About Me

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Mumbai, India
I run an IT Security consulting firm based out of India. We started off from scratch in 2001 when I was 21, and have offices in Mumbai, Bahrain, and UAE. The idea behind the blog is to share the stories of how we run the business, the deals we make, the deals that break, the heartburn, and the sheer joy.

The Ultimate Startup Guide

The Ultimate Startup Guide is an e-book that provides answers to all your questions related to starting and growing a business in India. Everything you wanted to know about entrepreneurship in India from ideation to registration to marketing to hiring. The book contains a large number of practical examples, anecdotes, interviews, and motivational material to help you get started, and to grow rapidly in a booming Indian economy. If you've got the idea, this book will help you through with the execution and realize your dreams. Here are some of the key questions you will find answered in this book:
  • When starting a business, what are the legal issues involved?
  • What form of incorporation is better suited to which type of business?
  • What tax issues are involved?
  • How do I start a business and what are the pitfalls?
  • How do I market my business in the absence of significant funding?
  • How do I get funded?
  • What are the basic accounting concepts I should be aware of?
  • What is a business plan and how should I build one?
The brief table of contents of the book is as follows:
  1. Getting started
  2. Ideation
  3. Forms of Enterprises
  4. Funding
  5. Basic Accounting and Taxation
  6. Import and Export Licensing
  7. Trademark and Patenting
  8. Rules for NRIs and Foreigners
  9. Building a Business Plan
  10. Marketing on a Shoestring
  11. Website and Branding
  12. Women Entrepreneurs
  13. Templates
To order the Ultimate Startup Guide - email me at kkmookhey@gmail.com.

Details of the book are:
Title: The Ultimate Startup Guide
Author: Kanwal Mookhey
Pages: 150
Additional: Companion CD contains numerous templates for building your business plan, calculating cashflow, preparing profit and loss, and balance sheets, preparing invoices, your resume and profile, marketing material, websites, contracts, and many other useful and motivational material.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Posting now at blogcritics.org

I've just signed up to post at blogcritics.org. All posts that would not neatly fit into the categories of this blog are likely to be posted there. The first one is on the aftermath of the Israeli-Lebanon war.

"I have a dream" speech day

Just a bit of trivia. Today is the day when in 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, culminating the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The audio and text of the speech are available online and the video is also available on Google video. The sad part of course is that in my lifetime, I don't remember any leader having delivered a speech that comes even close to giving one goose pimples the way King does. There's some real passion, a clarion call for action and accountability ("we have come to cash a check"), evocation of Biblical references, emphatic repetition (especially of the key phrase "I have a dream"), and most of all a compelling vision of the future where all men and women will be treated as equal.

Here is an interesting analysis of the speech.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Asia's top young entrepreneurs

One of the key factors in a country's economic success is how conducive the overall environment is to entrepreneurship. This includes the regulatory, financial (credit availability), and social environments that influence how many entrepreneurs are created, and how many of them are successful. One of the most heartening things that has happened in the past few years, not just in India, but other Asian countries, has been the number of young entrepreneurs coming up.

Businessweek.com recently selected 20 of these young capitalists as part of a special report and has a competition going where you can login and vote for your favorite candidate, who will win the best Asian entrepreneur of the year award. Here are my favorites (disclaimer: I have a bias against scions of business houses):

  • Arif Ayub, Softflux, Pakistan. Offers all sorts of software development, management consultancy and then some, with 70 employees and targeted revenues of $120 million by end of the decade. Ooh boy. The dude also has a private equity fund Saltflow!
  • Sasikanth Chemalamudi, Habits, India. Is a creative learning company, and is also involved with projects in rural India to promote self-employment. Probably the only chap on the list with a strong social entreprenuerial streak.
  • Mao Kankan, Majoy Entertainment, China. Tthis guy takes online gaming to a whole new level. Players actually play from the same physical location, and games involve players shooting each other with infra-red pistols. Bring it on, I say!
  • Kentaro Iemoto, Clara Online, Japan. This guy is simply amazing. Battles and survives brain tumor at 14, launches his company at 16, and now manages six data centers.
  • Victor Lang, Global Futures, HK and Chicago. This is one of the most unique ideas I have come across. Provides educational material for those interested in learning about international conflict resolutions and diplomacy. They also host simulated UN conferences!
  • Hendy Setiono, Baba Rafi, Indonesia. I am a foodie, so this choice is now biased. This guy runs a chain of fast food outlets from portable booths to shopping center outlets.
The biggest disappointment is that there are no women in the list. They could easily have found a number of women with great ideas, and who are possibly already more successful than the 20 on the list. The other downside is that a majority of the entrepreneurs are in the ICT space, with four of them offering solutions in the mobile phone space.

PS: Of course, I would've qualified too, except that I'm 26. Anyone doing an under-30 list?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pitching to venture capitalists at TIE-ISB

The latest update is that our business plan for "Venture Pitch" at TIE-ISB Connect has been selected (from among 225 submissions). The plan isn't built around any unique remarkable idea. We're simply asking for venture capital to expand geographically into the US and Europe, and also to focus on a couple of niche areas within the overall information security services domain. If any of you are going to be there, drop me a line, and we'll catch up over some Paradise Biriyani! Oh, and if we do manage to swing a deal, watch out for more posts on venture capital, and such like.

Women entrepreneur updates

Follow up on my earlier post on women entrepreneurs, here's a roundup of interesting events on the subject:

  • Tehelka has a really good article on how adversity produced opportunity for women in Kutch to become entrepreneurs in the sale of embroidered clothes and other traditional Gujurati crafts. A very interesting note:
    • "After the earthquake, craft also became a valuable rehabilitative tool, not just for economic rehabilitation but also for expressing their resilience and emotions through their creativity."
  • CNBC's TV18 (yes, the one with my favorite anchor - Shereen Bhan) has a program called Young Turks. My repeated attempts to land up on the show have resulted in naught, and now I've given up. However, they're doing a very interesting series of shows on women entrepreneurs - right from party and event organizers, interior designers, to someone who organizes Bombay Heritage Walks (thanks to Astha J for the tip). So if you get the channel on your cable, do check it out - airs every Thursday at 7:00pm.
  • Moneycontrol.com has a very interesting article for women on the advantages of being on your own, and ideas for various opportunities and how to tap them.
  • The FICCI Ladies Organization made a trip over to Russia (yes of the oil barons, and mafia, and Mercedes' jams at crossways) to promote foreign trade, which has been stagnating at $2 billion for more than a decade now.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, "There is a tide in the affairs of women, which when taken at the flood leads to fortune..."

The greatest high from being an entrepreneur?

Running one's own business has lots of ups and downs, pretty much like everything else in life. Only in this case, the sine curve is more acutely experienced, because the highs are often of your own making, so the joy from successes is higher. And often, you have only yourself to turn to for recovery when things go wrong. So which are those moments, when one feels simply great, when the adrenalin rushes in, and you know you made the right choices, and when at the crossroads of life you took the right path?

There are many moments where one might think - this is it! This is exactly why I did what I did. It could be when a big deal comes through, something you've been obsessively thinking about and working on, and somewhere at the back of your mind you know the odds are so high against you getting such a deal, and then it finally does come through. It could be when a long-pending payment comes through. The relief and joy of seeing the cash in the bank. It could be when a client writes a testimonial that just makes your day. It could also be when you go out and in a flurry of instant gratification buy yourself a spanking new possession.

But I think the greatest high comes when someone else does something amazing. You've heard and experienced all about it being a "people" economy, you've gone through the pains of constant turnover and people quitting even before a year is over. But then, there comes along someone who works for you, and she's joined you as a novice, fresh out of college. And you've seen her working diligently and quietly, with a determination that harks back to your own days of struggle. And you know she's determined to get there, and you've helped her along, mentored her. And then she comes out with this absolutely amazing piece of work - which you honestly have to admit - is simply the best piece of work ever produced at your firm. And it's not just a fluke. In fact, it epitomises the rest of her work, but this piece is in the public domain, and it gets her and your firm positive reviews. That's when you know you made the right choices, and took the right turn on the crossroads, because nothing beats that kind of a high.

I would have loved to have pointed you to the work that the lady in question produced, but anonymous blogging has its restrictions, and this is one of them. But way to go! Now, if only I could have two more people like that...

Monday, August 21, 2006

How to start a sole proprietorship in India

I had posted earlier about the ways in which you could start your own business in India. One of them being a proprietorship firm.

A proprietorship firm has advantages such as being relatively easy to get up and running - not too many company and tax related formalities to be completed. Far fewer records need to be maintained, and compliance levels are also lower. You could start a proprietorship while still being employed at a firm, although most firms would see that as a violation of their policies, and it might even be unethical under some circumstance. You could run it out of your own home - no need to have a registered office or such-like. However, if you are running it out of a commercial place, then you need to check in with the Shops and Establishments Act. I think in Mumbai, you'd have to fill in some paperwork with the BMC.

However, the biggest disadvantage is the lack of credibility. For some strange reason, people tend to have more faith in companies with a board of directors than in sole proprietors. For the same reason it is also difficult to get loans, since you'd have to put some of your personal property as collateral. In a private limited company, you always have the option of trying for a debt-for-equity swap.

I was advised pretty early on to convert operations from being a proprietor to a private limited company. It also has to do with the fact that a proprietor is usually perceived as a small enterprise with limited capabilities to satisfy large customers. So it's largely suited if you want to get up and running quickly, and the large majority of your clientele is not likely to perceive that as a credibility issue.

As a proprietor you could be up and running the very day that you decide you want to be on your own. So just:

  1. Think up of a trade name, ensure it is not trademarked. You probably simultaneously want to apply for a trademark as well.
  2. See if you can get a .com or a .in for it and set up your website. I cannot overstate the importance of a good website, with effort spent on SEO to help you get more business.
  3. Go to your local bank branch, ask for the form they have for proprietorship firms and have that bank account ready just in case people are lining up to buy your stuff.
  4. Get some stationery printed - letterheads (actually these you can simply design on your PC, get some good quality A4 papers and print as you need), visiting cards (sigh, well, we still need these around), and if you're really moneyed, get some brochures designed and made up as well.
  5. Register for tax other than income tax. Your income from the proprietorship firm would get included into your personal income and would be taxed accordingly. However, you would be able to write off certain expenses incurred as part of running the enterprise. Do check with a good CA on what you can, and cannot, write off as an expense. In addition, you will probably need to consider:
And that's about it. So go make some money!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The demise of a Web 2.0 and some lessons

So everyone (ok everyone in the techie/geekie sphere) has been talking about the demise of Kiko, one of the more talked about Web 2.0 startups. Kiko was/is an online calendaring tool, and was climbing up the popularity charts until suddenly things started to go awry. The launch of Google's calendar and 30boxes was, of course no co-incidence, but the common presumption that Google entering any market is going to kill off all startups is probably quite wrong.

In two wonderful insider analyses, Richard White and Justin Kan (kudos on the straight-from-the-gut posts) list out what they think really went wrong. So if you're another Web 2.0 entrepreneur in India or elsewhere, give these a read, and then some. White says:

  • Stay focused: The team kind of lost focus on the main product, right when Google calendar and 30boxes launched.
  • Release early, but not too early: Don't be so enthused about getting all those cool features out that you end up releasing a kludgy, buggy version that actually turns users off.
  • Don't add way too many features, that you don't even know your market needs or not.
  • You got to be able to make the leap from "Technosphere" to the mass market - the everyday Outlook calendar user, who sees little value in suddenly using the new online calendar/word processor/spreadsheet/whatever that you're so kicked about.
He also says that it wasn't the lack of a business plan (my kinda company) or the entry of Google that really spelt the death-knell for them.

Kan mentions some of the same points, as well as:
  • Working from home may be great in keeping the overheads low, but it could often come at the cost of productivity, and may I add, team spirit.
  • Getting the right people on board is essential for any company, but can spell life-or-death for a startup.
  • Get your investors involved, and don't hesitate to ask for help
  • Build incrementally. Don't aim to build the mother-of-all products right at the start.
Dharmesh Shah has also posted an excellent article on the subject, which may or may not be accurate, but has some great lessons for Web 2.0 startups in any case. There is also an interesting discussion on at Techcrunch, with Richard responding to comments.

I think I'll pipe in as well:
  • Think customer, not features. As techies, we tend to focus on what we think is cool, while we forget that we're actually building a product not to show off how kick-ass our programming skills are, but to actually solve a problem or a pain area
  • Consider user inertia. Often great ideas fail simply because user inertia is too great. You got to give the average user (whom you are planning to reach out to, right?) enough reason and motivation to switch over to using your Web 2.0 product instead of their desktop utility. So is your Mom using your product yet?
  • Don't buy into your own hype. Hype and product viability/success are usually inversely proportional. Remember Segway? Or the entire saga of the dotcoms? Don't get carried away by search engine rankings, website hits, interviews, or newspaper column inches. Stick to the parameters that really signify whether you'll make it or not - critical mass of users, and user feedback.
  • Budget for marketing and PR. Technically, you might be the next Google. But you got to put enough moolah behind your marketing efforts. Most products don't sell themselves. They need to be sold - aggressively. Ignore the moralistic standpoint that if it is so good, it'll sell itself. Sorry, it simply won't.
And if it still doesn't pan out, you could always auction it off on eBay!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Who's next? The search for a successor - Part I

I've been running my current firm for more than five years now. And it's about time we looked out for someone else to come along and take it from here. Another entrepreneur once told me, "The real point of running a business is to give it away, not to hold on to it for your progeny to take over". Well, I am not giving away the business, just hoping to hand over daily operations to someone. And hoping that this will give me time to take on a more strategic role rather than an operational role. And maybe even allow me the time to tinker with infosec technology - something I don't get to do much nowadays.

It's been quite a journey though. I remember starting out in 2001 after dropping out of college, with absolutely no idea of how to start and run a business, leave alone offer consulting services in information security. Those first few years were spent running the entire shindig out of a 278 sq ft office at Churchgate with a fast depleting startup capital of 2 lakhs in the bank. Buying spare parts from Lamington Road and assembling the PC's simply to save on a couple of thousand bucks per PC. Keeping the AC's shut off, taking the bus instead of a rickshaw, taking on whatever work came our way simply to pay off next month's bills. Evading old friends and relatives who would simply never buy any sort of rationale (some of them still don't!) The daily trip from Andheri to Churchgate, struggling to find the sweet spot of time when the rush in the locals would be just about manageable (I think I finally discovered it to be the 9:35am for the Andheri local to Churchgate, and evening is anyone's guess!). And today, we stand on the edge of an exciting new leap with offices in Mumbai and Bahrain, and partnerships across the world. I say, it's been one helluva ride!

But it's time to get some more hands on board. So with the objective of finding the right person for the post, we posted on Monster.com a while ago, and oh boy, were flooded with almost 600 resumes for the job. Using a divide-and-conquer strategy, we split the resumes among four of our team members, and asked them to use liberal criteria to sift through the bunch:

  1. Experience - at least 5 years
  2. Should have an IT background, preferably in consulting or software services, or even better in infosec. So let's avoid those with backgrounds in retail or manufacturing. Since they won't have the right people and project management skills.
  3. Should have either strong HR or Marketing skills. It would be impossible to find someone with both strong HR and strong Marketing skills. But if he/she has one of these, then we only need to find only another senior marketing manager or a senior HR manager to complement him/her.
  4. Avoid any personal prejudices in the selection.
  5. Let salary not be a criteria at the first round of selection.
This helped us get down to about 200 resumes. From these, we further shortlisted another 100 as really good ones. And when I mean good, these were pretty impressive. I think the sheer talent at the senior and middle management levels in India is amazing. I liked one chap particularly who listed angling as one of his hobbies. Sounds like my kinda guy! Except that I am the one who wants to go off and do some angling, while he's running the show! Any other takers?

Doing business in 2006, World Bank report - lessons for India

The World Bank has released its annual "Doing business in 2006" report. Here are some of the observations about India:

  • In the rankings of how easy it is to do business in a paricular country, India, though making big gains on collateral recovery and ease of registering property, ranks 116 - 25 places behind China. (pp 9)
  • India ranks among the countries where it is most difficult to fire people. Others in this list include Angola, Cameroon, Togo, Tunisia, etc. (pp 29)
  • The Indian state of Maharashtra halved the stamp duty from 10% of the property value to 5%. Pakistan reduced its duty from 3% to 2%. (pp 35)
  • The reduction in stamp duty in Maharashtra resulted in a 20% increase in stamp duty collections as evasion reduced (pp 36)
  • India was the top reformer in the area of credit and sharing of credit histories, by establishing a new consumer credit bureau and implementing a much faster proceeding for enforcing collateral agreements. The time to enforce security/collateral agreements fell from 10 years to 6 months because of a new summary proceeding requiring minimal court involvement. India still prohibits the sharing of credit histories with non-financial organizations, though. (pp 39 and 40)
  • A study in India indicates that tax reform would increase productivity by 60%. (pp 57)
  • India still lags sorely in terms of bankruptcy reform. It ranks amongst the worst performers in terms of the number of years it takes for bankruptcy proceedings to close - 10! (pp 75)
  • Starting a business in India, on average required: (pp135)
    • 11 procedures
    • 71 days
    • 61.7% of per capita income is average cost
    • 0% of per capita is minimum capital required
  • Dealing with licenses in India, on average required:
    • 20 procedures
    • 270 days
    • 678.5% of per capita income is cost
  • In terms of hiring and firing workers:
    • 90 on 100 is difficult of firing
    • 79 weeks of salary is cost of firing
  • In terms of taxes:
    • Taxes have to be paid 59 times in a year
    • 264 hours are spent per year on paying taxes
    • Total tax payable is 43.2% of gross profit
So broadly speaking, reforms occured in credit and duties on property transactions, but are sorely lacking in bankruptcy laws and the job market. The government expectedly refuted the findings as 'presenting too bleak a picture based on limited inputs'. In this case, I am actually tempted to agree with the government. From personal experience, the regulations were never really a hassle in starting my company, and with the right accountant and company secretary working for us, the entire process is more or less pretty painless.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Indian Postal Service - getting a move on?

It seems like the after much noise about the potential for the Indian Postal service to turn itself around into a new age enterprise, there is finally some action happening. According to this report, India Post is going to attempt to launch banking services. Other interesting stuff that you can already do at your neighbourhood post office is file your income tax returns, pay utility bills, fill up various investment and savings forms, and, um...that's about it.

Here's an interesting presentation on leveraging the reach and ubiquity of the postal service. The World Bank organized a seminar on "efficient service delivery (postal, financial, ICT) within the context of a commercially viable postal institution. "

I wonder why all the various attempts at creating e-choupals by ITC and others do not simply leverage the existing infrastructure of the post offices across the country (150,000 of which 1200 are already connected via VSAT). Why reinvent the wheel? I think the postal service should be looked at simply as an existing massive infrastructure, where the actual delivery of mail will continue to be a loss-making enterprise, but something that cannot be done away with obviously. At the same time, you have this huge opportunity to deliver everything else, right from FMCG goods to electrical utilities (Italian Post delivers vacuum cleaners among other things), agricultural produce and most of all information. We love to drop the phrase "reaching out to the farthest corners of the country", well here's how to do it. On the other hand, India Post cannot simply be privatized, since the first thing a private player might do is cut off the loss-making mail delivery service, especially to remote villages.

But what's needed more than anything else is the iron-will, vision, and continuously innovative strategy to turn around a PSU behemoth like this one. What is not needed is retrograde government regulations designed to reduce competition - especially from cheaper, efficient courier services.

I remember during a trip to Italy last year when people spoke in almost revered tones about Corrado Passera who turned around Poste Italiane to a profit-making enterprise. When he was called in to the rescue in 1997, it was a basket case (losing $1 billion annually), and now not only is it profitable, but has ventured into services no one thought could be delivered by a postal service. It has embraced technology, allowing people to write stuff online, which it will then print out and deliver to the remotest villages in the country, and has other cool offerings. And although, its traditional postal service is still loss-making the other unconventional services more than make up for it resulting in annual profits of $400+ million and a valuation of $13 billion with prospective privatization around the corner. Passera of course has moved on now to turn around Banca Intesca along the same lines. It remains to be seen if Jyotsna Diesh and Dayanidhi Maran can pull off a Passera.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Independence day, what?

It's 15th August, and another Independence Day dawns on us. For some it's wonderful that this time around it's on a Tuesday. So if you skip work on Monday, you get a 4-day weekend. Yay! For some it's that day of the year when once again patriotic songs are blared on FM, the PM asks our neighbours to desist from terrorism, news channels go around streets sticking mikes into random people's faces and asking what they think of I-day (sigh), movie channels show the regular topical movies, and next-door celebrities lecture on national accomplishments and failures, and the usual yadda-yadda.

For me, it's time to get on the soapbox and mouth off on what I-day should be all about!

It should be independence in the truest sense - in the mind to begin with. Independence from outmoded ways of thinking, from truisms we've had handed down to us from our parents, from cliches we fall back on every time we are challenged out of our comfort zones. Here's how:

  • Think person, not region. Next time you meet someone, stop yourself from thinking which region of India he/she comes from - Gujurati che, ki Punjabi hai, ki Marathi aahe. And for Chrissakes, Madrasi doesn't even mean anything any longer! And obviously, don't let their religion affect your opinion.
  • Think beyond ancient history. Every time we need to talk about why India is great, we talk about Aryabhatta, and the zero, and the Takshila University, and stuff that happened aeons ago! Simply forget about all that. Think what we need to do in the next decade that is going to make us proud, not what we did millenia ago. Think about the common person innovating and making a difference in villages, small enterprises, civil society activities, and NGO's.
  • Think about staying back. If you're in college, and all around you are giving their GRE's and TOEFL's, stop and think. Consider the India option. Seriously, people are returning back from overseas because it's more lucrative, challenging and fulfilling out here. So think about it. At least give it a fair consideration.
  • Think about the other. Before you jump to conclusions on national and international issues such as reservations, censorship, privatization, Kashmir, the Middle-East conflict, consider the fact that there are more than just two sides to the issue. That things are often more complex than news soundbites would lead us to believe. That often people's lives, dreams and aspirations get drowned in statistics. That a life lost is a life lost, whether to a terrorist's bullet or to an air force bomber.
  • Think entrepreneurial. Yes, it is possible to start your own business in India and do well. The bureaucratic red-tape isn't what it used to be. Heck, I've never paid a single bribe in the five years that I've been at it. So the environment is conducive, and the time is right now.
  • Think investments for tomorrow, not just spending for today. Yes, it's tempting to splurge as soon as you have some money in the bank, but I tell you its a bigger high to splurge on returns from invested monies!
  • Think financial independence. Get independent as soon as you can. Even if you stay with your parents, earning and living off of your own money is absolutely great for your confidence. Get a part-time job, write, blog, review, do whatever you can to earn your subsistence.
  • Think alternate careers. The notion that IAS, medicine, engineering, accounting are the only worthwhile careers is passe. Enough said.
  • Think global and regional. Yes, we're on the global stage, and yes we've got far greater opportunities than our parents ever did. So go out there and win it! But don't forget there's a whole other India that our middle-class existence refuses to admit into consideration. What's a lifetime worth if it's all been spent in the pursuit of self-centered material comfort?
  • Think gender sensitivity and equal consideration. We come from thousands of years of patriarchal hegemony. This hegemony is so insidious that we don't even realise when it comes into play. That has to change, it is inevitable. The next few decades are going to see an emergence resurgence of the feminine - at the workplace, in our homes, cities, villages. Embrace this phenomenon. It's vital to our success as a society.
  • Think beyond cricket. Seriously! 8 hours spent watching 13 men amble around a park! Ok, maybe it's not that trivial a game, but there's a lot more to sports and games than just cricket.

Ok, off the soapbox now!

HSBC "security" flaw - FUD anyone?

The security industry has been often notorious for employing FUD - Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt - tactics to try and sell products and services. Here is another example of how misleading this can be.

Security "researchers" claim that there is a flaw in the online banking portal of HSBC, in that attackers who manage to install keyloggers on an HSBC user's system can learn the logon credentials of that user. Well first of all, in order to get a keylogger onto a desktop, the attacker would need to be able to break into that desktop. And second, if a keylogger does get installed, there's a lot more to lose than just your banking credentials. Potentially, every keystroke - your chat conversations, emails, passwords, everything - can and will be emailed to the attacker's email address. Now HSBC could have a virtual keyboard, but even that is exploitable.

Now, let's think from an attacker's point of view. What is easier and more lucrative? Sending millions of phishing emails and then capturing the logon credentials of an average 1% of users who fall for it, or locating HSBC customers, installing keyloggers, and then getting their logon credentials. I think I'd put my money on the former, and that explains the millions of phishing emails spamming our mailboxes everyday.

Here's a saner analysis of the whole story.

Who picked up the story? None other than the venerable BBC. And here's more. The researchers admit that HSBC is probably not the only bank affected by this issue. Well, duh yeah! Any site, any application, and any desktop is pretty much vulnerable once a keylogger is installed!

MS06-040 - Blaster redux? Probably not

The security world is abuzz with the damage potential of one of the security vulnerabilities patched recently by Microsoft. Security bulletin MS06-040 deals with a buffer overflow vulnerability in a service called "Server", which is present and running on Windows 2000, XP and 2003 operating systems. As the bulletin states
"An attacker who successfully exploited the vulnerability could take complete control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights."

The fear is that it could snowball into a mass-exploitation platform similar to what happened with Blaster, Slammer, CodeRed and Nimda. There is already news of a bot, which exploits this vulnerability to take control of the remote system, and use it as a zombie to launch co-ordinated attacks - most typically distributed denial of service attacks. Here's what Stephen Toulouse had to say at MS's security blog.

But here's why I think this is unlikely to happen, at least at the scale at which it is being hyped up:
1. Security awareness levels are much higher than they were in 2003 and earlier.
2. Most medium and large organizations have patch management systems in place, which would mostly automatically download and push the patches through.
3. On desktop systems, the Windows Automatic Update service, desktop firewalls and updated anti-virus software may combine to significantly mitigate the threat.
4. The security industry has a bit of a natural tendency to over-hype potential vulnerabilities. Recollect the buzz around the WMF vulnerability. Nothing came of it. Plus, we haven't had a really big worm since Blaster, so the scene is getting kind of boring.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Segway i2 and x2 launched

Dean Kamen has always been sort of an inspiration (inspite of the failure of the Segway). An entrepreneur and inventor, the dude owns an entire island, which he has gone on to declare an independent state! He made his millions with the invention of of a mobile dialysis system and followed that up with an all-terrain wheelchair.

The Segway originally launched in 2001, was preceded by headline-making articles about what the invention was going to be about, and some really whacky suggestions were being put forward. Unfortunately, it never lived up to its hype, and people really didn't stop walking as Kamen had predicted.

Now, they've launched the next versions - the i2 and x2. The former is a simplified version of the original thing, and the latter is an all-terrain version. The price is still a pain, and at $4995 it isn't exactly cheap. While the need for an environmentally safe mode of transportation is tremendous, I personally don't think Segway is the answer. Plus, the major polluters of the next few decades are going to be the Asian economies of China and India. I somehow, can't imagine riding a Segway to work in Mumbai!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Promises and Lies: Restoring Violated Trust

Via an article in the Economic Times, I came across this interesting study called "Promises, Lies and Restoring Trust" done by Schweitzer, Hershey and Bradlow of the Wharton School at UPenn.

One would assume that once trust has been broken it would take a really long time for that trust to be rebuilt, the study shows that this is not really the case. Broken trust can be rebuilt by assurances that the violator then sticks by. This is not only by actions, but "words do matter" as well. However, if the violation of trust has been accompanied by deception, then rebuilding takes much longer, and must be accompanied by actions and not just words. Even so, in this case, trust may never fully be restored. As Bradlow says, "It’s okay to screw me over, but don’t deceive me as well. If you screw me over and lie about it, it’s going to take even longer to recover from it.”

Often I have a golden rule when signing contracts: would I be doing business with this person or company even in the absence of this written contract? If yes, then the contract is simply to cover our respective asses in case things go horribly wrong, but it's not something that will really prevent one party from screwing over the other party if they really want to. Which is why, beyond a simple non-disclosure agreement, we do not have employees sign any binding contracts or agreements. If we don't trust them enough to have them on board, then we probably shouldn't be having them on board in any case. This might change however with more senior management positions, where contracts would explicitly state their responsibilities towards profits and results.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

How to sue AOL, anyone?

Ok, so everyone knows about the AOL controversy by now. And everyone also knows about the scary stuff people have been searching about on AOL. Besides the various avenues of misuse that this has opened up, I think one of the more fascinating aspects is the insight it gives into the times we live in. I downloaded the files and did a quick search for the term "how to", and besides the sexual terms that would be expected - some of them really bizarre - here are the one's that make you think:

how to tell if a girl likes you
how to say i like you in spanish
how to talk to a girl in 6th grade
how to ask a girl to prom
how to keep a girl from falling off the bike
how to fall in love
how to get a girl to go out with me
how to impress girls at the age of 9
how to make your crush like you
how to say you are so handsome in french
how to know if he is the one

Too late for some
how to delete aol history pages
how to delete my history
how to clear keyword search


how to become a private investigator
how to feed the tiger
how to apply for an audience with the pope
how to get an egg in to a bottle
how to have a heart attack

There's hope yet

how to be a good boyfriend
how to say i am sorry
how to humanely euthanize a mouse
how to make women happy
how to find yourself
how to mend a broken heart
how to let go
how to promote good citizenship
how to have a family meeting
how to be a millioniare without already being rich
how to be humble
how to be an environmentalist
how to quit smoking
how to become a social worker
how to develop employees
how to start a small business
how to balance life work family
how to treat a lady
how to get over depression
how to help someone off drugs
how to get marijuana out of your system

how to make your husband fall back in love
how to be popular
how to apologize
how to cope with the loss of a mother
how to be a convincing liar
how to protect on overcharging plumbing
how to leave a verbally abusive relationship
how to keep the school from druging my kid
how to kill oneself by overdosing with insulin
how to communicate with a woman
how to punish evil people
how to speak with ellen degenerous
how to live with a former stripper
how to work spells
how to earn extra cash
how to meet fairies
how to deal with a four year old who was relenctant to enter play with his classmates.
how to levitate like david blaine
how to roll a very big joint
how to kill yourself
how to tell a wife her husband is having an affair with you
how to read a book
i don't know how to love him
how to flirt
how to illegaly buy a handgun on the internet
how to get anorexic
how to tell someone to quit calling you honey and dear
how to say get lost to a married lover
how to know when you want to be married
how to cut all ties with your family
how to delete internet explorer
how to kill people
how to fake an illness injury to get workers comp or medical leave
how to hack
how to lie with statistics
how to hide drugs from a police dog
how to become anorexic
how to tell your family you're a victim of incest

And finally
how to cancel my aol service

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Book review - Adventure Capitalist, Jim Rogers

A one-word assessment - avoidable. Jim Rogers is the second half of the widely successful Quantum Fund, who's other half is George Soros. The book is about a 3-year round-the-world-trip that Rogers makes with his fiancee, whom he also marries during the course of the journey.

The book is insipid, unengaging, and offers no great business or economic lessons. It fails as a travelogue, because the coverage of the countries and places is so dry and boring. None of the natural beauty, cultural intricacies, or business environment is captured as one might have expected. The only significant take-aways from the book are helpfully summarized on the back-cover of the book:

  1. NGO's in Africa are a waste of money and are not helping the problem at all
  2. The next few decades belong to China
  3. India will be Balkanized, and so will Pakistan
  4. Angola and Bolivia are the countries to watch out for
  5. You learn more about the investment climate of a country by talking to the people rather than government information
  6. Commodity markets are the most lucrative investment avenue
So there. You already know all there is to learn from the book. Oh, and also that Rogers manages to gobble down exotic stuff like snakes and horses, but stops short of monkey meat. Here's a funny, but fictional exchange between Rogers and the Dalai Lama.

Book review - The Wealth of Man, Peter Jay

Peter Jay's The Wealth of Man is a sweeping summary of the history of man's economic growth. Along the lines of David Landes' The Wealth of Nations, it traces the human economic saga from pre-historic days to the Greek and Roman civilizations, to the transfer of the economic engine to the Levant, and the parallel economies in India and China. Jay also fascinates with trivia of how horses were domesticated, why spectacles were invented, how Isaac Newton influenced the use of the gold standard for British currency, and how Greek literature was actually preserved due to it being translated into Arabic during the European Dark Ages.

The repeated cycle of growth, which Jay describes as a waltz motif is:
1. Humanity discovers a revolutionary paradigm-changing and this results in a huge spurt in economic growth - discovery of agriculture, or the industrial revolution.
2. Tyrants, thieves, and other assorted malicious characters wade in to exploit this economic growth.
3. Social, governmental or legal structures are put in place to regulate the exploitation of the economic engine and prevent its plunder.

Jay's style of writing is extremely pleasing to read, and anyone with an interest in history or economics should definitely give it a read. His humor is just right, and his negative remarks against laissez-faire economics or other global economic phenemona are neither disparaging nor caustic.

I have two reservations with the book, though. The first is with the depth of the book. At 400-odd pages it is barely enough to cover something as complex, diverse, and expansive as human economic growth. It serves as an excellent introduction, though for a deeper intensive study of the subject. The second reservation is his almost complete lack of analysis of the impact of religion on economic growth. There is not even the mention of Max Weber's groundbreaking studies in this regard, and this leaves you with a feeling of having missed one of the main acts in the entire play. For instance, he mentions that it was Europe that led the way with the Industrial Revolution, and for no apparent reason, China and India missed the boat completely. That religion and the culture of the people may have had something to do with this is covered very perfunctorily.

Payperpost - interesting idea

In the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Ries talks about narrowing your offerings, and often creating a whole new segment that didn't exist earlier. While bloggers have been trying to make money through the pay-per-click programs of Google and Yahoo, advertisers have not directly been targetting bloggers. Or rather no channel exists to bring bloggers and service/product providers directly in touch with each other. Until Payperpost that is. The equation is simple - companies target bloggers, and bloggers get paid. Not just for carrying ads, but also for writing up on the products and services. While A-list bloggers are always being courted by companies to write up about their products, Payperpost brings the idea to Average Joe blogger. It is still in beta, but I think they have a winner on their hands. As a product/service company, you know that an article in a newspaper or magazine is likelier to build credibility than an advertisement in the same publication. This same idea is now leveraged in blog-world.

And no, they didn't pay me to post this.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Book review - Maverick, by Ricardo Semler

If Ricardo Semler's Maverick does not herald the demise of the patriarchal, pyramidal, authoritarian corporation, then I am not sure what does. This book is brilliant, and if you are an entrepreneur running your own show, worrying about people problems, then this is the book you got to read for some great insights.

The essential message of the book is one of trust in the innate goodness of humanity. No watch clocks, no cameras monitoring shopfloor workers, open profit sharing, salaries set by people themselves, machinery arranged as the workers decide, factory locations decided by the workers, cafetaria and other numerous collective enterprises promoted and run by the employees. Semler says, his happiest days in office are when he doesn't have to make a single decision. If you really want your people to buy into your vision and into your company, there's only one way to do it - let them take over. Step back, and guide/mentor them, but let them try to run the show and benefit from the profits.

While you get the book, hop over to Semco's website, and click on the "SEMCO Management Model".

Book review - The Ultimate Consultant, by Alan Weiss

Alan Weiss is popularly known as the consultant's consultant. I read the "Ultimate Consultant" a while ago, and would strongly recommend it. If you earn your living from the much-maligned, and highly-paid profession of consulting, then this book is a must-have. Alan Weiss' books reflect his experience and expertise in winning and successfully executing consulting assignments.

This book is part of his Million Dollar Consulting series, and presents very highly practical and effective techniques for any consultant. The book is primarily aimed at the consultant who has been in practice for about 5-6 years, had built up a decent income and is beginning to plateau. How does she then push herself to the next level and into 7 figure incomes? What techniques are effective to avoid the downward slide that the plateau will eventually end up becoming?

The only downside of Alan's writing is that most books tend to be rehashes of earlier stuff. For instance, I recently bought his "How to Acquire Clients", and although it presented a different perspective, the strategies were pretty much the same. On the other hand, the investment in these books is completely worth it because one good idea put into practice properly could result in significant revenues. For instance, I was reading the second book while traveling, and one of the things he mentions is to immediately start networking among professional bodies in the country where the project is being executed. I did this, and landed up a nice little training engagement.

Opportunity for networking with VC's and entrepreneurs

The Indian School of Business (ISB) along with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) is organizing a TIE-ISB Connect seminar to bring together venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, angel investors and the rest in Hyderabad towards the end of September.

You could submit a draft business plan by mid-Aug and the final plan by 10th Sept. If selected, you get to present, and maybe even get funded!

If you're going to be there, drop me a line, and holler "Intrepid" in the general direction of the Hussein Sagar Lake, and we might just bump into each other.

An article on this is here.

The main site is here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Entrepreneurship courses in India

Can they teach you how to be an entrepreneur? Apparently, yes. :) I do wonder what the courses actually do cover, but there's been some interest on this subject. So here's a roundup of some of the institutes around the country that have entrepreneurship courses:

  • Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India. This seems quite promising, though haven't heard from anyone about it earlier. These guys offer a post-graduate diploma in entrepreneurship management.
  • Almost all the IIM's have courses on entrepreneurship and they get a full house too. I am not sure what the eligibility criteria is to get into one of these courses. IIM Bangalore also has the N.S. Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (NSRCEL) - a catalyst for entrepreneurial activity. IIMB's program is in collaboration with Universitas 21 Global. IIM Calcutta has the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. IIM Lucknow as well has a Centre for Entrepreneur Development and New Venture Management.
  • FICCI has a course on entrepreneurship too. Eligibility criteria is graduate/diploma with at least 3 years of experience.
  • National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD), Delhi has a 6 month course.
Here's a slightly old, but relevant article on Businessworld on entrepreneurship courses in business schools.