What Ails India 

I visited Thailand for the first time in 1990 on an Internal audit mission to Indorama Chemicals Thailand. The factory is about 125 kms away from Bangkok in Saraburi Province. Entire top management of the company were Indians who used to think that we are intellectually far superior in comparison to the local Thais who were perceived to be simple and innocent people. We used to make fun of Thai people and used to believe that, it’s just a matter of time before Indian industry took over the Thai businesses as many industrial groups like Indorama and Aditya Birla were setting up factories and many big companies in Thailand were owned by Indians who settled there.

I interacted with a lot of Thais within the factory and outside and found them to be very simple and happy go lucky people. High quality global brands in clothes and electronics etc were quite cheap and I even used to borrow money from friends there to shop more before coming back home.

If you look at Thailand today after 28 years, they are ahead of us by three times in wealth creation. Not a single top ten Thai company seems to be owned by Indians. Yesterday, we met a Thai delegation from a large industrial products company which wants to relocate their shared services centre to India to take advantage of labour arbitrage.

What puzzled my mind is where did these so-called Indian intellectuals go. Why couldn’t they grow in Thailand and why did their country (India) remain a laggard in wealth creation? Thailand excelled in agriculture and they are one of the major exporters of Agri-products. Thailand built multibillion dollar companies, they may have more number of $10+ billion companies than in India, though it’s just less than one-tenth of India in size.

Same is the case with Dubai too. When I landed in Dubai airport early this morning, I am amazed at the number of Emirates and FlyDubai planes occupying the entire parking space. They have taken complete control of India and Europe/US air traffic. Despite an early start, why have we failed to get any meaningful share of this traffic? Can you imagine the tragedy of Brand Air India’s reputation? Not a single company in the world wants to buy it. This shows Indian Government’s understanding of businesses and managing PSUs.

I am still not able to have a good grasp of what ails India and the Indians in aggregate? I have been asking our CMs to debate on this subject but with no response so far. Is it not an important topic for debate?


Shades of Happiness

The meaning of “Happiness” seems so elusive. It is subjective and left to the interpretation of the one who experiences it. There are many definitions for happiness and “A positive experience of emotions” is one among them. Happiness starts with small joys and reaches bigger milestones. The inflection point comes when one realizes true happiness lies in contentment and giving. Sharing one’s own limited resources with others. The more limited the resources are, the more happiness one can draw from giving. Suddenly, life becomes purposeful and more meaningful. Giving has the power of healing both the parties: Giver and receiver. Then comes a stage where giving itself won’t be enough to generate true happiness. This is the stage of enlightenment.  No more roller coaster rides of happiness and unhappiness with each possession and its departure. No more unrest due to one’s own inability to give. One sees happiness beyond materialistic things, beyond the joy of giving but in the true essence of life. That inner world. At this stage one is immune to the external world. There is inner peace and clarity. One becomes an observer of thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Let us start with small joys. First IPL match of the league, first mango of the season, first drops of monsoon, first sip of hot chai in rain and so on. Small joys give one much needed break from a long day’s hardships, challenges and pain. I call them in-the-moment happiness.

Take the case of an Indian engineer who is desperate to go to US for higher studies. The magic words “please pay the fees” from an US consulate officer, makes a student visa seeker extremely happy. Soon after she lands on the other side of the world, her happiness fades away into the haze of sub-zero temperatures, accumulating tuition debts and nostalgia of the Indian past. After Masters, approval of H-1B work visa makes her happy again as it allows her to stay in USA for six years. Earnings from the first two years are washed out for paying off the debts. She is happy again that her savings from the next two years got deposited in the walls of new home for parents back home. Struggle for waiting the long green card queues makes her unhappy. When the plastic card finally arrives, she is happy again, albeit momentarily. I call them milestone-driven happiness.

Take the case of Vitor, A Portuguese who is in India on a temporary work visa. Vitor earns to make a living in India but he has hardly any savings. The sooner he learnt about a young programmer who got into a freaking accident, Vitor rushed to the hospital, hand-loaned quick money to the poor parents of the victim. Vitor didn’t stop there. Vitor knows that the parents can’t bear even an hour of ICU costs, forget the days and weeks of ICU stay followed by months of rehabilitation. He crowd-funded eleven lakhs through his contacts and solicitations, just within 72 hours. All he did was a genuine appeal with the true rationale behind the funds sought. One of the TiE charter members I know quietly gave one tenth of the funds. Both the victim and Vitor are strangers to him until then. Charter member found his happiness in giving and so is Vitor, though their paths of giving are different. 

Dan Gilbert said, “Choice makes you unhappier with every choice you make. Lack of choice makes you happier.” Think of arranged marriages versus love marriages. When parents helped you select your spouse, you probably have less choice than when you dated many to find the one. Then divorce rate in USA is 53% and divorce rate in India is in single digits. 55% of the marriages of the world are arranged! Though these numbers are questionable, they do drive a point. Arranged or not, less choices make one happier.

Emily Esfahani quotes, “If you choose happiness as an objective, you will be unhappy. Instead of chasing happiness, chase meaning in life.” Happiness comes and goes but living a meaningful life stays. We often look outward for happiness, but external things often aren’t in our control and they eventually collapse. Train your mind to see through the pain, anger and all other emotions. Then these emotions won’t bother you anymore. You kind of draw inner peace. One can then draw positive experience from not only positive emotions but also negative emotions. Happy happiness.

Evangelizing the Brand TiE

Story of TiE Hyderabad
JA Choudhary is a man of simplicity and commitment. During the entire conversation, he never claimed once “I did it”. He gave full credit to his team for the phenomenal work they did in establishing India’s first Software Technology Park in Bangalore, setting up first Software Technology Park in Hyderabad and most importantly building the brand of TiE in Hyderabad.

 JA Chowdhary
Back in 2001 or so, When I took over as President of TiE Hyderabad from Srini Raju, I didn’t think the responsibility would be that big. I inherited zero money. TiE Hyderabad didn’t even have a bank account. I leveraged my own team and my own resources. First, we formed a society. We made charter membership fee very attractive to have quick critical mass.

Selfless team
It was difficult in those days to make entrepreneurs of Hyderabad aware about TiE as people only knew about NASSCOM and CII. Few entrepreneurs and people like Fahran, Vishnu Raju, Praveen Raju, Debasish Patnaik came together as a strong volunteer team with no expectations. Their hardwork is the reason why TiE Hyderabad became an established brand today. We shall recognize their selfless services. TiE shall call and facilitate them for doing the initial grunt work. In fact, Farhan paid his own personal money on credit card for many transactions as we didn’t have money in TiE’s treasure.

Early days
TiE members from Silicon Valley showed us the direction and contributed to the cause of TiE Hyderabad in its initial days. Some of the members that we shall thank include Sai Gundavelli, Veena Gundavelli, Raju Reddy, Ram Reddy, Sridhar Iyergar and others. Contributions by Raju Reddy of Sierra Atlantic, which is now part of Hitachi Consulting and Sai Gundavalli are highly significant. TIE Global was persistent in pushing us to form a secretariat team at the earliest. It was hard. I brought in Col. Ravi and he agreed to work without any salary. Utkarsh of E&Y helped us with all the paper work to form the society. Raju Indukuri of Satyam brought in the who’s who of Silicon Valley and they used to address the entrepreneurs at Hyderabad. We got support from a large Hyderabad IT company to host all our events. Some of the speakers included Chandra Shekhar of Exodus, Kanwal Reki and others.

Story of TiE-ISB Connect
Praveen Raju once met Mr. MR Rao, then Dean of ISB. We met him, and he quickly had an MoU with ISB. In those days we didn’t have visibility for the smaller events we did. This is when the TiE-ISB connect conference started. One Chandru of ISB and I coined the name for TiE-ISB Connect. Around the same time, Satish Andra was planning to return to India. He is very good at conceptualization and organization. Satish brought in Tim Draper as a speaker for the first TiE-ISB conference in 2005. We conducted business plan competition and elevator pitches. Maturity of the companies in Hyderabad was below average and some VCs were very upset. We started things from the ground up. Unfortunately, most of the speakers were from Bombay and the incessant rains there made them not show up. Luckily, we found some alternate speakers from within Hyderabad. For all the TiE-ISB connect annual events, we invited sitting chief minister of the state and it gave us visibility and media buzz.

We created special interest groups. We added Jumpstart as a pre-event starting from second TiE-ISB connect in 2006. Jumpstart is a one-day workshop for Entrepreneurs of Hyderabad and had become a bigger success than the conference itself. Deal flows started to happen days and even months after the conference. Lot of connections made at TiE-ISB connect translated to many deal flows. Every week all the volunteers used to come together and discuss with Satish Andra and Ajit Rangnekar at ISB. We had marathon meetings. I really want to thank all the participants who gave two hours every week as a ritual at ISB.

VC Connect was a big hit. Every TiE-ISB Connect, created the corpus for TiE Hyderabad chapter. This is the money that helped us hire TiE team. At one point of time, we got both CBN and YSR to attend the event. ISB got the brand in those days and it pulled TiE Hyderabad along. Students of ISB were immensely benefited from the speakers at TiE-ISB Connect.  I have ensured TiE Hyderabad board had an active young Startups as members. All those Startup founders have exited successfully eventually.

Most of the Startups in those days were in their early stage and we debated to make our own Hyderabad Angels. This is how Hyderabad Angels started. TiE Hyderabad incubated Hyderabad Angels initially. With the success of TiE Hyderabad, it propelled me Into the TiE Global Board of Trustees. Farhan pushed and nominated me in the last minute. Thanks to people like Farhan and others for nurturing TiE Hyderabad and fostering it. We coined Hyderabad4Innovation during the presidency of Ramesh Babu.

Ramesh Loganathan is another pillar. He used to conduct Startup Saturday events at Lamakaan. TiE Hyderabad really pulled things together.

I am one of the few who conceptualized HYSEA. We founded American Chamber (AmCham) before Bill Clinton came to Hyderabad. I was fortunate to do whatever contribution I could do.

My Family
Wife: Shanti Priya never objected to whatever I chose to do. Her cooperation is commendable even though I hardly stayed home.

Elder daughter: Anju Swetha is a good mentor and she helps her friends a lot. She is a net net giver. Her husband is into orthopedics.
Younger daughter: Naga Sravani is a pediatrician and a professor at Apollo Medical College. She is very focused in her profession. Her husband is a doctor in a cancer hospital.
Son: Swapnik has a Startup in Bangalore. He is very focused and grounded.

My background
I hail from a small village in Ananthapur district. I am the eldest son of the family of five children. I took care of the education of my brothers. I am very passionate about agriculture.

Story of Bangalore
I believe that many things are determined by the almighty. I was chosen to be the founding director of STPI. I was a joint director at Department of Electronics. We used to provide import licenses for electronic equipment’s that IT and other commoners imported. The sentiment at that time was not to encourage businesses from importing equipment. I didn’t like such license Raj mentality. Since I didn’t like it, when an announcement came for someone to take charge of STPI, Bangalore, I opted it as my native place was very close. When I moved to Bangalore, I used to drive on my own scooter three hours one way to my office in electronic city. When Narayana Murthy asked me why I picked electronic city that far, I told him that the decision was made by the state. When they slotted the land, we didn’t have internet. I asked DoT to provide packet switch s25 network. Texas Instruments is the first company to come in. STPI concept was incubated in their office.

I fought for the rights or the STPI users. I got some of the archaic laws removed. Just for one 64kb, we used to charge 40 lakhs per annum. We argued with BSNL. We started importing our own satellite earth stations and we created a parallel DoT network competing with BSNL. This made the prices of data communications company to come down big time. This is how body shopping models switched to offshore development in India.

Bangalore was the first STPI in India and Texas Instruments was the first STPI company that did first offshore development through India. STPI provided data, approvals and tax holidays. All because of their satellite tower and single window STPI, today’s IT hub of Bangalore was built.

Back to Hyderabad
I moved to Hyderabad. We didn’t have internet. AP state government gave me space in Mythri Vanam. I approached DoT and local congress chief minister for providing internet. I sought one crore interest-free loan and two acres of land in Jubilee Hills. With this in hand, we could convince the central government to approve the import of satellite earth station for providing data communication links to software companies. That was one breakthrough for Hyderabad back in 1994.

Next breakthrough came through Y2K boom. Because of Mythri Vanam, training institutions mushroomed all around. Even now it is the world’s largest training hub.

We got a leased line from Vizag steel plant to work with mainframes. We started training the folks in India in mainframes. STPI provided training services in mainframes and lotus notes in those days. We convinced Baan to get to Hyderabad and we asked them to give free training to trainees in Baan ERP.

Story of Oracle
We used to take care of all the approvals for IT companies. We made it simple for them. When Oracle wanted to start in Hyderabad, within half a day, we gave 100% EoU (exported-oriented unit) license. That was the kind of speed at which we used to act. STPI provided internet connection, government approvals, import license and a single stop facility for software companies.

Concept or IIIT
In fact, IIIT concept came from STPI. We approached then CM for an institution with focus on technology that IITs couldn’t provide. We wanted to have industry collaboration with academics. When we wanted readymade buildings, Chandra Babu Naidu offered us to take any building we wanted. We identified the buildings that were meant for Rangareddy district. They moved them out and we got the buildings for IIIT. IIIT is the only institution promoted by the government without any reservations. This is first of a kind and an experiment.

Rapid fire

Bhat) If you are stuck in Island, what do you take with you?
JAC) Meditate.

Bhat) Happiness?
JAC) Giving back.

Bhat) Entrepreneurship?
JAC) A journey one shall have the ability to withstand the update and downs equally.

Bhat) Leader or follower?
JAC) Leader.

Bhat) Leadership?
JAC) Take the people along with you.

Bhat) Would you do differently if you do the journey differently?
JAC) I will do the same thing. Create something out of nothing.

Bhat) Any inputs or TiE Hyderabad?
JAC) Job creation. TiE Hyderabad must continuously innovate itself. Promote new age entrepreneurs and disruptive thinking. TiE Hyderabad always has committed volunteers. They can do wonders for a country of our size. Make youth employable. Make this as a model for the other chapters. Arrest the downfall of youth’s potential. Demonstration of innovation.

Bhat) What if you have become President of Hyderabad TiE again? What would be your vision?
JAC) Make Unicorns out of TiE.

Bhat) What is that one thing that you want to leave to next generations of India?
JAC) Money comes and goes. Retain our culture and values that are our ethos. Bring back the true Indian culture.

Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI interviews JA Chowdary, Special Chief Secretary & IT Advisor to the Chief Minister, Govt of AP as part of TiE Today Series 

Leadership, White space and Mindsets

An old Chinese saying goes that leadership is about three things ‘doing,’ ‘being’ and ‘silence.’

If you look at how efficient our business leaders are at multi-tasking various things in a day from work, play and family, it’s honestly mind-boggling. Especially the ones who are in their 30s and 40s. All the literature on efficiency and time management seems to have percolated into our lives very well.  Added to this, the software and tools on our mobiles have made our leaders and managers super efficient.
Technology enables us to do our jobs more efficiently. Here comes the question to ponder over. What do we do with that free time that is generated by being more efficient?  I can take a guess. We do more work and jam-pack our day with tasks after tasks.

Have you met that special guy/gal who loves to fill the gaps in others conversations? They are just incorrigible. It’s the same thing when we attempt to fill every open slot on the calendar with activity.

In today’s fast paced businesses, even the most thinly spread executives need some space and time for themselves. This will hugely benefit their effectiveness in the day. In fact greatest creativity can come during times of respectful space. If we pay attention to how we process our tasks, you will notice that it’s during the gaps between meetings, is when we sort through all the info and plan next steps.

Really smart bosses don’t pack their days, they plan in enough white space into their day. This allows them to focus on things that are really important to them and the business. Doing is not the only thing about leading. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, leadership means pulling back and making space for others to grow and fill into that.

Great leaders use white space, very effectively. For example, GE’s Jack Welch used to spend an hour every day just looking out his window.  Bill Gates till date is known to spend two weeks a year in an isolated cottage.

So, what exactly is white space? Let’s first start with what it’s not.

White space is surely not meditation.  Nor is it letting your mind to wander away into stressful and fearful thoughts.

Generally speaking, white space has no goal.

You are allowed to follow your instinct and let your mind lead you into new and different thoughts. Definitely laying groundwork into creative new ideas and solutions.

I personally noticed that my most effective white spaces are when I am driving alone in a car or on a long international flight.  I find that it completely displaces my mind from the present and is definitely very refreshing.

In summary, carving out time out of your daily schedule for a period of no activity or the white space can potentially inspire your best work yet.

Finding Co-Founders and Right Teams

Hari Thalapalli is currently the CEO of CallHealth. He got to play the role of a CXO running the organisation in the HR function at the age of 28, post which he Joined Satyam in 1998 through 2006 and helped expand the company from 3k to 50k employees, of which 25% were from overseas. He was offered a change by request into the foray of sales and marketing, but Hari wasn’t keen on doing it. He was with HR division which dealt with the internal functioning of his company and Sales and Marketing was to do with the external world.

After a long stint with Marketing and getting biggies like FIFA into the picture Hari wanted to start something on his own. He was suggested to get into Technology Consulting which was the fad of that day. His first year saw the business go down from $40 million to $20 million, but by the 3rd year they were at $40 million again. This journey led him to know he could do anything including things previously unknown to him. By 2013 he was offered to run the collaborative system of tech Mahindra. And now after 30 years both the tech industry and himself have moved to digital healthcare.

Success depends on hiring the right people around you, call them by any name, your company’s CXO, co-founder, employee, partner etc. but right people ensure success. Gaps between demand and supply are inherent, be you’re an individual or an institution, the only ways is to understand these gaps to be able to bridge them. The way to succeed is to get top notch people who can get things done for you. Chose people with patience over ignorance, because a company is only, as good as the team.

Life is a function of 3 things namely Thinking, Doing and Collaborating. Thinking is the ability to look and comprehend the market and the USP you’re trying to embed, this is just 10% of the job.

What we want, how we do it, how we acquire and convince the customer/ investors falls under the ‘doing’ bit. It’s probably the most difficult thing in the whole ecosystem and it needs people who have an eye for detail, and people who work by delegation and not hierarchy. This takes up 33% of your company’s efforts.

Collaboration is not working with each other, but working for each other, you must be able to share your vision effectively which is not as easy as it seems. One should be able to create that impact on a wide canvas of things as perception precedes reality. Have the ability to go ahead and reach out to let the world know you are out there, this amounts to the remaining 33%.

There are amazing individuals who are great at executing but not the best at collaborating, understanding this balance and filling these gaps is important, a team should complement each other.

Entrepreneurial Vs Managerial bent
An entrepreneur deals with the abstract and clarity to execute a given task affectively. An entrepreneur goes with his gut and is ready to pivot, but managers need clarity. To deal with certainty and clarity, you need a person who can deal with complete uncertainty. In an entrepreneurial setting, everybody does everything and there are territorial wars as well, hence look for these complimentary characteristics, as balance is key.

Chose people with a great attitude and an ability to change though they come with less experience, a 70% experimental 30% experienced team is a good balance.

Employment vs Entrepreneurship
Stability is the career killer, it kills the ability to take risk and it’s better to stay away from hiring such people. Due to the uncertainty, only the brave survives, and success lies at the very intersection of capability and opportunity. The world is looking for people who will help you make it big. It’ll all fall in place or won’t, but trials are our part to play. Experimenting, learning and correction is the only way forward


TYE Summer Inauguration 2018
In the month of May, TiE Hyderabad launched their 6th edition of TYE this year as a Summer School. A total of 48 students registered from 21 schools of the twin cities. A batch of 25 students underwent a rigorous curriculum on entrepreneurship development with 12 classroom sessions…

Mentorshop:Finding Co-Founders and Right Teams

Hari Thalapalli is currently the CEO of CallHealth. He got to play role of a CXO running the organisation in the hr function at the age of 28 post which he Joined Satyam in 1998 through 2006 from and helped expand the company from 3k to 50k employees of which 25% were from overseas.

He was being offered a change by request into the foray of sales and marketing, but Hari wasn’t keen on doing it. He was with hr division which dealt with the internal function of his company and sales and marketing was to do with the external world.
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Startup- Corporate Collaboration

Startups are the statins which can help bust corporate cholesterol


Corporate startup collaborations by companies in and outside the tech sector have become more and more frequent. From the automobile industry, through FMCG, Telecoms and beyond. They realise that innovation can be achieved faster from influences outside their large organisations than can be stimulated from within.

Today’s world is forcing large corporations to drive innovation. The notion “disrupt or be disrupted” is rooted in the corporate environment. They are slowly coming to the realisation that startups can be the “statins” which can help bust their corporate “cholesterol”, push them out of their comfort zone, and drive them to stay relevant by building disruptive solutions from within. Due to their frugal capital, startups out of necessity develop a lean culture, which could help cut through the unnecessary “fat” which mature companies develop, both in the case of capital and people. Startups could help mature companies focus on customer centric solutions, as their systems would be more agile and receptive to change and customer feedback. They could also potentially help in opening up new revenue lines and customer segments.

Similarly, startups can benefit greatly from collaborating with mature companies. Corporates would already have a captive customer and vendor base, relationships formed, and a formal structure which startups lack, and would benefit from. Established companies would have a good brand name/reputation built up over years, so by association, startups would gain from that too. Corporates also have deep experience in their respective fields, and access to domain experts which could make for valuable lessons and mentorships for the startups.

There have been some great success stories in the history of corporate startup collaboration. One of the biggest examples is Unilever. They founded the Unilever Foundry in 2014, the company’s initiative to formalize all tech-facing projects and create a “pitch-to-pilot” system for startups looking to work with a marketing giant. The Foundry has many success stories and one is Chef Wendy, the humanlike algorithm developed with AI startup Digital Genius that helps sell Knorr food products in Africa. When Unilever’s largest food brand was expanding across the continent, it wanted a way to engage with new customers, and in Africa text messaging dominates communications. Chef Wendy, an algorithm-based technology, sends out recipe recommendations to customers that text in their available ingredients. This not only develops great customer experiences in new markets, but also helps Knorr to build a database of millions of customer preferences.

Another success story is the Spanish broadband and telecoms provider, Telefonica. As a major multinational, the firm runs accelerators, investment programs, and other startup initiatives under the umbrella Open Future, a subsidiary responsible for all its innovation. Just one example of how these programs have helped Telefónica is the firm’s partnership with Social&Beyond. This startup has technology that allows retailers to provide free WiFi to customers in exchange for feedback. By including this social media tool in its new broadband deals, Telefonica was able to encourage its existing retail customers to upgrade their contracts and attract new customers.

Tech giants like Google and Apple have long been in the race for promising startup acquisitions, in the deep technology, AI, and Machine Learning spaces which have added immense value to their offerings. In 2013, Google picked up deep learning and neural network startup DNNresearch from the computer science department at the University of Toronto to make major upgrades to its image search feature. In 2016, Google’s acquisition of natural language processing startup API.ai powered several of Google Assistant’s capabilities. Through its acquisition of Siri in 2010, Apple popularized AI assistants and became one of the earliest players in the AI space.

However, along with these success stories, there are some risks in startup corporate collaborations, for both the startups and the corporates. Startups may encounter risks such as delayed projects due to rigid corporate procedures, limited customers if the corporate does not take the collaboration seriously, premature scaling before the startup is ready for it, and losing their agile culture to the more structured and hierarchical corporate culture. Corporates on the other hand, may face their own challenges, such as meeting stakeholder expectations, resistance to change from the employees/management and a huge and potentially unprofitable investment of resources.

Both the startups and mature organisations must necessarily take these risks into account and weigh them against the potential benefits of collaboration before deciding on such a venture. An ideal situation would be if the established company and the startup manage to derive the benefits from mutual partnership, but still manage to remain independent for their respective businesses to run.