[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Try try touch the sky! India

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

This Saturday may be Sachin's most precious day...

Today, India stole from the hands of Pakistan a well-deserved win against a roaring crowd from great country side of Punjab. On a day like this, the people of India love their cricket team to death. (On other occasions of failure, the same players get virtually hunted and verbally beaten, getting psychologically killed!)

Indeed, today was a moment of pride and honor for players and the whole nation. Every single player in the team worked hard for this moment and they won’t go to sleep tonite until they celebrate the heck out of their souls. A world cup Semi Finals is perhaps harder than Finals – more so because it hurts so much to get this far and not make it to Finals. In some sense, the teams fought not to win but for not to lose. You will shed your last pint of blood to escape going through what went on between the ears of Afridi and Aktar in the last few balls of the match.

Reclaim lost legacy and nail it!

In the first innings, the Indian players got burned down by Pak’s impeccable bowling. Yet, the team India rose out of the ashes to stage a spectacular show under the lights.

The Team India rarely gets their act together on a consistent basis. The last two matches will likely go down in history books as great cricket leading up to a world cup finals.

What’s remaining on Saturday is for Team India to show that it can cough up fire out of ash to nail its lost legacy as the world’s best cricket team in the world. Sachin Tendulkar will bet his entire fortune to be frozen in that moment through eternity.

A billion fans will be holding up our torches so the eleven tigers can scale through the darkest, farthest part of the heaven to kill the roaring lions. Go Team India Go! Try try and touch the sky!

Flaws in the hype around Startup Visa Act

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Vivek Wadhwa wrote an article yesterday in BusinessWeek, Startup Visas Could Boost U.S. Entrepreneurship, in support of the proposed Startup Visa Act. The article purports that the Startup Visa bill, if approved, will result in “thousands of new startups”.

After you have read the BusinessWeek article, I suggest you also read Vivek’s brief summary report on skilled immigration statistics.

As outlined in the Business Week article, the summary of the legislation in itself has quite a few conditional clauses. I have to assume the detailed legislation that would go into effect, will have more specific gotchas. I am not sure how they arrived at all the numbers but within the boundaries that they have defined, I do not think we will see thousands of new American jobs – which is the goal of this legislation. It might create a few hundred American jobs, at best. We all can certainly pray for a Yahoo! to emerge out of this.

Note, I agree with his assessment of the immigration limbo (last but one paragraph in the article) on how skilled workers are jailed in the visa system, waiting for permanent residency. In my humble opinion, tying the skilled worker immigration fiasco with the Startup Visa Act is not entirely logical. I find certain flaws in the arguments and assumptions that Vivek is making in support of Startup Visa Act.

First, if an immigrant in the US has a business idea and wants to start a venture around it, they will find a way to do it. If there are legal ownership issues, they will find a resident or citizen partner to work with them. If someone landed in the US yesterday as an immigrant and dreamed up a brilliant idea last night, what they need this morning is money to make it happen! In its absence, they have to work their rear off through the network of known people to fund it. If this individual is passionate and aggressive, she will somehow find and pitch to VCs or enter one of the scores of startup / business plan competitions out there. As long as they can stay in the US legally, they will continue to look for ways to startup their idea. Case in point here: How Archana Patchirajan, who moved to the US only in 2004, launched her idea, founded a company with two other friends and secured funding from BMW.

As a matter of fact, I had gone through the process of forming a business so we could open up a retail franchise (this one) in our town in New Jersey. If things had gone right, we would have created at least 5 American jobs. We didn’t pursue it because the bank insisted a higher proportion of startup funds from our personal savings than we could pull. The accountant, attorney, and the bank executive who helped us didn’t question once about my immigration status – which was, and still is, H1B (very last stage though!).

So, as long as you are a legal immigrant, starting or owning a business in the US is not impossible. There may be a few immigrants who would take advantage of the Startup Visa Act, but it will not magically make thousands of skilled immigrants sprint overnight to Silicon Valley.

Second, the Kauffman report says

…India and China are racing ahead as centers of research and innovation. Further research may confirm what seems likely—that returnees from the United States are increasingly fueling this growth. Our interviews reveal these returnees typically went home because they saw tremendous opportunity in their home countries.

Greatest prospects for skilled labor is elsewhere

I would caution that anecdotal statement is somewhat misleading. Many of my friends have returned to India in last few years. A few of them returned specifically because they didn’t get a green card soon enough and got sick of being stuck with same employer and same job on a H1B visa. But the telling story is: Almost all of them returned to India, because India is the damn land of opportunity at the moment. They find wider range of jobs, faster career growth, better titles, higher pay in some cases, almost the same quality of life as in the US. In essence, they are simply as opportunistic as they were when they came state side. Let’s be clear: not everyone returning to India is starting a company there. I don’t have any research to back up that point but so is the quote above. Some returnees indeed start business there, immediately or eventually, yet the majority of India’s recent entrepreneurial growth is purely organic (read this and this). Internet boom and new media has opened up access to know-how and inspiration for all Indians, while India’s younger generation is doing the heavy lifting by embracing the culture of entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, American is wobbling, majority of industries have negative or stagnated growth, American corporations themselves are betting on their firm’s growth in International markets. For heaven’s sake, Chinese, Brazilians, and Indians are returning to their country because that’s where the greatest hope for the skilled person’s growth and prosperity is. Not because that’s where the next Silicon Valley is.

Third, if the Startup Visa were to “open the flood gates” (it won’t, but glad if I am proved wrong), it will be for the benefit of and because of Silicon Valley’s elite. The legislation’s clause mandates

“The investor must be a qualified venture capitalist, a ‘super angel’ (a U.S. citizen who has made at least two equity investments of at least $50,000 every year for the previous three years), or a qualified government entity.”.

I don’t exactly understand the logic of this restrictive “investor clause” but I suppose it was to prevent misuse. We can speculate what that misuse could be, but, this clause, by design binds and favors the Venture Capital community. That is good if some Venture Capitalist already knows you personally and can’t wait to cut a cheque in your idea’s name. If you don’t know anyone, then take a bus to South By South West (SXSW) or shunt coast to coast looking for business plan competitions.

I suspect quite a few VCs out there know entrepreneurs outside the US that they would like to fund and bring over to Silicon Valley, for good reasons – mentor and hook them up with best of the valley to eventually make a ton of $$$. Indeed, if such a legal framework exists, I would do it too.

One statistic intrigued me the most in Vivek’s Kauffman report.

In 2006, foreign nationals residing in the United States were named as inventors or co-inventors in an astounding 25.6 percent of patent applications filed from the United States, a substantial increase from 7.6 percent in 1998. Foreign nationals also contributed to a majority of some U.S. companies’ patent applications, including Qualcomm—72 percent, Merck— 65 percent, GE—64 percent, and Cisco—60 percent. More than 40 percent of the U.S. government-filed international patent applications had foreign authors. These numbers did not include immigrants who had become citizens at the time of filing.

Vivek asks, “so, why weren’t they becoming U.S. citizens and filing patents as Americans?”. Great question. Once you come into the US in a skilled worker visa category, the queue to the permanent residency and citizenship is enormously long. The irony is the Dream Act, whose primary focus is illegal immigrants, is taking up all the air time leaving no time or will to make the path to citizenship faster for skilled, legal immigrants. I bet very many of them will go on to start or own small (and big) businesses, spurring job creation across America.

No doubt, we need more Start-Ups, Not Bailouts but it largely must come from inside America, not outside. The Startup Visa Act will create American jobs, but it won’t make a dent on the job market or economy. Unless, of course, the Gods answer Vivek’s wish and bless US with another Facebook economy of some sort to spring out of it.

Benjamin Zander’s art of possibility

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I was reading a book by Alan Fine, “You already know How to be great” and in it Alan writes about Benjamin Zander‘s method of “Giving an A” to all his music students right at the beginning of the semester in exchange for just one home work: Write a letter that begins with “Dear Mr. Zander, I got my A because…”.

I have not heard of Benjamin Zander before but I was hooked. The clock had just crossed midnight and it was awfully quiet, yet I couldn’t help but try to learn a bit more about him. Soon, I grabbed my headset to watch on my phone his great TED Presentation.

What got me hooked was not so much the idea of “Giving an A” or Mr. Zander’s flamboyant stage presence at TED, but it was the contents of an actual letter from one of his students, a young Korean flutist,…

Dear Mr. Zander, my teacher,

I got an A because I worked hard and thought deeply about myself as a student in your class-and the result was truly magnificent. I have become a whole different person. I used to be negative about nearly everything, before even trying. Now I’m much happier than I used to be. Around one year ago I couldn’t accept my mistakes. I got mad at myself after every mistake I made. But now I actually enjoy my mistakes and I really learned a lot from those mistakes. There is more depth in my playing than there used to be. At first, I only played the notes, but now I’ve discovered something about the real meaning of all those compositions. Now I play with more fantasy. I’ve also discovered my own worth. I’ve discovered that I’m a special person because I saw that I can do anything if I believe in myself. Thank you for your lectures and classes because they made me understand how important I am and the true reason why I make music.

This kid really made it sound too simple but this exercise in imagination is hard. I need to imagine myself in the future, and then look back at my own life and further imagine what I learned, how I changed, what I achieved etc. While I need to do this exercise lot more thoroughly, I am already imagining the moments when I speak at TED.  When that possibility materializes, Benjamin Zander will be my role model!

If everything is invented, why not do it right? Source: royblumenthal

I recently wrote about Running our own race in life. I said, Every life is a story unfolding – a story you create, whether that story is told, written or read by others doesn’t matter. What matters is we live our life the best we can.

What Zander’s suggests is for all of us to open up to imagining the perfect story of our own life. Not just imagine it, but Write it. See it.

Believe in what you imagined, after that, it’s a matter of living the endless possibilities.

One way to make this world a better place

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

The other day I stumbled upon Daily Endeavor and EndeavorPrep. It posted a question “why so few people thrive in life while other’s don’t”. They arrived at an answer that “too fewer people discover what they want to do”. Is it really easy to discover what you want to do? Is it something that someone can help us discover?

If you are one of those lucky ones who knew early in your life exactly what you want to do and is now successful doing it, read no further. What I say here is not for you but for the rest of the unlucky world.

I do not think its easy to discover what you want to do in life. I do think it is possible but it requires a lot of soul searching and reflection. The world around has tuned us to believe and follow the “norm”. We are required to “go with the flow”. If we do certain things because that’s what we want to do, we might get chastised for “swimming against the tide”. [Jonathan Livingston Seagul, ]

How late is too late to discover what you want to do? What if I am 35, with a masters in chemistry with a job running research programs for a leading pharma and suddenly I “discover” what I want to do is to be a fighter pilot? I know many would argue that one is never too late to pursue whatever they want to do, but realistically speaking the earlier you discover the better off you are and the world will likely and greatly benefit from your discovery of our your own passion.

On the other hand, some think it might be too early to attribute a passion or pick a career for kids, when they haven’t had enough opportunities to explore every thing in the world.

Between these two ends is where most youngsters get side-tracked and simply pursue whatever they can get their hands at or whatever parents suggest.


Which brings us to an issue that is close to my heart, How can we – the grown up you and I who realize and acknowledge this gap – help younger kids (say 5th to 8th grade) to be more informed and ultimately make better decisions about what they want to do in life – careerwise or otherwise?

I believe we can and should. The world of “work” is getting complicated as economies evolve from industrial to service to knowledge to creative. To make choices about what type of jobs and careers to pursue is painstaking hard so most youngster skip it outright. To expect someone coming out of high school to figure all this out is akin to dropping them in the middle of amazon jungle and expecting them to make their way back.

Career guidance programs in schools as well as government-sponsored career exploration websites seem somewhat incomplete, though certainly very useful. The labor department classification of jobs and careers is no good either. Today, a position described as “Business Analyst” likely has a few hundred variations to it depending on the industry or company or department. Job roles and job titles are invented on the fly many leading to no correlation between the actual work and the meaning the title implies. Ultimately, no one can figure all this out.

So sites such as Daily Endeavor (treat it as sort of Wikipedia for careers) are trying to directly address this need by cataloging and documenting 21st century job roles and what it means to be on these jobs. Others are trying to cater to this need through books, video [check The Futures Channel] and cable and online series – check PBS Design Squad, . The hope is to that the younger generation and mid-career changers will have more clarity to match their natural skills and passions to what jobs and careers to pursue.

I strongly believe every child and every individual has certain innate potential to be good or even great, in some things, using which they would make this world a better place. Majority of us never get a chance to know what this potential is – we just float like a leaf in the river and get by life doing whatever we can. Some realize it too late to impact the world with their greatness, even if they get to excel in their passion. Very few realize it and make the best out of it.


The best bet is to provide a conducive environment as early as possible so a 10-year old kid can independently and consciously recognize and realize his or her innate potential. It will require a holistic ecosystem of products (books, DVDs), services (online video, interviews, offline guidance, school support, parental support), tools (assessments, tests, coaching), organizations (placement services, scholarships, financing, job searches) and many passionate people to make it happen. Daily Endeavor and EndeavorPrep are definitely step in right direction. But we need more and I have come to realize that is what I wanted to do in my life. In my view, the developing countries need such services more than ever. Without such early intervention and nurtured guidance, they will end up with millions of computer programmers or hundreds of thousands of half-baked doctors, engineers and lawyers whose tomb might read “I had no idea what I wanted to do with life – so here I am”

PS: As I was writing this, it reminded me of Richard Bach’s Illusions. The hardback edition comes with a handwritten story of creatures who clung tightly to the bottom of a river. When one of them decides to let go, he is thrown over others into the deep waters. He goes off saying something like, “The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare to go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”