one of the co-founders of Kaboodle, Chetan Pungaliya, is now based in Pune. Although Chetan is not connected to ShopSocial.ly in any way, we caught up with Chetan to get his views on this market. Specifically, if social shopping is more than 5 years old, is there still scope for new startups to do interesting things in this space? Chetan thinks there is still a lot of potential:
The existing batch of social shopping startups, of which Kaboodle is one of the most successful, happened in the pre-Facebook era. They have their own social network, and users went there specifically. However, if social shopping can happen in the context of a user’s other social activity, for example, while doing other things on facebook, that can significantly improve the reach. New social shopping sites that nail this can do well. Also, as the internet becomes more entrenched and people start buying more categories online (which were not being bought online before – for example, art), new models of social shopping will emerge. I think, this remains an exciting space to watch.
There you have it – a broad multi-person view of ShopSocial.ly. This is an experimental format for PuneTech, so please let us know what you think of the format in comparison to a more conventional overview/interview.
(This is an interview of Dr. Chitra Lele, Chief Scientific Officer of Sciformix Corporation, by Pallavi Kelkar, a Pune based tech entrepreneur, who interviewed Dr. Lele on behalf of PuneTech.)
Dr. Chitra Lele is the Chief Scientific Officer at Sciformix Corp, a startup focusing on providing KPO (knowledge process outsourcing) services to pharmaceutical and bio-tech companies. Chitra has done her PhD in Statistics from Stanford University, and she has more than 15 years of experience in this area.
Before this, she was an Executive Director, at Pfizer Global R&D, where she set up India’s first biometrics center, providing services in clinical data management, statistics, programming and medical writing, and she successfully grew it to a size of over 400 staff. She has also worked as a faculty member at the School of Statistics at the University of Minnesota, and IIT, Bombay. She was instrumental in setting up Academy for Clinical Excellence (ACE) at the Bombay College of Pharmacy (BCP). She is a visiting faculty member at University of Pune, teaching Statistics courses and supervising PhD students. She is one of the founding members of “Indian Association for Statistics in Clinical Trials”.
She is a lady who wants to do quality work, and to make a difference.
Tell us more about Sciformix
My Company is positioned as a KPO and the primary domain is pharma & healthcare. Ours is a data management/analysis/interpretation related company. We work for Global Pharma companies, primarily based in North America, who outsource the work to us. There are four primary areas in which work:
Statistics & programming: Pharmaceutical companies have to conduct clinical trials before they bring new drugs into the market. These experiments / trials have to be designed statistically & analyzed. A lot of statistics & programming is involved in it. This includes complex statistical simulation, modelling and analysis. It involves extensive programming, primarily using the software SAS, which is the most commonly used statistical software in the pharmaceutical industry.
Scientific Writing: We do all kinds of scientific writing that pharma companies need. For example, once a drug is in the market and consumed by a large section of a population, what kinds of adverse reactions are getting reported & what do they mean medically? We summarize that data and submit a safety report. All the pharmacological details of a drug, protocols and study result reports for the trials, medico-marketing literature and much more comes under scientific writing.
Safety Data Management (Pharmacovigilance): There is a toll free number present on package insert of medicines that are sold in the West. There you can report any issues regarding the drug. In the western countries, more so in North America, there is lot of awareness about this. Consumers as well as health care professionals, and pharmacists call that number to report adverse reactions. We run such call centres. There consumers might call to report adverse reactions to the drug, or any other quality issues with the drug, or medical doctors might call to ask if a particular medicine can be given along with other medication that their patients are already taking. We record such data, enter the data in Safety Databases, analyze and interpret it medically (for e.g, we assess if the adverse reaction is medically serious, and if it could be causally related to the drug) and submit reports to regulators around the world, including US FDA.
Regulatory affairs: We primarily provide document authoring and compilation services in the Regulatory Affairs area. For example, if there is a small change in the manufacturing process of the drug, it has to be reported, along with a pharmacological justification that this manufacturing change has no impact on the availability and action of the drug on the body. The report has to be submitted to regulators. When companies want to market their product in different geographies, dossiers have to be written, compiled and submitted as per the country-specific regulations.
Any specific problems you faced while setting up your office in India?
Well, although connectivity & other infrastructure has improved significantly over last few years, (smiles) it’s still not the ideal, optimal scenario. We had some challenges. For example, when we started our office in Mumbai, although we chose a commercial & industrial area in order to have good infrastructure, only one provider was available at that time (3 years back), who could provide connectivity from this location. We had to connect to the client’s domestic office in Mumbai, and the client didn’t want us to use this provider. However, we didn’t have a choice, and had to manage the client’s dissatisfaction. But now other companies are available to provide connectivity from this location.
Another, and a bigger, problem is about availability of skilled resources in the areas that we are focussed on. The entire area of pharmacovigilance was very new in India, and hence people were not aware of it. There are a lot of training institutes who train people in clinical research domain, so we do get people who have some basic awareness. But getting health care professionals to work in this area is not easy. In the west, it is common for certified nurses to work in pharmacovigilance. In India, it is not common for people having a degree in nursing to enter the corporate world. Not many MBBS doctors are willing to get into it. The clients often don’t want doctors with degrees in alternate medicine to do the medical review and analysis of safety data. So, to find the right people is the biggest challenge. And of course, we need to invest a lot in training these individuals once we hire them. The other problem area is statistics and programming. There is a pool of people in India who have a basic degree in statistics or who have done some course or certification in SAS software. But the average quality of these resources is not good, hence it’s difficult to recruit good statisticians and programmers.So we also recruit fresh graduates and train them form scratch.
One of the reasons we have our office in Mumbai is availability of experienced professionals in Mumbai, and we expanded in Pune because we can easily get fresh graduates here.
Do you find any difference in terms of quality of graduate students, between Pune and elsewhere?
Not really. One clear advantage of Pune is that Pune University’s Statistics department is very good. We don’t recruit hundreds of statistics graduates – we just need 1 or 2. We get them easily in Pune.
On a negative side what we have been experiencing is on an average, English language skills are significantly inferior in Pune compared to Mumbai.
In terms of infrastructure, what are the advantages and disadvantages of Pune?
Advantage: In Pune, it is easy to get office space. The scale of the city is such that you can reach anywhere in an hour. This is not the case in Mumbai.
Disadvantage: Every time they dig the road our phone lines are down. This is not the case in Mumbai. And of course, the biggest problem in Pune is the power situation, which is not at all an issue for us, given our office location in Mumbai.
One of the reasons to have an office in Pune is the low expenses. After accounting foreverything, it is much cheaper to operate from n Pune than Mumbai.
Being a woman in a team of men, was there any advantage or disadvantage?
I was in charge of my unit in Pfizer, my previous company. I didn’t find any disadvantage of being a woman at all, although I was the only woman in the senior executive team for quite a long period there. I was respected for my work, my capabilities. Even in my current company, I am the only woman in the senior executive team. Disadvantages, if any, are primarily due to personal biases of one or two individuals, and are not a general issue.
Advantage: In general, there’s a gender difference in terms of the style of management. Women have an advantage in some aspects, but I can’t generalize to say that there’s an advantage to being a woman manager. There are many men who are good managers as well.
There is a general impression that women take their work casually, have you experienced this?
I don’t think so. In fact, 2/3rd of my staff at Pfizer consisted of women, and even at Sciformix, more than half the staff comprises of women. The impression is created, mostly because of family responsibilities. Even today, in general the expectation is that women will take more responsibilities of house and kids than men, even though their husbands try to help. But women are able to deliver things in whatever limited time they have.
Also, there are enough examples of men taking their work casually, especially young graduates.
How do you balance the work-life cycle?
(Laughs…) In terms of work life balance, I don’t think I am doing a good job at all; I know I need to improve on that. I am a workaholic, working for very long hours on weekdays and working on weekends too. When you take an entrepreneurial route, it is even more challenging. There is no limit to how much you want to do & how much you want to grow.
So, what I do is that for 1/2 or 3/4ths of a Saturday or Sunday, I try not to work.
As an entrepreneur, what are the changes you had to make in your personality after starting a business?
Before starting my company, although I was doing a job and my employer was a large company, I was given the responsibility of starting a separate unit for them. I set up the group of 400 people. I had support, but lot of things I had to do myself. So, I had that experience with me, nothing was new for me in this aspect.
I had to change my personality quite a bit to bring in the business. Lot of persistence is required here. If I want to get some work from people then I have to keep following-up, and pushing people, which was new for me. Sometimes, I knew that I am much better than some of the people I am talking to, and I would wonder why do I have to give in to their whims and fancies…but I need the business, and they are in a position of providing me with that business, so I have to do it – this where I had to change myself. All such things require a very different mindset, persistence and aggression. Over the last three years, I think I have developed a good amount of skill of talking to clients. The way I talk now is very different from the way I used to speak before. Trying to market your company, talking about your capabilities now comes spontaneously to me in every conversation I have with the client. But I had to develop this very consciously.
How do you manage your stress? It must have increased compared to before.
Yes, it has increased. I try to manage by doing some exercise every day, which is a good stress buster for me. I have learned playing musical instruments. I do not play currently, but I want to start again – that can also be a stress buster. As I have already told, I try to be stay away from company work for at least half a day every weekend. Also, I have significantly increased the number of movies, plays and concerts that I go to. I catch one of these at least every other weekend. That is the stress buster too.
Did you think of giving up at any point of time for any reason?
Yes, such thoughts do come. When we have to deal with unreasonable customers, it is difficult. But things stabilize after a while. Sometimes, you have a difference of opinion with your peers and you strongly believe you are right, at that time it happens – but there has never been a make or break situation so far. I take it as a probably good learning for the future. The thing is, I look at the bigger picture.
I left my job because I wanted to test my credibility in terms of bringing in business and building an organization, without having a big company’s backing. I also wanted to do something that makes a difference to the environment. I think I have done a reasonably good job in this respect. This experience has given me greater confidence to encounter and mange difficult situations in the future. I believe that every experience, good or bad, teaches you something and makes you a better and a stronger person.
How is your family support system like?
My support system is primarily my husband. Ever since we got married, we have stayed away from each other a lot, in terms of being based in different cities, both in the US and in India. I took up whatever seemed to be the best opportunity at every stage of my career. He always believed that I should do what I think is good for me and has always encouraged me work where I can use my capabilities. Everything that I have been able to do and achieve has been possible because of his strong support & backing.
Was your career planned, I mean had you decided that I will do PhD and be in business after some time?
No, nothing was planned as such. By nature I am not the kind of person who decides what I will do 15 years down the road. At every point of time I did whatever I thought I wanted to do.
The only thing which was planned was my PhD. Nothing else was planned. So, if you ask me, what I will be doing after 3 years then I won’t be able to tell you that.
What are your hobbies?
Nothing unique. I like classical music; I am not practicing it now but I do listen to it, and reading and traveling.
Any guidelines for upcoming entrepreneurs?
I would say 2 things. First & foremost, be very clear about what you fundamentally want to do and achieve through the entrepreneurial venture that you undertake, and second, have the right kind of people with you.
Any regrets looking back & anything that you think of as a turning point?
Looking back, I think that every experience was enriching whether good or bad, so I have no regrets. The turning point for me was, when I decided to go for BSC in mathematics. I was a good student throughout my academic years. So it would have been natural for me to go in for medical or engineering degrees. I thought at that time that I liked Mathematics and Medicine. After the 12th standard, I chose to go in for BSc instead of trying to get into medicine or a field related to medicine I am convinced that it was the right decision. Though my parents were disappointed at that time, they are now happy that I chose this path.
About the Interviewer – Pallavi Kelkar
Pallavi is a co-founder of Krishna Infosoft, a software services company based in Pune. She has 3+ years experience in programming & development, and she works on .NET technologies, PHP etc. Pallavi is involved in design and development of customized desktop and web applications, and enterprise applications. Pallavi is also a co-founder of TechMarathi, a non-profit venture, where you can find information in Marathi for everything related to Tech.
Disclaimer: Navin is a consultant for Tap ‘n Tap, and hence the PuneTech blog never covered Tap ‘n Tap, in keeping with PuneTech’s editorial policy. However, a Series A funding round is a rare and significant enough occurrence, that we felt justified in post.)
Nitin, congratulations on getting funded. Can you give us an overview of what Tap ‘n Tap does?
Tap ‘n Tap is a software and user experience design company. We are building a complete OS for Web connected Tablet devices. Tap ‘n Tap was founded almost two years ago, long before Tablet’s were cool. We envisioned a category of handheld touchscreen devices to conveniently enjoy best of the web at home.
Today people connect to the internet primarily through PCs and smartphones. PCs, while powerful, are not always-on and nearby where people spend time at home. Smartphones, while great on the go, have small displays that limit website viewing. Tablets fill in this gap in our enjoyment of the web at home.
Tablets can be permanently kept in high-traffic areas of the home on the wall or tabletop, and will be always-on while docked. The devices can also be removed from their dock and used in handheld mode at the kitchen table, on the sofa, in your bed, or anywhere in the home.
We believe these devices will become part of the daily life of a family and shared by everyone.
So your product is actually a handheld device targeting family audience for home use. Are you a hardware or a software company, or both?
Good question. We are actually a software and user experience design company. On a Tablet device a great user experience is critical. Now while the UI is what the user sees, behind it needs to be extremely well engineered software.
So Software and User Experience is our core competence. We are partnering with multiple hardware manufacturers, including OEMs, to bring our software solution on their devices.
I believe you’ve been working on this for a while now – before Apple announced the iPad. How does Apple’s entry into this market, and and apparent success of the iPad affect it?
We see the iPad as a very positive development for us. Apple has now established that there is a market for Tablets, and lots of other large players want to follow. We believe we are in a unique position to help them get to the market fast with a high quality product that will be needed to be able to compete effectively.
Apple is a large company which would have put in tons of resources to come up with its offering. How does a small company like yours match up to it?
Our software stack is based on the Android framework. So we are leveraging the work that Google and other open source developers have done for Smartphones. This allows our team to focus on what we really want to focus on – which is to build a really compelling and “wow!” Tablets . While we focus on the core of the Tablet product, Android also allows us to bring great third party applications written for Android smartphones to the Tablet world
If that is the case, what is the barrier to entry for any small company to come up with a similar offering?
History has repeatedly proved that building a really compelling and “wow!” product is very difficult. It cannot be done by just throwing a bunch of developers at it. What is needed is an intersection of top quality design and some really challenging technical problem solving to implement that design. Designing a great user experience requires some very smart usability people, and is something that developers, or “average” “ui designers” cannot really do; and implementing it to perfection requires very talented engineers, and is something that average engineers fail at. What happens when the design calls for capabilities that don’t really exist in the underlying software platform? What happens if a particular feature runs a little too slowly on the given hardware? An average-to-good developer will tweak the design to fit within the limitations of the software/hardware, and in the process killing the user experience without even realizing it. A great engineer will go to great lengths to make it happen without compromising the integrity of the design.
And you think that kind of talent is available in Pune?
Absolutely! Pune definitely has both, the design talent pool and the developer talent pool that can build a product on par with the best in the world. We have already formed the seeding team of both types of people and are actively looking at adding to it.
The process of setting up such a team has been both challenging and fulfilling. Our selection criteria went beyond the traditional ones of experience and software skills. We hired people with the ability to simplify complexity, very good problem solving skills and the ability to come up with multiple solutions to difficult problems and select the one that will appeal to users. Needless to say, they also looked for the ability to work under pressure that start-ups demand. We continue to look for the right talent to add to this strong team.
Why did you pick Pune? How did you go about it?
Pune has long been a high-tech center with a lot of world class colleges in the vicinity. There is high quality talent available and I happen to know this first hand :-).
We decided that for ramping up quickly, instead of starting from scratch, we would be better off partnering with some startup in Pune who could help us build our team. We picked Clarice Technologies because it had a very strong background in both core software technology, as well as usability and user interaction design – a combination that is not only difficult to find, but also absolutely essential to the success of Tap ‘n Tap.
The team in Pune is integrated with the team in Boston, we’re involved in all the hiring decisions, and as far as we are concerned, every member of the team is a Tap ‘n Tap employee.
Also, we are not viewing the India team as a source of cheap labour for low-end work. We want to tap the Pune talent pool and are willing to pay for it. The team here has the entire responsibility for a bunch of modules of the software stack. This includes everything, right from conceptualization of that the requirements for the module would be, to architecture, design and implementation. If you take a look at some of the things our team here has done, you’d think it came from Google or Apple. Their work so far is really world class and we expect that to continue and grow.