René Seifert

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

Archive for April, 2007

INSEAD-Session: Building Business in India

Great stuff what the business school INSEAD is doing with its MBA-students. There is not just a 5 days course on “Building Business in India”, but it includes a trip to Bangalore as well as Bombay to see, hear and especially feel the athmosphere. What is more, get it touch with companies and entrepreneurs on the ground.

So I felt enourmously privileged to follow an invitation of Aparna Dogra and Prof. Mike Lawless to talk about my experiences on setting up a business in this quite particular country. On the left of the picture Parik Laxminarayan, an INSEAD-alumnus himself who together with his German batchmate set up the high-end travel service Enchanting India.

INSEAD Parik & René

This group of 30 people around the world was absolutely fantastic. Very engaged and thirsty for understanding context, best practises and really asking smart and challenging questions. One of them was if foreigners in certain industries possess a natural advantage over Indians. Great question and I believe it’s worth putting some additional thought into it.


From my overall experience, Indians know their country, their culture and their markets best. So in that respect, Indians have an edge. On the other hand, if a company like Walmart which has been waiting for regulatory change over many years for entering the Indian market would finally be able to do so, I believe that their core competency would come with an advantage: an established network of low-cost supplier-relationships around the globe as well as introduced processes/best-practices. For the latter, however, as the particular example of Walmart’s failure in Germany (!) shows, there is never enough to be considered for local adoption. Tying up with a local partner or hiring a top-notch managing director in India very soon might be a wise approach.

On a slightly different level, as a -frankly- “white” foreigner you do have a couple of advantages. If it sounds like “positive discrimination”, I would not entirely refute the notion. As a boss from the west, you might earn that little bit of advanced respect that can make the difference. Although at the end of the day, if you don’t fit into your shoes, then the altitude to fall from might become painfully high.

Three of the folks in the group are even seriously considering setting something up in India themselves. My biggest encouragement! As a participant in a 1:1 conversation after the round put it: “There seems to be endless opportunity here, but where to start to find the right thing?!” Correct, that by itself is a massive challenge.

As Ram Shriram, first investor in Google, once put it: “You are long in opportunity, but short in time.”

The Perfect Sunday in Bangalore

Today was a good Sunday, the perfect mix between productivity and chillin’. In the morning I blogged for eLAB where I put some thought into the interrelationships between Web 2.0 as B2C-platforms, Web 2.0-principles used by variuos industry players and finally the importance of Web 2.0 within the organization as well as the re-alignment of the same as Enterprise 2.0. The posting is here (German language).

In the afternoon, a good friend Ingo Hofmaier organized a yumma Barbeque for a small group of us. Besides the meat on the grill and the beer in the throat, we had pretty good discussions like the comparison between normative morals in Christianity and Hinduism. My thoughts on the possibility of an absolute truth are here below the picture.

And right now, I finishes preparing a guest appearance tomorrow in Bangalore in front of 30 MBA-students from the business school INSEAD. I will speak about entrepreneurship in India: What is different compared to the west, what has changed in the last 3.5 years of my stay and what have I learnt. Really looking forward to that challenging round …

India: Richard Gere, the judge and the mob

The story made waves arcross the globe, right so. And ones again exposed India to the ridicule of the world: Richard Gere kissing Indian actress Shilpa Shetty on the cheek, the jugde issuing an arrest warrant and the mob going bezerk. Here’s the story on Time Online along with my comment.

Does Intelligence drive Business Success?

There are many ways to express that business is about action and not about contemplation. Intelligence by itself can help, when it can prove to be some turbo-fuel to get the engine going. The best evidence comes from changing the perspective: I often wondered and admired people who were by no means kissed by the muse or intellectually attuned, yet both extremely successful in business and ethically immaculate. And the same time, I have met people who in spite of their supreme intelligence were not able to capture their entire potential. At the end, when looking back the road travelled of a succesful venture or project, it always has been a series of actions of not so much doing things right, but rather doing the right things.

In that respect, to avoid “paralysis through analysis, Prof. Zott from the business school Insead, recently during a lecture in Bombay dug out an inspiring poem from William Murray, The Scottisch Himalayan Expedition 1951 – latterally quoting JW v. Goethe


Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves, too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor
all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, BEGIN IT.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. BEGIN IT NOW.

Web 2.0 Expo Launchpad

Reflecting still on last week’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, two companies on the launchpad format come to my mind which I believe do really make a difference with something which is both useful and can be defended as a business model:

1. Inpowr is a platform that, based on scientific methodology, helps propelling the well-being of a user. At the same time, the service allows for connecting, sharing and empowerment from other like-minded members.

2. Swivel has pulled out all sorts of data from statistic databases, those that tend to be forgotten as they are as dry as the dust, and has managed to correlate exciting data for new compelling insights. Along with it goes as compelling graphic interface-layer.

With the people-search Spock (closed beta), I am not yet so sure. The problem of inambiguous identification of e.g. “John Miller” is admittedly hard to solve, but if the concept as presented is really suited to do so, has to be seen.

Weekend in Switzerland

Thanks, Marco, for your funny comment:Ja, ja, das Haar sitzt noch so halbwegs :-) But the experience since Christmas with travelling has been intense: Croatia (2x), Switzerland (2x), Czech Republic, Germany (4x), India (2x), Japan and the U.S.A. I kind of wanted to check out my limits where in spite of the excitement of places and people the enthusiasm starts to fade. It feels thatI got there and I am super-happy that from Friday I will be 2.5 weeks in a row in “Mother India” … :-)

Nevertheless, after the dense programme of San Francisco, this weekend in Switzerland was extremely relaxing. Yesterday, I went to a little mountain tour to Seealpsee, close to Appenzell and today I continued the trip to Luzern.

Luzern 19

Here, my very good school friends from “Dante-Gymnasium” who were a couple there, broke up for almost 10 years, got together again and married, too, and have a lovely little daughter. What do we learn from that? God’s paths are unexpected and exciting :-)

Last Day Web 2.0 Expo

Wirelesse connection works well, sitting with my notebook in the keynote hall at 8.30 am in the morning and waiting for the kick-off of the event. Overall, a very worthwhile trip irrespective of San Francisco always being a great experience.

The best of the sick was a presentation abou viral narketing yesterday where one of the conclusions about vulnerability was the following:

San Francisco 135

Yesterday’s keynote with Google CEO was a hit, this guy is amazing.

San Francisco 119

There are two people I have heard speaking and felt they were from their intelligence of a higher planet. Eric Schmidt is the one, Joseph Ratzinger the other. Otherwise, in the many breakout sessions which run in parallel, the quality tends to decay dramatically. As a rule of thumb: one speaker good, panel bad. One speaker has to at least prepare some topc and convey a thought, whereas a panel tends to slide off into contentless, masturbative chatter.

Web 2.0 Expo: The Germans are coming

“You are not alone”, goes a song which reminds me of yesterday’s 1st conference day. Pretty intense and very worthwhile the two sessions I attended on Building Social Networks and Fundamentals of Web 2.0. It is a good feeling to know that one is into these concepts, but at the same time to get humble in the light of the experts who are on the forefront of the movement.

Pouring myself some coffee during a break, Oliver Beste, President of EO Germany walked up to me and we fell enthuiastically into each other arms after two weeks when we hae met last time in Tokyo ;-) And a few minutes later Lars Hinrichs showed up, too. So all the Germans in da house!

San Francisco 30

Funny story by the side: Lars asked me to join him for a XING-networking event “Monday Meeting” which XING-members had set up, got to know that Lars was in town and asked him to come by. “It’s just two blocks away”, Lars said. So us two marched across downtown, found the place pretty well, climed up third floor, entered the office of the alleged venue, we received amazed stares from the people who told us that the “Monday Meeting” would take place on Monday and today was Sunday. What do we learn from that incident about Lars? Taking a company public is easy, the comprehension of weekdays comes with a few complexities ;-)

Good Morning, San Francisco: Web 2.0 Expo

Sleeping till 6 am in San Fransisco given a time shift of -9 hours to Europe is a miracle. So I feel really fit for the day which starts with a pretty nice view from my room on downtown.

San Francisco

Coming here is because of the Web 2.0 Expo which seems like the “how to”-conference on Web 2.0 with a much more hands-on approach than the summit-like Web 2.0 which I had attended in November, too. So besides 3-hour workshops today and dissecting the fundamentals of Web 2.0, there topics revolve around technical frameworks, their commoditization, viral marketing, SEO/SEM, funding and, most importantly, “where’s the money”.

Tim O’Reilly, co-organizer of the event, gives a strong account on what Web 2.0 is about in a Wired-interview. He says that it is not superficially about blogs, social networks or wikis. But the play is targeted much more about “who controls the data” and hence who controls a major piece of the platform. Although, initially, it looks entirely different and all open, the same underlying mechnisms seem to apply like with Microsoft’s operating system to incumbent monolitics like eBay or Google.

Hence, I am really keen, where the discussion had moved in the last months which for the internet easily compare to with the magnitude of years.

Zero Rupee notes against corruption in India

A new initiative should help clamping down on corruption in India, as the Times reports. The idea is to hand over a “Zero Rupee” note to officials who ask for a “fee” or a “favour” whereas the back of the note carries the mission statement ” I promise to neither accept nor give bribe”.

Whatever helps to ease the situation should be done. After living in India for 3 years, I can confirm that the situation is as bad as the article describes …

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