Tag Archives: interviews

Interview with Rekha Ranganathan – Philips Healthcare Innovation Center Pune

We visited the Philips Healthcare Innovation Center in Pune last month, and spoke with Rekha Ranganathan, VP & Global General Manager, Mobile Surgery & Value Cardiology and Head of Healthcare Innovation Center at Philips.

Philips is doing interesting R&D and Manufacturing work in the healthcare space in Pune, and it was good to learn about the details from her and the Philips team.

Centers like the Philips HIC are good representatives of Pune’s strength in R&D and Manufacturing in core engineering. We hope that in the near future, Philips gets more actively connected with the tech and startup ecosystem in Pune.

Here are excerpts from our interview …

Can you give us an overview of Philips Pune?

BV Vectra Image
BV Vectra mobile fluoroscopic system aka C-Arm X-ray image intensifier that is used in orthopedic
surgical procedures, including trauma, spine, and pain management. Developed at Philips HIC Pune.

Philips has a long history in Pune, going back to the Philips Consumer Electronics Factory (established in 1971). The Philips Healthcare Innovation Centre (HIC) in Pune marks another milestone for Philips in India. It was set up in 2012. Philips Healthcare Innovation Center plays an essential role in Philips’ commitment to develop and produce meaningful products and solutions that help improve healthcare for people all over the world. In line with its strategy to expand the company’s global footprint, Philips commenced operations at its first green-field manufacturing facility for imaging systems in India, at Chakan Pune.

HIC Pune is one of the six global Philips’ facilities devoted to manufacturing healthcare technology. It is specifically designed with manufacturing flexibility in mind so that it can quickly adapt to the ever-changing market needs and deliver quality healthcare products that meet international standards, across the globe.

What types of healthcare technologies are being developed here at Philips Pune?

Intuis is an advanced, entry level catheterization lab (cath lab), and is part of Philips’ strategy for extending access to affordable cardiac care in tier-II and tier-III cities in India. It is designed, developed and manufactured at the Philips Healthcare Innovation Center (HIC) in Pune, India.

Since its inception, HIC Pune has launched six global products in the mobile surgery imaging & diagnostic space: Allura FC, Allura Centron, BV Vectra, Primary Diagnost, Mobile DiagnostOpta and Intuis. The last two being the latest releases from the unit. HIC Pune has successfully installed 1000 systems in more than 80 different countries, including countries from western European regions such as France, Italy, Austria, etc.

The state-of-the-art facility integrates research & development, sourcing, testing, assembly and manufacturing under one roof. The team of experts and best-in-class talent from top educational institutes work closely together to bridge the gap between better technology and actual clinical needs. The team’s rich experience in medical product development ensures that the products are designed for quality and reliability. The centre manufactures both interventional and diagnostic X-Ray systems.

How does Pune fit into Philips Healthcare’s global value chain (R&D, Manufacturing, Marketing)?

We are global management hub for Mobile Surgery which is part of the image guided therapy group. We are also one of the few centers globally that caters to emerging and developed markets end-to-end. We are the headquarters for few of the product segments globally in DXR. This means we are responsible for the product strategy, technology roadmap, product program, new product development and life cycle maintenance. Our products are shipped to 80 countries around the world – more products shipped globally. We will also be transferring the manufacturing of our premium mobile ‘C-Arm’ products from our factory in Best, Netherlands to Pune and evolving our current supply base here to meet the challenges of global quality, demand.

What are you future plans for expanding the role, scope of Philips Pune?

In the coming years, Philips HIC plans to expand its production capacity to get maximum efficiency from its factory in Chakan and will also look to widen its R&D portfolio, to bring in smart healthcare solutions for India and for the world , from its manufacturing base and the R&D centre in Pune.

What kind of R&D, Tech, Manufacturing capabilities exist at Philips Pune? Can talk a bit more about specific tech capabilities, skill sets, labs, manufacturing set up?

MobileDiagnost Opta is powerful compact mobile digital X-ray system is designed for all-around performance and fast return on investment. It moves through crowded spaces in the OR, ER, ICU, and general wards with freedom and ease, bringing digital imaging right to the bedside. Speed, power, performance, and affordability make MobileDiagnost Opta a good option for smaller clinics, hospital that require multiple mobile DR systems, or facilities looking for a single system to cover most application needs.

Philips Pune has an ‘end-to-end’ System Development Capability with strong competence on System Architecture, Imaging Chain, Mechatronics, System Software and System Engineering. We have created 6 New Products and released to Global Markets within a span of 4-5 years. In the 5 years since inception, we have been granted 5 patents. We create a strong culture of innovation – we have an internal “Innovation Day” to encourage idea sharing; some of which also have potential for patents. We also work closely with our global organizations to participate in competitions globally and develop the innovation ecosystem.

What challenges did you face in setting up this center?

Availability of technical talents who had experience in ‘End-to-End’ Product development was a problem early on. Also, the creation of full eco system with Supply base, Supply Chain, Manufacturing and Innovation along with understanding of global customer requirements was a key challenge.

What advantages do you see in the Pune tech and manufacturing ecosystem?

Pune has a good core engineering and manufacturing ecosystem. According to latest Zinnov research Pune has the highest number of Core engineering R&D centers and there is a good eco system of suppliers located around Pune. Also the availability of good technology and engineering talent here.

What challenges do you run into at Pune? (Hiring, Quality Talent,  Infrastructure, etc.)

Hiring good system architects is a challenge. We are looking for systems architect with high-level thinking, who can have a global approach to product development.

Is Philips India/Pune plugged into the startup ecosystem?

Not yet. But we hope to explore the possible synergies.

Pune’s Krayon Pictures Interview: The Technology Behind Delhi Safari

Delhi Safari, a 3D Animation movie made by Pune startup Krayon Pictures, is seeing a worldwide release tomorrow (19th October). Attached to the move, are some big names from Bollywood (Director Nikhil Advani, voices by Govinda, Sunil Shetty, Boman Irani, Akshaye Khanna, Urmila Matondkar, music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) and Hollywood (Vanessa Williams, Christopher Lloyd, Jason Alexander, Cary Elwes), and one look at its preview will convince anyone that it is a quality product. Considering that it was conceived and fully executed by a company in Pune, PuneTech decided to have a chat with Anand Bhanushali, the Technical Director of Krayon Pictures, to talk about the technology that went into making Delhi Safari. The following article is based on our conversation with Anand.

About Krayon Pictures

Krayon Pictures was founded in 2007 by Kishor Patil, co-founder and CEO of KPIT Cummins, Nishith Takia, a Masters in CS from University of Maryland, USA, and Namrata Sharma, who had 14 years of experience in Animation and Software in Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Mumbai. Unlike other animation studios in India who were simply outsourcing animation work from studios abroad, Krayon Pictures was started with the intention of producing their own movies – i.e. creating their own IP. They got an idea for a movie, roped in Nikhil Advani, and Delhi Safari was born.

If you cannot see the video above, click here for the preview

About Anand Bhanushali

Anand is the Technical Director at Krayon. He has been with Krayon since day 1 of Delhi Safari. Before joining Krayon, he had worked national and international animation projects, including character effects in feature films like Hoodwinked, Fight Club Gaming Cinematic and Tinker Bell.

He was also responsible for implementing Krayon’s proprietary pipeline and asset management tool for workflow automation and enhanced artist efficiency.

About the Infrastructure Used by Krayon

Krayon has a data-center at their office in the center of Pune, behind Le Meridien Hotel. The movies are rendered using their render farm which is a densely packed cluster of 100 nodes, each of which has two Intel Xeon quad-core processors with 8GB or RAM, running the Red Hat Linux operating system.

The Storage is based on SOFS – scale out file system – a high availability file system with a total capacity of 48 TB, operating at Raid Level 5 and having a HDD Interface that’s a combination of SAS and SATA with a bandwidth throughput of 500 MBPS.

The network is two-tier architecture made up of Cisco 6509E switch with Dual Sup720 3C 10G as a Core Switch with 8 10G ports, 96 Fabric enabled 1GigE Copper ports and 48 1Gige normal ports and Cisco 3750-E 48 port switch connected to Core Switch by 4 GigE copper uplink.

Challenges Faced while settings up the Infrastructure

Krayon was initially based in Kothrud (in KPIT offices), but soon moved to Hinjewadi once they realized the scale of the infrastructure that would have to be set up. Unfortunately, Hinjewadi did not work out as a location for them. The basic infrastructure (e.g. electricity) was not entirely ready when they moved in, and in spite of having mammoth UPS backups, they kept running into huge problems with electricity fluctuations that the UPS was unable to handle. This led to blowouts, server shutdowns, and artists having to sit idle while the electricity problems were fixed. Finally, they moved to their current location near Pune Station.

They spent 4 months with the help of IBM in just designing the hardware architecture. Here is a detailed description from Anand’s interview at CGTantra:

Softwares and hardware are definitely important and form the core of the studio pipeline. You have to be extremely careful and have all the statistics, data , research ready before you choose any software and hardware as its going to be with you for quite sometime. If you do a mistake, then its a very expensive mistake, and can take the studio and the project down. Stability, flexibility and support form the basis of choosing softwares and hardware for a studio. We knew with the kind of quality, we are aiming with Delhi Safari, we would need robust hardware, definitely a huge Renderfarm of our own. Mr Parag Patil – our technology director , all the credit goes to him as he is the brains behind all the hardware in Krayon. Parag and me along with the IT and R&D team worked non stop for 4 months, sketching, workflow diagrams, network diagrams, configuration of workstations, to servers.. Everything.. We partnered with IBM and took their expertise and they did the set up of the entire backend infrastructure of our studio.

About the team at Krayon Pictures

They have a team of about 120 people, most of whom are artists. The artists are divided up into various departments, including about 40 people working on the animation, another 30 on asset creation (i.e. creating the building blocks and characters that will be used by the other departments), 10 on lighting, and 10 on compositing.

Most of the work is done using Autodesk’s Maya Software, and the scripting is done using Maya’s MEL, or Python.

Here is a description of the early days, from Anand’s interview at CG Tantra:

We started Delhi Safari with 8 artist including me and a small management team. So we had to build the entire studio, lay down the pipeline and parallely start pre-production, recruit a team, and train them. It was the most challenging task i had ever done, my approach was simple, i was very clear right from the start that the way pre production, characters, backgrounds were being designed with lot of detail and vast extensive sets, there had to be a pipeline which artist could very quickly adapt to and not worry about file management.

So we formed a small research and development team , basically MEL and Python programmers and we started brain storming, bouncing ideas, discussion about what was the most disliked part in our jobs earlier, and since we all came from various departments like fur, animation, lighting etc., atlas most of us knew what we didn’t want in the workflow. We spent almost a year making a simple workflow for every department. Basically ‘clean in and clean out’ , it means whatever comes in the department needs to be a clean file and whatever goes out needs to be a clean file, so every department needs to optimize file and remove unwanted data.

Challenges Faced with Building a World-Class Animation Team in Pune

India is not known for producing high quality animation movies, but from the beginning the Krayon Pictures team was sure that they wanted to build something that was not just “good enough for Indian audiences”, but was truly world class. In doing this, they faced an uphill battle, because it was not easy to get people who have experience of working on that kind of projects.

In addition, things were difficult because Pune did not have too many experienced animation artists. Except for BIG Animation, there are no other big animation production houses in Pune, which meant that hiring was a challenge. Thus, they had to go all over the country, including Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, to find good animators.

One thing they never compromised on, was the quality of the people they hired. Thus, their hiring took longer than expected, but they decided that delays were preferable, but having the right kind of team was more important. They focused on trying to find people who were truly passionate about animation – because the other things can be taught via in-house training programs, but passion cannot.

Advice for Pune based entrepreneurs

Delhi Safari has proved that truly world-class intellectual property can be built out of Pune. However, the whole process was not easy. In addition to all the problems they had to solve in getting the movie made, there were a further set of issues to be faced after the movie was complete. Initially the movie was made in 2D, and then ran into some issues with the international distributors. At this late stage it was decided that the movie needed to be in stereoscopic 3D, so a lot of work had to be done to re-do the movie in 3D.

As a result of this experience, Anand has this important piece of advice for entrepreneurs: Do not start work on developing your IP, before you have sold the product. What he means is that you should validate the market, figure out your distribution channels, and only then develop your product. This is advice for any product entrepreneur, not just movies and animation. It’s interesting to note that this is exactly the same advice that serial entrepreneur Anand Soman gave Pune’s technology entrepreneurs 3 years ago. See “Don’t develop any software until you have a customer” for more details.

Specifically for those interested in building their own animation IP, Anand suggests that they should not start with a movie – that is difficult. Start with smaller things and slowly work you way up to a movie.

Delhi Safari is releasing in movie theatres tomorrow and we wish them the best.

Profile: Renu Electronics & Ajay Bhagwat

(This article is a based on a broad and free-wheeling interview of Ajay Bhagwat, founder of Renu Electronics, by Navin Kabra and Amit Paranjape)

To a large extent, the computer technology in India is synonymous with software technology. So, when we found that Renu Electronics manufactures all its own hardware for all the products it sells, including LCD panels, and that this is all being done in a small building on Baner Road, we were shocked.

Renu Electronics, founded by Ajay Bhagwat, has generally maintained a low profile, but has a very interesting story to tell.

Early Years

Ajay has an interesting educational background. After his engineering at IIT-Bombay, he went to the US on an L&T scholarship, and did his Masters from the University of Iowa. Here, he excelled, finishing his Masters in 9 months, in the process getting some really interesting results. Specifically, he figured out an algorithm in control systems to determine whether a particular system’s transfer function could be identified adaptively or not. This result was useful enough that some senior professors from UIUC and industry folks from GM requested him to do some additional work on this algorithm to get some specific results they were interested in. For this additional work, which he did in a few months, he got an one more Masters degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

1990s – Starting Renu Electronics

Ajay came back to Pune in 88, and by 1992, had decided to start Renu Electronics, 100% export oriented unit selling HMIs (human machine interfaces; i.e. front end control panels for industrial control systems). The basic idea was to sell a common front end panel that could talk to many different backends and give the customer a common interface. The trick is to be able to talk all the different protocols of the different backend systems (which did not have standards or interoperability). This was done using a core firmware and then pluggable drivers for each backend – which also made it easy to add support for new backends. This was a big improvement in usability since having to teach floor technicians a different front end interface for each backend manufacturer was a major pain point for his customers.

At this time, the majority of the business came from white labeling this technology to established brands. Even GE approached them and started selling this technology under the GE brand. He was one of the few people in India at that time who was exporting technology to the US and Europe instead of importing it. When he was filling out a customs department form for this purpose, he got scolded by the customs officer for putting machinery in the outgoing column and money in the incoming column. The officer knew that things are supposed to be the other way around. It took a long time to convince him that the form was indeed correct.

Building Products

Renu’s flagship products are HMIs which allow industry floor operators to do configuration entry, monitoring of status, alarms in case of exceptional conditions, production of reports, and trends (graphs).

By 1995, Renu had decided that they would manufacture all their own hardware. By designing the entire system in-house they were able to achieve efficiencies that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. For example, they used the 8051 chip, and made maximal use of all the features of this chip, so that they were able to do alarm handling, interfaces, dual-port communications, using just the internal RAM of the 8051 chip – which is just 256 bytes. This gave them a huge cost advantage. At one time, they got threatened by a competitor from Europe that dumping (i.e. selling a product at a price less than it costs to manufacture) is illegal and they would take action. The competitor was very surprised to learn that Renu was actually making a 20% profit in spite of the ridiculously low price.

Renu have always been a product company. They have never done a custom product for anyone, and they’ve always owned their own IP.

Initially, they were only providing the front ends, but soon they wondered whether they they should make their own PLC. All the top PLC companies were Renu’s customers, and Renu did not want to upset the customers. But it turns out that customers actually encouraged Renu to enter this space. They were not worried about competition from Renu, but were happy that Renu would understand the market and domain even better and come up with even more innovative products that they could white label.

Renu was the first company in the world to put the PLC in the HMI itself. This works well for smaller systems. But it also led to too many different products and was messy in terms of sales and marketing – and was confusing to customers. So they designed a modular system which allows PLCs to be chained together to create simple or complex PLCs depending upon what exactly the customer needs. This makes it easier for the customer to create a customized system that exactly meets their needs, without having to go for a high-end, expensive system. The fact that the HMI can be with the PLC, and there is no new system and software to be integrated and learnt is another advantage. Now, finally, they have started a line of modular PLCs without the HMI, and most growth in recent years is coming from
the modular PLCs (with or without HMIs).

Focus on Quality

One of the biggest problems faced by Ajay was that neither he (nor most other people in India) understood how to create an industrially robust process. This resulted in manufacture of components that had latent problems – i.e. units that work perfectly fine, but stop working 6 months later. After they continued to have latent failures they learnt from their customers the various things they need to do to ensure long-term quality of their devices. They spent lots of time and money getting in-house quality control equipment and processes. This high level of quality control results in very reliable products – and this is now one of the USPs of Renu Electronics.

We took a tour of the premises and saw some of the advanced equipment used for testing at Renu. There’s one unit that allows devices to be tested at temperatures from -40 to +60 degrees Celsius. Another unit allows humidity testing up to 98% humidity. A voltage fluctuation/spike/pulse tester can produce a spike of 2Kv in 1 nanosecond. This is in addition to vibration testers, RF interference testers, and 60+ other tests. They have installed anti-static flooring on their manufacturing area. This is very expensive at Rs. 1600 per square foot, but has paid off handsomely, because their latent errors are now down to almost zero.

Staying Ahead of The Curve

Renu believes in implementing processes that they believe are the right thing to do in the long term irrespective of whether they are immediately required by customers or the law. For example, Renu is one of the few ISO-14001 compliant companies. Sometimes, this causes a problem for other companies, because Renu sets the standard and soon the others are expected to follow. On the other hand, sometimes this causes a problem for Renu.

For example, Renu was one of the first companies companies that was ROHS compliant. For this, they had to invest in ROHS compliant machinery and components – which cost significantly more. Further, their running costs went up, because the components they needed on a regular basis were more expensive. But, they’re still ROHS compliant because it is the right thing to do. This story has a happy ending (financially) though – from 1st January, 2012, this investment is going to pay off because there are two new Indian Government directives that will enforce control of hazardous materials, and Renu will already be compliant, whereas other companies would have to struggle.

KPIT Story

Ajay Bhagwat was also one of the promoters of KPIT, one of Pune’s most well known software services companies.

When Ajay was in IIT, he was very interested in music, and would organize and compete in music competitions (he was one of the people behind the creation of a program called Sur-Bahar, which still happens). Shirish Patwardhan was one of the people Ajay used to bump into at music competitions at IIT. Later, in the late 80s they met again in Pune, and started talking about starting a company for doing software products/services. So Ajay joined the software wing of Kirtane and Pandit (an accounting firm) and KPIT was born. Ajay helped set up the quality systems, and the embedded team for KPIT. Although Ajay has been out of day-to-day functioning of KPIT for a long time, he was a director of KPIT until recently.

Contributions to the tech/startup ecosystem in Pune

To those watching the startup ecosystem in Pune, it is clear that Ajay is also one of people helping TiE Pune’s revival this year. This year, TiE has had fortnightly ‘My Story’ sessions with very interesting and accomplished entrepreneurs, and monthly ‘Breakfast sessions’ with more free-wheeling discussions on issues of interest to entrepreneurs. This vitality of TiE in Pune is a very welcome addition to the startup ecosystem in Pune, and will certainly go a long way in cementing Pune’s position as one of the top destinations for doing startups in India.

As a charter member of TiE Pune, Ajay also sets aside 5 to 6 hours every week for one-on-one mentoring of entrepreneurs in Pune. This is a non-trivial time-commitment for any busy executive, but even that, says Ajay, is not enough. There is need for more mentorship of entrepreneurs in Pune. If you have a startup in Pune with actual revenues and enterprise sales, we would suggest talking to Ajay
for some guidance.

Interview with Mahendra Palsule – Editor at TechMeme

(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.

_(Please read the full interview at BlogAdda for more. Also check out the recent PuneTech article about Google+ which features the views of Mahendra on why Quora and Twitter should be afraid of Google+.)

Interview with Nitin Sonawane – co-founder of Tap ‘n Tap

(Last month, Tap ‘n Tap, a Boston based startup that has a development center in Pune, and which aims to “bring multiple iPad competitors to the market”, announced that it has raised $2.25 million in Series A funding led by New Atlantic Ventures. PuneTech interviewed Nitin Sonawane, co-founder of Tap ‘n Tap, and an ex-Pune-Nashik-ite, who is currently visiting Pune.

For more background on Tap ‘n Tap, see this MIT Tech Review article and this this detailed profile from MassHighTech.com

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?

Nitin Sonawane is a co-founder of Tap n Tap. Having worked in Pune for a while before moving to the US, he knows from personal experience that Pune has lots of high quality talent available.
Nitin Sonawane is a co-founder of Tap 'n Tap. Having worked in Pune for a while before moving to the US, he knows from personal experience that Pune has lots of high quality talent available.

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?

Tap n Tap is building a full software stack for bringing touch based Home Internet Devices to the market.
Tap 'n Tap, which recently raised $2.25 million, is building a full software stack for bringing touch based "Home Internet Devices" to the market, with the help of their development team in Pune

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.

Intervew with Chetan Deshmukh: Hollywood Animator who returned to start-up in Pune

(In recent years, Pune is emerging as a hub for animation studios. Chetan Deshmukh, who was working in the top animation studios in Hollywood, returned to Pune a few years ago to set up his own studio, Toolbox Studios. PuneTech caught up with him at his lovely office on S.B. Road, which combines the old world charms of a Puneri wada with the latest technologies, in an attempt to provide workplace that inspires creativity. In this interview, we talk to him about what he’s hoping to achieve, and about Pune’s status as an animation hub)

Can you share with us your story, from the time that you landed up picking animation as a career choice, up to now that you’ve founded Toolbox Studios

Chetan Deshmukh gave up his engineering degree to pursue a career in animation in Hollywood. After having gained experience there, he returned to Pune to start his own animation and visual effects studio.
Chetan Deshmukh gave up his engineering degree to pursue a career in animation in Hollywood. After having gained experience there, he returned to Pune to start his own animation and visual effects studio.

Well…It all started of way back in 1993, when I was in my 10th standard. For me being in Animation and Visual Effects, credit goes to my Father, Anand Deshmukh, who is FTII Graduate and a film maker for last 20 years. I grew up around shooting, Editing, Dubbing, Music and post production. So the liking towards the industry was inevitable.

I was a decent student in school and as it used to happen that career was pretty much a group decision then – after 10th, Science and Engineering. It was decided – I would doing the same. However, after 2 years at MIT, Polymer Engineering, I was more than sure that the Animation is the career I want to go for. The hobby in earlier years had turned into profession. Without any guidance, I was getting pretty decent at animation and started contributing towards our studio activities.

I will not call myself a perfectionist, but I do believe in doing things in a best way possible. My dream of going to Hollywood to learn was taking shape. I got an admission at a film school at UCLA in 1999. After graduation, I had to work hard to get my foot in the industry. In my tenure of 4 years as a professional Visual effects artist and Animator, I worked at several studios in Hollywood. Chicago, Last Samurai, Daredevil, Shanghai Knights, torque, Timeline and few more are the feature films to my credit.

Hollywood is such place that you never get enough of, ever. I was learning everyday; but at the same time, my desire to start my own studio was growing bigger. Visual Effects and Animation was the topic in India 4-5 years ago and industry was about to take off. With this desire, I decided to come back and started off with my own small animation and visual effects shop called Toolbox Animation Studio.

What exactly does Toolbox studios do, and what are your future plans?

TOOLBOX is a Visual Effects house and Animation Studio, serving the Motion Picture, Animation and Interactive Industry from its home in Pune, India. With Creativity and Technical ability housed together, TOOLBOX offers a ONE-STOP facility for all their Animation and Visual effect needs.

Toolbox Studios is an animation and visual effects studio, that uses digital imaging technologies to provide animation, gaming and effects services, and to develop original content.
Toolbox Studios is a Pune-based an animation and visual effects studio, that uses digital imaging technologies to provide animation, gaming and effects services, and to develop original content.

Our work is the story or has to support the story. Sometimes our work is completely invisible and perfectly integrated, and sometimes simply defying reality. We believe in using science to create art which has particular a magic element to it, with certain appeal for both sides of the human brain.

Our Studio’s commitment to researching and mastering the latest digital imaging technologies allow us to create unique and creative visuals that uphold Toolboxâs reputation as cutting edge contributor to Animation, Gaming and Visual Effects Industry in India and Overseas.

We as in Toolbox, have been laying low till date. I have taken my own sweet time to ensure that work environment is right, work standards are at par with the world and we deliver quality on time. Animation and Visual effects is a collaborative business I feel. After 6 feature films to our credit along with several TV Commercials, we are branching out. We are hoping to hold hands with studios in Germany, Sweden, Paris and United Stated.

As far as animation is concerned, we have always imagined ourselves as content creators and not mere service provider. That’s in motion as well.

A company going Public, is a future to aim at.

Recently you acquired the rights to the cartoon character Chintoo. People from Pune or elsewhere in Maharashtra have grown up with Chintoo, but our other readers might not be familiar with the iconic status of Chintoo. Can you give us some idea of why you acquired the rights to Chintoo, and what you plan to do with the Chintoo character?

To me, Animation is just another medium to tell a story. And to do that convincingly, what you need is a very strong content. Along with that, what we look out for while designing or animating a character is that it should be emotionally believable. Only then people can relate and react to it.

Chintoo is a very popular comic strip that has been running in many newspapers across Maharashtra, Karnatak, etc. since 1991. Toolbox Studios have acquired the rights to produce and market new Chintoo content.
Chintoo is a very popular comic strip that has been running in many newspapers across Maharashtra, Karnatak, etc. since 1991. Toolbox Studios have acquired the rights to produce and market new Chintoo content.

Chintoo along with his family and friends certainly has that quality. With the history of last 20 Years, Chintoo has strong base as far as content is concerned. Chintoo is running in Kannada for last 4 years apart from Marathi. It’s been enjoying the same success in Kannada as it did and does in Marathi. That pretty much rules out the language barrier. Chintoo addressed common problems of kids along with parents which happens practically in every home in India. with certain Cultural differences that we have, a small tweak would keep the humor alive I hope.

Likability and emotional quotient are the factors which are way bigger than the language I feel. Also Chintoo does not have a surname. It is a very funny, smart, witty, humorous character which exists in all colors that we have in India. In a nutshell, I see lot of potential for Chintoo in animation.

To begin with, we would be developing 30-second Chintoo animation clips for TV, Mobile and Web. A social community portal along with games and many more interactive experiences is underway for chintoo at www.clubchintoo.com. Work for TV Episodes will start by next year. Final aim would be to produce an Animated feature Film of Chintoo.

In trying to do all that you would like to do here, what are your primary challenges?

It’s been 4 years that I have been back and started off with Toolbox. Awareness for animation has not grown as it should have. To find a talent is a major challenge. Education is absolutely no way near the mark.

Apart from that the Mindset is a huge primary challenge. Mindset of the employees or students and along with that of the investors. People have been looking at animation as an easy career or an opportunity to earn quick buck without much to do for. We might be in for a rude awakening.

I believe you are using a lot of open source tools in your work. Can you give some details of what technologies/software packages you’re working with? And, as far as I understand, you are not a software development shop, and you don’t really have developers. So how are you coping? And is there some way in which the open source community in Pune can help you?

I have been fortunate enough to work at best studios in the world to see, observe, and learn their pipeline closely. I Have been trying to implement the same here in Pune at Toolbox. We do say that technology can never replace craft but the kind of technology which is available today is taking the animation and visual effects to a different orbit all together. We look at software or hardware as a tool to create whatever we imagine.

We are using Side Effect Software’s Houdini, Autodesk Maya, Eyeon’s Digital Fusion as our primary animation and vfx tools. Real flow would be another example which we use for liquid dynamics. C, C ++ would be the initial skillset which is needed. but in recent past most of the above mentioned programs have adopted “Python” as a core scripting language.

We understand the power of using open source programs where we can customize and create our own tools to suit a particular requirement. But not being a software development shop, process becomes a bit tough. We are developing our own skills all the time. We are fortunate enough to have few artists with inclination towards programming, who are getting trained in this domain. But I would rather let them animate, which they are good at. Open Source community can certainly of great help here to find technologists – who are an integral part of any animation and visual effects studio.

In recent years, Pune has emerged as an “animation hub”. Can you give us a feel for why Pune is being called an animation hub, and what advantages Pune has over other places for animation companies.

It’s been more than 3 years that a committee was setup for Animation, Gaming, Visual effects and comics at MCCIA (Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture), Pune under the leadership of Commodore Anand Khandekar. He along with committee members have taken great efforts in helping companies to set up their operations in Pune. Big Animation, Ubi Soft, Jump Games are just a few examples. We have been running awareness programs thru seminars for students and professionals. Dialogue has initiated between various studios, which will help create more collaborative productions. This in turn will help create a better content.

For last couple of years, Studios in Pune have grown significantly for Animation, Visual Effects and Gaming, taking Pune to a level where it can be called Hub for Animation. To add to this, Education Institutes have also been mushrooming in the city. DSK’s Supinfocom would be amongst the best. MIT School of Design, Symbiosis media School along with many private Animation Institutes are contributing towards creating our own talent pool.

Another achievement of the committee is the AVGC (Animation, Vfx, Gaming and comics) policy which has been submitted to government of Maharashtra. So the Animation industry will not only enjoy the similar benefits which IT has but will help flourish and attract foreign studios.

Pune advantage: I will quote Commodore Khandekar’s words here which sum it all up:

Art and culture combined with IT is Animation. Pune has all the ingredients.

While Pune is still an emerging animation hub, there is still a lot more that could be done for making it a truly world class destination for animation. What should we, as a community be doing? And are you aware of any such initiatives that are already working towards it?

Absolutely there is lot that can be done. Some initiatives I have already mentioned above which are being carried out thru MCCIA. Funding, Infrastructure, Distribution Network for the Content are some of the issues which needs to be solved. Animation and Gaming SEZ could be another idea.

Awareness programs for students and quality of education is another serious concern. Which has to be fixed ASAP so as to have better resources and for industry to survive as well.

Do you think there is scope for software / IT professionals to consider animation as a career choice? What kinds of opportunities exist in this domain?

As discussed earlier about technologists and their importance in Animation and Visual Effects , IT surely can play major role in Entertainment Business. With Open source Softwares in our arsenal, opportunities are many.

Every Module in the process to create animated content will have opportunities for programming. Lighting, Rendering, Compositing, Rigging to name a few.

Students from BE Computers, BE IT, MCM with some inclination and passion towards creative industry can surely think of Animation industry as another domain to work for.

Venture Center – Pune’s incubator for startups in biotech, chemical, materials sciences

Kaushik Gala, Business Development Manager at Venture Center is looking for all innovators in the areas of biology, chemical, and material sciences.
Kaushik Gala, Business Development Manager at Venture Center is looking for all innovators in the areas of biology, chemical, and material sciences.

Venture Center is an incubator housed in NCL Pune, created with this purpose:

To nucleate and nurture technology and knowledge-based enterprises for India by leveraging the scientific and engineering competencies of the institutions in the region.

Envisioned Future: To be the organisation that will be credited with creating, shaping and sustaining a “Pune cluster” of innovative technology businesses with a significant economic impact regionally, nationally and globally within the next 20 years.

To find out more about Venture Center, we interviewed Kaushik Gala, the Business Development Manager of Venture Center. Here are excerpts from the interview:

1. What is Venture Center?

Entrepreneurship Development Center (‘Venture Center’) is a technology business incubator approved by the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. Venture Center is incorporated as a Section 25 not-for-profit Company established under the Companies Act 1956.

Venture Center was setup with support from the Department of Science & Technology – National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (DST-NSTEDB) and National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) (constituent lab of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research).

2. What are the services that Venture Center will provide incubatee companies?

Venture Center provides:

· Infrastructure – Dedicated labs, shared work-benches, analytical facilities, offices, hot-desks, etc.

· Advisory – Intellectual property, business planning, startup nuts-and-bolts issues, etc.

· Fund-raising – Seed stage fund raising from various sources including government agencies (eg. MoMSME), professional investors, etc.

· Technology commercialization program (‘Lab2Mkt’)

· Information and learning center – Library, databases, workshops, seminars, etc.

3. At what stage do you expect innovators and/or startup companies to approach you?

We offer resources and services at all stages of an early-stage technology startup – ranging from idea/conception, to prototype to Series A/B financing.

4. Obviously you are not interested in incubating any and all startups? Can you describe, with some examples, what sectors you are limiting yourself to?

Our focus is on the areas of material, chemical and biological sciences and related engineering / software ventures. However, some of our services are open to all individual entrepreneurs and startups.

Specific examples include startups that have commercialization technologies related to surgical implants, membranes for water purification, CFD and modeling solutions, etc.

5. Are the innovators expected to move to Pune, into your facility, to avail of any of your services?

For startups that need our infrastructure facilities, being located in Pune is obviously preferable. However, for services such as advisory and fund-raising, they can be located outside Pune as well.

6. How is Venture Center funded? What are your long-term funding plans?

Venture Center is funded via:

· A grant from DST-NSTEDB for start-up costs and operational expenses for the first 5-years

· In-kind support from NCL

· Donations from well wishers

After the fifth year of operation, Venture Center is expected to become self-sufficient. Besides generating revenue from a variety of services, our long-term funding plans include:

· Raising capital from governmental agencies and professional investors to set up an early-stage (‘seed’) fund for investment in technology ventures

· Raising grant funds from governmental and corporate agencies to expand our services portfolio

· Partnering with other R&D labs, domestic/foreign incubators, etc.

You can find out more about Venture Center at its website which is packed with a huge amount of detail. Information about the executive team behind Venture Center is here.
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India/China better markets today for tech startups – Ajit Shelat, SVP, Nevis Networks

Ajit Shelat Nevis Networks
Ajit Shelat, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Nevis Networks

Nevis Networks, a mostly-Pune-based-company (with “official” headquarters in the US, and an additional center in China), builds network switches and other network hardware that allows a company to secure it’s internal network from attacks and to enforce identity-based security policies. The company’s LANenforcer product family transparently protects the network from external malicious attacks, and also allows restricting access to different network resources based on users’ identities according to policies set by the system administrators. This can be customized to ensure different levels of access to different classes of users, employees, contractors, guests and other third parties. In addition, the product allows detailed reporting, auditing, employee activity reports that make it possible to analyze security breaches in very granular detail. And because it is hardware based, all of this is delivered in realtime with very low latency.

Nevis Networks’ customers range from financial services, healthcare, education and defense contractors and they deploy Nevis LANenforcers to protect sensitive network resources and assets, with an intention of reducing the overall costs and time to resolve security breaches and conduct network audits. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, CA, with additional R&D centers in Pune, India and Beijing, China.

The ongoing recession has hit Nevis Networks hard, and it downsized a very large fraction of its workforce late last year. On top of that, on Monday, in a report title “LSI Acquires Manpower Team of Navis Networking”, CXOToday implied that the company (which they alternately identified as Navis Networks or Nevis Networks in the article) had shutdown and the team taken over by LSI. Specifically, this is what CXOToday said:

With recession being an opportunity to invest for big MNCs, LSI Technologies, a provider of innovative silicon, systems and software technologies has acquired the team of Navis Networking based at Pune. With the R&D unit based out of Mountain View, California shutting down, LSI has acquired the manpower of the captive R&D centre in India.

After hearing from PuneTech readers that this report is misleading, we caught up with Ajit Shelat, Senior Vice President of Engineering for Nevis Networks, to learn that the reports of Nevis’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. Here is a quick report of the conversation we had with Ajit:

On the news that LSI has “acquired” the “manpower” of Nevis but not the company.

The report by CXOToday is misleading. What actually happened is much simpler. Due to the economic downturn last year, Nevis Networks was looking to downsize some of its workforce. A friendly interaction between the respective managements of Nevis and LSI led to movement of some of Nevis manpower to LSI. This was a simple case of Nevis ex-employees being hired by LSI en masse. It does not represent any sort of acquisition or even agreement between Nevis and LSI. And these are certainly not the entire team of Nevis Networks India, as implied by the CXOToday article.

In any case, Nevis networks is not shutting down. It continues to execute on a with strategy and focus.

On the current status of Nevis Networks

Nevis networks core team is still there and it is going strong. In fact, the last quarter was quite good and has been the best quarter for Nevis since the inception of the company.

What has happened is that due to the downturn, Nevis shifted its focus away from the US market to the India and China markets, reduced its workforce in the US and in India, and this new strategy appears to be working for them.

On the surprising fact that India/China are better markets than the US market

Since Nevis Networks is selling cutting edge technology, one would have expected US to be the logical market for these products. However, people really underestimate the extent of the effect the economic recession is having on the market there. While the markets really melted around September 2008, the signs have been obvious for at least an year before that, and starting Nov/Dec 2007, Nevis had started planning its strategy of shifting focus away from the US market to the India/China markets.

In tune with their new strategy, Nevis substantially reduced its India workforce. They continue to support existing customers in the US, but new customers are coming mainly from India – which is apparently not affected by the recession as much. In general, it is easier for a company with mainly Indian promoters to sell in India than in other countries.

China is another country where sales are expected to grow – Nevis is in the process of stengthening its sales presence in China. The Chinese market, having a significantly different character, takes a longer ramp up time to achieve its full potential – though a very good start has been made in terms of immediate sales. Like other markets, achieving full potential is really a function of getting the right people on the ground, and building the right relationships and customer confidence. All this effort is justified by the fact that the Chinese market has the potential to scale up dramatically.

More about Nevis Networks

Nevis Networks was founded in 2002 with the intention of building a network security solution with high speed and low latency, using its proprietary ASIC-based technology. As of last year, Nevis had raised a total of US$40 million in three rounds of funding from premier venture capital firms New Enterprise Associates, BlueRun Ventures (formerly Nokia Venture Partners) and New Path Ventures LLC. We are told that their funding situation has recently changed and an announcement to this effect is expected in the next couple of weeks.

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Enrich your website (with content & money) – An interview with Hover.in

hover_logoHover.in is a Pune startup that provides a service for web publishers (i.e. website/blog owners) to automatically insert extra content into the webpages, in the form of a bubble that appears when the mouse is hovered over underlined words. The bubble can be informational (like a map appearing wherever a name of a place appears, or a background information about a company appearing wherever a name of a company appears), or it can be contextual, in-text, advertisement from hover’s network of partners, and most importantly it is fully under the publisher’s control. While services like this have been around in other forms, hover.in believes that its ability to handle any language, and the focus on Indian market sets it apart from the competition. See the PuneTech profile of hover.in to get a better idea of what hover.in provides.

Hover.in was one of the startups chosen to be showcased at proto.in’s Jan ’08 edition. Earlier this, week, they announced that they have received seed funding from Media2Win, and will soon be seen in action on some large Indian portals.

PuneTech interviewed Arun Prabhudesai, CEO of Hover.in, (he also runs popular Indian Business blog trak.in) to get a deeper look at hover.in. To be true to the “tech” part of PuneTech, we also asked some technical questions that were answered by Bhasker V. Kode (Bosky), CTO of Hover.

Q: Congratulations on getting funded – especially under these economic conditions. How do you plan on using this funding – what will be the focus areas?

The seed funding was finalized few months back before the whole “recession” thing started constantly ringing in our ears.

Actually, from hover.in perspective we feel this funding as more of strategic investment where Media2Win – being a leading digital media agency – will help us to go to the market. We have immensely benefitted from the experience Me2W brings on table.

The funding is being mostly used to ramp up our technical resources and infrastructure.

Q: Your main “customers” are website publishers. Are you targeting any specific geography, like India (as the .in domain name would suggest)?

Hover.in in-text platform is global and open for web publishers and bloggers from all geographies. However, we are actively targeting Indian market first. India currently does not have any in-text platform and that’s puts us in a great position to capture this market. Infact, hover.in is world’s first in-text platform that is also language agnostic, which opens up a large chunk of regional language websites.

Q: I keep hearing that “there isn’t enough money to be made from online advertisements alone in India, except for a few specific verticals.” And you seem to be going squarely after this market. What is your take on this issue?

You know, this people have started talking about because there are too many ad networks that have come up in last couple of years…more than 15 odd I can count on my fingers !

But if you look at the larger picture, online advertisements are the only ones that are growing year on year. Traditional advertising is hardest hit…

For us the advantage is, we DO NOT compete with traditional ad networks as they are 99% display advertising. We are in-text and this market has not even tapped. From publisher perspective, it is an additional channel for content and monetization.

From Advertisers, this is the most targeted way of displaying their advertisement. Also, as we follow CPA / CPC kind of model, advertisers have full ROI on investment.

Co-founders of Hover.in - Bhasker V. Kode, CTO (left) and Arun Prabhudesai, CEO
Co-founders of Hover.in - Bhasker V. Kode, CTO (left) and Arun Prabhudesai, CEO

Q: If I remember right, you are using Erlang for your development – a very non-standard choice. Can you share the reasons behind the choice? Isn’t it difficult to get Erlang developers? In retrospect are you happy with this decision?

(by Bosky)

Erlang has been used to build fault-tolerant and distributed applications for quite some time in areas like telecom, especially for allowing highly granular choices in networking. Off-late projects like ejabberd, mnesia, yaws and tsung have shown how products spanning several hundred nodes can be implemented with the erlang stack and in particular – web technologies.

It most definitely is a paradigm shift courtesy of it’s functional programming concepts, and we are glad we took that decision because of its inherent focus on distributed systems, and although the erlang developer community in India is non-existent, with the right attitude towards learning now a day’s it does’nt matter. Moreover it only took a couple of months for our developers to get used to the semantics, following which as with any stack – it’s about what you do with that expertise.

Erlang gives you that power, but at the same time – there are areas where it might not seem a right fit and perhaps look to perl or ruby for tasks that suit them. For example, we use python wherever it seems required as well. The good part is erlang open-source community has quite a closely-knit presence online, which does help quite a lot. We ourselves are now looking at contributing and opening up internal projects.

Q: One of the important challenges for hover.in will be scalability. How are you gearing up to handle that?

(By Bosky)

Right from day one, erlang based systems like ours are designed built for horizontal scaling – which allows plug-n-play addition to our growing cluster. Regardless of the development stack you work on – some things need to be built in early and that’s something we spend a whole lot of time during our first year fine tuning.

Especially for us – where practically every page hit – for every one of our users – reflects a page visit to us where we need to compute and render hovers in a matter of milliseconds. To this end – before starting out application-logic, we first built out our own distributed priority-queuing systems, our own distributed crawler and various indexing mechanisms, a time-splicing based cpu allocation for various tasks, which made things like adding jobs, executing them a more controlled operation regardless of what the actual job is and has been handling burst mode quite well.

Moreover, we can also add workers on-the-fly to almost all major tasks much like an Amazon ec2 instance where each work itself is supervised for crash recovery thanks to erlang’s open telecom platform libraries and guidelines. Caching is something else we have and continue to work on consistently. No matter how many papers, algorithms or implementations there are out there – every system needs to fine tune their own unique set of optimizations vs compromises that reflect their infrastructure, traffic, memory & space needs,etc ..

Having granular control of this is something that is a real challenge as well as a pleasure with the stack (Linux, Yaws, Mnesia, Erlang). We ‘ve also been quick to adopt cloud-computing initiatives like Amazon s3, and more recently cloudfront for our static content delivery needs.

We’re also working on a parallel map-reduce implementation, exploring options with xmpp, and better logging for our developers to find and fix glitches or bottlenecks, eventually translating to a faster and better user experience for our users.

Q: You moved to Pune specifically to start hover.in. What made you choose Pune?

Yes, I did move to Pune to start hover.in, however, it would not be fair to say that is the only reason why I moved here. I have lived most of my formative years here in Pune, before going to USA. And as you know, once a Puneite, always a Puneite!

Actually we had to choose from 2 cities – Chennai (Our Co-founder, Bhasker VK, is from Chennai) and Pune. Few important aspects tilted the balance in favour of latter. Better weather, Pune’s proximity to Mumbai where majority of big publishers, investors and advertisers have their offices. To add to it all Pune has great startup & tech community.

Q: In the journey so far, have you made any significant mistakes that you’d like to share with others, so they can learn from your experience?

Absolutely… Mistakes are important aspect of learning process and especially for first generation entrepreneurs like Bosky and Me. I think “attention to detail” is one of the most important aspects that an entrepreneur should watch for. You need to have clear in-depth blueprint in your mind about the direction your startup is going to take, otherwise it’s very easy to fall off the cliff!

Optimizing, especially during these tough times – be it resources, infrastructure or even your time. Optimize everything. Startups can’t afford any leaks.

The third thing and the one which I don’t see very often. Partner with other startups; see if there are any synergies between you. In most cases it is a win-win situation for both of them

Q: Are you partnering with other startups? At this stage, would it be possible for you to share info about any of these partnerships?

Yes, we are…one example would be Alabot (another Pune startup -ed.). Where we have got their NLP application (Travel bot) inside our hoverlet. So for any travel related publishers, it becomes a boon. So a win-win situation for both of us.

Another example would be – Before we got our own office, 2 other startups were kind enough to accommodate us for few weeks – These kind of partnerships in any way possible go a long way !

Q: What would your advice for struggling Pune entrepreneurs be?

Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride … It ain’t easy, but the thrills along the way make it all more than worth it!

Just jump into the rough waters and by the time you reach the other side, you will be glad you did it….

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