Startups

Why we do not take risks

As I begin my expedition into the world of startups and entrepreneurship, I have been frequently asked the same question/concern : Starting up is a huge risk, why don’t you mitigate it by doing something else first?

risk

The TL;DR answer to which is always the same : One cannot get the experience to run a company unless one starts and runs a company. Anyway, listening to so many people question taking risks, made me want to go deeper into the reasons of Why as a species we avoid taking risks.

The 2 main culprits who impair our ability to take any risk are :

  1. Fear of Being Wrong
  2. Impact Bias and the Pre Frontal Cortex

We hate being wrong. Most of us hate and constantly fear it. The reason behind this is simple, all through our education, we have been told from various ends that people who get things wrong / make mistakes are going to have trouble “succeeding in life”. This makes us strive for lesser mistakes. Wrong lesson learnt. How ironic.

This majorly inhibits our creative process.

“To lead a creative life we must lose the fear of being wrong” – Joseph Chilton Pearce

But the puck doesn’t stop here. Let me move onto how we are wired on the inside.

qq_paulallen_f

Source : Wired

Pre Frontal Cortex is a vital region of the brain which regulates thought in terms of both short-term and long-term decision making. It allows humans to plan ahead. Turns out that the pre frontal cortex does a lot of things but the most important function is that of a simulator. Just like pilots practice in flight simulators so that they don’t make real mistakes in planes, we humans have this marvelous adaptation that we can simulate things before trying them out in real life. Dan Gilbert (Professor of Psychology at Harvard University) found out in their labs about a particular tendency called the “Impact Bias” which causes this simulator to work badly.

According to me, this very tendency is applicable to our risk taking abilities as well.

What is Impact Bias?

The impact bias is our tendency to overestimate our emotional reaction to future events. Research shows that most of the time we don’t feel as bad as we expect to when things go wrong. Now it seems obvious, how the impact bias can affect our simulations of the future based on the risk prone decisions we are going to take.

According to me, correcting for the Impact Bias and removing the fear of being wrong can lead to wonderful things. It can increase our risk taking ability and make us more creative, respectively. Both are things one needs in abundance while starting up a new venture.

So, what leap of faith are you taking today ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Startups

Finding the Blue Ocean of Life

Last semester was the first time I read about Blue Ocean Strategy in the Harvard Business Review and it really got me thinking. Was it just applicable to industries and their strategies ? Or could the same be extrapolated to the realms of everyday life?

To those of you, who do not know what Blue Oceans are, here’s a TL;DR : Business universe consists of two distinct kinds of spaces : red and blue oceans. Red Oceans represent all the industries in existence today—the known market space. Companies compete with their rivals to increase market share, in turn cutting profits and resulting into reduced growth rate. Blue Oceans denote all the industries not in existence today—the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, new demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid.

Blue-Ocean-Strategy-640x416

Those interested in reading more about how to create Blue Oceans can have a look at this (HBR Article). I found the concepts of Blue and Red Oceans quite similar to what has been defined in Economics as Competition and Monopoly. Peter Thiel talks about this in his book Zero to One

“Creative Monopoly means new products that benefit everybody and sustainable profits for the creator. Competition means no profits for anybody, no meaningful differentiation, and a struggle for survival.”

Well, after reading all these things, I became very intrigued. I wanted to know more and see if I could apply some of these concepts to our day-to-day life. I read a lot. I came across several articles with similar footings.

Here’s what I found :

Current scenario consists of two kinds of people, those who are looking for the “safe” routes and those who are looking for unconventional routes. Usually, everyone around us preaches to take the safe and validated routes. This usually means that you compete your way up the safe path. You accelerate on the freeway, trying to beat others till you finally run out of fuel and have to stop, only to question everything that you have done till now.

“Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them” – Peter Thiel

Historically, the people who have been the most “successful” have taken the unconventional path, made the competition irrelevant. But does success simply lie in doing what others aren’t ? Not exactly. According to Thiel, the most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.

So, what do we do ?

Oliver Emberton in his blog post titled “How to find your passion” talks about, well (you guessed it right) several ways to find your passion. He talks about how only a handful people even dare to try something new. Well, here’s our answer, we start looking. Looking for things that interest us, things we are amazing at and new things others usually won’t try. “Starting” is the first step and taking the first step itself improves our odds. Don’t look for formulas, start with basic first principles. In the post, Oliver talks about how we can find our passion by creating something. Then the question arises how should we create something?

Creativity is the process to have original ideas that have value” – Sir Ken Robinson

I believe solving a unique problem is a simple way to create a lot of value and hence be creative. Well, according to all that I have gone through above, one way to have a blue ocean strategy in life is to be an entrepreneur or at least think like one. This way, you solve a unique problem, be creative, find your passion and end up making a space/context of your own. This is my hypothesis and surely you could have other opinions !

My Hypothesis

My Hypothesis

Well, this was one of my first in the series of posts on Startups ! Many more to come 🙂

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Project Mudra

Mudra, The Whole Story

Whoa! Long time since I wrote a post on this blog. Another year has gone by, so much to write about.

A major chunk of my year was totally focussed on Project Mudra. This blog post is going to be basically about Project Mudra and everything related to it.

What is Mudra?

DSC_0003
Mudra is a Braille Dicta Teacher which addresses the problem of Braille literacy among the visually impaired. It adopts an intuitive way of repetition and reinforcement learning of the Braille characters. Mudra currently has two modes of operations: Browse mode and Auto mode. Auto mode is aimed at the absolute beginner.It teaches the Braille character via a simultaneous audio and tactile output looping through the alphabets and numbers consequently. Basically the user listens to the corresponding character simultaneously as the tactile output appears on the Braille hardware, activating the sense of touch and hearing to reinforce learning.

 

auto-mode

Auto Mode

Browse mode lets the user browse through various Braille characters. It prompts the user for speech input which is subsequently converted to text by using Google’s speech recognition API and then sent to a filter which ensures correct conversion of the spoken character to the corresponding Braille representation of the character. There are several other modes of operations that we plan to work on in the future. For instance, the exam mode tests the user by generating a random character and asks the user to guess the character, by speaking to it. It then converts the user’s response to text and checks against the generated character to check whether the user was correct or not.

Who made it?
Me and Sanskriti Dawle developed Project Mudra with inputs and a lot of help from our friends. We have learnt a lot and come a long way ever since the initiation of the project.

TEDx

Why did we make it?
Short version: We wanted to make something useful, even with our rather limited knowledge of hardware and hoped to learn a lot along the way of making this project.
Long version: Quark was organising a Raspberry Pi workshop for the freshers, so being members of the controls we went too. It was here, when I was introduced to this tiny, credit card sized wonder. So I started fiddling around and tinkering with it and after a few small projects, we thought of more useful ways to harness the power of the Pi. This is where we formulated(got) the idea of Mudra and went ahead with it.
After we had done some work on it, we wanted to present this idea so we submitted it to PyCon(Python Conference) 2014 which was going to be held in Montreal as a poster session. PyCon was an obvious choice since the Raspberry Pi is programmed in python and I am a huge fan of the python programming language. To our fortunate surprise, the PSF (Python Software Foundation) selected our project for the poster session at PyCon 2014 and sent us a confirmation on Dec 15th (I was in a train, travelling from Goa to Delhi and was euphoric when I came to know, couldn’t wait to get home and meet my parents). Due to our director’s  (Dr. Sanjeev Aggarwal) quick response and help we were able to display the project at BITSAA Global Meet 2014 which was held in Hyderabad from Jan 3 to Jan 5.  On Jan 19th we spoke at TEDxBITSGoa about the concept of Mudra.

The response at TEDx was superb and it made us realise that what we had started as a mere academic project had social implications way beyond us. 

To be continued in the next post, which is going to be about PyCon 2014 and beyond.

Continue reading

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Uncategorized

Roadtrip Redefined

Roadtrips are fun aren’t they? This one had plenty, but it wasn’t all fun.

In the year of 1992, there was a sudden deployment of a TROPO unit to somewhere near Hajipir, Gujrat. It was of immense strategic importance and the move was based on reasons of the clandestine kind. A perilous location (marshes, barren land and then of course the LOC). An officer was called back from his honeymoon to lead the move of this unit. As the execution of the unit neared the end of its tenure, his wife undertook a roadtrip to the unit along with some friends.

modMaps

The roadtrip consisted of a family of four, a young couple (my parents) and the wife (I’ll call this whole bunch of people: *the group*) all stuffed in one Gypsy. They started from Naliya and travelled for 90 kilometres in sandy, inhospitable conditions and rough terrain to reach as close as possible to the unit. They reached to a point where even the mighty gypsy couldn’t go further. There was a BOP nearby which provided some camels for the next part of the journey to reach the unit. Here comes the fun part! The moment everyone sat on their respective camels, it rained which is very rare in that part of the country. Now imagine this! You’re sitting at the height of almost 12 feet and the camel suddenly starts feeling “not so sure” about his legs owing to the slippery muck created due to the rain. The camels panicked and started running. The person who handled the camels had instructed everyone that a nudge on the rope on either side left or right would turn the camel. The detail he had left out is a nudge too strong would make the camel do a 360 degree turn and it would feel like figure skating (due to the slippery ground) except with a camel in the middle of the nowhere. As the camels scurried across the barren, sludgy land through babul trees and thorny shrubs, people on top of it screamed and the person in charge of the camels tried to catch up with the camels. What a jolly good chase that might have been! Exciting!

A widespread and very inspiring quality that the people posted/deployed at the border posses is optimism and they are always beaming with pride and patriotism. A feeling which surpasses all. An indescribable emotion of serving the country and the satisfaction derived from the fact that their contribution matters. Delightful!

The whole party finally reached the unit. They were served with dinner, drinks and a gala time. Tents were pitched. Everything looked quite stable for a while when everyone was served by a second shower of rain. Though it brought down temperatures and it made everything pleasant, the humans were not the only ones enjoying the cool wave. Scorpions, Scorpions everywhere! Scorpions started trickling out in huge numbers and that caused a lot of inconvenience since everyone was supposed to sleep in tents. The huge move of the unit was the very next day. So, the whole unit started to pack and the group started their journey back to Naliya in the morning. As fate would have it, their gypsy broke down leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere. Unexplored, detached from human civilisation and disconnected would describe the place they were stuck in. When the unit reached Naliya and the group still had not reached, it put the people there in a nervous wreck. Everyone knew about the risk involved. The group didn’t lose hope and left the gypsy and walked till they found a little village of nomads. Here’s the thing about these villagers that I liked, they engaged the group with great admiration when they came to know they were from armed forces. They spoke a gujrati-sindhi dialect hence my father was able to converse with them. A car passing by helped repair the gypsy and off they went.

My mom recollects it to be one of the cleanest villages she has ever seen till date. The humble yet progressive nature of the people from gujrat is commendable. I shouldn’t say this, but it really pains to see the people of some states being hostile towards the very power responsible for their safety and wellbeing. I wouldn’t name the state. This blog is way too young to take on political stuff, anyways entertainment is way cooler.

P.S Tropo is basically a mobile communication unit and BOP stands for Border Observatory Post

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Something New, Uncategorized

Christmas Anecdotes

 
Carols, cookies, chocolate, cake, the giving spirit and mistletoe usually sums up
Christmas. There has been more and we’ve been on the receiving end of it. This post is
going to be about how far the people of the armed forces go to ensure that their families
(especially kids) don’t go untouched by the festive spirit no matter where they are posted
(whether it’s the gulf of Kutchch or J&K ). So here it is how we celebrate Christmas:
Celebrations usually start with the CAROL PRACTICE. Your mom will always push you
down that road no matter how bad your vocals are. You’ll team up with all others of the
 
same fate and sing. Sing till you can. ” Now bring us some figgy pudding……” Sing till
someone gives you some “figgy” pudding.
The next part, MIA (Mom’s intelligence agency) gathers more intel about other
performances on the Christmas party. Then you get another push “so and so’s children
(mostly daughters) are doing such and such performance!  You better get your act
together too and perform something”. So most of us pick our most presentable form of
talent possible and practice for the final day.
Then the ultimate day arrives, full of children gearing up for participation in the various
dance/fashion shows/fancy dress/singing, the whole lot. Performances executed and
cheered; now it’s the children’s turn to be on the receiving end of the entertainment
scene.
Magic shows and Tattoo artists are very common since they are such a hit with the little
ones. After these, it’s Santa time and here it always gets real interesting. Let me quote a
few instances,
Santa Claus will always be played some jolly officer but it’s the sleigh which is so varying
that it’s unpredictable and hence interesting.
 
Instances
#1 Fire truck
Booming the fire alarms and Santa throwing toffees from the top of the truck.
 
#2 Yellow school bus
I remember this being a lot of fun too.
 
#3 Skydiver Santa
This one turned out to be a farce, but still a lot of fun owing to the anticipation related to
Santa been flung out in the air and landing in front of you in a parachute. Here’s what
 
 
really happened: We all are looking up waiting, turns out some Russians(dressed in red )
were practicing skydiving and the officer playing Santa was hiding in a van near the
landing. So some little kid spots Santa in the van and the kids rush towards him.
Hiding time over Santa, Now give us the gifts.
 
#4 Santa via Helicopter
It was the last helicopter sortie of the day. Santa had boarded the helicopter, the plan
being getting down at the mess where the party was on. Now as the helicopter started its
descent to land at the mess lawns, all the tents started to fly away and the people
frantically waved their hands in order to send back the helicopter. So, the helicopter
retreated and landed somewhere else and Santa again came by the fire brigade truck.
True story.
The next part is of course is food and the Christmas cake, followed by encouragement by all the parents for the performances of the children. The Gala ends here but something else continues.
 
 
The nurturing feeling
Defense people make sure their kids aren’t deprived of a family,at all times. The unit becomes

one big family providing the warmth and comfort to make you feel right at home.Its funny how the support of some people affects you so much and helps you strive anywhere with optimism and happiness.
 
 
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Something New

Defense Terms and Clichés

This blog post is mostly going to be about some terms and particular things associated to the defense forces which normally no one would know about  (All in good humour , of course 😀 )

ANTE room

This room has by far been the most forbidden room to every defense kid at every station. As I grew up, my curiosity increased as to what mysteries and myriad treasures lay in that room.

expectation

The mystery was revealed one day and it turned out to be a normal hall with a pretty fancy interior decoration and showpieces (reason why kids weren’t allowed) .A hall in the Officer’s mess which was used only for high profile parties (parties where kids were not allowed …  ) .

Christmas Party

Pretty Ob what it means. Reason I included this is A LOT of memories of my childhood and subsequent years are associated with it  🙂 🙂

And the significance to the defense kid : A party exclusively for children , Cultural Programmes  (by kids) ,food , magic shows ,games ,a ride in  SANTA’s sleigh (…which was AWESOME)  A post coming up on the same 😀 😀

SODA

Senior Officer’s Daughter’s Association

Yeah. The name says it all: Smart, Bubbly, Gorgeous and Intelligent Defense girls . No more description required.

Bachelors are the most fun people

Bachelors are mostly those who just joined the force (young officers) .They’ll play sports with you, entertain you, dance with you at parties and also let you in their rooms to play games on their laptops . My brother agrees .So do a lot of others  😀 😀 .  They are energetic and very nice people.

Veg Dip /Peanut Chaat 

A characteristic appetizer at almost all the parties which you can never get bored of! Probably due to the mayonnaise 😀

vegdip

Packers And Movers

Also we kids are trained as packers and movers  😀 as we grow up. We’re better than most professionals when it comes to this. Be it from one station to another or be it temporary accommodation to the status house, we pack and move all the time.

On a more serious note,

Defense life teaches you accommodativeness and adaptability of the highest order. Personal experience has taken me to stations with faulty electricity, dust storms, with no general public around for miles, a confinement after 7:30pm, elephants etc. People learn to live with it and get the best out of it however bleak or  the situation maybe.Utmost patriotism and undying optimism is what I’d use to describe my dad and all the people he works with. I’ve seen the glint in their eyes which says ” I would do everything I can and more for this country” , ah!!  the selfless shine which I wish( everyday )even one of our today’s politicians had.

Our country has reached a stage where the credibility of our government is exponentially going down day by day. The people are fed up , exhausted and have started to question the ways of the government and demanded explanations for the blatant misuse of the tax-payer’s money.  So as a friend remarked, I need to give an ending to each post.  This would be my way , “

Dear taxpayers ,

I have no idea about anything else but when it comes to defense , I assure you , you wouldn’t be disappointed. EVER. As far as I have seen, they are the most reliable and selfless people possible.

Thanks for reading.

P.S If you have a defense related story to share with all of us , send me 😀 email id is given in the widget on top

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Something New

The “Think” Trail

Backdrop

My first year at BITS had almost finished when I got a call from my Dad saying he had been posted to Delhi. While I was glad that I’m going to return to my parents for the summer vacation, but after hearing this news there was a familiar feeling , not knowing what my home is going to look like .A different feeling and pretty uncommon in civil life .

Hence, I flew to Delhi prepared to be surprised.

I woke up the next morning to find myself in midst of nature. How did I get here? IMG_1085

Surprised I was last night, (so was my dad… typical military dad reaction when son comes home with long hair (=__=)   ) .My dad picked me up at the airport and then we drove on towards our destination and drove and drove……..After travelling more than 60km for a duration which was equivalent to the time my flight took to reach Delhi (All thanks to Delhi traffic) we reached our station. After arrival, I was taken to the ANTE room (refer to ANTE room in Defense Terms and clichés)   where a party was going on (Oh! I couldn’t have asked for a better return to this life) . What had happened was this:  reaching the station in an exhausted by traffic condition in the night I couldn’t really see the station. When I woke up from my super-sound sleep (owing to the exhaustion and the good food) , I came out of the suite to see the plethora of greenery around me .The isolation of this station  was brilliant and nobody could have guessed that it was 40km from the capital of INDIA. The explorer in me woke up in the evening when I went for a jog around!

The thing with jogging in an unknown place is the feeling of uncertainty. I feel jogging in an unknown place is a lot like life  .The safer  you feel about the unknown place the more you enjoy and the better you understand your path. Similarly in life, if you feel safe with whatever you do then venturing out in unknown territory doesn’t seem like such a difficult task .Life’s  like an unknown territory due to the enormous amount of uncertainty involved at each step. Feeling safe is a choice.                                                                        Willpower and thought control both life and jogging. As a huge line of thought drew in my head I jogged along.

I had just started to observe my surroundings when I saw a magnificent creature, something I hadn’t seen before. Something which looked like this

nilgai2

Blue bull is a shy creature which is pretty scared of humans (phew!) . Deer + Horse + Cow 😀  .

I also spotted hundreds of peacocks, majestically waving their vibrant feathers . Apart from these 2 , the Eucalyptus covered jungles awed me and I half suspected the serenity of the trail to have influenced my line of thought ,Hence the title. A simple jogging trip turned so much more! 😀 😀

Here are the peacocks  :

IMG_0935

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