Sunday, June 21, 2015

Unpluggd Conference: Startup Launch and Demo session

In the last post we went through the overall impressions from the conference. Here is a summary of the first session of the day Startup Launch and Demo. Unpluggd invites applications for this slot allowing people to convey their startup ideas. Tons of applications follow and they choose the best of them to allow showcasing their products on the big stage. Lets go through the list and have a quick introduction to them.
  1. Oyelife: aims to tap into the weekend leisure market. Their vision can be best portrayed by one of the slides that put up saying - "We think when people have time at hand in a weekend and don't know what to do they will turn to one of these three apps: zomato (for food discovery), bookmyshow (to book tickets for movies/plays/sports etc) and Oyelife."

    Bold statement and a courageous dream to pursue. Their content is curated and contains all the activities you can think of apart from the other two domains mentioned. I wish them well because I really hate hitting a dozen of apps. I will keep a close eye on Oyelife to allow me some less trouble on weekends to choose a way to have fun!

    Tapping into a bit of history, Oyelife comes from the same team that established Must See India which offers holiday packages. They claim to provide holiday packages with their own content (not user generated) like Housing does in the real estate ecosystem. They also claim to allow people to customize the holiday packages and provide 24*7 support. I am not very excited about this though I like the bold move in Oyelife.
  2. Magictiger: is the one stop shop to getting everything online on your fingertips. At present they offer a phone number and you can contact them on whatsapp chat. They claim to cover anything you could ask them to get for you without any extra charge. Look at this screenshot from their website for an example:

    How cool is that? From booking a movie ticket to hotel, from ordering a food item to groceries they simply cover everything. Too good to be true and more technically too difficult to scale. Of course they were asked how they were going to be able to manage with one whatsapp number. And they said they have somehow been able to multiplex it and there are actually 20 odd people responding. There was a guy in the audience who actually ordered a nimbooz and got it delivered. Well this feels like a dream. Get lazy and have fun as it lasts and I really do wish it lasts longer!
  3. MobiComKit: is a plug and play support for messaging. A lot of applications, though they can do really better with a communication interface embedded in them, end up either not having it to begin with or use a third party tool (like ola pays for the messages instead of embedding it in their app). If you don't have a way for people to come and spend some time on your website and talk about you, I think you are losing customers in the process. Its one thing to bring someone to your website and its a big deal to keep them there. And there is no better way to promote than a human interaction. If you use a third party tool, you lose data which I believe is the most important tool in your basket for people love personalization in today's age. Blame it on facebook or google, people have come to get used to being treated based on their behavior.

    MobiComKit adds an in-app messaging feature to your apps without the need to invest time on it without caring about the implementation or the infrastructure. Plug it, play it and engage your customers on your website.
  4. Banihal is yet another attempt at match-making. Not again sigh! That was my initial reaction until I cam across Mr cheerful and confident founder. This guy had the best presentation skills. And he tried his best to convince that this is not just another match-making website. They are here to rule the industry. They have an impressive team and they already have a seed funding in too!

    Aaaaaand the investor is none other than David Cheriton himself. Here are the two gentleman:

    The guy who saw the potential in Google in-spite of many other search engines existing at that time and wrote the first cheque for them. Of course there were parallels drawn with this. Banihal claims to do it better and rule the space it is in. They are going to use neurology and all the research behind human decision making to make sure marriage is NOT just a decision. As Warren Buffett says- this is the most important investment one does in life. Banihal's vision is to give people 5 recommendations and they want to ensure the person does get married to one of them. Like Google, don't scroll to the second page of search results :) As much as I was uninspired by the space in which they are operating I really wish they do succeed for they have a good team, a visionary mentor and a confidence to rule the space- pretty much all ingredients to make a good business.
  5. Chaska: to me came across a wannabe cool company. Because the name is catchy I was really looking forward to this. My immediate thought was it would be about food, but I  was wrong. Its a way to discover, re-mix and share videos. From the presenter to concept to problem to solution, I tried my best but I was never inspired. Because they are a startup I wish them well too but I would be surprised to see this make it big. I wish though that I am proved wrong.
  6. I like the concept though not a lot of other people shared my views. I have never thought so much about the % uninstalls against number of installs. I have never thought of analyzing this. Perhaps because I have never made an app myself? Maybe but to me this came up as something I would love to use as a startup. I would love to know why someone uninstalled my app, why someone finds my app crappy and how I can resurrect the situation. Go ahead and make it big guys. I do have faith in your ideas.
  7. TrueSemantic: are in the space of customer support. Their vision is to improve the customer support and I wish they really do it in India for customer support most of the times in my part of the world is crappy. They came up with a statistic saying 80% companies think they have a really good and superior customer support while there are only 8% users who agree. Though I am no believer in a survey without knowing the source I would like to believe they are right. I would really expect a good survey to show that disparity. They have a really good website so I need not put much here. Just spend a couple of minutes on their well organized website and you will know what it is all about.
  8. Twist: is an improved android gaming experience on the TV screen. If you have read my last post you would know I was excited about this. Now I am no gaming enthusiast for I have always loved outdoor games more but I think this is something gaming ninjas should surely try. Go give it a try! By the way, I am a big believer in a good domain name and I wish their website was just instead of the But it depends on how deep your pocket is.
  9. Audoce is one product I really want to lay my hands on as soon as possible. Imagine not having to carry keys everyday, forget a bunch of them. Imagine not having to come back early from office because your roommate lost the keys and imagine having it as a software with much more functionality than a conventional key and lock system. Your smartphone can tell you who entered the house and at what time, how long they stayed- this is just plain logging. Now imagine some intelligence (AI) built into it. Okay lets stop dreaming and support them to come up with a system that can help us trust this software for software is definitely more prone to being hacked than the physical keys. Go ahead guys and make a kickass product. There is a bigass market waiting for you to do well.
  10. Drip is something that the NextBigWhat team itself has come up with. It offers short curated news stories and aims at people who just have 5 minutes waiting for their bus to show up to quickly browse through the news. This is an obvious market in the news publishing industry for there are so many news channels providing the same news over and over. Then there are aggerators like google news too. I am a bit confused about this project at the moment but given their contacts I would like to believe it is easier for them to do a good job. All the best to the NextBigWhat team and kudos for the great work on the conference side! 
I will keep a close eye on this list and I would love to know your views on these wonderful ideas.

Unpluggd Conference: Experiences

NextBigWhat is a meetup to gather together geeks, entrepreneurs (aspiring ones too!), angels and investors.  I am pretty sure that's not an exhaustive list but in general its a conference centred around tech startups aiming to get all the concerned parties together on one platform. You find IBMs and Microsofts shouting that they are all for helping startups grow and find their feet, you find some kickass stalls showing demos of their first product, you come across their business counterparts trying hard to just kick-start a conversation with you, you even come across investors looking for people ready to pitch their ideas in their fields of interest and trust me I did find one saying on stage- if there is someone who execute a certain idea he was sitting ready to fund it. Now you can't have a better invitation in your life!

Moving on to the conference, it was a two day event- productgeeks and unpluggd being the theme of the two days respectively. I regret missing the first day because it was a Friday and I really didn't have a lot of leaves left. That brings me to the dilemma:

Should two day conferences be held on Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday?

I will be happy to know where you stand there but for now lets stick to the topic at hand today. As I didnt attend the productgeeks conference I will only leave you with the agenda and speakers frm that part. I will make a point to break into this next time.

Moving to the second day- Unpluggd! I reached the reception and found a identity card for myself. I had pre-booked for the conference. You could also book your ticket on the spot. I grabbed my ticket and moved ahead with five minutes in hand to have a quick look at the stalls. The first to grab my eyeballs was a product called Twist. In a nutshell Twist provides the same fun that gets you hooked to your android phone on the bigger screen of your TV. I did play Temple Run and it was real fun! Instead of the remote that you would generally use you can use your smartphone to play on your TV. Doesn't that sound cool? They also promise to provide innovative controls and everything at a lower cost compared to their competitors. Well I am not sure If I can buy into that but there is only one way to know that- to try it! 

Next, I hopped around to find I grabbed their business card and was trying to escape quickly when a girl requested me to share the idea and signup etc. I signed up wit them and quickly browsed across the other stalls to end up in the auditorium in time. The presentations were to begin at 9:30, the first being "Building Freecharge: Lessons learned" by the Freecharge (now part of Snapdeal) founder and ex-CEO Kunal Shah . Kunal could unfortunately not be there in time and hence the day started with the second item on the list- Startup Launch and Demo.

This session consisted of 10 startups. All of them in their infancy presenting an account of themselves. They came up with the demos, presentations, stories etc. The next post in this series introduces each one of them.  We then had a networking session over tea and breakfast which lasted half an hour. The following session was possibly the most high profile one. There was Rahul Yadav (founer & CEO being interviewed by Akash from the NextBigWhat team. Rahul was greeted very cheerfully by the crowd. But contrary to the celebrity status the news publishing media has attached to him, he came across as someone who is so down to earth. Rahul, though he looks like the guy next door and has no qualms about his tremendous success, came across as an inspiring person to me. He just seems to know what he wants and is amazingly clear in his responses. He came across, to me, as someone, who is very intelligent, querky and frank, yet very sorted. There was zero percent pretension, personality and all. After the interview, the floor was open for the audience to ask questions to him directly and there was an ocean of questions awaiting him. There were so many people just wanting to talk to him somehow. A couple of striking takeaways from this session from me were again clarity of thought, innovation vs problem solving (the obvious problems too), the importance of execution, his unique way of building the team etc. 

Next was a small talk by Nilkanth Iyer, Country leader cloud ecosystem India- South Asia and he went on to make a point about IBM's commitment to supporting startups. Next there was some good food waiting for us. It was a nice one hour session allowing people to network with whoever they wanted to. Following this was a session from Yes Bank COO. This session like it was scheduled after the lunch break was quite sleep inducing to me. Ok let me admit I did manage a 5-7 minute sleep in this period actually. But as far as I understood (very little though!) he seemed to claim that Yes Bank is different, it believes in eliminating problems and not only help as a banker. Navigating through the problems, the entrepreneurs or any customer Yes Bank feels to arrive at the root cause and eliminating it, their support for the startup ecosystem in India etc. 

Next was one of my favorite sessions- a panel discussion titled "Is there an appetite for More FoodTech Funding in India". The guests in the panel were Sanjay Swami (from AngelPrime), Mast Kalandar CEO Gaurav Jain and the SpoonJoy co-founder Manish Jethani. The moderator started the discussion essaying that we are a very populous country and we love our food! We have 3-4 meals per day to say the least and thence this clearly is a big market, yet still untapped leaving a lot of scope for the aspiring entrepreneurs. Gaurav and Manish portrayed their stories and went on to list the problems they faced and lessons learnt. Sanjay encouraged the audience to explore this field and even went to the extent to say that if someone can show him a way to subscribe so they could completely take care of his diets, taste and variety etc at the same time promising him a weight loss of 5-10 kg he was absolutely ready to fund it. The discussions went on to essay the difficulties Gaurav and Manish faced to what they think are some things one should take care of when trying out a startup in this field.

Following the next and last tea session, there were the sessions I was mostly looking forward to involving Abhay Singh (from InMobi), Aparmeya (the guy behind TaxiforSure) and Kunal (freecharge co-founder). Very insightful, frank and masterful advises. Take this quote for an example from Kunal - 

Make a kickass product with a smartass team for a bigass market!

More insights from this session in the next blog post. See you there!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Amazon RDS use case: start up point of view

Coming from three years of experience working as a developer on MySQL, I always felt Amazon RDS (Relational Database System) was just snapping away customers from the database companies themselves by only making some wrappers around it to offer RDS. I hated the idea of using Amazon RDS instead of a database. In the last one month I have read a lot about Amazon RDS and my views have changed. I have started to understand that the amazon RDS does have a real good utility at times and does a god job too. Below I talk of the clear market I see for amazon RDS. Note that all content below is written from the point of view of a start up or a small company which is where I see Amazon RDS fitting the best.

I am a firm believer in the popular quote- Life is a sum total of the choices you make. When it comes to technology today, there are so many choices that the toughest part is choosing your software correctly to suit your use cases. One such problem I recently came across was maintaining a native database (backed by MySQL, postgreSQL or Oracle) or choosing to go with the Amazon RDS. As with all difficult choices it actually depends on the state of organization the most dominating factors being:

  1. The amount of money you are willing to spend. If you are broke on this front affording Amazon RDS is out of context.
  2. Flexibility- While the Amazon RDS does a great job of making things simple, in my opinion, it happens at the cost of losing flexibility that comes with using a native database. A counter question to ask yourself is- do you really need so much flexibility at this instant?
  3. In-house expertise: If you have guys carrying a real good experience on of the native databases, it is a good indicator to take on the challenge and go with a native database set up. Be assured though that shit happens and I would imagine more so with the native database in a five people company.
  4. Available time- small companies live and die by how much work they can get done on the application side. If you are a small company racing against time to add features to your product, this should seal the deal and you should should decide to use Amazon RDS even though it costs a little bit higher.
  5. Lastly, it all depends on your product or application and the nature of data it carries.

In a nutshell, the choice narrows down to the time you are willing to afford to work on the database end . Lets first see what tilts the argument in favor of Amazon RDS. The big thing that Amazon RDS enables is to save on labor for all sorts of things, for instance:
  1. Monitoring,
  2. Logging,
  3. Auto-scaling,
  4. Caching infrastructure,
  5. DB servers,
  6. Media transcoding etc.

So Amazon RDS frees you from thinking about all of that by paying some extra money and biting on your flexibility as explained in the introduction section. For the extra cash you burn you save on the labor involved in doing all of them.

If you choose to set up your own database and manage it, be it on your dedicated hardware on an Amazon EC2 instance, you need to realize that you will have to periodically invest in it

  1. To thoroughly document the set-up,
  2. Very thoroughly test the replication, failover behaviours, backup/restore flows etc.
  3. You will need to build a team to do most or all of this.
  4. Upgrade (whenever required) yourself
  5. You will have to go through the practice runs (backup, restore, failover) all over again to make sure everything still works.
  6. Remain failsafe so if postgres fails in a weird way, you need to carefully punt parts of the infrastructure in a pre-determined way to avoid data loss etc.

As a rule of thumb if running your own native database would markedly improve the product, do it. If not, you are probably looking at trading upfront cost for labor expense. For a small company with low manpower, I think one should really let Amazon RDS handle everything and focus on the product for the time being

Sadly, this is an excerpt from the notes I had while studying this subject. At that time there was no idea of writing a blog and hence I have lost the references but all this is mostly derived from quora, stackoverflow and the official manual for Amazon RDS. Lastly, best of luck on managing your data. Keep your data safe and have fun!

The story of database scaling at YouTube and Dropbox

I have recently been studying postgreSQL. Coming from the MySQL Replication background and studying postgres, it was natural to just flow into their replication module and I couldn't help compare the replication modules of two of the biggest open source databases. I have also been studying ways to scale a growing database and trying to figure which of these two databases is better at scaling- in terms of ease of use, stability and performance. I have always been interested in scale and distributed systems and I am a big time follower of the architectures of the biggest web companies.

As evident from my last few posts, I have also been reading a lot about entrepreneurship lately. Combining all of this, when I come across a resource that tells me how a YouTube or Dropbox grew in scale, what are the problems they faced while their user-base grew and how they overcame it, gives me immense joy. Recently I came across two videos that I want to share.

The first is the story of YouTube presented pretty well by one of their earliest developers. The video clearly depicts the technical fine prints, the desperation to keep their growing site live and the common problems scale tends to bring up. There are times when you think something is so well presented that you don't want to reproduce it in your own words and thence I will just leave you with this video. Have a look at the amazing presentation.

The second video that I want to share today is the story of Dropbox. The speaker begins with a simplest architecture the founders started with and goes on iteratively to show how they kept improving their back-end. Note that Dropbox is a write intensive workload and hence this is a real fun video. Have a look.

Lastly, if you have more such references, do share along.