Saturday, February 27, 2010

TEDx Gurgaon

TED India was a total waste of time. I was super excited to be watching the live streaming from the conference and was able to watch about 59 minutes of it. The guy talking discussed the miracle of the TATA Nano, a cheap car for the masses. How is that innovative? He said it would change India. I agree. If it takes off, India will become the leader in the worst infrastructure, worst air pollution in the world. There aren't adequate roads to handle current traffic, let alone adding more. Building a fossil-fuel based car feeds the human addiction for oil. If the TATA Nano had been powered by hydrogen fuel cells, THAT would have been innovative and disruptive. The Nano, to me, is just another cheap car. I want those 59 minutes back.

Today, I attended TEDx Gurgaon.

I walked up to "Registeration" and told them it was misspelled. The women just smiled at me, never intending to fix it. 

Attendance was about 100 or so people, more than Barcamp last year... The first announcement was that "hopefully more people will arrive before lunch."

The first presentation was a video of Chris Anderson discussing why TED was formed and why he was excited to be a part of it, followed by a folk dance performance, Kishore, CEO of Linkaxis and considered one of the forefathers of the Open Source movement in India, presented the first talk about photography. As a self-professed "geek", his talk came from the view point of technology, not art. I didn't agree with many of the things he said, because as an artist, I think of photography as a raw material, much like paint. One interesting point that he mentioned (and something I would have liked him to expand upon) was that more cameras are sold by cell phone manufacturers than any camera company. That got me thinking about how competition is becoming disruptive. Your competitor tomorrow most likely won't be coming from within your industry. Another example is the music industry - who would have thought that a computer manufacturer (apple) would dramatically change the distribution channel and grow what was considered to be a dying industry, which, admittedly had an archaic business model that had to be forced to change. Something the newspaper industry still has to learn.

I'm working with a print publication in the States that wants to merge an online blog with the online version of their magazine. I'm thinking that this is a good opportunity to build my vision for Journalism 2.0. This requires the integration of all the aspects of internet technology to build an interactive site that enables readers to not only experience the news through multiple media types (read/watch/listen), but also share their own content, comment, forward, and expand. The newspaper industry needs to figure out a way to monetize this in order to pay for their content development (which goes back to a previous post about startups). Banner advertising is cheap. Really cheap. And you need to have enough eyeballs to generate a decent cost per thousand impressions (CPM). How do you package that and sell enough ads as well? Niche markets (like the readers of this magazine) can ask for a higher CPM due to its demographic, but it still won't be enough... How else can we monetize?

Microsite sponsorships can be one way. Either a topic, stream, or maybe even a particular writer. Online events with live streaming could be another. Downloadable deliverables could also be monetized. I'm struggling with what to do to make more revenue... I'm thinking subscriptions for archives and additional content (like special reports), and access to other services... anyway...

A 15-minute break was announced, which became more than 45 minutes. IST (Indian Stretch Time) strikes again. I have to say, they had excellent music playing during the wait time: Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gay, Etta James... very pleasantly surprised.

Priyas Abhinav, an "urban geographer" and "city spinner" was next... His first slide said "If you know where you want to go, we'll be sure you never get there", which looked interesting. Unfortunately that was the highlight of his um... ah.. speech. (If you were there, you know what I mean.) He presented a video of himself wearing some f*ked up shoes that blink when you're in a place the shoes have never been before (WTF?), then finished.

Osama Manzur wants to change the world as CEO of Digital Empowerment Foundation. Reach the people in rural communities in ICT. Okay, this was definitely worth my time.  Osama brought up specific examples of how bridging the gap on the digital divide makes sense for literally half of humanity. I'm with you, girlfriend. Let's talk. Unfortunately, I had already given away all of my business cards, and this guy was the only one who was business card worthy, but I got his.

After that, I was bored. They played a bunch of videos from past Teds, including Pranav Mishra's presentation of Sixth Sense (I couldn't tell if there was a commercially available product yet, though). Then Atul Chitnis was introduced. Now, I was told that this was going to be good and I had looked forward to it, but it was clear that he missed the "good old days" of bulletin boards and forums. Sad really. He felt that the new, cool kids on the block like Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the social media were worthless and that there were no conversations of value was being done because most of them were populated by "marketeers".

Excuse me. I so wanted to retort, but I promised people I'd behave. While I realize the dude is very well respected for his work in Open Source, he needs to leave my shit alone. Social media is here to stay and it works as people want it to... today. This isn't the 80's anymore. I had a bulletin board back then, too. Either you learn the new shit or get out of the way.

By this time, not only was I bored but I wanted my hour back. (What happened to presentations only being 18 minutes long?) We got tea, then left. Next month, we'll be presenting at the National Seminar on Open Source Opportunities in Entrepreneurship. I'll be talking about how to start up a startup. We'll see what people think of it...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Screw the Queue

A few months back, I broke my shoulder in an accident on a train heading toward Rishikesh. I've been seeing a doctor at Sitaram Bhartia Clinic every few days for physical therapy and the like.

One my biggest pet peeves here in this country is personal space. As an American, I feel VERY uncomfortable if a person comes within three feet of my body. It's just the way Americans are. You can always spot the Yanks at international conferences because they'll be the ones with their backs up against the walls from stepping backward away from people they perceive as being too close to them. Funny really...

When I stand in a line, I leave enough space between me and the person in front of me for my personal comfort. I can feel the breath of the person standing behind me. People don't actually line up, it's more of a mob of people around the window all shouting for attention. The queue is merely a suggestion. Women typically don't wait in line and just simply walk right up to the front and interrupt whatever is going on. This happened while I was paying my bill at the clinic.

Me: "Hi, I'd like to pay my bill?"

Customer Rep: Certainly, Madam." We exchanged information and he began entering the information into the computer. An older lady approached the desk and started asking him questions, while he was processing my payment.

Me: "Do you mind? He's working with me right now."

Auntie: "I'm just asking him a question." And then she continued to talk with him.

Me: "I DO mind. Wait your turn."

Auntie: "Who do you think you are?"

Me: Who do you think YOU are?"

Auntie: "I'm an Indian."

Me: "Congratulations. You want fries with that? I was STILL here first. Wait your turn."

Auntie: "My mother in law is having x-rays..."

Me: "I don't care. You can still wait your god damned turn."

At this point, everyone else in the building had arrived at the front desk to watch this including a few of the doctors.

Auntie: "You think you can talk to me like that? Shit! Shit! Go back to your own country."

Me: "This is my country. I live here. I pay taxes. I have every right to pay my bill without your interruptions. Wait your fucking turn."

Everyone's eyes were on me now. The pain I was experiencing made me more susceptible to any additional discomfort from dealing with her crap. I had no patience with her and wasn't going to let her force her way in front of me. Sure, it was a small thing, but this was just the last straw. She shut up and waited.

The Customer Service rep was clearly uncomfortable, but he hurried up with the bill and processed my payment quickly and we left. I can imagine the conversation that followed.

Look. I'm in India because of what it does right and it does a lot of things right. The bullshit I vent about on this blog are not exclusively Indian nor an attack on their culture - just look at the nightmare we call the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Unemployment Office in the States. I'm just as much of a bitch at home as I am here. I stick up for my rights, I do my best to ensure that I'm not cheated, and I demand that people I'm working with, be them doctors, accountants, or my coworkers try to respect my time just as much as I try to respect theirs (that means not being late for meetings or appointments). Cultural issues ARE difficult. My language, the tone of my voice, the way I speak, even my body language can seem like an attack to many people here and makes them defensive. I don't mean to come off like that. Even people in my own country call me intimidating (including my 6'6", 250 lb. ex-business partner). I am direct to a fault. It's something I need to work on, but the truth is, there are a lot of people, both back home and here, that value my honesty and directness. They are fiercely loyal to me (and me to them) and everyone else who wants to just sit back for an hour sipping tea and chatting before getting to the point, can bite me.

My method for streamlining my personal waiting in a queue process is simple. People trying to cut in line here get body blocked first. Then a comment, like, "I'm next," in a very firm voice accompanied by what has come to be known as the "Heydecker Death Glare". :-) This works remarkably well in train stations. I actually wait in the lines, instead of being pushed ahead because I'm a foreigner. I don't see myself that way. I'm not a rich tourist and I don't deserve special attention just because of the color of my skin. I do, however, expect the country I'm living in to understand that I'm not from this culture. I may make mistakes, but miscommunication works both ways. A "yes" most of the time doesn't really mean yes here, because confrontation is not socially acceptable. Demanding a commitment on, say a delivery or a repair, should be honored and most times, it's not. I think these things are unreasonable and should be in any culture.

Lately I've been questioning whether my personality is simply unsuitable for India. I'm wondering if I should just pack it all in and head elsewhere, where people will understand or accept me better. The issue, though, is that in some of the companies I've worked at here in India, the bosses that have given me a free hand to make change received huge benefits from my "different" perspective. Other bosses, that have wanted me to fit in to the Indian culture have had a much poorer experience with me. My fierce determination to do the best work possible in the most efficient manner and at the lowest possible cost is diametrically opposed to my personal experience dealing with the bureaucratic minutiae, backtracking and passive aggression I experience in Indian companies from those who feel threatened or disrespected by me.

And this respect thing is a BIG deal here. Layers of management don't mingle. Your boss is Mr. Somebody, not Bob. You use a more formal, subservient Hindi when talking to him (and it's 99.9% a him, BTW - I'm typically the only woman in an executive level or leading a group). American's don't play this game. Not at all. In fact, I'll say "Sir" to my driver, who gets a big kick out of it, just because to him, it's so wrong for me to do so.

I'm heading to Barcelona tomorrow, another culture with it's own idiosyncracies. At least I'll just a visitor there...

-- Jeanne

Monday, February 8, 2010

Don't Drink and Ask for a Recommendation on Linkedin

I got an email the other day from Moez, some random person on Linkedin, asking for a recommendation. I don't know this person. Never met him.

Linkedin isn't Orkut. It's for professional networking. It's for adults who want to enrich and further their careers, build their networks, etc. I was really pissed off that some idiot wanted me to use my reputation to further himself without understanding what he was asking from me. When someone says to me, "I recommend this person", I take into accountwhat I know about the person who I'm speaking to. Are they professional? Am I impressed with the quality of their work? Would this person they're recommending be an asset to my team?

When I recommend someone, I do it because I have experience with them. I know their capabilities. If I say they're a star, I stake my reputation on it. Clearly this person has no understanding of how this works. I'm questioning whether he even understands English...

Here's a screen shot of his linkedin page. He actually posted it.