René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for June, 2006

Bangalore in Football-Mania for FIFA 2006 – continued

As announced two days back, I went to meet my old friend Bharat with whose company Thinkahead we used to work together after I relocated to India. Actually, this picture which I just pulled out here, is 2.5 years old when we went to one of our regular evenings.

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Today then a sort of revival. We wanted to head to Spinn, but the TV-set was broken. So we went to Pubworld closeby to watch Italy – Czech Republic (2:0). Admittedly, Italy in all three matches played very strong and effective so that I would definitely include them into the round of title-aspirants for that Word Championships. And here Bharat and me again today.

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After that, we went to Spinn, though, for a little after-party withe a few expats.

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And how should I describe the following: I guess I was at the right place, at the right time – with the right shirt. As you can see, I put on my Croatian fottball dress with the effect that a girl started talking to me asking if I was from Croatia like her. And from there we talked just in Croatian. She said rightly: “There are only 4.5 mn Croatians in this city which has alone almost double the size and two Croatians meet here in South India.” The small world phenomenon found its climax when we figured out that she used to live in Rovinj, where I have my Croatian residency and about which I blogged already here. Incredible!

Now I am back home watching with excitement Croatis vs. Australia. They just scored the 1:0, I can’t believe it!!! The first in this tournament, finally, and the necessary prerequisite to bring them one round further … Log off, have to continue watching.

Seraja – Web 2.0 Start-Up exemplified

This entry is about events, in the broadest sense and how they are linked together. Arun Katiyar, CEO of SEraja would be much better able to explain that broadest sense. So let me give a kick-off on it with my “narrow sense”. Well, yesterday, an exciting event for me was to meet Arun in his office in Bangalore at Miller’s Road for an extraordinary challenging exchange of thoughts.

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But let me start with a few preceding events, which were all related to finally meeting Arun. How I got to know about SEraja for the first time happened through an event, namely reading the Esther Dyson report which featured the young company prominently. I put it on my list of companies to meet. Then, as an additional coincidence of events, during a due diligence about development-capacities for consumer-centric internet platforms in India, I ran into Bangalore-based Aztecsoft, who were at that time already engaged by SEraja. They were professionally secretive, just making hints on the work they were doing, not compromising the SEraja’s stealth mode, but eventually told me after the event of the platform-launch who they were working for.

In order to get more insight about Arun and the company, the logical event was to look at the corporate website, and – what else – google both of them. I learnt that Arun also used to be a journalist who is still writing his blog on a regular basis. Also, the event of searching revealed that the prominent Indian podcaster Kamla Bhatt had just interviewed Arun for her show a few days before. Needless to mention in this connected and intertwined world that Kamla and I had been in contact before and she had already commented on my blog during the riots following Rajkumar’s death – also an event by the way, a very significant one for the recent history of Bangalore.

My subsequent event consisted of downloading the 18 minutes MP3-podcast to my iPod and listening to it during my flight from Bangalore to Mumbai. This gave me a perfect preparation to meet Arun as the finally intended event of the entire exercise. Events, events, events, wherever you look. In their definition far broader than the most likely understanding for all of us.

Talking to Arun, he told me that the idea for SEraja was conceived by Prof. Ramesh Jain, who during his courses at the University in California, had identified together with his students from a rather abstract level 4,000 parameters which determine an event. Hence, as I tried to highlight rather like a layman in the previous paragraphs that everything can be considered an “event” which by definition is determined as something which happens in the time continuum. And this is everything. The risk of everything is, though, that it can turn oddly in to nothing. Arun’s challenging task now is to bring the “rubber on the road”, i.e. transform this abstract concept into a tangible service which will be used by real people because they perceive that it makes sense to them, that it creates value for them and helps them in their lives.

We went on speaking about selective realities, the concept of truth and constructivism, in the nutshell the ability for people who use the platform to formulate their own opinion on an event. Let me quote from a company’s self description the scope:

“A birthday, a graduation, a conference; festivals, games, promotions; a visit to a museum, a day spent with Mom, the launch of a new product; an unfortunate earthquake, even a tsunami, an unimaginable terrorist attack.”

The ultimate idea of SEraja consists in not just having these and other events as separate data items side by side, but have people connect them, refer to them from their very subjective point of view and drive the transition from information to knowledge. Or let’s push it to the edge: to reality.

In one of my favorite role-plays during an innovation-process, a model can help creating wonders by simply “disabling” all existing economic constrains and ask the question “what would Croesus do?” In that case, Croesus would possess unlimited computation power and devices which both trace trace and record every action, every connection, every relation, everywhere and anytime. What a hammer! But on top, now to get deliberately in the space of science fiction, in such a way that it would allow you to put yourself in anybody else’s minds in that past moment in time who had witnessed the event and seen it through their very eyes. Outrageous. Well, there’s a movie exactly about that: Enter “The Matrix”.

Ok, so let’s start our controlled approach down to earth again. As technology today, is (thank god) a far cry from enabling that, the obvious necessity of a service like SEraja is active participation of its members. Who log-in, post, blog, author into the wiki, upload soundfiles, movies etc. and at the same time build these relations between events by categorizing and tagging them in a purposeful way. Or how the company would explain itself:

What we are saying is this: while it is great to have public publishing systems, it has become necessary to have something like a blog of events that can be searched, sifted and used to produce independent insights into events. Think of it as a Wiki of events that people can add to and produce deeper meaning and insights for the next visitor. Or think of it as an EventWeb — where people publish events, associate images, audio, video, text, tags, maps and landmarks with the event, regardless of whether they have the data or it is available elsewhere on the Web, and leave it behind for others to enhance with their own thoughts, ideas and reports (if you are thinking `Wisdom of the Masses’, you are on the right track). Finally, imagine an engine that lets you accurately sift through millions of such events and populate your calendar with just the right ones!

User participation, not just once, but ongoing, relentlessly, again and again stands at the heart for the success of this platform. And Arun’s job is to develop the right triggers for it. No mission impossible, but certainly challenging. “The most ambitious” of all event tools, was understandably the assessment of Esther Dyson’s report.

The good thing for Arun: He is not alone, he has a team which is a vested mix between internal staff and outsourced resources, adding up altogether to around 35 full time employees. How much money do you need for that? The answer is interestingly: It depends. If you are located in the Silicon Valley or in London, you might need in such a pre-revenue scenario for sure something around US-$ 5 mn. Not so in India. Exactly US-$ 1mn was the seed capital which Rajesh Jain invested, adding “don’t come back to me, I won’t give you more.” So quite a long runway you can come along in India for a start-up which will be soon on tour with investors and VCs targeting US-$ 8 to 12 mn for its growth. Not unrealistic these days.

Make no mistake. This is an India company, but the product is deemed for a global market. In that regard, SEraja in exemplifies something new, and something really fantastic. Here my “7 Steps how to build a successful company in the Flat World”.

1. Start in India.
2. Do whatever can be developed and managed in and from India.
3. Do those things outside of India, where the country is not yet great (e.g. design of user interface).
4. Employ smart people and sufficient in numbers to gain momentum fast.
5. Get proof of concept in the Indian market.
6. Go shopping for growth capital internationally.
7. Scale globally.

Bottom line: You will need a fifth of the investment you would need “in the west”. It will tremendously decrease the risk on invested capital. Or turning the equation around: India will provide for the same amount five times the runway to take off with the company. And that’s the event every entrepreneur is working for and every investor betting at.

Enough about events for today. Yet, Arun and I have planned one together. As we discovered that we have a common background in radio, Arun as a station director at Radio City, and me as a presenter and head of marketing at Bayern 3, we agreed to meet when I’m back to India next time. Two men and beer. Nothing in this world can top the link of this event :-)

Bangalore in Football-Mania for FIFA 2006

FIFA Soccer World Championship 2006 and even India rocks! Although Indians besides cricket are not really renowned for super-performace at sports, passively they are watching the championship big time. Who those who know that I am German or for those who get to know these days, the thumb goes up with a big smile: “Germany plays very well. Klose and Ballack! Argentina or Germany are going to win!”

And since flat screens and big beamer screens have become so popular, in my perception TV watching in bars and restaurants has likewise become fashionable again. On the weekend in Mumbai, we went to “Out of the Blue” and “Olive” in Bandra where they had a huge screening crammed with enthusiastic Indians watching. This is where I had watch sadly how Croatia messed up again transforming a dominant game into a victory.

In Bangalore the pubs and bars are almost all into public viewing. So for the match Germany vs. Poland, which started 12.30 am Indian Time, we went to the bar in Orchid Hotel at Manipal Centre, very nicely decorated, and celebrated the well deserved 1:0 victory of our heroes.

Bangalore_FIFA2006_09

Then today, we gathered at Millers 46 for Germany’s last match in the initial round again Ecuador with a phenomenal football gala. See this picture, and I’d reckon these were 70 % Germans. In Bangalore! Have they started to outsource the whole country? :-)

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And again our heroes winning 3:0 at a huge margin:

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Here the whole set of pics
FIFA2006 in Bangalore. On Thursday, I have an appointment with my friend Bharat Gera from Thinkahead to watch Italy-Czech Republic in Spinn. Looking forward, before on Friday night I will leave for Germany to get the real feeling. After a few years of despair and agony, my home country has woken up again, almost resurrected. There is a unity, a feeling of healthy patriotism which I can’t remember. What is more, even immigrants from Turkey in their huge numbers are gathering behind the German flag. And after years of being appalled of Germany, especially under the sick show-regime of Chancellor Schröder, I dare to confess that I feel again some sort of pride for the country I had once sworn to defend as a soldier. Regardless how Germany scores in this tournament, our “Kaiser” (=Emperor) Franz Beckenbauer deserves a monument for this integrational achievement as high as the Mount Everest.

Time Magazine with India Cover

India everwhere. The subcontinent has been advocated for quite some time as the catalyst for the flat world phenomenon. But in my perception, things are accelerating so that the current development is not a steady-state but merely the beginning of a tremendous transformation which we are undergoing on a global scale. I just returned today from a phantastic weekend from Bombay, meeting Dina Mehta, an extremely smart and warm-hearted person, very well respected in the blogosphere. And got invited to the Mini-Retreat of the YEO Mumbai. The mood is absolutely upbeat here which is also the cover story of this week’s Time Magazine.

India, I’m coming

In the midst of all the heated controversy on globalization, I would like to inform all opponents that it’s a done thing. It has become a commodity. You can go home, like when you go home after your favorite soccer team has lost. You can’t do anything about it, but grieve. And if you are smart, you will know that according to Germany’s championship trainer from 1954 Sepp Heberger, “after the game is before the game”. This means that you have a second chance, maybe you and your team will do a better job- provided you have become smarter.

On a more serious note, India is taking off massively. Sure, I could count the beans and quote various studies around. But it’s rather from my own anectodal interaction with companies who approach me and know that they are missing out on something tremendously important if they just ignore what India has to offer. And the most interesting thing, just to provide even more evidence to “globalization is a done thing”, the interest goes far beyond of just exploiting the obvious labour cost differential.

There are various models where these companies are looking for help:

1. Still: Pure offshore outsourcing for IT & BPO which is growing at 30 % per year.

2. Then: Investing in Indian opportunities from a purely financial standpoint, particularly with a focus on the booming Indian domestic market

3. New: Bridgehead model which incurs a mix between extended assembly bench and strategic investment – from the Indian partner. The e.g. German manufacturing company would partner with an Indian supplier who would shift the vertical range of manufacture to India and at the same time take a stake in the German “client” or the “client” takes a stake in the “supplier”. Such a model seems to be appealing as it works completely industry-agnostic. The result is a cross-border entitity where asking the question “is this actually a German or Indian company” is pointless. But this is exactly the way how nowadays companies are being either restructured or even planned from the greenfield.

So, dear India, tomorrow again: I’m coming. I’m happy.

What I have been doing in Germany? Well, just to curb a bit the envy factor ;-), I went to the “Eröffnungsspiel” (opening match) of the soccer world championship 2006 which was indeed an unforgettable “once in a lifetime experience”: My home country, my home city, and my German team playing and gloriously winning 4:2. Here is the entire set on Flickr, and here three selected pictures.

Comrade Robert Wuttke and me:
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The great show of the opening ceremony:
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Michael and Bettina Munz (and the little Croatian guy in the background ;-)

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And then, olé, olé, olé, last week I revalidated my pilot license so that I am fully back on the flying scence. Hence, I went on Saturday for a flight into the Alpes with my friend Christian Reichert whom I had met 1.5 years back in Bangalore.
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Here again the whole set, and here two selected pictures. Here Garmisch Partenkirchen from 9.000 feet MSL.

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Here the absolutely beautiful Walchensee:
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Whoever wants to fly with me, let me know. To say it the Indian way: “No problem, ya, ya, ya, we can arrange.” :-)

Ready for Eröffnungsspiel

Everything set. To the envy of many I was somehow able to get a ticket for todays “Eröffnungsspiel” which is the opening match for the Soccer World Championship 2006 Germany vs. Costa Rica in Munich. The party is on. Many people from even more countries in the streets have put on their national fan dresses and the temperature is cooking up. Likewise me. In order to – as usually – display abnormal deviant behaviour, I selected the brave team of my motherland Croatia. At least I have two teams I can cheer for. And Kathrin, to pay tribute to her undisputed decency, was initially relunctant before she agreed to pose with me for in the typical fan gesture:

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In the background, the honourable comrade Paul has installed a screen for TV-watching tonight. The numbers on top of the screen reflect the years when the brave heroes of the German national team have won the world championship: ’54, ’74, ’90 and of course ’06. Olé, olé, olé. René :-)