Jag Venugopal's Blog

August 23, 2012

When does Freemium work?

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 10:50 pm

There’s a good discussion over at the Wall Street Journal on when the freemium business model make sense. I’ll direct you to that article for the details, rather than regurgitate them here.

The authors miss one area where the freemium model does not only work, it is close to essential. If your product depends upon a network of people, and if the value of the product increases with the size of the network, then the freemium model is essential to building the network. Think LinkedIn — no one would be buying their premium subscriptions if LinkedIn locked out the millions of freeloaders. Without the freeloaders, the service would be useless to paying customers. Another example is Facebook — the appeal of the site is that so many billions are on it. If your friends were not on Facebook, you would not be very interested in it. A third, somewhat tangential example is newspapers. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal make a good selection of articles free via google.com. If you were to go to their site directly, you would be walled off. But if you go through google news, you will be able to reach a large fraction of their entire newspaper. Again, the reason is that they need a wider network of eyeballs, this time to bait advertisers.


July 31, 2012

Is a union such a bad thing after all?

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 6:23 am

There was a very unfortunate incident in India recently where workers of its biggest automobile company (Maruti, a Suzuki subsidiary) rioted inside the factory, set fire to a portion of it, killed a manager and maimed countless others. I have never heard of workers rioting so badly in a very long time. Not in the new India.

Interestingly, this very same factory had experienced strikes and labor unrest last year. And while that episode was free of violence, Maruti bought out the union leaders, disbanded the union and formed a new one.

I’m speculating that the problem with Maruti is that in the absence of a mature union, there is no one to represent the workers, channel their grievances, find an acceptable solution and hold them to an agreement. Unions exercise some level of leadership over the workers, who listen to their union bosses. In the absence of an established union, anarchy prevails, with complete and total lack of discipline.

A legitimate union, with an official hierarchy, processes and procedures, affiliated with one of the national trade union federations, may not be to Maruti’s liking. But it may be just the thing to ensure that such terrible incidents do not recur.

July 25, 2012

Groupthink in action

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 6:35 am

From brainpickings.org through Michael Roberto comes this experiment in groupthinking. A notable observation is that when one person bucks the trend, others feel emboldened to follow.

One lesson we can derive is to be the one person who does not fall in with the rest of the group. When we do that, politely but sincerely, we embolden others to state what’s truly on their mind. From the conflict and churn of ideas, great things emerge.

From a personal standpoint, I chafe at conformity. I’d much rather people on my team speak their mind than impose an artificial uniformity on them. Sure, there will be the occasional disagreement, and we may end up saying different things in a public forum. But that is a small price to pay for the great benefit of having everyone’s honest input in a discussion of any sort.

June 26, 2012

The ‘Objectives’ section on a resume

Filed under: Business — Jag @ 6:30 am

To borrow a phrase from Junior Soprano — An entire forest in the pacific northwest has probably given its life for the cause of the objectives section on resumes. To no end whatsoever.

When someone’s looking for a job, there’s only one objective they have — to land a job that pays well, and where they have the opportunity to succeed. The rest is all fluff; both the applicant and hiring manager know it. Yet, egged on by ignorant authors of resume writing books, applicants continue to fill an entire paragraph with cliches.

For the love of God, please don’t state an objective at all. I know what your objective is. I don’t want to read “to leverage, maximize, and further develop my skills and work ethic and leadership skills into a mutually rewarding relationship where I play a senior IT role for the success of the organization in an intensely competitive marketplace”.

June 6, 2012

Never forget the radio station WII FM

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 6:33 am

I get countless calls each week, that all go the same way: “My name is so and so, and I want to talk to you about such and such…”

In precisely 100% of instances, these communications have been summarily deleted. I never take a cold call.

I feel sad for the person that’s trying to make a sale, knowing that they will meet with similar rejection in every call they make. How could they do better? I have three suggestions:

First, clearly answer the question “What’s in it for me?”. If you cannot answer it, don’t bother. If, on the other hand, you’ve somehow come up with an answer I like, then your pitch becomes a lot more persuasive.

Second — do your communications resemble brochures, or do they actually give me some small nuggets of information that are immediately actionable? If you want to talk about BI, first provide some BI related information that I actually care about. Then, segue to your company and your product. You don’t need to serve up a big tome… a few tidbits of useful knowledge conveyed in a newsletter will motivate me enough to read more, and actually understand what you’re trying to say.

Third, don’t offer bribes. Two companies proposed to give me Red Sox tickets in exchange for considering whatever they were selling. Countless others send me all manner of tchotchkes. You’re wasting your time and money. I will never accept a gift from a vendor. Ever. Tchotchkes like pens and pencils with your logo on it get gifted to the first kid I can find. Money wasted for you.

Ultimately, Dale Carnegie said it best: “Bait the hook to suit the fish”.

April 9, 2012

Dot com insanity is back

Filed under: Digital Living — Jag @ 7:05 pm

The tech news headline of the day was that Facebook acquired a photo album company called Instagram for a billion dollars. That’s right kids, billion with a ‘B’. For a company which has zero income, probably 6-10 staff, no known business model, and that writes software to display photographs on a phone.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the last time I checked, Facebook’s valuation was $104 billion. Let’s reflect for a moment on what this means. Using Google’s P/E ratio of 21.10, Facebook must have earnings (not sales) of approximately $5 billion. And, assuming that its profit margins are the same as Google’s (~26%), it must have sales of somewhere around $19 billion.

Yes, I know that prices for momentum stocks are based on expectations of future earnings and not current. Even so, we’re back to the days of pets.com, webvan.com, and etoys.com, and not to forget the granddaddy of them all, AOL.com.

 My biggest worry is this… I am a believer in indexing. Much of my meager savings is invested in the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund. A Facebook IPO would catapult it into the S&P 500 right away. With the result that Vanguard will have to buy into Facebook to maintain its correspondence with the index. Which means that I will become an unwilling investor of this future trainwreck that does not have a snowflake’s chance in heck of earning anything close to what its valuation suggests.

Money come easy, money go easy.

March 26, 2012

African Indians

Filed under: India — Jag @ 6:48 am

Everyone has heard of African Americans. But African Indians? No, I don’t mean the Gujaratis from India who went to Africa as traders, but Africans who migrated to India in the past, and are now as Indian as every Thambi, Devinder and Harish?

Well, let me introduce you to the Siddis of Karnataka, who reportedly migrated out of Africa some four hundred years ago. The Wall Street Journal has a photo story of this tribe, who though African in looks, are Indian in language, religion, and pretty much everything else you can think of.

March 17, 2012

The new iPad and those crazy fanbois

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 4:21 pm

Those crazy Apple fanbois, standing in line from Thusday afternoon, just to be the first to make Apple even richer on Friday morning. I’d never do that. Besides, I’m asserting my fifth amendment rights against accusations that my son and I kept hitting refresh on the Apple store’s webpage all afternoon on the day of the iPad’s launch, just so we could get the next iteration of the gadget on March 16th, the day of release 🙂

So — how good is it? The text and photos are outstanding. The original iPad was a marvel. We loved it and continue to use it heavily in the family. But, when we put the two side by side, one can clearly see the immense difference in clarity when it comes to text, fonts, and pictures. The previous iterations of the iPad look bad only by comparison against the new iPad — the older models can hold their own against any other tablet currently on sale.

Should you buy the new iPad? Yes — its not something you’ll ever need but its one heck of a toy for young and old alike.

RIP Encyclopedia Britannica (print)

Filed under: Project Management — Jag @ 4:09 pm

This CNN article carries comments attributed to author A. J. Jacobs, testifying to the superiority of Britannica (print) to Wikipedia for some very specific uses:

One man told Jacobs that he used the books not just for knowledge, but as weights for rehabbing a hurt wrist.

“You can’t do that with Wikipedia,” Jacobs says.

Renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton, he adds, “took a set on his famed voyage. He ended up burning it for kindling.”

India is top international investor in UK three years running

Filed under: India — Jag @ 4:07 pm

According to Pranab Mukherji, Indian finance minister, India has been the top international investor in the UK for three years in a row.

I am sure Mr. Mukherji is thrilled at the apparent reversal of roles between formal colonial master and underling. Doubtless many Indians are delighted for the same reason.

But, let’s think for a moment here. India is a land of significant wants — poor roads, electricity, water, drainage and education. Countless numbers of people are unemployed and under-employed. Could our capital not be put to use in India? With so much pent-up demand for the necessities of civilization, could the money not have been put to use within one’s own country?

The flight of capital, sadly, is commentary that Indian investors see better opportunities to make money in the UK than they do in India. With all the political capriciousness, lawlessness (e.g. the Maruti strike), and such, one cannot blame someone for wanting to invest money where the investment is (a) safe, and (b) will earn some predictable return.

As but one example of why investors would feel unsafe in India, consider Vodafone’s example. Vodafone bought a controlling stake in a wireless company in India from a Hong-Kong based company. This was accomplished through the transfer of an offshore holding company. The Indian government slapped a huge tax on the transaction, claiming that the underlying asset being transferred was in India, and thus subject to taxation under Indian laws. Vodafone fought its way to the Supreme Court of India, where it won its case, fair and square (in front of Indian justices, I might add). What does the Indian government do? It proposes to change the law with retroactive effect. Whoever said there was no time travel just has to meet Mr. Mukherji. Move over Stephen Hawking, the next scientific genius is our very own Pranabda.

Let us not be proud of India’s investments in its former colonial master. Rather, it is sad, perhaps even shameful that India herself did not provide stable and safe opportunities for the money to be put to good use.

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