April 30, 2008


Trillion Dollar Company : Courtesy Google Finance

Well, actually multi-trillion dollar company. See here.

Asides, Google Finance UI is so un-google.

April 23, 2008


Blogger habits I don't like

Ganesh lists 10 bad habits of bloggers. Thankfully, yours truly is not guilty on any of those charges. Of those, "partial feed publishing" is the top one. If you are publishing partial feeds, you better be a media house or an exceptionally good writer. The only non-media house partial feed I read in last few months is that of Scott Adams. He reverted back to full post again. (Thanks, Scott.)

Here is my addition to Sagaro's list.

April 18, 2008


Mr Premji was so right!

Three years ago, when Vivek Paul, the then CEO of Wipro, called it a day at Wipro, he didn't had anything flattering to say about his boss, Mr Premji. He almost claimed that he had taken the company where it was then.

Mr Premji had given a terse reply - "We don't need a CEO."

Three years is a long enough period to validate the statement. Well, the truth is crystal clear. Mr Premji was bang on with his assessment. 3 years later, Wipro's performance speaks for itself. They have doubled their profit from Rs 1600-odd Crores to more than Rs 3200 crores.

So, what's the biggest strength of Wipro?Or of Infosys and TCS, for that matter? Looks like the secret sauce is the organizational structure of the company. There seems to be enough redundancy in place to ensure that the company is not dependent on performance of one individual or a group of star performers. "Nobdoy is indispensable" seems to be the unsaid mantra.

Unrelated trivia. Wipro announced a dividend of Rs 4 (in addition to Rs 2 interim dividend) per share for the last financial year. Mr Premji's share of the total dividend? Rs 696 Crores! Oh, yeah, it's tax free.


Gmail is watching your clicks

All the URLs in Gmail, when clicked, are redirected via gmail. The gmail's redirecting URL looks like this:


This simply means they are tracking all of our clicks. They already track the clicks on search results, which doesn't sound that bad. But, email? Yikes.

Photo: Sheece


April 15, 2008


Fixing non-existent problem

Department of Telecom's technical arm TEC has come up with suggestion to migrate all the mobile phone numbers from 10 digits to 11 digits. The reason given being the explosive growth of the subscribers, which currently stands at 240 mn.

Now, theoretically, in 10 digits I can count till 10 billion, which is like 9 times the population of the country. Certain amount of fragmentation is inevitable as numbers need to be allocated with a set numbers sharing prefix to a telco in each circle. Even if we assume that in the next general elections, political parties to provide one cellphone for each person in the country - way better and sensible than an idiot box per home - we will require around 1.1 bn numbers. Add the fact that number portability will kick in soon, where number will belong to subscriber and not to the telco, India needs exactly 1.1 bn numbers. That is barely 10% of what is possible with 10 digit scheme. Why we need 11 digit scheme to support 100 bn numbers is beyond my imagination.

PS: I really think one cellphone per family, if not person, is quite cool election promise. For the first time, I will rally for an outrageous election promise.


April 14, 2008


"Self-indulgant outpourings"

"Now, everybody knows blogs are designated spaces for the self-indulgent outpourings of fevered minds..."

Thus wrote some journalist at Outlook.

Right, blogs are self-indulgent. But, what about your sweeping assertion without any logic, reason, facts or statistics? How uncool is that? If I read such trash on some blogs, I am OK with it. Nobody has hired them based on their writing skills and intelligence. They don't get paid for their writing. Their work is not reviewed by an editor. But in your case, Ms Anjali, we are paying to read your trash.

Your cover story calls IPL as "tamasha." You hate the smell of money associated with T20 and rue that the game has lost its soul. How about your own publication which takes out Cricket special every year? Or the fact that 90% of the time the only sport you cover is cricket? Don't the same questions apply to the media of which you are part of? Come off, the high pedestal guys!

As for the blogs, at least, nobody will be found dead writing about Facebook in 2008.



Luxury of Number Portability

The ball is rolling for mobile number portability in India. Number Portability means subscribers can retain the number even if they switch the service provider. An independent company is being formed to handle portability.

The user (dis)satisfaction is more or less same across the telcos. With portability user will earn right to sulk for a new operator instead of current one. And probably it will cost them precious $$. can see a steady flow of users switching service and thereby making telcos richer. If this move was meant to give telcos incentive to try harder to retain existing subscriber by offering better service, sadly, I would say this well-intentioned move will fall flat.

I see this phenomenon spreading across all businesses. They try ultra-hard to acquire a customer. But, the same alacrity is completely missing when it comes to retaining the customer with excellent service.


LinkedIn's good-to-have problem

The rise of LinkedIn in last couple of years has been phenomenal. They have grown from 5 mn in March, 2006 to 20 mn users 2 years later. While these numbers may appear small compared to Facebook, the comparison may not be entirely fair. Acquiring a new user on LinkedIn is far more difficult as the barrier of creating complete profile is considerably higher. It's almost your resume.

While champagne bottles may get uncorked to celebrate 20 mn users, the achievement has its own set of problems, the ones which are classified as "nice-to-have." The foremost problem is the site is terribly s-l-o-w. It takes like forever to load user landing page. I smell a lot of DB queries running behind. LinkedIn is not IRCTC that I'll wait for 20 seconds for a page to load. If the same experience continues, my visits to the site will drop further, which is not very high to begin with.

The second problem, which is not as scary as the first one, is quality, or lack thereof, of questions posted in Tech section. I've subscribed to the feed for web development and I see a lot of generic queries being thrown around. Many of them need to read, patiently, ESR's howto. May be they should have a rating system for questions and provide ability to subscribe to queries with a certain minimum acceptance.

LinkedIn is headed to be really big, if they iron out these minor problems. We may hear some eye-popping number as their valuation in 2008. It may not be as high as Facebook's $15 bn, but my guess is it would be higher than YouTube. Reason? Well they have tons of users who are ready to swipe their credit cards if a useful service is available. How may sites can boast that?

BTW, India seems to be hooked up with LinkedIn.


April 11, 2008


Dull defence for fee hike at IIM

I generally avoid posting about current hot topic in the media as there are already enough sane voices weighing in. My two cents on a minor side issue will hardly be worth your time. But, allow me to talk about this issue.

The steep hike in fees at IIMs, predictably, was criticized by one and all. The only people defending the decision were the ones who took the decision. Even the faculty members at IIMs seem opposed to such move. Of course, on PPP basis, the fees of Rs 11 Lac for 2 yr course probably makes it one of the most expensive MBA courses in the world. And IIMs don't figure in top business schools of the world. So the criticism is not entirely unjustified. While this price tag is in the reach of only super-wealthy, IIMs have diffused the issue a bit by handing out substantial scholarships.

Two arguments provided by the camp which defends the hike. One, the cost of running the institute is high and it needs to be recovered. The institutes want to reduce their dependence on the strings-attached largesses from the govt. One alternative is to increase the fees. Second argument being since IIM graduates land up plum jobs after MBA, they should pay up for that education till last paisa.

Both arguments are wrong.

The first argument is, mostly, given by the administration of the institute. Considering fees to be one of the top revenue source is very unimaginative thinking. This revenue can grow by either increase in student intake, which is almost static for decades, or by increase in tuition fees which has to be kept "reasonable." The administration just needs to take a look around the world to understand how top institutes in the world generate the money. They generate knowledge. There is a strong emphasis on research. Harvard's HBR costs $200 in annual subscription. They don't command that price because those Fortune 500 corporations don't care if it's $200 or $2000. They do it because they generate ideas. Such universities generate enough funds from research to have a company to manage those funds. With all those brilliant, average IQ of 170, students at IIMs, the focus seems to be on creating consumers of knowledge. Institutes need to be stretch their creativity a little for better utilization of these students.

The second argument comes from the think tank outside the institute. It's too politically incorrect an argument. This line of defence is given by those wearing capitalistic hat. They want market economics at play. This line of thinking is broken as it reduces IIMs to glorified employment exchanges. In that case, I really don't want a single rupee from my tax to go to these institutes. This high-end placement agency is as useless to the country as the Govt's 5-star hotels which guzzle tons of money and are affordable to the 0.1% of the population. These institutes are not, and never, just meant to create high-end investment banking/consultancy/[current hot industry] jobs for its students. Jobs happen to be side-effect of something and the end in itself. These institutes stand for excellence, in whatever diluted form, in our country where mediocrity is norm. Their purpose is much more utopian, even though reality is far from it.

If institutes want freedom to raise their resources, good for them. But, then they can't crib about lack of funds when govt hands them money and asks to increase student intake. You can't have it both ways.

April 10, 2008


High transactions charges on foreign currency transactions

The thrill of spending money in other currency, especially US Dollar, with credit card was ephemeral as I stumbled upon what can only be termed as giant fine print fraud. My prior purchases in USD were limited to buying subscription of MIT Tech Review and Wired some 4 years back. As the amount involved was small I could only confirm the exchange rate to be almost close to the publicly available rate. (Asides. At my prior company, I had subscribed these magazines with company's US address. Suffix the name with PUNE and it be delivered at my desk after couple of weeks of actual delivery in US. All thanks to ultra-efficient internal courier service from Mountain View to Pune. Ah, one of the countless perks, I really miss.)

But, recently, when I did a transaction in USD of slightly bigger amount, I learnt hard way the meaning of fine print. Apparently, all the foreign currency transactions incur 3.5% additional charge on my ICICI bank credit card. Call to the bank revealed that the charges are from Visa, the card issuer. I checked out credit card from HDFC Bank, HSBC and Citi, but everybody is charging 3.5%. It is difficult to see if those charges are actually by Visa or these banks have formed a cartel on that. To top the agony, this is money attracts additional 12% service tax. So, in all, you end up paying almost 4% extra. I couldn't think of any good reason for this 3.5% ransom. The currency movement is one parameter which could impact the bank's earnings. But the currency movement is tracked in the third decimal place of INR. The exchange rate is generally quoted as 39.884 which means, even 0.1% movement is considered big. So, I have safely labeled this as daylight robbery without any firearms. Sob, sob.

If you know any other credit card whose charges are low (ideally 0%) for foreign currency transactions, please let me know.

April 08, 2008


Predicitions about future are difficult

Two months ago, Mr Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel had this to say about the new telco players.
"All new players will collapse within 36 months. These firms will take at least 12 months to build their network and 24 months after that they will struggle to survive in the market. I feel it does not make a viable position."
Now, he has this to say about Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), in which Virgin is the first player,
"With the kind of low tariffs we have in India, I don't think MVNOs can succeed"
This is what a telecom analyst had to say about Bharti in 2001.
"The mobile telecom players will die soon. It will take billions of dollars of infrastructure to support mobile users. At the sky high rates of Rs 16 per minute, the user base can hardly cross 10 million mark."
Ok. I made up the last quote. But, it is a completely plausible quote. Mr Mittal proved all the analysts wrong by a wide margin. So, why does Mr Mittal believe that nobody can out-Mittal telecom business once again?

April 04, 2008


Expiry date for Tendulkar's career

Few weeks ago, I wrote why Sachin needs to quickly decide on retirement for it to be a dignified one. Looks like he has missed that opportunity and may be politely asked to vanish into oblivion. According to this news story, Pepsi is still undecided about the renewal of contract with Sachin which expires next month. And this is the same company which showed great alacrity in signing up young cricketers, whose age is closer to Sachin's cricketing career,. BCCI will not bite the bullet (drop him from the team), but advertisers seem to have given their verdict. While he may still be the one of the highest paid cricketer with IPL, that contract gets renewed every year. Next year, Mr Ambani may not be as enthusiastic about getting him in the team.

These are red herrings Sachin may be unprepared for.

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