Entrepreneurship to a CIO

One of the main reasons I started my venture, was to be rich and famous. Sure it didn’t get there and sure it died in 2008-09 – for a pretty good reason – but it’s still something I’m proud of. Not in a vain “pride for the sake of it” – but for the reason that I started with clear vision, but zero capital, hired a bunch of people – and even today many of my past clients come back to me asking for technology assistance, because they saw quality, focus and plain old satisfaction in using the services I offered.

I’m going to rant on a bit about how this worked for me, which will likely give most employee-types some form of insight into how ‘entrepreneurial’ entrepreneurship can be and how stupid I must have been to ignore interview invites from the likes of some famous tech companies.

During my GNIIT course, I admit I scored the highest in all forms of practical, proven technological expertise. I will also gladly admit that my written scores were less than spectacular, but overall the percentages add up – I had a decent 90 under my belt at the time I finished the course. So of course the next business of the day was job hunting, for which I had only three rules:

  • I will not travel
  • I will not take anything less than Rs X
  • I don’t want XYZ, ABC, etc companies – so I will skip them

Simple right? Well given I stay in a residential neighborhood with minimal businesses around it was probably a stupid thing (in retrospect) to do. But that is no bar for a technologist who writes programs in advanced ASM (386 Assembler) in his 10th grade, and creates a usable beginner-operating system in his second year of college. Plus the XYZ companies I refused, today are some of the more appealing ones for most techies.

In October 2005, fresh out of BSc Physics, with zero real-world experience and only one computer – no cash – to begin with, “Wherrelz IT Solutions” was born. And we did OK, modest income for a startup, and when it grew, it grew real well. Hired some kids from GNIIT (yes, my old institute!) and had a great time. I could work from home, was free to come and go as I please, no “boss” or whatever to speak of – except sometimes the late night meetings with some of the US customers were a bit tiresome. But overall it was an experience I would love to have again – next time with a fresh idea, and maybe start with some friends so I don’t need to do the late nights all alone….

Then near the end of 2008, some of my clients came back to me – “We’re having a hard time here with the bad financial situation, and lot of our $ is tied up in [land, houses, etc – different for each]”. And we were like “Oh crap”. Though we didn’t stop, from end 2008 to end 2009, we worked on and finished all the projects we had with us. All my employees were given good farewells, although it was not feasible to offer them an exit package (which I still do feel bad about).

So, a startup is not for everyone. Even if it IS for you – chances are the economy may not be in your favour – plain and simple! There are many, many variables and even if you ARE a one-man-army, don’t push it. Share the success, else share the failure – all the greats we know today have shown us that.

Not having the foresight at the time to bring in someone with greater fund raising experience, and not knowing the benefits of saving for the company I lost out big time.

NEXT time, I WILL NAIL IT. And I’ll be sure my partners score real well with me too.

But for now, I will continue along my goal, my current target is ambitious as always – CIO, Fortune 500, by the year 2020.

IETF – making the internet safe, keeping privacy sacrosanct

As a member of IETF now, this is so incredibly relevant… What with Prism and all breaching the fundamental concept of the internet…

Key architects of the internet have started to fight back against US and UK snooping programmes by drawing up an ambitious plan to defend traffic over the world wide web against mass surveillance. The Internet Engineering Task Force, a body that develops internet standards, has proposed a system in which all communication between websites and browsers would be shielded by encryption. In practical terms that would be akin to extending the sort of secure communications that banks and retailers like Amazon use to protect their customers across the world wide web. While the plan is at an early stage, it has the potential to transform a large part of the internet and make it more difficult for governments, companies and criminals to eavesdrop on people as they browse the web. At present, only a fraction of all websites – typically those that handle financial information – encrypt data when communicating with web browsers.


“There has been a complete change in how people perceive the world” since whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed the extent of US surveillance programmes earlier this summer, said Mike Belshe, a software engineer and IETF member who helped develop Google web browser Chrome.  “Not having encryption on the web today is a matter of life and death,” he said.


The IETF push for greater use of encryption comes alongside calls from top internet and privacy groups for fundamental reforms of the laws governing the web. In a letter to the FT published this weekend, top groups including web founder Tim Berners Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation call for a “reform of the status quo” online. “Online privacy is being eroded at a breakneck speed by blanket surveillance, and unless steps to reform are taken immediately, the notion of free and secure online communications will be relegated to the annals of history,” they write. “Blanket government surveillance by default, with laws enforced in secret, will always be unacceptable.”


The IETF, which operates through the “rough consensus” of its members, has been instrumental in shaping the technical infrastructure of the web since it was founded in 1986.   While the body cannot force the adoption of its standards, it is highly influential and its membership includes employees of the world’s biggest internet companies including GoogleMicrosoft and Apple.  But at its conference in Berlin this month, IETF members reached “nearly unanimous consensus” on the need to build encryption into the heart of the web, said Mark Nottingham, a developer who chairs the IETF working group on HTTP, a data access protocol that underpins the web. “There are a lot of people who want this to happen,” he said. 


Mr Nottingham cautioned that it was “very early days” and said the proposal would need to undergo extensive discussion within the broad web community before it could be implemented. Exactly how the plan would work has yet to be decided.


But at present the idea is to mandate the use of Transport Layer Security (TLS), a cryptographic protocol, in the next version of HTTP, which is planned for 2014.  It would then be up to companies behind web browsers and web servers to put the new standards into practice. 

Google and Twitter are among several big companies that have long called for more encryption of web traffic. Chrome, Google’s popular web browser, already allows people to encrypt their activity when browsing any of the company’s websites.

However, security experts said that while TLS encryption would make surveillance more difficult, it was far from foolproof.

“If you’re looking for a silver bullet to make people’s personal traffic impossible to break, this won’t be it,” said Sam Curry, chief technologist at RSA, a computer security company.  Hackers, especially those with substantial computing power, would find ways to crack the encryption or get around it by exploiting other vulnerabilities in the network, he said.  Nonetheless, he added: “Anything that improves trust in the digital world is a noble aim.”

Top 3 Strategic objectives that are easy (IMHO) at any company

A. Increasing market share using technology (internet or other such means)

Market share is one of the things every company wants to build up. It’s not just ‘number of sales this month’ that matter, we’re talking “how much of the market comes to us regularly for xyz service/product?” – which is what can be addressed quite easily.

Most often the problem with making this happen is the lack of clarity, so people either wait for clarity (and lose the time advantage) or act in a rush and end up with a mess. It’s surprisingly simple to maintain balance here actually, and the best part is that anyone can do it. I’ve trained people who’re quite (to be blunt) tech-disabled and marketing-disabled – but given the right process, action steps and some hand holding they build up really well.

B. Delivering on-time customer satisfaction – UX, CS

What do customers want? Today that’s an easy question to answer. One request and you’ll have hundreds of customers flocking in to tell you what’s wrong with your system and how you can improve it. You don’t have to believe me on this – but the first step is simply “ask the customer”.

Sure it’s fun to hear of some magic quickfix for any customer related problems, but we know it’s never that easy. Some simple tricks to ensure your baby doesn’t get squished in the crowd of customers coming back for ‘feedback’:

1. Start early, start Beta. This was always very effective for me. Clients never whine too much when it’s a Beta because they know it’ll be under testing… And they’ll be extra grateful for the rates with the perception of “ooh a discount AND they’ll fix the bugs“.

2. Do regular updates and publicize them! Often smaller software package creators fail to publicize their updates and lose out on valuable marketshare. Even if a customer does not want a product upgrade (free or paid) if they know the service is good (timely and to-the-point) they will come back again, and again and again – and they’ll forward your messages to their friends who want the product.

3. Forget creative – make it work first. Some software sucks – though it looks nice, comes in a neat package, etc etc – but it does not do the job you bought it for! Same rule applies for services and your marketing literature/website/ads – if you over promise with a fancy design and over-styled preview, you’re less likely to be able to deliver later, which can become a customer service disaster. Wish all you want for a larger marketshare but be careful what you put out there.

C. Refining technology processes (inside tech – by creating/updating processes or replacing software)

One of the easiest for most techies to understand

1. Versioning systems keep updating – today’s special is GIT or SVN – tomorrow will have another good batch. Stay on track and ensure you make the best features available to your team.

2. Upgrades – software is always ‘new’ and has new features that could help your product/service be the best one out there. Subscribing to tech blogs is a big advantage as you always know what the new features are, and can plan how to roll them ‘in’ to your technology piece

3. Stability – Sure I know people say this is not ‘strategy’ – but sometimes it is. If your systems are anywhere near 3 years old its “old” (yes they do that every 3 years, for both IT and Tax purposes) you want to add ‘stability’ to your strategy list. Most companies will have something that needs to be prepped for strategic replacement, so keep your stuff ready to roll into the new system you’ll likely take in the next 3-6 months.

Delay if you must, but try to stick to schedule. Nobody wants a site outage before they switch to a new firewall/switch or a system failure because nobody realized the hard drive was 5 years old.

Light hearted humour

Got this funny chain mail a while back. Please read and feel free to share!

The British are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats in Islamabad and have raised their security level from “Miffed” to “Peeved.” Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to “Irritated” or even “A Bit Cross”. Brits have not been “A Bit Cross” since the blitz in 1940 when Custard Cream supplies all but ran out.

Terrorists have been re-categorized from “Tiresome” to “A Bloody Nuisance.” The last time the British issued a “Bloody Nuisance” warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from “Pissed Off” to “Let’s get the Bastards.” They don’t have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from “Run” to “Hide”. The only two higher levels in France are “Surrender” and “Collaborate”. The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France’s white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country’s military capability.

The Germans also increased their alert state from “Disdainful Arrogance” to “Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs.” They also have two higher levels: “Invade a Neighbour” and “Lose”.

Belgium does not have a government, so is incapable of having any warning level. All on holiday as usual; the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the modern Spanish fleet can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Italy has increased the alert level from “Shout loudly and excitedly” to “Elaborate Military Posturing”. Two more levels remain: “Ineffective Combat Operations” and “Change Sides”.

Americans meanwhile are carrying out pre-emptive strikes on all of their allies, just in case. They have also made a point of threatening their allies with punitive action if the allies catch the criminals first…

India has setup multiple intelligence agencies and anti-terror committees to ensure such evil is stamped out. However nobody is willing to pay bribes to eliminate terrorism, and the terrorists don’t pay bribes – so no work gets done in either direction.

Pakistan clearly does not side with the terrorists, although they do not have a definitive stand ‘against’ them. Interestingly their top government intelligence organization is listed on America’s terror group list (so says Guardian) which can get confusing…

Meanwhile in the southern hemisphere…

New Zealand has also raised its security levels – from “baaa” to “BAAAA!” Due to continuing defence cutbacks (the air force being a squadron of spotty teenagers flying paper aeroplanes and the navy some toy boats in the Prime Minister’s bath), New Zealand only has one more level of escalation, which is “Shit, I hope Austrulia will come end rescue us”. In the event of invasion, New Zealanders will be asked to gather together in a strategic defensive position, called Bondi.
It might be worth noting that New Zealand would be unable to raise an army as its soldiers are all currently deployed playing orcs in the upcoming Hobbit 2 movie.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from “No worries” to “She’ll be alright, mate”. Three more escalation levels remain: “Crikey!”, “I think we’ll need to cancel the barbie this weekend” and “The barbie is cancelled.” It should be noted that there has not been a situation yet that has warranted the use of the final escalation level.

Disclaimer: Threats exist, and not taking positive action for the safety and security of the people is unforgivable. This joke is to be taken as such, and does not poke fun in any way at war, terrorism or the lives lost. This joke is of unknown origin, received as a chain mail a while back.