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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Defying Gravity

A few pennies in the vase can make the flowers defy gravity. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Apple Watch In The Eyes Of A Fashion Insider

Do you love me?

With the anticipated Apple Watch launch announcement on March 9th,  I sought a fashion-insider's perspective on wearable devices and the Apple Watch in particular. With an eye to style, aesthetics and fashion, I spoke with Christine Campbell, President of Crimson Mim, an independent women's boutique located in the heart of Silicon Valley. I have known Christine for a few years and serve on the advisory board of Crimson Mim. In general, fashion industry insiders are not happy with how the Apple Watch looks. Since, Apple is trying to sell Apple Watch as a jewelry item, I thought it would be insightful to talk to someone from the fashion industry.

Following is our conversation:

Chander: What's your take on the state of wearable devices?

Christine: The fall of 2013 seemed to be the peek of fitness wearable devices at least among women in Silicon Valley. Almost every customer who came in was wearing one. Now, I'd say, it's one in ten, if that. A lot of women are using hiking or running apps on their phones, which obviates the need for a device on their wrist. Even when Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike Fuel Band were popular, women would complain about how downright ugly they are.

Chander: What did you think of Google Glass?

Christine: I never saw a woman wear Google Glass.

Chander: Would you wear one?

Christine: No. Absolutely not.

Chander: Would you wear an Apple Watch?

Christine: Not as it looks now. I like my traditional Cartier watch a lot better. However, in order to further burnish its fashion credibility, Apple has taken out a 12 page advertisement in VOGUE Magazine's March 2015 issue.

Chander: What specifically do you not like about Apple Watch?

Christine: It's too big. It looks like a computer on your wrist. It reminds me a little of digital Casio watches from the 80s. It's just not pretty.

Chander: What about all the cool features it has like heartbeat sharing?

Christine: That's sweet, but we're focusing here on aesthetics, not functionality.

Chander: Why do you think that despite the best efforts of the tech industry wearables are not taking off?

Christine: I can't speak from a technology or habitual perspective, but from a fashion point of view, the problem with wearables is that they're not the same as fashion. It's not that wearables can't be fashionable, but the nature of fashion is change. There are few things you wear for a lifetime and every day - perhaps a watch or your wedding band. Everything else from shoes to jeans to coats to sweaters to earrings to handbags, one changes. Is it possible to create a wearable device that changes with fashion (and technology)? Can technology and "timeless classic" co-exist?

Chander: Will we ever see an iconic wearable brand like Hermes, or Cartier, or Burberry?

Christine: Perhaps, but in order to create an iconic fashion brand there needs to be heritage, which cannot be created overnight.

Chander: What else is happening in fashion and technology?

Christine: The up and coming area of wearables is smart textiles and fiber science. This includes technology that can be incorporated into fabric (temperature regulation, monitoring breathing and stress, and self-cleaning fabrics are examples). While very early, this market will be exponentially larger than wearable gadgets.


With Apple Watch, Apple is moving from a tech company that is good at design to making jewelry.  However, marrying technology that changes every year with jewelry that lasts forever is quite a challenge. Will they succeed? It remains to be seen.


This post was originally published on Forbes.com on March 1st, 2015. 


Aging

If your behavior does not change with age, your body does.  

Stupid

Definition of stupid in Northern California: A person who is unconstrained by the limits of reason. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

What Do Silicon Valley and Evolution Have In Common?

Silicon Valley, the southern region of the San Francisco Bay Area, is a darling of the world. It is mysterious. It is sexy. It is rich. Every other city around the world wants to be like Silicon Valley. Everyday there is a delegation of government officials or entrepreneurs visiting Silicon Valley to understand how it works. The French president was here last year. The Swedish royals will be here next week. Most big European and Asian technology companies have outposts in Silicon Valley just so that someone can organize meetings for their executives with Stanford, Google, and Facebook. There are people who have made careers out of "innovation tourism" and telling people how to create a startup and how Silicon Valley works.




Despite many popular theories like Silicon Valley is an accident or all you need is a “lean startup” (that is, don’t spend too much money before you understand customer needs), the best way to understand how Silicon Valley works is by understanding evolution. Evolution works through the principles of replication with variation and selection with competition. Genes get replicated from one generation to the next and each copy is a little bit different than the original. Then the copies compete with each other and the best ones get to reproduce and so on.


Silicon Valley has an environment that enables evolution’s replication with variation, and selection with competition. Think of a gene as an idea that gets "hot". A lot of people jump on that idea and create startups. There are at least 50 dating startups in Silicon Valley today. Since the culture is open, people talk to each other and they pitch their ideas all the time. Each startup adjusts and creates a variance from other startups. Venture capitalists like investing in what's hot, so many variations of the same idea get funded. There were at least thirty search engine startups around when Google started. These startups compete with each other and eventually one of them succeeds in becoming the dominant player or in getting acquired by a big corporation. For example, after Google came about, Yahoo acquired Alta Vista and many search-related startups were acquired by Microsoft to be rolled into Bing.

The fate of the other startups is not as bad as for genes. A lot of startups get acquired by another startup that is getting bigger or becoming the most successful. Facebook acquired ConnectU, FriendFeed and many other social networking-related startups. Even if your startup does not get acquired, the chances of you getting a job with the successful startup are high because you have experience in the new domain. So, if you are in the right category, the risk of doing a startup is not that high.

If you are a region that wants economic growth, how do you apply this understanding of the workings of Silicon Valley? You can’t change your culture overnight. And, Silicon Valley is a hub for the world not just for the US. No other region has the scale of Silicon Valley in terms of startups and access to capital. So, it is extremely tough to create a mini-Silicon Valley.

When I worked with Swedish government agencies in the southern part of Sweden (Region Skåne), my recommendation to them was to focus on what they are good at and not try to do what Silicon Valley is doing which is mainly software. Since Region Skåne does not have the scale to do replication with variation and selection with competition in many domains, I advised them to select one domain and focus all of their resources and capital on that. Region Skåne excels at wireless communication technologies. Bluetooth and the first Smartphone came out of that region. Furthermore, the region has a history in medical innovation. The first artificial respirator and the first artificial kidney were invented in Region Skåne.

Sweden has the added benefit and competitive advantage, that one central organization, Region Skåne Public Healthcare System, is responsible for $7B in healthcare spending every year. So, the domain that makes sense for them is mobile health (mHealth) because of the local talent available in wireless communication technologies and medical technologies and the economic opportunities mHealth creates. mHealth connects wireless technologies with healthcare systems to make healthcare prevention-focused rather than cure-focused as it is today. One practical application is the data, heart-rate and calories burned from your fitness bracelet could go directly to your doctor and you would be warned by the doctor when a change in your patterns is noticed. Additionally, Silicon Valley will have a tough time excelling in this space because of the complexities of the US healthcare system.

In an effort to replicate with variation the success of Silicon Valley, you must determine what your region excels at and create competition within the domain you excel at. Good luck!

This article was originally published on Forbes.com on January 18th, 2015.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Creativity and Pragmatism

Boundaries make creativity pragmatic. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

System And You

Either you are working the system or the system is working you. 

Dance

Dance might give you a glimpse into an unconditioned mind. 

Fire

Fire is not red.

Life and Thermodynamics

There is no life without expansion and contraction. 

Patterns

Left free to do anything, people tend to follow known patterns.

Instructions

Without context, people take things literally. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Confusion

This is the age of confusion. How many things in your life do you have clarity on? 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Beauty

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder is the media. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Innocence

Loss of innocence is happening faster. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fantasies

Let fantasies be fantasies. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Truths vs Lies

All lies have truths in them. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trust

Is trust an innate human need? Can you go through life without ever trusting anyone? 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Net Neutrality - One of the Most Important Debates of Our Time and Why It’s Critical You Care

The Internet has dramatically changed how I and the three billion people, who have access to the Internet, live our lives. It has created new jobs, provided unprecedented access to information, made people more productive, facilitated global trade and political expression, and reduced inequality all over the world. It is tough to imagine life without the Internet today. When I go to online dating sites where I have to answer what are the top five things I cannot live without, usually the iPhone (access to the Internet everywhere) is on the top of my list.

Telecommunication companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have done a great job building the infrastructure that enables us to access the Internet. There is a fundamental rule about the Internet called Net Neutrality that treats all traffic as equal, i.e., a telecommunication company cannot give preferential treatment to traffic. For example, Forbes and Fortune are treated equally as users.




Now, some of these telecommunications companies (telcos) are lobbying to be able to create a tiered system for the Internet – a virtual fast lane and slow lane. If things go according to the telcos’ plans, a company like Fortune can pay to Verizon, to have its traffic on the fast lane resulting in a better user-experience. Then, Forbes will have no choice but to pay up to Verizon. So, in this imagined world, the telecommunication companies make more money and the costs for content providers like Forbes will go up. How will the content companies recoup these costs? They will charge their customers more. You and I will pay more for everything on the Internet. What if you are a startup that wants to compete with Forbes and Fortune? How will you compete? You will have to pay up to Comcast as well. The costs of starting a new business will go up. And, that means less competition for existing players and less innovation. Do you see why you should care about Net Neutrality? 

I can see why telecommunication companies want to maximize their profits and returns to shareholders. All companies do that so they are not doing anything unusual. The crux of the debate is what's good for corporations vs. what's good for citizens of this nation and the world. 



I recently sat down with the Honorable Terry Kramer, former US Ambassador and telecommunication executive, to get his views on Net Neutrality. I have known Terry for five years and we served on the World Affairs Council board together. Following are the edited excerpts from a telephone interview: 


Chander: What is Net Neutrality? 

Terry: In essence, Net Neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. Carriers of Internet traffic (telecommunication companies) should not be  able to decide if some traffic is better than other traffic or charge for the delivery of data traffic globally. This was a position we advocated globally while I was leading the U.S. delegation to the ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications. 


Chander: Is there a difference between how Net Neutrality is applied to wireline networks vs. wireless networks? 

Terry: The basic idea is the same; that is, all traffic should be treated equally. However, wireless networks are more dynamic in nature. The coverage and speeds you get depend on your physical location and how many other people are using the network. Wireless networks are much more limited in capacity since they use specific airwaves to carry the traffic and these airwaves are in short supply. 

In the US, wireless telecommunication operators like AT&T and Verizon now have metered plans, that is, you can only use a certain amount of data with your monthly subscription. You pay more to use more. This is done to overcome the capacity issue. On the other hand, the wireline operators, like Comcast, charge different rates based on the speed you get for the Internet connection. In addition, the extra cost of delivering Internet traffic on a wireline network is not the same as it is for a wireless network. 

The US system is not broken and we have to take steps to protect it!

Chander: Well, The US is number 33 in the latest Ookla speed rankings for wireless broadband download and number 28 in wireline broadband download. Small countries like Estonia are ahead of us. I think we can do better. Moving on, in a world without Net Neutrality, how will the next Google or Facebook get started? 

Terry: Without Net Neutrality, small companies and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) could be harmed the most. And that is not the spirit of our country's political and economic beliefs. Without Net Neutrality, content companies could be forced to pay by the amount of traffic they generate. Small players and NGOs do not have the ability to pay these costs. A result? We may see a reduction in Internet traffic. This would hurt both telcos and Internet companies. While it's understandable the telcos are seeking to protect the current and future investments they need to make, I believe everyone wants to avoid the "slippery slope" of introducing more and more fees for content players to deliver their traffic and in essence risk the future vitality of these businesses-many of whom are small and growing today.

For startups, the lack of Net Neutrality could increase the costs of raising capital since the predictability of startup costs decreases. Hence, we might see less venture capital going to Internet startups. 

Enabling startups and small businesses is a competitive advantage of the United States. We don't want to risk losing that.

Chander: Recently, President Obama weighed in on Net Neutrality. What exactly did the President tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? 

Terry: The FCC does not take "orders" from the President as an independent regulatory agency. Given the importance of this issue to the National interest, the President presented his view to the FCC. However, the FCC is still deciding on its approach to this issue. .

Currently, broadband is classified as an information service and as a result, the FCC has limited authority over what it can tell the telecommunication companies to do. Verizon took the FCC to court on this matter and the FCC lost. The FCC is an independent agency and its job is to regulate and protect the interest of Americans. In order for the FCC to have authority over the Internet, the Internet must be reclassified as Title II of the Telecom Act of 1934. Wireline telephone service is governed under this jurisdiction. Until this reclassification, there will continue to be court cases and no one is going to win. 

Chander: China’s ecommerce is bigger than ours. What you do think China's views are on Net Neutrality?

Terry: During our ITU negotiations, China seemed more interested in the "political side" of the Internet than the commercial side. The Chinese government was more focused on the ability monitor traffic flows--in essence what many would be concerned represents censorship. . They seemed more focused on traffic monitoring than they did the economics of charging for delivery of traffic.

Chander: Why don't we make broadband a utility like the electricity? 

Terry: It will inhibit investment. I am pro Net Neutrality but I do realize that regulation can be overdone. If broadband is regulated like a utility, it could discourage network investment, competition and innovation amongst the telecommunications companies. . It wouldn't be good for consumers in the long run. What we need is a set of rules of engagement from the FCC that fosters competition and brings innovation and choice to consumers. 

Chander: You have worked for the US State Department, for a telecommunication company [Vodafone], for startups, and you live in the San Francisco Bay Area where much of the innovation happens as it relates to the Internet. Hence, you have a very unique perspective on the Net Neutrality issue. The telecommunication companies and the Internet startups in the Bay Area are on the opposite ends of the debate. How did you pick the pro Net Neutrality side of the debate? 

Terry: You cannot look at Net Neutrality in a polarized way. Overall, everyone has benefited from Net Neutrality. The Internet has been the single biggest driver of job growth in the US. The increased Internet traffic flows have helped the telecommunications companies. The Internet is reducing income inequality, increasing innovation and capital investments. Also, it is making life easier for consumers. It is also giving consumers more choice and making employees more productive. Why would you want to mess up such a great thing [Net Neutrality] for our country? 


This article was originally published on Forbes.com on December 16th, 2014. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pragmatism

People being practical has never moved the world forward.