Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to Start Up a Startup

Last week, I was talked into going to Startup Saturday, an ongoing initiative by Headstart that hosts a monthly, community-driven forum for entrepeneurs to help them build their businesses. I go to, perhaps, mentor. I'm beyond and far more experienced than most of the people in the room and I meet a lot of naive and idealistic short termers that don't fully understand what being an entrpreneur does to you, personally, and to your loved ones (who won't see you as much as your employees).

If you really, really want to be an intrepreneur, here's a few tips that, while I think they're pretty basic and common sense, I'm repeating over and over again...

Rule #1: Do What You Love.

Rahul Jain, who runs a business coaching consultancy, asked the question, "Why do you want to start a company?" to the audience and the main response was to make a lot of money. If you want to start a company just to make a lot of money, STFU and go away. You won't be happy. You'll be unfocused. You'll take on any project just for the money and that leads to a company that does a lot of small business, works hard to get paid and in the end, scratches by, barely making a profit. I've seen this over and over and over and over again during the 25 years I've been working with startups and small businesses.

My grandfather used to tell me to "do what you love and the money will come". He was an artist and sculptor in NYC and even though he was unsatisfied with the art world as a whole, his passion was creating, expressing, and making commentary. He did what he loved his entire life and he did well. My passions are varied and many, but I love to build and create. I take companies to the next level - attempting to attain the entrepreneur's exit strategy. I've been through so many mergers, buyouts and IPOs that they don't give me the rush they used to. Nevertheless, it's the building and creating that make me enjoy my work. And I do well enough. I'm not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but as a single parent, I am capable of providing my family with a comfortable life and that's pretty much enough. Money doesn't make you happy - it only complicates your life. Really.

If you're doing what you love to do, getting a paycheck for it is like getting two desserts. :-) But before you decide to chuck that cushy job at the big multinational to make fruit flavoured pin cushions, make sure that you can clearly state what the problem is that you will solve for your market, how big of a problem it is, and whether the target market can afford to pay you what you need to solve the problem. Answer this and you are ahead of 80% of new company launches.

If you can't answer this, STOP here, and keep your day job.

Rule #2: Screw the Business Plan, But Do the Math.

Once you figure out what you love and have decided to forge ahead, you need to figure out how to make money. This is the main thing in my life that pisses me off, more than not finding a parking space, cancer, anything - don't start ANY business without understanding how to make money off it!

Let me say this again:

Don't start ANY business without understanding how to make money off it.

I will stab the next person who tells me that you can build traffic first and then figure out how to monetize the damn thing. Fuck that. Revenue is what drives a business. Revenue is required for a healthy cash flow. Your employees expect to be paid. They've risked their livelihood to take jobs in your company. Their lives are now your responsibility. Vendors need to be paid for what they have done to support your business. You need to spend money to market your business. Of course, you can borrow money, attract investors, sell your house, whatever, but bottom line, having a plan on how to generate an initial revenue stream is paramount to your success.

The math you need to do first needs to describe your initial needs. How much do you need a month to run your business? Let's say, after paying yourself (which I strongly suggest), office rent, supplies, etc., you'll need about 100,000 rupees (US$ 2,000) a month to pay your expenses. Then ask yourself what are you willing to spend on marketing and sales? Typically, 20% of your profit should go to marketing/sales expenses. Let's say between your advertising, networking expenses, etc. you'll spend, 30,000 rupees (US$ 650) a month, that means your profit should be around 150,000 rupees, which is a healthy ROI. This provides a goal to reach for each month. You need 250,000 (US$ 5,000) a month to make your business profitable and provides the cash flow you'll need to invest back into your business. You should do this math every month as things evolve, and they certainly will, if you do this right.

If you can't figure out how to earn this much money each month, STOP here, and keep your day job.

Rule #3: Focus On Identity & Messaging.

Develop one sentence that states the problem you solve for your market. You have 30 seconds to describe what you do (and that's only if your contact is patient and open - not me). What access points will be most effective for your target market? Who are they? How can you emotionally connect to them? What makes you different from the competition? What can you do to minimize the risk your prospect will take by making a change - engaging you - instead of their current vendor.

In the States, we call this the Elevator Pitch. You get into an elevator and are surprised to see the CEO of the biggest company in your market. If you were able to get his (or her!) business, your success as a company would be assured. You introduce yourself to them and they ask, "What do you do?" You have 30 seconds before you get off the elevator - what do you say? This is the Elevator Pitch - quick, refined down to the last syllable, and should generate interest in getting more information. Everyone around you should be able to tell you back what your company does just as easily. Get this done.

Identity
Building your identity system is important because it defines the quality of your company. If you have a shitty logo, most people will assume everything else about your company will be just as shitty. Your logo should differentiate you from the competition, and define who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Are you open, casual and friendly? Are you formal, conservative and not a company that takes unnecessary risks? Your identity should reflect it. Then ask a couple of people in your target market what they think of it. Once you've gotten feedback, refine and launch your identity.

You may have to find someone, hire someone, to help you with this. Get the best you can afford. This is a significant investment in your future.

Messaging
As part of your 30 seconds, you will need introduce the problem you solve, differentiate yourself, and minimize risk for your prospect. These are your core messages. Ensure you get these messages into everything you do, from web site, collateral, business cards, everything. Sometimes a tagline in conjunction with your logo helps; sometimes not.

At this point you'll need a web site, a 10-slide Powerpoint Presentation, and a one-page executive summary. Start with the executive summary. This is the outline and overview of your company, focused on the Elevator Pitch. Then build out your PPT, expanding on the pitch. Use WordPress or some other easy CMS system to build your web site, drop in your logo, add a matching theme and you're ready to add content. Move the powerpoint content over, expand into a little more detail if required and you're good to go.

Obviously, if you're selling products instead of services, this requires a little more work. Services are "easier to fake". Products require descriptions (based on your identity & messaging), specifications, SKU#s, etc. but once that work is completed, your company is ready to launch. Services only require a proposal. I'm not going to get into pricing strategies, researching competitor data, etc., in the post, but I feel it worth mentioning that you should understand the marketplace well and develop your product offering/proposals only after doing your homework.

If you can't write a clear, concise Elevator Pitch, STOP here, and keep your day job.

Rule #4: Jump in with Both Feet, but Stretch First.

Startups are a hell of a lot of work. Don't expect to see your family if you plan to be the sales, marketing, customer service, billing, quality control, etc. for a company. Novices assume that if you do Rules 1-3 that the rest takes care of itself. No, actually, you can do those rules while working for someone else - now you need to close your eyes and jump off the deep end. Passion and Sacrifice go hand-in-hand at this point. As an entrepreneur, you have give up having a normal 9-5 job so you better enjoy what you're doing. Your "work/life balance" is fucked for at least a year, usually three. As your company grows, you can hire people to do the parts of the company you like the least (mine was accounting/billing, next was HR.). As you hire employees, the complexity of your business increases, so streamlining systems and processes, careful documentation of each position will enable you to focus on higher level things, like, um, taking your business to the next level.

Eventually, as some entrepreneurs do, you'll begin to miss the rush, the insanity, the chaos that starting a company inflicts upon you (much like giving birth) and start reflecting on the "good old days". Sometimes, you discover the germ of a new endeavor, a new passion, or one you've wanted to explore... This is the realization that you are a serial entrepreneur.

You'll need to decide what your exit strategy will be. Some will do this until they die and will the business to their family; some sell it and move on; others will go IPO...

Sometimes, things just don't work out. The passion wasn't sustainable, you misjudged the potential of the market, perhaps you mismanaged the messaging, who knows. You may have to start ten companies before you build one that grows up to be something. It's worth it for the person with the fortitude (and some call insanity) to make the leap.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

India Telecom

India Telecom is the largest telecom conference in India held annually in New Delhi. My marketing team attended the exhibition on Day 2, expecting to see lots of innovative telecom equipment, especially considering the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was just around the corner. Instead, we saw a lot of Chinese component manufacturers, and nothing much new from the big multinationals that did show up - there were notable non-players. We didn't see Huawei, Kathrein, Powerwave, ZTE, or LG... (if they were there, we didn't notice them.)

The Solar Players

Nokia Siemens Networks
The three of us walked into their booth in the secondary hall (18) and was greeted by a young lady that clearly did not want to be there. I asked about their solar-powered solutions. She pointed to the left and put her hand back under her chin. I stared at her for a second and said, "Where? Who am I supposed to speak to?" With a sigh, she got up out of her chair and walked to a table of men clearly in a meeting. She interrupted them, a man excused himself and asked what I was interested in, and upon finding out I was interested in solar, he pointed to the left and said to speak to that gentlemen there. There were two exhibitor staff and one visitor having a discussion. We walked again to the left, smiled and waved at the two booth staff. One looked at me, then looked back at his colleague who was talking to the visitor.

I said, "Excuse me, I'm interested in learning more about your solar powered telecom equipment?" He shushed me and asked me to wait. "Wait?" I looked around. There must have been ten or twelve booth staff and about four visitors. I mentioned this to my staff in a loud voice, stating why should we have to wait... With a sigh, the gent listening to the other gent talk, walked us over to a solar panel and pointed at it. "This is our solution."

"Hmmm." I noticed the large metal cabinet filled with batteries. (There must have been 4 or 5 batteries per shelf; the entire cabinet was the size of a refrigerator.) I asked where the inverter was. No answer. At this point, the other gent approached and asked if he could help. He told us that they use an 80-panel array requiring 6,000 sqm to power a tower that used that sized battery bank. (Can you imagine?) He stated that they were working with Aircel and Airtel and that they had 270 sites live in Orissa and MP. (To be clear, 270 times 6,000 = 1,620,000 sqm minimum devoted to powering telecom equipment in Orissa & MP. Wouldn't that land be better used, for say... growing food in a developing country?) He wouldn't be more specific. He refused to name a price for their product then handed me a brochure that merely discussed the benefits of renewable energy solutions. No technical data, no pricing, no capabilities, no requirements. He promised to send me this information. I'm not too confident, although he was the only person at the show representing Nokia that seemed informed, professional and courteous.

Luminous Teleinfra Limited (SAR Group)
When we walked into their booth, we were pretty much mobbed by the booth staff who seemed very eager to meet us. I asked about their solar telecom solutions and they seemed to have one. They seemed to have a bit of everything, actually. There was a wind turbine, and a diesel generator as well. They seem to be more of a services company sourcing equipment and customizing the solution per site. They said their solutions started at $10K US, but they wouldn't say exactly which of their solutions that detailed (was it solar? solar/wind combo? back up generator, what?). They stated that their projects were "All over India, but mainly in Orissa and MP." Both companies mentioned these two states. Luminous stated they were working with Airtel, so it seems that Airtel is leading the solar deployments in India (at least based on what the players at India Telecom had to say). My impression of Luminous was that they had no focus based on what they had to tell me. To every question I asked, I got the same answer: "Yes, Madam." I'm not sure they understood my English. :-)

No one at Airtel could answer anything except about their consumer solutions. It appeared that they had focused on consumer services and did not expect to hear any questions as to their network infrastructure. (I hope this changes. If consumers began asking what percentage of their networks were using renewable energy and basing their buying decision on that, it could make a significant impact on the mobile operator's onus to build out responsibly.)

Vodaphone also focused on consumer products, the selling of phones and services. They also couldn't answer what percentage of their network deployment in India was powered by renewable energy, but then, their booth staff were pretty lame and uniformed even about the products that they were distributing brochures for. Asking questions from left field just gave them a dazed and bewildered look.

Ericsson had the largest presence at the show and had a little of everything in their booth. Their network rollout literature mentions nothing about renewable energy-based solutions and it seems that they are focusing on BTS swaps and site management services.

Other Notes

I was surprised to see Motorola there. Having lived near to their Death Star headquarters in Naperville Illinois, USA, and having watched them implode upon themselves since 2002, I wasn't thinking they'd be continuing to market through trade shows. Anyway. They were presenting consumer equipment, but also had a minor play in in-building wireless solutions. They were really unfocused with WiMax products mixed in with IBWS (don't say they're the same thing - I've been assured they are not), the displays made no sense. They only had product literature for some products and not others. Ah, well. Motorola... Fair thee well...

Okay, I'm just going to say it. Trade show booth programs are expensive and difficult to do well. Unfocused programs and untrained staff makes for a waste of resources - both in cash and staffing. There is nothing worse than providing a bad visitor experience, online or offline. Be easy to access, provide the information the person wants quickly, allow them to interact as they want to, and provide feedback. Send them on their way with a thank you.

Some of the things I do to make a trade show visit memorable is introduce something interesting about me as a person as well as part of the conversation. It helps to provide an interesting point about the person as well as the company. It's pretty easy for me since I'm an American living in India partially off the grid so it ties in well with what my company does, yet adds that intangible you can't get from a "booth babe". When they get an email from me, my response rate will be just that little bit higher. Remembering facts about them (written on the back of their card) written into your email helps as well. It's all about developing relationships, and trade shows are just like speed dating - you have three minutes, tops, to engage and send them away, hopefully with something nice to say about you and wanting to learn more. Once you figure out how to spend those three minutes of engagement as a company and train your staff on how to go about it, you will have a much more successful program.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Indian Government Links

If you've ever wondered how anything gets done in India (as I often have), this list is for you. My favorite Yahoo! group, Yuni-Net, has once again provided valuable information I would gladly pay for. This list provides links to several pages on the india.gov.in web site for all those lovely pieces of paper we all need to verify our existence here. I'm not saying any of this will work - I went to the Home Ministry site and downloaded the really nice PDF forms for registering as a foreigner, filled them out and took them to the Ministry only to be told they weren't the correct forms and had to fill out four copies on a badly made photocopy of a random word document. Enjoy. :-)

How Do I Obtain A...

How Do I Apply For...

How Do I Register...

How Do I Check/Track...

How Do I Book/File/Lodge...

How Do I Contribute To...

Others:

How Do I Search for Available Services?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just a Foul Mouthed American...

Just watched the final episode of Larry David's show on HBO "Curb Your Enthusiasm" which features a cook with Tourette's Syndrome and it made me think. The reaction to the chef's foul regurgitation is surprise and then release. As a New Yorker, I swear all the time. My father, another native New Yorker does not swear much at all unless vexed, but my mum, another native New Yorker, swears like a trucker.

Here in India, people are very "correct", try to be very polished. My style is very direct and in your face, which causes a lot of problems at work and dealing with neighbors. For instance, I have a dog that need to regularly relieve herself. We prefer that not happen in the house, so we walk her to the empty lot a couple of doors down. Both neighbors on each side have approached me during these walks.

"Don't walk her here."

"Why, do you own this property?"

"Um, yes."

"Interesting, because the guy on the other side say he owns it, so that means one of you is a liar and the other is a bullshitter."

"Don't walk your dog here."

"This is an empty lot. There are lots of stray dogs and pigs that shit right in front of your building so why should I have to move my dog elsewhere? Just because she's on a leash? I'll walk her wherever she wants to go. She doesn't go in front of your house, so go fuck youself."

Most of my neighbors don't talk to me anymore and I really don't care. They walk right into my house when the plumber shows up or the electrician... no expectation of privacy here. I especially dislike the "Aunty Patrol", the older ladies who stroll around the colony gossiping and bitching about shit they disapprove of.

I lead my life directly. No bullshit. Most of the time I end up saying to myself, "Shit, I said that out loud?" I have no politically correct translator... no diplomatic shield... I say what I think with no restrictions, because , well, that's what being a New Yorker is. I had a conversation with my Dad about it and he said swearing just makes you look poorly bred and I agree with him, and then my mum said, "Fuck you, Dick (my dad's name). I'll talk however I want to express myself." My bro, who I haven't spoken to in 15 years, uses the "F-word" as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, gerund, etc.. and I always found him uneducated and uncouth, while I still use the same foul language. Fuck. I'm over-educated. Fuck, I'm successful in life. And you know what? I'm fucking ecstatic with my life right now.

My neighbors can go fuck themselves.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Real Definition of a Startup

I was reading an article at TechCrunch about the real definition of a startup, and it got me thinking.

Having spent the past 20 years (OMG!) taking startups to the next level, marketing-wise, here's my take on what an actual startup is:
  • smoke & mirrors
  • R&D's undelivered promises
  • deadlines not met
  • constantly shifting product specs
  • salaries paid on ad hoc schedule
The company can be any size, but generally under 100 people. Maybe funded, maybe bootstrapped, certainly runs lean, doesn't have a lot of processes and a (mostly) flat heirarchy. I saw a lot of changing business models, which is VERY difficult for established companies to do with their entrenched staff and systems (particularly if there is a labor union involved). Changing divisions from cost centers to their own P&Ls dramatically changes the way a company does business. Reorganizing a sales department's income structure, incentivizing new business over old, to improve a sales funnel - that will significantly change an older business to a startup structure. One company that definitely wasn't a startup brought me in to work "under the radar" and I was told by my boss, "It will be easier for you to be forgiven than ever get permission here." I worked as a (mostly) lone wolf, with no support except my boss and the Board, and implemented significant change that was certainly not liked by the staff and their union, but propelled the organization into the top recognized in their industry, winning many awards. (I didn't win any friends, for sure.) Without my experience in startups, I couldn't have accomplished what I did there.

Startups have their place and a lot of people can't work there. Startup staff need to be able to take up the slack, bully their way through projects to make things happen. Leaders need to be able to present their mission effectively and build teams. Let the brilliant people do what they were hired for and get out of their way.

The startup mentality is hard to implement because of the cultural attitudes of middle management. people don't like to take risks. They have a fear of the unknown. People are incentivized to make things difficult - a good example would be the endless amounts of paperwork to be reimbursed for your travel. (I've given up on getting paid on that one.) Many owners want to call all the shots and don't give their executives any authority but all the responsibility. Executives need to be able to assemble a decent team, eliminate waste (in staff and processes), and implement decisions on the fly according to changing business conditions. In one company that I worked for, that meant eliminating half the staff. In another, working nights to be in constant contact with my clients on the other side of the planet. Without the freedom to make these difficult changes would have meant failure, not just for me, but for the company. Excellence comes from providing talented staff with the right tools at the right time for the right purpose, and providing measurable incentives for measurable deliverables.

The tech bubble inflated salaries, offices and arrogance (if I ever hear "Focus on the eyeballs and the money will come" again, I'll have to kill that person.). The burn rate on some of these dotcoms was sheer greed and ego. These "kids" had an idea and a presentation and no idea how to make money. I was typically hired for my experience and then had to listen to these kids tell me that one year of dotcom experience was worth five years working in brick and mortar companies, and to do it their way. But I love revenue. I wanted to focus on making money. They didn't.

They were only successful because of one thing. What I saw was lucky timing - in an emerging market early to become the leader. What I also saw was exit strategies - IPOs & buyouts were the preferred methods - actual earning of revenues was work and took waaaay too much time.

Bitter? Not really... well, except when I meet the rich ba**ard at a function and learn he's still rich, and I'm still not. :-/

But I love a good startup with a good idea. I love the potential of growing a business. I'll always take the "road not taken" because that will always be the more interesting path on which to tread. But tread lightly if you take this path, being fleet of foot, flexible, ready to make a move at a moment's notice is important to your success.

"The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it." -- Harry Emerson Fosdick

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Delhi Restaurant Recommendations

I have to help plan a foreign correspondents' tour for the company I work for that is schedule for next month. As part of that, Bridget, our PR person in the UK, asked for a list of great restaurants in the Delhi area. I contacted the Yuni-Net group and they came forward with lots of suggestions. I trust their palates - most of them are expats and local fellow foodies. Here is a compilation of their responses:

Bukhara is an overused favourite, but how "authentic" an experience do you want to give them? (NOTE: I think this place is overrated and over priced, but people swear by it.) Bukhara has a string of awards to its name, including being voted "Best Indian Restaurant in the World" and "Best Restaurant in Asia" by the Restaurant Magazine in the UK. It's known for its rustic atmosphere, unforgettable kababs, and huge family size naan bread. Be sure to make a reservation.
  • Address: ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel, Diplomatic Enclave, Sadar Patel Marg, New Delhi. Ph: 26112233.
  • Opening Hours: 12.30 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. for lunch on weekends. 7.30 p.m. to 11.45 p.m. for dinner daily.
  • Cost: Around 4,500 rupees ($100) for two people.
  • What's Good: The Dal Bukhara (black lentils simmered overnight with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic) has achieved legendary status. Kabab lovers will also appreciate the Burrah Kabab and Murgh Malai Kabab.

Karim Restaurant in the old city is a personal favourite for visitors, but it isn't haute cuisine. There are 3 of them and my favorite one is near Jama Masjid - a real north Indian experience! I believe the one in Nizzamuddin is also great. (mainly non veg) The popular Karim Hotel is now in its fourth generation of management, having been established in its current location in 1913. The decor of this restaurant is nothing much to look at, but the food more than makes up for it. Karim Hotel offers inexpensive Mughal style cooking at its best. Its location in Old Delhi also provides a fascinating insight into a side of Delhi that many visitors don't get to see.
  • Address: 16, Gali Kebabian, Jama Masjid, Old Delhi. Ph: 23269880.
  • Opening Hours: 7 a.m. to midnight.
  • Cost: Around 500 rupees ($12) for two people.
  • What's Good: The Dil Bahaar Dopiaza Stew (mutton cooked without water in onions with curd and unground spices) and Dil Pasand (Heart's Liking) Seekh Kabab.

The Orient Express at the Taj Palace Hotel. French Cuisine. It's fine dining in a replica of the legendary train itself. Everything is served on Silverware - expensive and fabulous experience

Ai, Japanese cuisine, really exotic and amazing display of food. Have the noodle salad served in a straw basket on a block of ice. It's on the 4th floor MGF Mall, Saket, with an open air bar lounge on the terrace...

Lodhi Garden Restaurant is nice.

Magique (in Five Senses Garden) is excellent.

Indochina
(close to chatarpur).

Indian Accent: It has recently been awarded best modern Indian restaurant by HT Eating out guide + it is the personal favorite of Vir Sanghvi (India's best food critic). It is slightly expensive though. About Rs. 1500-2200 per head. Located at The Manor, 77 Friends Colony (West). www.themanordelhi.com . 26925151

Chor Bizarre - India's Restaurant. It’s the best north Indian Restaurant in town as well as serves best Kashmiri cuisine. It has branches in Delhi, Noida & Gurgaon. Has a branch is London too. Average price will be Rs. 500 per head. Visit www.chorbizarre.com.

Varq at Taj Man Singh (Modern Indian). at Hotel Taj Palace, Mansingh Road - Very high class Indian Mughlai

360 Degrees Restaurant at the Oberoi is excellent and a fun place for a group (NOTE – my friend is a journalist and she’d love to be taken there!) Nice sushi bar (you can't have Indian every night ...

Swagath in Defence Colony Market - South Indian Mughlai is fantastic. Not five star, and unpretentious, but a really good place to pull apart a chili seasoned crab). Go there for the best butter garlic crab this side of india. Fresh and to-die-for. Five people mentioned the crab.

For Pan-asian food, you absolutely must try Chili Seasons at Defence Colony main market. They have a Singapore food festival on at the moment - the food is sumptuous! Oh, and they also have a beer festival running. You can read what other diners have to say about the place at burrp! - http://delhi.burrp.com/listing/restaurant/127622782_chilli-season

Veda on Outer Circle, Connaught Place - Indian Mughlai, hip, stylish yet Indian

Olive Bar and Kitchen
in the Hotel Ambassador Chanakyapuri - amazing place, ambiance and food are great

Olive Beach
@ Hotel Diplomat, Malcha Marg, - Italian cuisine is really good. Not the cheapest though...

Cibo
on Janpath, Hotel Janpath - Italian Cuisine

Punjabi By Nature
The multi-level Punjabi By Nature is a hip and elegant place, with waiters clad in traditional Punjabi attire. It's known for its unique creation of vodka gol gappas -- fried crispy shells filled with flavored vodka and other spices. The food is excellent, servings are generous, and the atmosphere warm and inviting. There's also a bar on the upper floor. You can combine dining with shopping, as the restaurant is located in an enticing and stylish shopping complex.
  • Address: 11 PVR Priya Cinema Complex, Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. Ph: 41516666.
  • Opening Hours: 12.30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Cost: Around 2000 rupees ($50) for two people, including drinks.
  • What's Good: The Raan-e-Punjab (roast leg of lamb), Naan bread, and vodka Gol Gappas.

Zest @ DLF Emporio Vasant Kunj. (A mall to be seen if you haven’t yet!) - World Cuisine [Reviews: http://bit.ly/RKl2N and http://bit.ly/w7aYx ]

Spectra @ The Leela Gurgaon

Azzuro - Saket near Cinema (NOTE – There’s one in Gurgaon that I frequent. It’s nice. Great mixed drinks.) - Italian/Mediterranean

Spaghetti
- Saket in Select City Walk - Italian/Mediterranean

Tamura - Poorvi Marg - Vassant Vihar - the most terrific Japanese restaurant in Delhi but may be not recommended for vegetarians...

Cafe de Paris - GK1 N block Market – French cuisine

Naivedyam - Haus Khas village - very lovely deco and absolutely fantastic vegetarian South Indian food.

Oh Calcutta! - Super Bengali food. Near Nehru Place just after the Eros Continental in that big building facing the Satyam Cineplex.

Yum Yum Tree: Indian Fusion.

Spice Route, Imperial Hotel - excellent food.

Smoke House Grill, GK2 - bar + restaurant.

Park Balluchi is located in Green Park, Safdarjung - All the embassy people go there for dinner. Fantastic food and ambience.

Well, that's my list of restaurants I'll be visiting over the next few months, for sure. As it happens, InterNations is having a "thing" on Saturday at Park Balluchi's, so that will be the first one I check off the list. I'll let you know what I think. :-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Welcome to India, Newbie.

I have a good online friend, a fellow blogger who chronicled her move to India and just arrived this past weekend. If you haven't had a chance to read her stuff, you're missing out: http://delhibound.blogspot.com/2009/07/disparity.html

Her latest post discusses her initial reactions to living her western lifestyle while witnessing the India around her. This is the initial reaction everyone has upon arrival. "How can I help the poor and wretched especially as I have so much?" (said with a whiny voice) I see this all the time.

First, let me say, this is my personal opinion based on years of living here in India. I am not a person of Indian origin, so my views are based on personal observation and responses to questions asked of people from here of many different backgrounds. Your background/responses to my questions may vary.

I struggled with "the poverty dilemma" many years ago on my first trip for a year in Mumbai. The family I stayed with were extremely wealthy, even by western standards. I had immaculate chappals and sandals because a family of cobblers lived just outside the walls of the family compound and I was sure to give them business as often as I could. They were raising four children on the sidewalk. One of my fellow students at Sir J.J. College of Architecture lived in the slums out near the airport, even then a formidable place. It wasn't something he was proud to tell people but he wasn't ashamed of it, either. He was studying to become an architect and lived under a tarp. He failed to see the irony.

I learned a lot about disparity but I also learned a lot about acceptance, perhaps even resignation. If people want to better their situation by whatever measurement they choose, they can, regardless of their circumstances and disabilities. This country is full of people that have bootstrapped their way to leading global companies while being barely literate. Parents really value their children's education and understand the investment they are making in their children's future. This country is full of people who have built manufacturing plants, became successful shopkeepers, movie stars... There are political leaders here from the very lowest of the castes. You can be successful here if you sincerely want to be. But it's not easy.

The situation can be partially explained in a couple of areas, one cultural, one just human. The cultural one is based on the idea that when you are born into a certain circumstance, you stay in that circumstance and if you do the best you can, perhaps in your next life, you will be born into a better circumstance. (My father upon hearing this, mused that perhaps this belief construct developed as a way of controling such a large population and waxed philosophical. It became a source for many political and religious discussions throughout the years.) It also creates pressure on sons to join the family business: "My father is a leatherworker, then I must become a leather worker, too." This is fundamental to the culture here. You'll hear this everywhere: Aunties complaining about a son that refuses to join the family business or expresses shock that son of a house servant wants to become a doctor, which to them is clearly "not their place". Not a big fan of the Auntie.

The second is the basic and fundamental human fear of change. You can't get those kids from "Slumdog Millionaire" to move from the slums of Mumbai and the western world is clearly perplexed. There's a reason for that. That's where their community is. Moving to a flat in a skyscraper does not allow them to stay connected to their own familial sense of community and personal identity. Even if you moved the whole family, the satellite persons involved intrafamily in their little world would contraindicate the move. The slums of Mumbai in particular are extremely complex cities in their own right with their own infrastructures, stores, restaurants, tea stalls, liquor stores, tailors, electricians, political machines, social programs, even quasi-health care, etc. that are entirely independent of any government programs and are completely self-funded. Numerous studies have been published as to the intricacies of this organically grown, undocumented subculture. I am not in any way defending this way of life. It is A way of life and should be accepted as the way some people choose to live.

The beggars are another known, unwelcome quantity. Never, ever give them money. As a foreigner, you've got a big target on your back and you will be contributing to the problem. The more mangled and disabled, the more money a beggar can bring in. They in turn end up giving most of that money to a Beggar Master. Babies are rented to increase your pity as well. There is an entire industry devoted to the separating of you from your rupees and every rupee you give will induce new beggar masters to lop off more hands and blind other children in their greed. They're not dirty because they haven't access to water - it's for the effect. Clean beggars won't earn as much as a dirty one. Water is available - it is finding potable, drinking water that is always an issue. They can certainly bathe and wash clothes. Another thing that I've seen in Rajasthan is using sand to clean pots and even skin (think of it like loose pumice) with a quick rinse of a mere cup or two of water. Indians, as a general rule, keep their homes and persons impeccably clean. (How they handle public spaces is an entirely different issue. LOL.)

Overall, it takes a while to even start to grasp the complexity that is India, just as it must be a challenge to all the Indians that have emigrated to the States... all that space with no one on the streets... the way people stand so far away from you (that pesky personal space issue again), the way people in America drive, stand in line, pay tips, say "Thank you" (You know who I'm talkin'bout - Bengali in da house! - long story), wash their own clothes, clean their own houses, tend their children... the lack of familial contact... It has to feel so very lonely... or liberating. :-)

I know I'm going to catch hell for this post. Again, please see my words above in bold. I'm still learning about this place and if I've made incredibly uninformed comments, please let me know - I find this puzzle called India fascinating and I'm learning as I go.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Frightening Electrical Panels in Indian Modern Homes















Okay, someone in the house wanted to document the mess that we call our electrical panel. Here's the service.

There is no cover, so it is exposed to all the elements, wind-borne dust, monsoon rains, etc. Nothing is labeled so figuring out what appliance or circuit is the problem becomes a mystery. You can't even tell which apartment is the problem.















Circuit Breaker Panel. Notice that the panel did not trip, but burned instead, in the lower right corner. The electricians come to the house and they don't even carry a screwdriver with them, let alone a tester, wire stripper, electrical tape, caps, extra wire (WTF!), etc. What kind of professional doesn''t show up with their tools? I wish I had a photo of the one electrician's drill. He had used leftover wire from previous jobs to plug it in; there had to have been three or four different wires all badly taped togther and NO PLUG! He would just stick the two wire ends into the socket... go figure. When we lived in Kolkata, there used to be a commercial that would run occasionally launching a new product line of wires "Guaranteed Not to Catch Fire". Um... shouldn't that be a given for all indoor wiring products? (WTF again.)















Closeup of the burnt wire.















Current inverter/battery setup that is connected to the grid. These two batteries power a three-family household, sometimes for a full day. Notice the layer of dust everywhere. Delhi is so very dusty,especially at this time of the year. I haven't heard back yet about the hybrid inverter system with the solar panel hookup. I'm hoping that will get sorted out as soon as possible.

BTW, if anyone knows a capable local electrician who can rewire our house to handle the electrical load we would greatly appreciate the phone number.

Cheers, Jeanne

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ode to the Tiffin


I've been reading a lot lately about the evil that plastic does. In India, there is a traditional container called a "tiffin", made of steel, typically comprising two or three, even four separate containers, that stack above each other, encased in metal springloaded arms that also feature a handle. These containers are getting used less and less as plastic, thermos-like products emerge in the local stores. The original steel containers are typically less than half the cost of the new plastic ones and extremely durable. I've seen these costing anywhere from 200 rupees (less than US$ 5.00) and up.

I like the old tiffins. I also like the steel cups and plates that are traditionally used here. Perhaps it's because plastic and glass are so prevalent in the U.S., that you can't GET them there. I've only seen decent steel cups and glasses in very high end department stores and designer showrooms at home. We also have marble floors here in India, so if you drop something made of glass, it shatters on impact, therefore, with son and dog in the house, glass products have nearly as short a shelflife as the ubiquitous Starbucks takeout coffee container.

When I go back to the States next time, I will be bringing along enough steel to set up a new home as gifts for friends and family. They can't get it, it's green, and it's fairly affordable. All good things, in my mind.

Cheers,
Jeanne

Friday, June 26, 2009

Riots in Delhi Caused by Lack of Electricity

This past week, there have been riots in parts of Delhi for two reasons - lack of electricity and lack of water. This is becoming serious. The worst power cuts were in Dwarka averaging 10-12 hour outages at a time, Krishna Nagar at 10 hours, Vasant Kunj at 8 hours and Greater Kailash, averaging 5-6 hours. No part of the city has been spared. On Thursday, the 400 KV Mandola Power station tripped and went off-line, along with one unit in the Singrauli plant affecting large parts of the city. The highest demand for electrical power was this past Friday at 4,171 MW, while the region can only provide around 3,500 MW on a good day.

The reason? The monsoon is late. Much of the power here is hydroelectric. Without rain in the hills, the hydroelectric plants can't generate power. The power ministry has stated that there has been a 12% decline in generation leading to an overall 25% shortage. [As I've said before, infrastructure here isn't planned for growth. Well, infrastructure here isn't planned. Period.] Water is so precious that people are hoarding it. A 34 year-old man was killed in a fight over water earlier this week. We keep buckets of the stuff in our baths so we have water when the tanks on the roof empty. Food prices have risen because crop yields are down. With system failure, traffic lights don't work (not that anyone follows them anyway) causing massive traffic jams. Earlier this week, riots broke out in the Ambedkar Nagar, Govindpuri, Kondli, and Rajbir Nagar sections of Delhi. We need an alternative. A sustainable and affordable alternative.

VVDN is a company coming up with exciting new alternative energy products. The three light system they installed at my house last month has been working steadily and dependably with no decrease in brightness and no outages. The LED bulbs did blink one evening, but Parveen at VVDN said that it was because there was little charge left in the battery. Overall, the system is quite successful.

I met with Parveen because I'm totally sick of the lack of electricity and I need to at least keep one room cool by fan or AC, running a TV, cable box, computer, and wireless hub for at least four hours. Our existing inverter/battery system hasn't been keeping a charge for more than an hour or so. Parveen said to check the water levels in the batteries because in this heat, the water dries up and the chemicals in the batteries turn into a gas. [Note to self: check batteries regularly.]

He recommended a standard 540W solar-powered system that would run 3-4 fans and 4-5 lights (8-10 hours of backup by solar charging). The cost of this system is around US$ 3,000 with replacement batteries every 3-4 years; they cost around $350. The panels have a 20 year warranty. He said that the panels and batteries can be purchased from the market any time but the main charge controller unit that I want (hybrid unit) is not available commercially at this time. You see, I want a system that integrates both the grid when it's available AND solar power to maximize the charge in the batteries. I want the solar power to be the main provider of charge with the grid only being pulled when there is still capacity available in the battery array. There is nothing on the market right now, but Parveen shared with me that there is technology in the R&D stage that is exactly what I want.

One of the companies he's working with has such a system and he says it is very stable. One of the features is the fancy new controller, which can be configured to favor one source over the other. They are at the stage where they need to do field trials and I volunteered. He will be discussing it with the people running the trials and get back to me next week.

Let's look at the financials. This system retails for 1.5 lakh (150,000 rupees). I pay between 3,000 (winter) and 9,000 (summer) rupees per month for electricity, averaging around 5,000 per month. Payback on this sytem is 30 months, assuming no grid usage. Even if payback takes twice as long, with panel life at 20 years and battery replacement every 3, it's still an incredibly viable option. Plus in India, subsidies for solar systems can be up to 70%, so, to me it seems practically criminal to be relying on an unreliable grid when these systems are so readily available.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CommunicAsia 2009

Revisiting Singapore after a 30+ year wait, it was like the other Singapore I remembered never existed. We did get to the Raffles' Long Bar for Singapore Slings one evening, but even that place had been upgraded. The Raffles Hotel was a dump back in the 70's. It's been refurbished and expanded a hundredfold since then. The city is impeccably clean and its residents are very friendly. The Ibis Hotel, where we stayed, was merely okay. The staff were nice, but the amenities are not up to standard. The rooms were small, but typical for Asia. Their TV channels were few, and no pay per view. They did not have room service. Breakfast buffet is usually an extra S$17/day, but of course, BS managed to negotiate that, too. I swear that guy can haggle on anything...

Debashish, from Insta - our booth designer, stayed until we were happy with the quality of our custom booth space. Fan, the booth contractor did a remarkable job getting the space ready. All the men from Shyam and VNL put the base station together which took about six hours because a) the parts were mislabeled, b) no one looked at the instructions, and c) every decision was by committee. Rajneesh, Carlo, Niyati and I shopped for all the booth paraphernalia which took a whole day of prep.

CommunicAsia 2009 proved remarkable considering the global economy. Attendance was good along the main aisle, but deadly on the alleys and byways. The ratio of booth babes to attendees was probably 1:10, much higher than shows in the States. A lot of the booth babes working the show were walking the aisles in skimpy outfits with signs or passing out brochures to drive traffic back to those booths. Ericsson and Nokia weren't there, but ZTE and Huawei were. Carlo said they were using the same stands as in previous shows.

CommunicAsia is a big show, probably 500 exhibitors overall utilizing four halls at the Singapore Expo. We were located on the main aisle, right behind LG's two story booth which looked pretty much like a hair salon, all pinks, purples and lavender. Across the aisle was Powerwave, who brought a Formula 1 simulator. Powerwave is a direct competitor to Shyam Telecom whose booth space faced the byway. This simulator attracted a lot of traffic which congested the main aisle. They had booth babes along the main aisle passing out clipboards with forms for attendees to complete - for what? I have no idea. It got so congested between onlookers and people filling out forms that people spilled into our booth to get around the congestion. I'd had it when they started using my reception desk for clipboards.

I walked over and found out who was in charge of the booth and approached him. I told him that the noise from the simulator was way too loud and needs to be turned down. I also told him that he needed to keep his staff on his side of the aisle. He replied that there was nothing in the rules that said he had to and that pissed me off. I started arguing with him. He refused to move his babes off the main aisle.

"See the red line in the center of the aisle? That's the DMZ. Keep your people on your side and we won't have a problem."

He told me that I didn't want to go there.

"I'm already there," I replied. "See the size of my booth? (120 square meters) See the size of yours? (maybe 36) When I go and complain to the show services, who do you think they'll want to keep happy?" He continued with the noise, but the babes moved off. It's tough being a good neighbor at these shows when everyone is competing for attention, something we didn't have a problem with - we felt like the prettiest girl at the dance. All the mobile operators attending the show came to our booth to see our solution, which was very well received. A gent from Nigeria complained about his US$ 110 million he spent on diesel fuel last year and said if he spent half of that on our bases stations, he'd be a much richer man.

On day 1, Rajiv presented a session on Microtelecom that sent a lot of conference attendees to the booth to get more information on our business model. Tony Chan of CNBC interviewed Rajiv about the products and business model. We pushed the press conference scheduled for the next day and collected business cards. The VIP tour showcased a selection of ten vendors including VNL, and Ministers from 17 countries stopped by. Comments overheard were, "This is much simpler than the solution we saw in Sweden" and "If it works in India, it can work anywhere."

On Day 2, Bridget, our PR consultant produced our press conference announcing that VNL's solar-powered GSM base stations for rural networks were now commercially available. Rajiv was interviewed by a number of journalists following that. The Day 3 Official Daily Show paper featured an article about VNL. Day 3 also featured the Green Telecom stream hosted by Laina Green of TelecomTV (love her!). Mats presented the keynote speech and Rajiv joined the panel that discussed green telecom. There were a lot of attendees at this event.

Evening events I went to were sponsored mostly by the news companies, Questex and TelecomTV. Both were good, well attended events where marketers like myself got to meet with many journalists. It really helped to be able to spend "quality time" getting to know these people as they'll be important to our PR efforts moving forward. I really enjoyed meeting Laina and Neal of TelecomTV and networking with other telecom marketers, especially since I have no history with previous shows to compare our results.

On my last night, Carlo and I went to Low Pa Sat to eat Singaporean street food. We gorged on barbecued stingray, chilli crayfish, prawns, beef satay and peppered beef, washing it down with Tiger Beer on ice. It was an extremely tasty meal, but one hint - wear a bib when you try to eat seafood with chopsticks. My shirt was a mess.

Overall, CommunicAsia was a big success, which is a huge relief for me. We're doing ten trade shows this year. CommunicAsia is the first of the shows for which I am responsible. At the same time, the West & Central AfricaCom Conference was being held in Abuja, Nigeria, where we were also exhibiting. Next week is AmericasCom in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Word from Abujs is that our booth was mobbed. We had conversations with 6 or 7 journalists as well. Judging from the response from the industry, VNL is in position to make serious change in the industry. See you in the future. :-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Suntrica’s Solar Mobile Phone Chargers Save You Money and Save the Planet at the Same Time


I'm just off to CommunicAsia in Singapore, a telecom conference focused on Asia. They will have a whole stream devoted to solar and other alternatively powered technologies. I am super excited to see everything that is available out there...

Suntrica gave me 50 samples of their SolarStrapTM solar mobile phone chargers because VNL is exhibiting at CommunicAsia in Singapore in mid-June. We’re distributing them as a giveaway there to promote their solar products.

Suntrica is a Finnish company that specializes in designing, and manufacturing cost-efficient solar energy harvesting solutions for use with mobile battery powered devices. In the world today, 600 million cellular phone subscribers lack recharging facilities. The fastest growing region for subscriber growth is in the areas +/- 30 degrees from the equator, ideal for solar energy use. These nifty solar powered chargers were short-listed in the Green Network Hardware and Infrastructure category of the CTIA Emerging Technology awards earlier this year.

Suntrica’s charger is about the size of your hand, with Velcro that enables it to wrap around things. It’s extremely lightweight, bendable and weatherproof. The first day, I wrapped it around my clothesline to soak up the sun. I’ve hung it around the strap of my laptop while walking around Delhi and it charges quickly. When you plug your mobile in, the battery shows a red light. Its output is rated at DC 5.5V at 800mA. It comes with a variety of adapters to fit most mobile phones and other portable devices. My friend, Yu Yu Din, founder of Renewable Spirit, bringing solar panels to Burma, was the first user of the product because it fit her phone easily.
“It’s very cool because you can use it anywhere. It’s applicable anywhere you need your mobile working, like disaster areas where there is no reliable electrical grid,” she said.

Hang it anywhere in the sun and always have a fresh (and free!) charge available for your mobile phone. I plan on using mine everywhere. :-)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Our New Place in Gurgaon

I live in Gurgaon, just outside of Delhi. We now rent the ground floor of a three family house. It features two bedrooms, two baths (one with a bathtub!) a large living and dining area, kitchen, enclosed patio space in the front and back, plus a storeroom, which we may convert to an office. We’re having a lot of issues straightening out the electricity.

As Americans, we use a lot more electricity than the typical Indian. We have two televisions with satellite TV boxes, two ACs in our bedrooms, and wireless broadband with three computers. Typically each of our bedrooms in the States would have a TV, cable box, plus a computer, game station, DVD player and whatever. Our house would also have a whole house AC, with dishwasher, refrigerator, vacuum cleaners, and washer and dryer as well. Typical new home construction in the U.S. requires 200 amps.

Here in Delhi, our panel is probably one fourth of that, for three families in one house. Most families in our colony here have a refrigerator, but no AC, no microwave, maybe one computer… the amount of energy we consume is considered shocking to a standard family here. I feel guilty sometimes, but need my connections to home. There are certain things I will give up in order to live in a “developing country”, but broadband internet, refrigerator, two TVs, one DVD player, three computers, and AC in two bedrooms are absolutely compulsory for me to live comfortably.
Another issue is water. In our sector, the electrical grid type is called “agricultural” and is primarily used for pumping water. Twice a day, a siren goes off, reminding us to turn the pump on. Our house has a tank on the roof and a pump in the backyard that has to be turned on in order to get water into the tank. We have to do it to ensure we have enough water for the day.
Being fully conscious of our use of electricity and water makes us more mindful of just how much we waste, and it has changed the way we use these resources for the better.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sunday Morning in Gurgaon

We have a very annoying peacock living nearby. Actually, more like three or four. I know. How can you complain about something as exotic as wild peacocks, but they are very big, very noisy, and very territorial. They are absolutely gorgeous, with brilliant blue heads and necks, tapering down into teal and green chests... long flowing tails – they are the perfect bird for the overly decorated and bejeweled people of India. This one sits in the tree across from the house and doesn’t move for hours.

They do, however, have a very loud call, something similar to a cat in heat, mixed with the sound of a tractor-trailer engine downshifting. I don’t know if they are calling to attract a mate or define their territories, or both. I’m hoping it’s mating, otherwise this will go on all year, not just for one season. :-) No one seems to know whether peacocks are protected in any way nor can anyone tell me anything about their nesting habits. I have yet to see the much smaller brown female.

There also seems to be a nesting pair of green parrots living in the tree just outside our front windows. They come out to eat seeds left by the neighbors and then preen their feathers while sitting on the electrical wires. They make a clucking sound, usually six to seven in a row, then wait for a call. There are split tail swallows, wrens, and sparrows but interestingly enough, no signs of the ubiquitous crow. There also black and grey birds with yellow stripes in their feathers that are only lucky when seen in pairs, plus a few random pigeons, not a lot.

I remember the delight I felt when we were visiting my aunt in New Jersey just a week ago and watched two robins in the back yard. The showiest birds in New England are blue jays, and in Chicago, the star bird was the cardinal. I think the iridescent hues of the hummingbird come the closest to the peacocks – just imagine a hummingbird the size of a turkey to understand the impact of a big male peacock. I have yet to see one fly. He’ll sit for hours in that tree and I’ll wait for him to move, only to give up, walk inside to grab a cigarette or get a drink, only to return and find him gone. I think I may begin planning for his “disappearance” sometime around Thanksgiving. I hear they are quite delicious. :-)

video

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Message from the American Consulate: June 2, 2009

NOTE: Yesterday, there were riots in Kashmir over the rape and death of two Muslim women. The attacks were said to have been carried out by members of the Indian police. There is no mention of this in the Consulate's message - just a general warning. No wonder Americans are paranoid... "we don't know who... we don't know where... we don't know when... we don't know how... but they're trying to kill you. Take care now." Go figure.

Urgent Warden Message

June 2, 2009

The United States Mission in India wishes to urgently remind all U.S. citizens resident in or traveling to India that there is a high threat from terrorism throughout India. As terror attacks are a serious and growing threat, U.S. citizens are urged to always practice good security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile. Americans in India should be vigilant at all times and monitor local news reports and vary their routes and times in carrying out daily activities. Americans should consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or choosing hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Americans are also encouraged to read the Country Specific Information for India, available on the Embassy's website at http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov, and also at http://travel.state.gov.

U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. For additional information, please refer to "A Safe Trip Abroad" found at http://travel.state.gov.

U.S. citizens may contact the American Citizens Services Unit of the Embassy or the Consulates General for further information:

-- The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi is located at Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri 110021; telephone +91-11-2419-8000; fax +91-11-2419-8407. The Embassy's Internet home page address is http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov.

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Mumbai (Bombay) is located at Lincoln House, 78 Bhulabhai Desai Road, 400026, telephone +91-22-2363-3611; fax +91-22-2363-0350. The Internet home page address is
http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov.

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai (Madras) is at 220 Anna Salai, Gemini Circle, 600006, telephone +91-44-2857-4000; fax +91-44-2811-2027. The Internet home page address is
http://chennai.usconsulate.gov.

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata (Calcutta) is at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, 700071; telephone +91-33-3984-2400; fax +91-33-2282-2335. The Internet home page address is
http://kolkata.usconsulate.gov.

-- The U.S. Consulate General in Hyderabad is at Paigah Palace, 1-8-323, Chiran Fort Lane, Begumpet, Secunderabad 500 003; telephone: +91 (40) 4033-8300. The Internet home page address is http://hyderabad.usconsulate.gov.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

VVDN’s Solar Panel Solution for Electrifying Remote Villages and Towns Worldwide.

India is making huge strides in solar energy development.

VVDN stands for Video Voice Data Networking, but the company is branching out into some pretty interesting solar products, based on some of the R&D they are doing for their main business.

VVDN reps came to my house Saturday to install a small solar 3-light system. It consisted of a small 1’ square cube that included the solar battery and the controller, wires, LED lights and the solar panel itself. I was surprised at how small the panel was, only about 4 square feet.

The setup was fairly straight forward. They went up to the roof terrace and placed the solar panel in the right place and threw the wire down to my place on the ground floor. They drilled a hole through the French doors to accommodate the wire. They installed the lights then ran the wires back to the box and connected them inside. They connected the wire from the roof and that was it. The battery comes already fully charged, so the “ready” light on the front was already green. Each light has a switch on the front of the cube, but the installer said the next version of the lights will have a pull chain so you can turn it on and off at the lamp.

This system holds enough of a charge to light all three lights for six hours, more if you have less lights on the system.

The LED lights are specially designed to use very little power per lamp. The standard bulb used in India today, the CFL bulb (compact fluorescent lamp), lasts a maximum of 8,000 burning hours while an LED light lasts for 50,000 burning hours while using less energy. VVDN has built an interesting circuit board that enables the lights to use much less energy while still producing a great deal of light. All I know is that when I’ve used solar lights in my gardens at homes in the U.S., they were way too dim to be useful for much, other than keeping people on the path, not nearly as bright as hard-wired systems. These lights are a really elegant and bright solution. You can read by them with no difficulty.

The box features a solar battery, the same as all batteries used for electrical purposes, such as inverters, the difference being that it charges and releases slowly. It lasts a lot longer than your standard car battery (car batteries last 1-2 years; solar batteries last up to 8 years). They’re built differently with different chemicals and internal structures. Yu Yu Din, Founder of Renewable Spirit, an NGO planning to implement solar panels systems in Burma, stated, “You could use a car battery to power your house, but it wouldn’t last very long. They are designed to produce a huge amount of power to start a car; you couldn’t use a solar battery for the same application because you can’t get that amount of power at once – that’s why it lasts so much longer.”

The controller developed by VVDN is really special and is designed to control how the battery charges in order to make it perform at its maximum efficiency. The small system is completely encapsulated in a waterproof, tamper-proof plastic box that makes it not only easily deployable, but re-deployable whenever a family moves from one structure to another. Plus you wouldn’t have to tinker around with the technicalities. The system engineer who came to install the system at my house, Parveen Sangwan, said that VVDN is developing modules that are plug and play so that folks can just plug the system in with even less installation time.

In the developed world, I think I would use these at home for exterior projects, like a garden room or pergola, small cabins in the woods, any place where getting electricity to the structure would be expensive and difficult. In rural applications and off-grid applications worldwide, VVDN’s systems are a perfect solution for how most of the world lives and empowers those either completely off-grid and those with unreliable power, like myself, with a solution that is completely sustainable and affordable. I was thinking that these systems would be ideal for emergency situations where people are relocated to temporary housing, such as in Hurricane Katrina, Darfur and other areas where refugees require electricity for daily living. Because they are repeatedly re-deployable, the systems could be used to help many people in need with minimal cost and no harm to the planet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coming to Live in India, the F.R.R.O. and Trying to Leave the Country

Funny thing. A fellow blogger asked me to confirm the address for the FRRO and I spent a half hour or so describing that exquisitely painful experience known as the FRRO. A few hours later, on an email list (Gurgaon Connection), a brilliant person had much better information for her, me (since I've trade shows to do in June), and everyone else who's trying to come in or go out requiring the services of the "lovely" officers at the F.R.R.O.

BTW, a joke...what does FRRO stand for? Next post, kids, or maybe check the comments. Enjoy...
:-)

Hi there,

It's Mathanaseelan here again. I had asked some of you about the procedures that needs to be done before leaving India for good. Now, here are my findings after running around for 2 years. I am safely in Malaysia now and thank you for the people who did send me a lot of good advice while I was there.

1) FRRO registration is needed if you are going to stay in India for more than 6 months, and you need to do it within your first 14 days in India.
1.1.1) Find out from the FRRO officer what is the correct Challan code to quote when you are making your payment.
1.1.2) Go to a local State Bank. Eg: In Hyderabad I had to go to the State Bank of Andhra to pay this.
1.1.3) There was a guy OUTSIDE the bank with the form. Pay him and tell him the "challan code" and he will fill it up beautifully for you, with all the nitty-gritty.
1.1.4) Queue, Make payment, and take Receipt to be shown to FRRO Officer. Ensure receipt quotes the correct "challan code" otherwise you just paid fine for something else. (This challan code experience was in Andhra Pradesh, it may differ in Haryana)
1.2) You're required to bring with you at registration:-
1.2.1) Pasport size photo (x 4 to be on the safe side)
1.2.2) Letter from organisation stating that you are staying in so-so address and that they are employing you for "X" duration to be in India and your passport and visa details in that same letter as well.
1.2.3) I think the Delhi FRRO actually have a template online how that letter is supposed to look like. I know i saw it somewhere.
1.2.4) Rent Agreement showing the proof of your address of stay in India. This has to be done on the Indian "legal" paper which you would have to buy and fill up the agreement and both parties sign on it. Verbal agreements and anything lesser than that "legal" agreement is unacceptable as Address proof.
1.2.5) Employment agreement showing the number of months you are going to be working with the company in India.
1.2.5) Go at 10am. Office opens 9am - 3pm. Lunch (1:30 - 2:30). The Gurgaon FRRO office main guy was late both times i went there.
1.2.6) The real FRRO Officer is actually the Deputy Commissioner of Police of Gurgaon who sits in a bigger office somewhere else in the building. The guys who we see in the office all report to him. If things get too late at the FRRO office in the morning and the DCP is not there, you'll be required to go again to the Mini Secretariat the next day to collect the signed FRRO Papers.
*Note: I might have missed something important here and please if there is something else to be here; add it in.
1.3) Location of FRRO Office Gurgaon is at the 3rd floor, Mini Secretariat. Travelling south on Nh8 (away from Delhi); turn right at Rajiv Chowk and you will see it on your left.

2) After registration, during your stay you need to have your FRRO papers with you wherever you go.
2.1) I think those who register in Delhi actually get it in a card form. So no point getting confused. Gurgaon-ites get it in 2 pieces of paper, stapled together, that is signed and stamped and has your picture.
2.2) The registration number is important and please note it down somewhere in your mobile so that even if you are caught without your papers, you can quote the number and they can check your registration with the Gurgaon FRRO officials.
2.3) Due to the important nature of those papers, I think keeping the originals and taking a photocopied set on your person is a safer option. After all, it's the Registration number which is importantly noted when you leave the country for short visits etc.

3) Leaving India after registration.
3.1) Leaving India within 6 months of your entry, either temporary or permanently, the Immigration officers couldn't be bothered less cause people staying less than 6 months don't need to register anyway.
3.2) Leaving India temporarily, after 6 months of arrival in India.
3.2.1) MUST have ORIGINAL FRRO form otherwise you'll be kicked out of the airport by immigration and your suitcases would be returned to you. Your ticket would be booked as a "No Show Passenger".
3.2.2) You can go to nearest airline counter within airport to re-confirm the tkt for some other date. Best is to do it then, cause if they ask any questions you can get the actual immigration officers who kicked you out to talk to them as well.
3.2.3) Make sure you tell them it's a visit and you intend to return to India and prove it by showing the return tickets. The immigration officer then checks your Registration number and HANDS YOU BACK THE ORIGINAL FRRO FORM.
3.2.4) If you don't have the return tickets booked, I think you just have to tell the guys nicely and they would listen and give the ORIGINAL FRRO FORM back to you anyway.
3.3) Leaving India for good, after 6 months of arrival in India.
3.3.1) MUST have ORIGINAL FRRO form otherwise you'll be kicked out of the airport by immigration and your suitcases would be returned to you. Your ticket would be booked as a "No Show Passenger".
3.3.2) You can go to nearest airline counter within airport to re-confirm the tkt for some other date. Best is to do it then, cause if they ask any questions you can get the actual immigration officers who kicked you out to talk to them as well.
3.3.3) In Hyderabad, you need to go BACK to the FRRO officer and get a clearance stamped on the FRRO form by him, stating he has no objections of you leaving the country. The FRRO guy in Gurgaon told me I just need to surrender the form at port of exit (in my case Chennai airport, since it was cheaper to stopover in Chennai before going to Malaysia) and I don't have to get any approvals from him before leaving.
3.3.4) For those who were EMPLOYED in India and leaving, there is another form that you need to be able to show to the immigration officers before you leave the country. You need to have completely filed your Income Tax with the Indian tax authorities, paid them, get your CA/company Finance or Accounts dept. to get you an Income Tax Clearance Certificate after the payment has been made completely. It's a simple document which is to be signed by the tax authorities of India stating I have paid everythign and they have no objections in me leaving the country.
3.3.5) The FRRO guy in Gurgaon told me to have the tax clearance certificate in hand to show the immigration officers before leaving. They just need to see it.
3.3.6) The Immigration officer at any airport would take and KEEP the FRRO form if you are permanently leaving India. They then send the collected FRRO form to the officer in Gurgaon, where he closes your registration I guess.

4) PAN Card. Please do not make the mistake I did. I joined a small company who asked me to get the PAN Card done myself. I had no idea how to do it, didn't take too much of an initiative to do it for almost a year. Bottomline: lazy.
4.1) www.tin-nsdl.com
4.2) Find an agent location near you and ensure you call and try out the numbers as some of them, I irritatedly realised, had cancelled their number so you cannot be sure if those agents are still operational in the given addresses. I finally found a man named Rajesh from Janakpuri among that list, who was kind enough to come to my house and do it for me.
4.2.1) You have to fill up the form they have.
4.2.2) You need to provide 2 photographs which is at a non-normal dimension. So, I did it in Khan Market where I told the guy how I wanted the dimensions to be and he adjusted it. (25mm x 35mm) [Editor's note: Yu Yu simply took my regular passport sized photo and cut it to size with scissors. Much less hassle.]
4.2.3) You need to provide a Proof of Identity and you need to provide a proof of address. Mr. Rajesh used my original bank account statement from ICICI as a proof of address and proof of identity. (The bank statement had my full name and my full address). Check the website for details of other documents that can be used.
4.2.4) There is a payment of some INR 160+. I cannot remember clearly. I just gave the dude INR 200 since he had travelled pretty far and met me in my home after work hours and I felt that was actually worth some tip.
4.3) Within 3-4 working days I got the PAN Card number SMSed to me and within 7-8 working days the PAN Card itself was couriered to me. It was actually that easy to do it personally.
4.4) I think it's easier if you actually work for a bigger company, they get it done for you because every month your salary slip should reflect the PAN No., to indicate where the tax deducted from salary is being deposited. This makes it easier then for you to get your Income Tax Clearance Certificate.
4.5) PAN No. is also used to send larger amounts of money home, exchange large amounts of Indian currency to your home currency, apply credit cards and open any type of account; it has your residence address and your picture, making it a proxy for an identification card.
4.6) As stupid as it may sound, the FRRO registration papers are not enough to be shown to Vodafone or any India based companies as an identity / residence proof. It had my address and picture as well but for some reason, they refused to accept it whenever I gave it to them. They looked at it and then they asked for an official govt. document. I showed them the stamp of the Deputy Police Commissioner of Gurgaon, but that just wasn't "government-ish" enough for them. Personally, I feel it's stupid to make us do a registration which just has to be surrendered at time of departure, in the meantime we cannot use that in our daily lives in India.

5) Bonus Chapter: Sending stuff through Air Cargo.
5.1) You need: Copy of Flight tickets, Copy of Visa, Copy of Front and back pages of Passport to be given to the Freight Forwarders.
5.2) If you can call people to your home and afford the trucking charges to the airport then do that. Otherwise. I booked a cab and sent the boxes to an agent myself.
5.3) I called MASKargo straight. They told me a rough estimate of their air frieght charges and told me I cannot do the customs clearance at India side myself. They recommended me to use Scorpio Freight in Janakpuri District Centre.
5.4) Not too sure about other airlines but basic MASKargo freight charges has a cut off at 100kg, as of now. Below taht is 75 rupees / KG. Above that is 65 rupees/KG. My boxes were 102KG in total, so I benefitted about INR 800. Therefore, whoever you talk to make sure you know their complete tariff plan to make better decisions.
5.5) The Scorpio Freight guy had everything itemised so I could be sure that there were no "hidden" charges so to speak.
5.6) When my goods arrvied in Malaysia 2 days ago, some agent caught whiff of this news and called us to say for RM 400 he can do all the paperwork and deliver it to our doorstep. Not sure if they actually have a tie up with MAS or was this just someone exploiting inside information.
5.7) A few hours later MASKargo themselves called and told us the Terminal Handling charges on their end is RM20 plus RM22.60 to buy the Customs Declaration form. If you include my petrol charges as RM50; I got my boxes back home in less than RM100. That and I had to go through the whole customs clearance process which was about 1.5 hours. Definitely better than paying 4 times more money to someone out to make a profit.