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Tuesday, May 27

Learning the ropes

A beautiful quote from a interview taken from an interview of Sean Johnson published by Coffee with Sunder .

Beyond a CS degree there are some obvious skills you need such as the ability to present to customers and at industry conferences. But more than a specific skill set, you need to develop a base of knowledge. You need to spend time with the sales organization learning how a deal progresses from an email address of a prospect to a closed deal 9 months later. You need to spend time with marketers to understand how hard and expensive it is to generate a quality lead. You need to spend time with quality assurance and support teams to understand the ramifications of ill defined features. You need to spend time with software executives to learn how a software business operates, how contracts are negotiated for example or how a partnership is put together. You need to learn the domain that your product is in and become something very close to a domain expert in it. You need to know your customers, their business, their challenges and their opportunities. You need to know your competitors as well.

More than anything though, you need to develop a comfort level with all of this so that you can say "no" to everyone when need be. You need to be able to tell a sales guy, "no", he can't have that feature to close that deal because you know it will never close anyway. You need to be able to tell an executive, "no" we can't ship it this quarter because it won't sell without a "widget segmenter" feature. You need to be able to tell an engineering manager "no", he can't have an extra 3 weeks to refactor the "widget segmenter" because it's just not going to matter to the customers. You need to be able to tell a marketer, "no" you can't build a product for that market segment, it has to be narrower. You need to be able to tell a customer, "no" he can't have that feature because it's not going to make his business problem go away. Products don't succeed because of "yes". Yes is easy, but not very useful in building an excellent product. It takes a lot of experience to get to "no".

Sunday, May 25

POD is to Self-Publishing what Free is to Music

The concept of self publishing is as old as books. Before the advent of modern publishing companies, people ended up publishing and distributing their own work.

It is said that the publishing industry has remained more or less the same since Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing in 15th century. Of course the printing presses have become increasingly sophisticated with the advance of technology, but the basic model has remained the same. This model can print many copies of a book quickly and cheaply once a certain amount of time has been invested in setting up the type. With the advent of mass market retailing in 20th century, this technology proved to be just the right match : print in bulk, distribute, return the unused, destroy. Books are printed in runs of few thousands and distributed to offline stores which can return back the unused copies later. The minimum number of copies required to make this process work ( to generate a profit for everybody along the chain) primarily determines which books get published and which are not. Self publishing, which would have been a norm before the publishing companies came along is quite unsustainable in this setting since that usually means one man (author) replacing the whole chain of publishing industry (printing, distributing, sales).

Enter the digital printing and suddenly, very short print runs are feasible, down to hundreds from thousands required in offset printing. In fact, there are companies who will happily print 20-25 copies for you. This allows publishers to become a lot more inclusive and a lot more adventurous. However, given that they are still part of the old supply chain and given that profit still needs to be generated for everybody in the chain, very small print runs are still not viable. So although the technology is now in place, business practices of traditional publishing still need to evolve.

But does the self publishing become a viable option with these very small print runs? After all the financial risk is almost negligible now, most authors can afford to pay for 100 copies easily, so a print run offering of 25 should suffice. I would argue that although that would seem to be the case, it is not so. Let me draw an analogy with music industry.

Let us say, you are a independent band who wants to release your songs yourself through the net. Suppose you decide to charge only 1 cent for every song you sell online. This is a very reasonable price tag. Almost free. But would it work like free? No. Because the moment any money is involved, you need an online payment system in place, you need to maintain accounts, your customers have to have a way to pay you (credit card, net banking), you have to build the whole security system in place so that people can not share, steel songs from you for free of cost and n number of other things. The point is : Making something free is a totally different business model that charging 1 cent for it although in terms of money they look almost the same.

Now coming back to publishing, a similar contrast can be seen between true Print on Demand vs a short digital run (20-25 copies). With short digital runs, somebody ( which is the author in most cases) has to maintain inventory, do the distribution, ensure delivery, bear losses on any unsold books, maintain accounts and promote his books. With POD, he only has to promote his books since there do not exist any unsold, pre-manufactured copies of the book. With short digital runs, books can go out of print, for short durations while you get a reprint, for long durations, when you no longer have energy left to fulfill the one off demand that comes once a month. With POD, it always stays in print. Even if it sells no copies for 1 year, it remains as much in stock.

The self-publishing in which author pays the publishing house to print their books, also known as vanity publishing has been around always. It can be offered with as many bells and whistles as one wants, it will remain what it is : a financial burden and hassle for the author. The game changer in this picture is Print on Demand. So if you are considering self-publishing your book, ask for true POD, because even 5 copies a bunch won't cut it.

Disclaimer : I am one of the founders of which provides true Print on Demand supported services to self-publishing authors in India.

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Monday, May 12

दो अधूरी कवितायें

दो कवितायें। दोनो ही कुछ अधूरी सी पर जिन अहसासों से वो निकलीं थीं वो अब अपनी ताज़गी खो चुके हैं और इसलिये इनके पूरा हो पाने की ज्यादा उम्मीद शेष नही है। अतः जो कुछ भी है, हाज़िर है।


पूरब रवि तत्पर आने को, पश्चिम मे विधु ढल जाने को,
धूमिल पडते जाते तारे, जग से अंधियारा भाग रहा ।
कल रात नयन से निद्रा का एक पल को मिलना हुआ नही,
पलकों मे बन्द रहीं आंखें, मन का दरवाज़ा खुला रहा।

कोई बुला रहा !


हर एक दिल मे हमें दर्द बेहिसाब मिला ,
जब भी आंख खुली, चूर चूर ख्वाब मिला ।

सवाल जब भी उठे इश्क़ के, मोहब्बत के,
हर इक निगाह से एक टका सा जवाब मिला ।

मिला इतना अभागा, भर गया दामन मेरा,
गगन मिला, ज़मीं मिली, तुम्हारा साथ मिला ।

Sunday, May 11

Barak Obama's Speech on Race

I happened to watch today the speech by Barak Obama that he delivered shortly after the controversy about the comments made by his former pastor broke out. A more perfect union.

I must agree that it is a nice speech. He takes sometime to warm up, to get into the groove but then he is very fluent and impressive. Race is a very tochy issue and I am not familiar with the noraml political commentry on the subject in US. He delicately builds up his argument and sounds pretty convincing.

At one point of time during the speech he said that an easier thing to do would have been to simply denounce Rev. Wright but he is not doing that. I don't quite agree. I don't think that was a path available to him considering his strong black constituency. His strong point is not that he made a choice to walk the right path, he was pretty much forced to do so. The thing I liked was when pushed on the path, he walks it courageously, with confidence and comes out on top, turning what could have been a devastating moment for his campaign into an opportunity. I would like to believe that to be a characteristic of a strong leader although a leader is much better judged on his/her deeds than his/her words.

But despite the fact that I liked what he said, it gives me little hope. The reason is that I really doubt any candidate going to White House would dare to make bold changes to the foriegn policy or to the way the things work here. I love the American dream in its basic form, a dream that allows every individual an opportunity to realize his/her potential and american society has made a lot of progress towards that. However somewhere along the way, a SUV has gotten added to that dream, a culture of abundance, of unchecked consumption. Unfortunately I don't see any leader trying to change those things.

But anyway, good luck Barak Obama ! Your speech had many things that are very relevent to the situation in our own country today ! Hope our politicians can take a leaf out of your book for once.

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