There have been many articles on this blog about Unconference(s) but just like it, there is information scattered on the topic across the internet. There couldn’t have been anyone better than Kiruba Shankar to write a book on Unconference. Before I start the book review, let’s see what exactly is an Unconference:

An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference etc. [Source : Wikipedia]

To keep it simple, An “Unconference” is a gathering where every attendee is a speaker & it is a conference of the attendee, by the attendee & for the attendee.

About the Author

Kiruba was one of the organizer’s of BlogCamp, Chennai [the first Blog Unconference in India] that was held in 2006 & under the non-profit organization “The Knowledge Foundation”; he & his team have organized many successful unconference’s namely BarCampChennai, BlogCamp, Proto.in, SearchCamp, WikiCamp, FailCamp & many more…

Detailed Review

Being an active unconferencer himself, the author has collated his experiences in his simple book which is around 150 pages long.

The book starts with the basic topic of “Introduction to unconference” given that many of the readers might not be familiar with the concept of Unconference itself !!! The concept is very well explained along with the origin of Unconference [excerpts from the book below]

As stated by Dave Winer – “The sum of expertise of people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of people on stage” and called Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences. If a random group of people were picked from the audience & were put together to discuss the same issue of the conference, it is likely that there is greater energy, enthusiasm & learning. Thus, the idea of unconference’s was born.

For many, it might seem that unconference is similar to “Conference with MORE Freedom” hence the author has explained the “Differences between conferences & unconferences“. Some excerpts from the topic below:

The best time in a conference is during coffee breaks. Unconference is like one big coffee break. Great conversations are definitely expected in unconferences !!!

Rest of the book dives into different methodologies to spice up the meetings & gives details into how “Boring” meetings/conferences can be transformed into “Interesting & Interactive” unconferences. These topics help the reader to organize meetings [with smaller i.e. < 5 members as well larger audience i.e. 50+ more] in a more intuitive way so that every person in the audience takes something back from the meeting !!! Some excerpts from the book on these methodologies below [PS: Every chapter on these topics are sub-divided into a) Uniqueness of the methodology. b) How to organize it. c) Case-Study]:

Open Space Technology

Open Space runs on two fundamentals: Passion & Responsibility. Passion engages people in the room. Responsibility ensures that things get done.

– Harrison Owen, Creator of Open Space Technology.

Four principles of Open Space Technology:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
  3. When it starts is the right time.
  4. When it’s over, it’s over.

Appreciative Inquiry

 Appreciative Inquiry leverages the most positive possibilities by involving all the voices in the community.

– Bliss Browne, Founder – Imagine Chicago

 It focues on what is possible rather than what is not. It starts with the belief that every organization & every person in that organization has positive aspects that can be built open. It is one of the best methods to build an “OPEN” company culture !!!

(more…)

It has been almost a month since I moved my blog to HostGator(India)  [henceforth referred as HGI] hence, I thought it would be interesting to write a review about my experience(s) so far with the leading web hosting provider [at least in US].

Plan to suit different needs

HGI offers an interesting set of plans namely,

  • Hatchling Plan It starts at Rs 155/month and offers you Single Domain, Unlimited Disk Space,Unlimited Bandwidth & Shared SSL Cretificate.
  • Baby Plan It starts at Rs 251/month and offers you Unlimited Domains,Unlimited Disk Space,Unlimited Bandwidth & Shared SSL Certificate
  • Business Plan – It starts at Rs 380/month and offers you Unlimited Domains,Unlimited Disk Space,Unlimited Bandwidth & Free Private SSL and IP.

This blog is current in the “Hatchling Plan” and it is very easy to upgrade/downgrade to any plan. You can find more details about the plans here

Growing Competition [read GoDaddy]

With the advent of GoDaddy in India, HGI would face a tough competition from another monster which means that if the “good service”  is not maintained, than HGI customers have a better option in their hands !!! Hopefully, competition would bring the better off HGI.

LOCAL Support, much more than EMAIL

When I had to move my domain & content from my previous registrar to HGI, I ended up into many issues & questions mostly related to the Content. What if I screw-up something in the process of movement, what happens to my data etc. etc. Fortunately this guide came to my rescue for solving most of my issues but without HGI’s excellent support the migration would not have been smooth.

Their support system is excellent and their support executives are there REALLY to solve your issue be it phone [Toll Free – 1800-209-8833, Tolled – 253 6641555] or over chat. When they say support is 24/7, they are delivering what they have promised. Sometimes, I used to call them at weird times i.e. at 3:00 AM in the night and they gave the best possible support.

So if you are tired with bad support from your domain company than HGI is the right place to move your domain to !!!

Almost Zero Downtime

In almost a month’s time, I have seen that my site was down only for a couple of times and that too only for a few minutes.  The main reason for the downtime was that the HGI engineers were doing some optimization on the MySQL database & the best part is that they informed me in advance about the “expected downtime” 🙂

If you have any questions about HGI or if you are an existing HGI customer then do share your views by leaving a comment .

Most of the times we try to observe/read about other’s success; but during the journey of attaining success that person would have encountered many more difficulties or even failures. It is these failure(s) that makes a person mature & also enables him/her to make less mistakes. Remember the famous quote of Albert Einstein – Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new [detailed meaning here]. In this article, we review an advance copy of the book – “Losing It” by Bill Lane.

About the Author

Bill Lane is a Management expert, Communications coach, Writer & Business school lecturer. He has consulted for firms ranging from Hughes Electronics to E & Y. He was head speech-writer for GE’s legendary CEO Jack Welch for more than 15 years. You can find his previous books here

Detailed Review

  • As stated earlier in the article, it is very important to learn from failures & this the main theme of “Losing It”. The book starts off with this theme where Bill Lane describes his own experience where he got an inner-instinct that he might loose his job in GE. He stresses on the need for adoption & change whenever needed – The ultimate sustainable advantage in your career is the ability to learn : Grab it, Lean it & Run with it.
  • Unlike his previous book which focussed on GE & Jack Welch, this time around Bill Lane not only cites his own experiences but also has experiences shared from companies like Enron where he stresses on Integrity –  The integrity standards of an organization come from the top.
  •  There are interesting tips for managers where he cites the need for a 360 degree feedback & the need for constant learning and improvement. He shares a nice tip from Kip Condron of AXA-Equitable – CEO’s who spend too much time doing charitable stuff, raising funds for charities & giving graduation day speeches when they should be ON the job; at the helm – in this ice field we are all steaming through. He stresses the need for Micro-Management at incredibly deep levels within the company when necessary to actually add value. It becomes a necessity [and not an option] when an organizational survival issue is involved.
  • Rest of the book revolves around Guidelines for succeeding in corporate careers. There is effective use of Storytelling to convey these tips which makes this book an interesting read. The most impressive advice from this book is below [excerpts directly taken from the book]:

    The best advice that can be given to anyone in Management, Organizations, Politics or life in general is to FIGHT & STRIVE endlessly; to expand your responsibilities & never stop, never coast, never get comfortable no matter how many people tell you how great you are & how well you are doing. Keep impressing yourself & others. “SHOW OFF” with actions, never words.

Bill Lane’s Success Mantras

Be Paranoid about keeping current

You can never appear to coast your knowledge. Stay potently curious. Act like a benevolent nut & fanatic. Sign up for jobs you don’t fully understand & surmount the learning curves masterfully. Stay on the edge, even if to you it seems forced & phony. The ultimate sustainable advantage in your career is the ability to learn.

Banish yes – people

False validation will sink you. Surround yourself with smart truth tellers & listen to them. Your goal should not be to feel good; it should be to know what’s happening in the business. Without suffering the blabbering of fools, hear out anyone who has a worthwhile observation. Reward your reports for their candor.

Make micromanaging look good

Learn the business right to it’s roots so you understand how everything works. Otherwise you could be the victim of a snow-job because you don’t know the difference between truth & fancy. Once you have enough information to be sure you have good people handling things, you can back off a little. But don’t preside like a doodling tycoon. Manage.

Hold a moral ethical compass

Some failings are beyond your control; integrity is not. Avoid even the grey zone. Avoid even slight discomfort. Imagine yourself on the other side. If you would not agree with it, do not do it. Some spin & BullShit is ok, but never tell a lie. And never break the law, even if it doesn’t seem morally or ethically wrong to do so. Don’t get steeped in the sleaze culture. Integrity isn’t necessarily instinctual. You have to practice it.

Pay attention to the subtext of jokes

If there’s anything people are uncomfortable telling you, there’s a good chance they are going to let it slip in their humor. If your colleagues stop busting your chops good-naturedly or your boss starts taunting you about how you can go back to sleep, take note. Something has shifted. You’re going to need to figure out what’s changed & up your game considerably.

(more…)

The Power of Ideas, India’s largest entrepreneurship development initiative from The Economic Times is back. Bigger and better than ever before. The Power of Ideas seeks to encourage anyone & everyone with a business idea to realize his entrepreneurial dream. It is a platform where ideas will be polished and nurtured with personalized guidance from mentors before being taken forward to investors for funding. This ET initiative is in partnership with the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India and IIM-Ahmedabad’s Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship.

For more information

About the program : http://www.ideas.economictimes.com/pgme

Eligibility criteria for participation : http://www.ideas.economictimes.com/tc

To participate in the programme :  http://www.ideas.economictimes.com/participate

[The deadline for submission of the Business Summary Format is June 25, 6pm.]

Queries: If you still have a specific query/feedback about the programme, share it with ET at: etideas@indiatimes.com

Start-up Sessions: With the twin objectives of taking those with an idea through the nuances of starting up & guiding them through the process of filling the Business Summary Format, which is the participation form for the initiative, ET has organized a series of learning sessions called ‘Start-up Sessions’. To know more about these sessions & participate in them log onto http://www.ideas.economictimes.com/sup

Social: To participate in exciting contests, have fun with cool trivia etc., follow “ET-Power Of Ideas” on:

Nominate a friend: If you know a friend who has a business idea or is running a start-up, but is not able to take it forward/scale up, connect him to “ET-Power Of Ideas” by SMS ETNF<space>your name<space>his name and his email id to 58888

Partnership: In case you seek to partner with “ET – The Power of Ideas” programme as a mentor/investor/sponsor, drop them a line at etquery@indiatimes.com

** Image Credit : ET Power Of Ideas FB Page

Many times people ask me the question “What is the advantage of blogging/Why should you blog” and to answer that I came with this article which was written around 5 years back. There is a tendency with most of us [including me] to Google our name & see where we stand on Google !!! This is how Himanshu Sheth, a green entrepreneur from Jamshedpur found me. His interesting work resulted in a short Q&A on his startup & other entrepreneurial challenges. So, here we go…
Can you tell something about yourself & your company ?
I am a marketing consultant for industrial products, based at Jamshedpur, the city of Tatas. My work experience in this field is over two decades. My  enterprise, Coir Atlas, is my proprietorship firm at present. Over a period of next six months, I am planning to shape it up as a company, by inviting a few people to join me in my endeavor. Right now, Coir Atlas is at a stage where it has successfully developed, tested and patented some unique Eco-friendly as well as biodegradable products that are meant to replace wooden dunnages, used by Steel industry to support their flat products viz. sheets/plates and coils during shipment.
It was quite interesting on how we met, can you narrate the incident ?
While working for long hours, at times I take fresh breaths by saving my work for review later and venture to surf some unrelated sites on the web. Once, merely on impulse, I googled my name and  found 5-6 references of the same person, that is you (HJS, Banglore). I looked you up and also saw a YouTube clip where you recommend people to start blogging. Since your blog focuses on entrepreneurship & start ups, I decided to touch base with you.
Every idea comes up with an unsolved problem, so what is Coir Atlas trying to solve ?
Steel producers across the globe have traditionally been using wooden logs as separators for shipment of their flat products viz. sheet/plate and coil. With growing awareness on environmental issues like global warming and need to conserve forests etc. availability of timber for such applications for long is a question mark. Moreover, wooden logs act as separator only & do not provide a good frictional hold to the load that is moving at a high speed. This leads to mishaps & loss of life and property worth billions of dollars every year.

‘Coir Atlas’ is an eco-friendly and biodegradable substitute of wooden logs used for such applications. Lab tests and substantial field trials taken by Tata Steel and Steel Authority of India have proved that ‘Coir Atlas’- which is made of natural items like jute & bamboo, provides much better grip to the load during shipment.
What is the technology being used behind the Coir ?
Coir Atlas is a patented technology. It uses natural items viz. Bamboo, Coir and Jute as raw materials. Coir Atlas has been designed and developed in a way that it can be manufactured by cottage industry, mostly using hand held tools. It does not require large plant/equipments or heavy power etc. Coir Atlas also creates employment opportunities especially for unskilled/illiterate women or differently able persons, who may not find employment on regular industries. Women SHG(s) have been involved in manufacture of Coir Atlas.
Can you let us know some of the social benefits behind your venture ?
The social benefits arising out of usage of Coir Atlas are three pronged –
  • It helps saves our precious green cover. It is commonly held belief that we are loosing forests because of population growth and developmental activities. Though it is true, but it is true only in very small fraction. The actual threat to forests comes from ‘single use’ of wood for packaging applications by industries.
  • Wooden runners create the required gap necessary for loading/unloading of consignments. But they do not effectively support the heavy load, while a truck or railway wagon is moving at high speed. Many mishaps keep happening because of shifting of load in transit, resulting into loss of life and property. Whereas jute being fibrous material, provides much stronger grip to the load and will not let the load in motion shift so easily, due to frictional hold it provides to the load. Thus, Coir Atlas will result into enhanced safety on the highways saving precious lives and costly material.
  • It is an proven fact that any extra income in the hands of women is most likely to be spent on children’s education and family welfare.

(more…)

In the past there have been many articles written on this blog on BarCamp i.e. BCB2, BCB3, BCB 4 where I came across lot of smart people working on some cool stuff !!! It is during BCB3 that I met Lakshman Srikanth for the first time when he was a “Microsoft Student Partner”. And now straight out of college he dived into entrepreneurship with his startup GAViSTA TECH that solves a very interesting problem. In this episode, we talk to him about his startup journey, challenges, entrepreneurship, idea & many more things….

Can you let us know about yourself and your startup GAViSTA TECH ?

Well, I am an Entrepreneur. Started working on an idea – LegalCrystal and then later on registered GAViSTA TECH as a firm. LegalCrystal is now a product of GAViSTA TECH.

What is LegalCrystal all about ?

LegalCrystal is a search tool for Advocates, Anyone can use it to find laws, judgments decided at different Courts all over India.

Every idea addresses a problem, so what problem does LegalCrystal cater to ?

LegalCrystal addresses two problems mainly-

  • Before we started working on LegalCrystal, we researched existing softwares and came to the conclusion that Searching relevant judgments using phrase is the main problem. We started developing our own algorithm and indexers & built a search engine which is particularly tailored to Indian Law.
  • User Interface messed up in other softwares. Lawyers need to undergo a Teaching Class in order to use the product.! That is just lame. So we worked on UI and “Search Features” which makes advocate’s life much simpler and easier.

So would it fair to say that “LegalCrystal wants to be the Google of Law industry” ?

Well Google is for the WEB and we are for Lawyers on the WEB! With respect to Search Engine and ease of use you might say we are as good as “Google for Indian Law”.

How do you guys ensure that the information on LegalCrystal is up to date with the changes in the law system [penal code etc.] ?

We have a dedicated team to handle updates. We get case-laws from Judgement Information System hosted by National Informatics Center(NIC). For Few we go to respective courts and apply for a copy and then Convert it to text using OCR’s. We have another team which will take care of the data entry. As every judgement is sent to a panel of advocates who write Headnotes, Case Analysis etc. and then its paraphrased , formatted and updated on the website.

GAViSTA came up with the corporate offering of your flagship product LegalCrystal, how has been the response so far ?

Response has been really good! They just FEEL comfortable using LegalCrystal Corporate. We have approached International Law firms, Companies… First thing they like about the product is the User Experience and then the Search, Features. We are expanding the reach to other states very soon.

LegalCrystal started out as a college project, off late there have been many other Indian startups born in a similar manner, do you think that times are changing where students are getting more serious about last year projects ?

It depends on the individual, but there are lot of students who are trying hard to build something unique; Commercializing their invention is what they need to look into..!

Being a student entrepreneur [i.e. right from college], how did you get about hiring the initial team members & getting them to join you ?

As I was Microsoft Student Partner Lead, I already had a network of students in every college in Bangalore. So initially my friends & I started in my room, then later on we hired few folks from MSRIT and PESIT as interns who worked on really challenging tasks. Well, joining a startup isnt a joke! because there are too many uncertainties involved. As we had a solid product with great market scope we were able to convince them!

(more…)

Last week we reviewed an Android/iOS app named VocalBee and this week, we have a Q&A with Atul Tatke one of the co-founders of VocalBee. The chat revolves around VocalBee, his views on startups and his tips for entrepreneurs. So, let’s start with the candid interview ..
Can you give a small background of your startup & it’s co-founders ?
We are four of us that are working on this venture. Two of the founder members have been working on voice & mobile technology startup Hummingbytes. Another one comes from smartphone development background. He was a part of the company which got bought over by a big technology company. The fourth one comes from Restaurant and Retail industry. He has deep experience in Business and Technology consulting.
How did you guys come up with the idea of “VocalBee” ?
VocalBee is a spinoff of the idea that got conceived in Hummingbytes. Some part of the engine was built and used in Call Center & other customer service centric implementations.
Which are the areas where you feel VocalBee would be very effective ?
We concentrate on three kind of communications – Question, Idea & Feedback. Also we are concetrating on local government and businesses. I think we will be effective where citizens and consumers want to have quick communication of above type. Location based service is also another key point of the system. Events and promotion is also another feature which is very appealing when you mix it with location based service.
In addition to above mentioned areas, we will be able to capture client specific structured feedback once business is onboard with us.
Can you explain a bit more as to how the entire flow goes from when user sends suggestion/idea to VocalBee [i.e. what happens when I file a complaint of Pothole in my area, where the complaint will go etc. and user can keep track of it] ?
Government Setup: So, if you are in an area in Bangalore and came across a big pothole. Currently there is no easy way for you to raise your concern. With VocalBee you can take a picture, write about it and send it to the city. This communication will be going to a special page that we have designed for India. Also this communication will be going to our Twitter and Facebook. We are also analyzing this data that is coming & eventually will be presenting it to the government.
We will also try to get government to buy into it and give them the account. At this time it will become a claimed account. With claimed account, government can be directly in touch with citizens. They can broadcast events like street construction, water or electricity outage etc. In the US we are working with a couple of towns and their response is very good. They are working closely with us.
Business Setup: You visit the restuarant and like the food. Currently you can go on Zomato or Burrp and give the review. The review goes in social sphere. With VocalBee you give review to the business and we will connect with the business & send your communication to them. Businesses that come on board will be able to have one-on-one connection with consumer. Businesses can also send promotions, events on this established connection. We also have a concept of Wall where other people can answer or vote on public communication. We already have more than half a dozen businesses on this platform in the US.

(more…)

How many times do we complain to others about the potholes, poor maintainance of parks, dirty roads, endless constructions nearby our area but have found no solution rather than cribbing about it. This article does indicate that the Indian government is spending good amount of money for the making the roads better  !!! Also, it does make a difference when many people “shout out” about the same issue rather than one person talking about it… Well in such situations VocalBee , an Android/iOS based app can come to your rescue.

VocalBee is a “Location Based” app that uses the strength of crowdsourcing to empower the user to do just one thing i.e. “BE HEARD“.  Be it sharing feedback about good customer service at a nearby restaurant, to complaining about the bad condition of roads or complaining to the government authorities about street lights etc., VocalBee helps you to close the circle i.e. it ensures that your query/complaint/feedback reaches the right destination 🙂

VocalBee has three target segments:

  1. Consumers – Provides a platform to voice out their opinions/suggestions/complaints & ensures that it reaches the right destination so that the consumer can keep a track of the same.
  2. Government – Helps them to cater issues raised by the consumers & keep them informed about the progress of their issue; which in turn would help to reduce the overall cycle time.
  3. Businesses – Acts as a collective medium to take “Honest Feedback” from the consumers which would help them to improve their service & in turn get more business.

Installation

I installed the app on my Android device as well as on my iPod Touch & installed without any hassles. Now we would walk through the features of the app & it’s usefulness.

Startup Page

The “Introduction” page explains the complete idea behind the app and how it would be useful to the users as well as for local businesses.

Usage

With VocalBee, you can either submit an Idea, Question or Feedback. Just like other location based apps like FourSquare, VocalBee shows the list of the nearby places for which the user can submit either of them.

There is an option to click a photograph and attach it to your query which also acts as an evidence of your problem. I posted couple of issues e.g. endless construction of roads nearby my apartment & many people did give a “thumbs up” to the issue & this is where the real power of VocalBee can bee seen i.e. Community Involvement.

Social Media Integration

VocalBee does a good job of integrating Twitter & Facebook through which users can share their “queries” on these Social networks. The UI is clean and makes the app very easy to use. The user also has the facility to keep a track of their queries online through the VocalBee website

Final Verdict & Suggestions

I have been using VocalBee for few weeks & it looks a great tool where you want your unattended issues to be solved & that is the power it gives to the consumers !!! However, there are a couple of suggestions –

  1. Photos taken real-time can only be attached to your query/suggestion/complaint which means the App does not allow to “attach” an already taken photo from the Media Gallery. This feature would really be helpful in cases where you have already seen a problem but forgot to submit the complaint to VocalBee. Also, problems can be seen at any place & at anytime !!!
  2. The life-cycle of the query was not very clear for eg. If I file a “complaint” for potholes against my local authority; to which department the complaint has reached i.e. the flow of the query from “new” -> “In Progress” -> “Closed” can be made a bit transparent.
  3. A further extension could be allowing the users to post “Videos” as well in which case, VocalBee would act just like a Citizen Journalist for consumers 🙂

VocalBee can be downloaded from the Android Market from here. You can also download it on your iPhone or iPod Touch from here. Do give VocalBee a spin and share your feedback in the comments section…