I have been trying to move towards more healthy & active lifestyle recently. As a part of that, I have started running (on the treadmill for now). I like running but not in isolation. Hence, music plays a big part in my continued motivation. Therefore, I did some research and made two running Mixes that I am very happy with. I hope you guys like it too and I would love some more recommendations via comments.
Would have loved to publish the iMix but WordPress does not support raw HTML in posts.
Recently, I wrote a post on the opportunities & the challenges that lay ahead of anyone who wanted to launch a startup in Nepal. This was in response to the original post by Akshay Sthapit, the CTO of Socialect. Sthapit has a great vantage point on the topic as Socialect has moved its operation to Kathmandu. I had an enlightening discussion with Sthapit on Soicalect & few other memnbers joined in with their opinion on the issue. After the discussions there, I think I have a better understanding on how to avoid the challenges that I listed on the original post.
Here are the ways someone who wants to launch a startup and take advantage of the cheaper operational & living cost in Nepal (Most of these steps come from Sthapit’s response # 19 on the discussion):
- Register the company in the US: The advantage to this is that you avoid dealing with the government of Nepal. A company registered in the US is also helpful at the later stage if you decide to get VC funding as VCs are particular about where the company is registered.
- Ensure that you have a backup option to return to the US: Given the political climate and inherent security risks because of it, it is crucial to have a path back to the US. This usually means that you need to either be a permanent resident of the US or have a valid business visa that allows you to come back to the US.
- Open a development office in Nepal: This is the key step in taking advantage of the lower operational & living costs. Once the entire development team, which is majority of people for most startup, is in Kathmandu, they can stretch the limited funds much longer as cost of living, marketing & hiring people are much less in Kathmandu.
- Decentralize Workflow: A decentralized workflow allows the employees to work from home when they cannot make it to the office. In a place like Kathmandu where riots, curfews and random closing of the city is rampant due to the unstable political climate, it is crucial to give the employees the ability to work from home when it is not safe for them to come to the office.
- Have redundant power/network supply: Make sure there are backup sources of power ready since load-shedding/power cuts are a regular phenomenon. It also pays to have redundant access to the internet in case one of the provider goes down, you can jump on the secondary provider without risking loss of productivity.
- Run on the cloud: With cloud computing becoming a household term, it is very easy and affordable to deploy your application over the cloud.
- Provide proper incentives to employees: While this applies to every startup looking for retention of its employees, it is especially necessary in case of Nepal because most of the people are fed up by the direction the country is headed. With proper incentives and freedom for employees to exercise their creativity, it will be that much easier to find and retain talent in Kathmandu.
I understand that these steps may not apply to everyone as a permanent residency in the US or the business visa are something that are not easily acquired. However, this is encouraging to the nepalese population as well as the members of tech community in general who are considering Nepal as an option for their startups.
I would like to thank everyone who joined the discussion, especially Akshay Sthapit. I would also love to get feedback from you on what you have to add to this based on your own personal experiences. I will be on the look out for some great comments!
In an attempt to get a bigger audience, I started hosting the same blog on WordPress & Blogger. However, despite the Import/Export functionality that both those site provide, I was not able to easily move my post from one to the other. That was until Alok Thapa (cdadar) suggested that I look into Posterous (His suggestion is in the replies section but the Post and the parent discussion that it belongs to is very interesting as well). So here I am trying the service out. Thanks Alok for the suggestion!
Update: Works like a charm! This is awesome!
Recently, I came across Socialect, a tech startup that has taken bootstrapping to the next level by moving its operations to Kathmandu, Nepal. You can think of Socialect as CitySearch where users enjoy the power to update the contents. And for that extra bit of coolness, everything is geotagged. Oh, and once you find what you want, you can then send the info to your mobile phone. It’s this kind of well thought out design and features that has already got some people talking.
Actually, I need to step back. I would not have been introduced to Socialect if it was not for Freddie Benjamin who came across the site and loved it so much that he could not stop tweeting about it. When I checked out the site, I too was impressed with the features. Sure the site lacks in data but that is the case with any startup, especially one like socialect that depends on the userbase to generate content.
However, that was not what kept my attention on the site. What I found interesting was the post by Akshay Sthapit, the CTO for Socialect. In his post, he explains the reasons why he chose Kathmandu as the operating hub. He further elaborates why he thinks Kathmandu has what it takes to be a great place for tech startups. His reasoning is that if you are anywhere in the United States, the living expenses are going to be much higher than that in Nepal. So Kathmandu, as a major city in Nepal with all the resources that one may need, can be a great place to make the limited capital a founder of a startup has and make it stretch much further.
Of course, this option is much more suitable for someone who is familiar with that part of the world so this solution may not work for everyone. However, his post was geared for other Nepalese programmers and entrepreneurs like himself who would like to enjoy the lifestyle one enjoys in Nepal while still having access to opportunities that the world has to offer.
This was very interesting for me as I often think about how I can pave a path back to Nepal in the future. However, unlike Sthapit, I get easily discouraged by the adversities that one has to reconcile in Nepal in addition to the ones startups everywhere face. I discuss these adversities below.
- 12 Hour Power Cuts: While Nepal is second only to Brazil in its potential for generating Hydro Electric Power, lack of proper infrastructure, leadership, and plethora of other factors mean that there is only enough electricity to power the capital for half a day everyday.
- Political Instability: All you have to do is search #nepalcrisis on Twitter and you will see the live outcry from Nepalese all over the world describing their frustration over how the country can never dig itself out of the political stalemate. Political turmoil has been an issue for Nepal since People’s movement for Democracy back in 1990 and the situation continues to worsen as the country struggles to find proper leadership focuses on helping the nation and its citizens rather than constantly fight among each other for power (not to mention their cut of corruption money).
- Lack of Talent Pool: With majority of the nation’s youth already in or looking to move to the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and other western nations for better opportunities, finding (and retaining) talented individuals has been a problem for companies in Nepal. I interned at Mercantile Communications in 2004 and the Manager of the e-Commerce department told me then that the company stopped hiring engineers and started hiring people who completed some programming course for most of their basic programming needs as most of the engineers they hired would leave the company within 6 months for academic or professional opportunities outside Nepal. Founders of other established businesses that I have had the opportunity to interact with have also shared similar frustrations.
- Extortion Racket: It is not unusual for people representing different groups, especially groups related to the Maoists but not limited to them, to come to your home or the place of your business and demand that you “donate” to their organization. There is absolutely nothing that one can do in such a situation but to meet their demands unless the person is willing to face the consequences. There are also some cases where these groups will force you to hire/retain an employee whose only qualification is his connections with the group.
- Inefficient/Slow Government Agencies: People who think that the government agencies in the United States respond slowly are in for a treat if they ever have to deal with government officials from Nepal. While the office hours are from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, work does not begin until 11:00 AM (sometimes even later) and very rarely continues after 3:00 PM. It is not unusual that you have to provide “additional incentive” to the government official looking at your file/request. Furthermore, it is not at all surprising that you are sent on a wild goose chase to get one simple signature. One has to be really patient, thick skinned and prepared to succumb to any demand to be able to get any stuff done with the government agencies.
Sthapit is aware of these issues and talks about them in his post. However, the only issue that he addresses is that of the power cuts (He notes that the cost of a backup generator or battery to power your developer machine is still much lower than the living costs in the US). As per the server that hosts your awesome application, he mentions plethora of cloud computing services to hint that startups have the option to use these cloud using services from one of the many companies that are based around the world where persistent power supply is not a luxury.
Freddie, in his post, does a good job in shedding some light on the talent pool aspect. He suggests that there is talent in Nepal but what is lacking are incentives for most people to truly express themselves and bring out their full potential. He thinks, and I agree, that given proper incentives and stake in the success of the company, there still is a good talent pool available in Nepal. The only hurdle is to make sure that they are given enough incentive so that they do not need to look for “better” options outside of Nepal.
The big issue here, that niether Sthapit nor Freddie address, is that the political turmoil, uncertainty and complete lack of security (financial as well as personal) within the country are a huge factor that make people want to leave. As Sthapit points out, getting oneself out of the herd mentality is crucial. This is not just true for the founders to see the hidden potential but also for the employees to understand what their future could hold for them if they ride out the storm.
So what do I think? I think that the point Sthapit makes about low living cost is an excellent one and something that I had not thought of until I read his post. It is clear that Kathmandu is a great place if you are thinking purely in terms of cutting costs. Don’t get me wrong. Neither me nor Sthapit are under the illusion that Kathmandu is replacing Silicon Valley. However, Sthapit points out that the city has all the makings of a good hub for LILOs. Power cuts are also not that big of a deal with proper backup power sources. In fact, Sthapit raises an interesting point about how power cuts makes him more aware of his consumption habits. Freddie’s two cents on giving employees proper incentives and the opportunity to express themselves by giving them an environment where they can get their creative juices flowing is a great solution to tap into the talent pool currently stuck in dead end jobs. Based on my conversation with Sthapit, I think there is very little need to work with the government agencies. Therefore, their slowness becomes irrelevant for the most part.
However, we are still left with two big problems: Political Instability & Extortion Racket. The very idea that anyone can come to me and make ridiculous demand and I have to comply, irrespective of how ridiculous the demands may be, is something that I personally cannot look past. There is no guarantee that the result of your hard work has to be shared with people who had nothing to do with your success. Add to that the uncertainty that violence can erupt any second and the nation could go back to civil war because some politician was not too happy about his needs not being met.
I certainly admire the optimism that Sthapit, Freddie and others who responded to the original post on Socialect demonstrate and I really hope that the situation gets better in Nepal, not just within the context of tech startups but as a whole for the country and its citizens. However, with the current state of the nation, it will take someone who is as daring as Sthapit to ignore all the obstacles that lay around him. I wish him and all the entrepreneurs who share his vision and optimism all the best. May their vision and leadership build the much needed foundation that will help Nepal survive the current storm.
UPDATE 1: I want to be clear in regards to my statement about this being more relevant to Nepalese entrepreneurs/programmers. I am not saying this option is limited to Nepalese. Sthapit, in a discussion after the first draft of this post, was quick to point out that there is a Canadian startup that is based in Kathmandu that is doing very well despite the poor global economic outlook because they were able to cut costs by moving operations to Nepal. My point with that was that it is much easier for someone who already is familiar of how everything works in Nepal as opposed to someone from a developed part of the world whose expectations might be a lot different than those of us. However, Sthapit was also able to inform me that it is not as difficult for someone unfamiliar to the region and cites the story of the CEO of the Canadian startup who came to Nepal only 9 months ago and have managed to do just fine with only few minor difficulties.
I was introduced to public radio when I was working at Cambridge around the summer of 2006. WBUR, the local NPR station was my companion everyday during my bus rides to and from work. I was a recent graduate new to the working world who thought it was high time I made an honest effort in being aware of what’s happening in the world that surrounded me. Since then, NPR has become a great source of information, entertainment and enhanced my overall awareness of the world around me.
Despite being a regular listener, I had not really thought of the reasons why I liked NPR so much until I heard a recent episode of a On Point with Tom Ashbrook, one of the many shows that I listen to on a regular basis. The guest on that show was NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller who talked about the popularity of NPR and the whole public radio experience. The show shed some light on NPR’s success which is especially impressive in the current times when newspapers are struggling to survive. Listeners called in to share their NPR experience and give ideas on how to make the listener experience even better.
It is fairly evident that NPR is popular, both based on the listener comments on the show’s website and elsewhere. Some love it because it brings them comprehensive coverage of news and other stories. Others like it because it brings a smile to their faces. Then there are a few who like its specific coverage of areas that they care most about. Rarely you will find some that are shallow and like NPR because they think its cool (I hope this is a small group of people).
The reason I love NPR is a combination of all of the above (except for “I like it coz it makes me look cool”). I love the in depth coverage of the latest news stories pertaining to anything from pressing world issues to local news. I rely on their analysis of the financial markets and economy because I have limited time and capacity to understand all the moving pieces on my own. They are there right when I am looking for some laughs on the weekends or when I want to look beyond the news and get to know the people that are affected by it and their stories. Then there are shows like On Point and Fresh Air that look at everything under the sun and create an amazing learning (and entertaining) experience for the listener. Most of all, I love NPR because they have managed to adapt to changing times when most other news sources and television networks have struggled to do so.
I have to admit that if it was not for the portability of NPR, I probably would not be able to listen to it as much as I do now (I listen to most of the show as podcasts). They understand that their listeners do not always have time to listen to the show when its aired on their local stations. So they have made majority of their shows available for users to listen whenever they can in the form of podcasts. They have also been able to adopt new media and interact with their listeners through Facebook & Twitter. I feel there is a lot companies can learn from NPR and its success on how to engage their audience and get valuable insight and feedback from them to enhance the customer experience.
But that is a conversation for some other time. In the meantime, I just want to share with everyone why I love NPR. If you are someone who listens to NPR and have stumbled across my blog, please feel free to share your reasons for loving/loathing NPR.
UPDATE: Just watched Ira Glass on Colbert Report and realized that PRI and NPR are competing companies. However, since my exposure to them is through NPR member stations and since these shows are part of NPR, this does not change anything that I mention above. I do want to give PRI the credit for bringing This American Life to its audience every weekend. I also would like to acknowledge that Marketplace is produced by American Public Media.
I am usually open to changes, sometimes even a little too eager to be an early adopter. I admire developers and companies that constantly revisit their design decisions and add features to increase usability of their product and enhance the user experience. Google, especially in case of GMail, has been the poster child of this style of development and Facebook has been an exemplary follower of this style. In few short years, Facebook has managed to not only generate a huge userbase but also has become a platform for businesses all over to reach out to their users and get valuable feedback.
While I have been critical, I have been in favor of most of the features that were added (I wish Facebook allowed me to link to a particular status like Twitter does so I can link instances here but you are going to have to take my word for it on this one). I have generally liked the layouts and have been tolerant of them mixing advertisements with highlights on the home page. However, they recently did something that has hit a nerve and I am not the only one.
Jo Lilore hits the nail on the head when he says “Facebook needs a User Experience intervention.” I understand that they are trying to attract businesses to use facebook as the platform of choice for their marketing and customer outreach campaigns, especially with Twitter’s popularity soaring among businesses. However, they are completely missing the point that businesses will not be there when all the users leave. For me, People you may know was a useful feature that helped me connect with old friends. It was not perfect by any means but the noise in the data was bearable. With the conversion into Suggestions, Facebook has made it almost impossible to find old friends among Mylie Cyrus, Jonas Brothers and any other sad excuse for a celebrity elevated to stardom by MTV, VH1, or any other channel with majority if viewrship going to teenagers.
It seems that Facebook is trying to capture any piece of the market that Twitter has won over and they are doing so at the user’s expense. Twitter is lightweight tool with an excellent API and while Facebook allows one to do much more than have live conversations, majority of businesses are interested in just these conversations (and conversations are where Twitter shines). While Facebook pages and application platform have been popular marketing platform for businesses, they are quickly realizing that they can engage with their audience in the same way with a lot less effort using Twitter.
The one thing that is going for Facebook is that it has a large user base and there are still quite a few people who do not “get” Twitter. However, if Facebook continues to annoy users by constantly “suggesting” what people/products/things they should be a fan, its userbase is going to plateau and the time that users spend on the site is going to go down.
UPDATE: There are a few things that Facebook could do where I think users would be ok with it marketing celebrities/products/services.It could give the user the option to hide the suggestions portion so that you no longer have to deal with it. However, this would be similar to TVs giving you the option to skip/hide commercials which we all know is not going to happen. The other option would be for Facebook to use a better algorithm where it uses information the user has provided to best guess who they might actually would be a fan of rather that just showing a slew of people loosely based on the fact that one of your facebook friends became a fan. I am sure they can do a better job than that. This is one way they can emulate Google.
I decided that it might be a good idea to aggregate as much of my online identity under one umbrella/handle as possible. So here is my brand new blog with all the information imported from my old blog. To be honest, the only thing that is new is the URL. Everything else looks the same. Thanks to great people at WordPress, the move was easy and seamless. Yay for changes!