Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Where was I, when Innovation was disrupting the world ?

The theme which drives me as an entrepreneur is “Apply technology for the the benefit of greater good”. I have seen disruption in ‘execution of day-to-day activities’ due to evolution in 'application of technology' in the last 10 years, more so than before. All the tasks which were done manually or handled in an unorganized manner are made efficient and effective with the help of technology. Buying things, getting services or watching favorite shows through Internet has become ubiquitous. I was thinking about the days when the online world did not exist and wondering how innovation has evolved in the Internet domain, right in front of my eyes over time. 

When I completed B.Tech in 1995, the Internet has just come into the main stream. AOL and Yahoo started just then. I did know about internet but accessed it rarely from computer centre in college.

Google started its journey in 1998. I completed my M.Tech at that time and got placed through campus @ DE Shaw Private Limited. Jeff Bezos was taking e-commerce to new heights by that time.

While I was busy dabbling with ‘cutting-edge’ technologies like Bluetooth, J2ME and J2EE, there was a dot com bust and only the best-of-internet survived. I knew about Indian Services companies like Infosys, TCS and Wipro. Owing to my interest in development activities around networking, I joined in IBM, after declining a similar offer in Sun Microsystems.

In 2001, I worked on ‘app-store’ for Reliance on device-side. I was thrilled with the reach of data services from Reliance, through the app-store model. Globally, only NTT-DoCoMo was following that model, especially with J2ME. I did apply for a patent on bluetooth-based LAN model for such data services (which could be used in Malls etc) which was published. I did see the potential for such models in future.

I did work with different kinds of pervasive devices – palm pilots, internet appliance devices and other embedded systems. I was always thinking about why IBM does not adopt a particular strategy, but never did it occur to me that I could step out of IBM and start my own venture in any of those areas. 

In 2004, when Facebook was created, I read a few news articles about it. I was interested in launching a services company at that time and not a product or SaaS company. My exposure to enterprise technologies and strong knowledge around architecting solutions using IBM middleware were the primary reason for that. 

In 2008, app store models have come into existence. Apple and Google dominated the scene. I was excited that the model I fancied about a few years ago, is implemented by someone in the market. It still did not occur to me that I could drive such solutions through my own venture !

Even when I stepped out of IBM in 2011, smartphone and Internet penetration in India was just on the upward trend. With the evolution of these two in the next five years, most of the activities executed in non-tech world started going online. I happened to watch companies with ''mobile first" strategy.

Bus/train/flight tickets, movie tickets, house rentals or sales, groceries & vegetables, jewellery,  apparel and other lifestyle essentials are all available online in India now. All kinds of services like taxi-hailing, wedding photography, AC repair or house painting can all be fulfilled through apps on mobile. India has almost ten Unicorn companies (companies with valuation more than 1 billion USD) now.

The BIG questions is – why didn’t I get any of these ideas in the last 20 years, when I was doing my so-called ENGINEERING course or working in MNCs in CITIES? How did I let pass so many disruptive ideas !? :-)

I got several answers for that question, but couple of them stick out prominently. The first one being lack of awareness about starting a venture of my own at different stages of career. I haven’t come across anyone who jumpstarted their career as an entrepreneur and succeeded earlier in life. None of my family members had a business background earlier. I did not have the opportunity to interact with any MBA grads for sufficient time to know about the business fundamentals. The news about new companies being formed to solve a specific customer problem was non-existent in those days. The idea of opening a business is equivalent to opening a shop in neighborhood, which is primarily to earn good money. As acquisition of personal wealth was never a true motivator in life, it did not entice enough to start on my own. 

The second major reason being the culture in which I was brought-up. We are used to the culture of ‘passive consumption of things’ and ‘contentment and sharing of what we have’.  We were never encouraged to ‘create anything new’, forget about ‘thinking big’. The idea of making a difference in the world or creation and distribution of wealth was never discussed amongst family, friends or in school. I am ever grateful to my family, friends and teachers for being with me and taking care of all my needs though.

I believe the above two reasons – lack of awareness and brought-up culture – inhibited the action of starting on my own, but not innovation. After adequate experience and exposure, I was driving innovation in terms of solutions within a constrained environment. But that does not provide satisfaction for a person hungry to innovate for a broader and bigger impact. Does it?