René Seifert

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

Archive for March, 2008

Closing the Skiing Season in St. Moritz

Happy that I made it this season at all. To my own disgrace this was my only skiing occasion in this winter season, but at least it was a very good one. Almost as a kind of tradition, by now the 3rd year in a row a few EO members made it again to St. Moritz which undoubtably is one of the most beautiful skiing areas in the world. Both from what mother nature in terms of skiing possibilities has to offer and the culinary experiences around, like here us four Thomas, Anju , Peter and me … 

St. Moritz 27

… sitting for lunch at El Paradiso and enjoying the magnificient panorama behind the Swiss flag.

St. Moritz 39

Some more pictures of the events are here on Flickr. We had fun on the slope, fun at dinner and also inspiring conversations where Peter for example rightly said that the beauty of EO was that you can really be who you are and don't have to play a role which supposedly is more conformist to whatsoever restrained norms. I fully agree. 

So also this year it was a real worthwhile experience, hope that next year it will happen again. At the end another experience where I guess I grew out of doing it myself, yet watching it nevertheless was fun. Trying to cross a water pool at 2400 meters altitude at zero degrees Celsius, but not necessarily always succeeding … :-)

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Mega-T.I.I.: “10 cm Hitler”-Fireworks

Trust that this is a category leader in my collection of T.I.I. (=This is India). Check the pics out, they are no fake. It’s a product to purchase in a regular shop, especially for festivals like Diwali where whole India is being blown up in controlled micro-explosions. And yes, it’s called “Hitler”, and to not make a mistake who stands behind as the godfather of the name, here’s Hitler’s picture, too.

10cm-Hitler_front

The backside is equally enlightening. It names the company “Standard Fireworks (P) Limited” in Sivakasi, a town south-west of Madura in the state Tamil Nadu. According to Wikipedia, Sivakasi is famous for its fireworks-factories, more than 300 in number. Given that dense competitive landscape, there seem to be no strings attached to differentiate oneself “creatively” from the rest of the pack.

10cm-Hitler2

After more than four years in India, I no longer get really flabbergasted by such encounters. My interpretation of this name-choice is that it is certainly an allegory of Hitler’s war machine and its penetrating power to be transferred to the fireworks. Yet, there is a small relief looking at the seal on the backside again: The exact name of the product is in fact “10 cm Hitler” which might inadvertently point to true size of the prick – before he gets blown up.

You can call me “Mr. Eife”

Today I met Petra & Jürgen, two good friends who had lived in Bangalore till 2004 and we remembered a hilarious story which is truly a T.I.I. – clearly on the sympathetic side: I used to order pizzas in Bangalore from Domino Pizza which always got delivered tasty, crispy, hot and fresh. Somehow, the first time when I placed the order I spelled my last name several times

“S – E – I – F – E – R – T”

The person on the other side entered something into the IT-based customer- & order system, the pizza arrived, all well. The next time called for an order, I got greeted with the standard “Good evening, here is Domino Pizza, for taking your order may I request your phone number.” As for all these home delivery services the phone number is the unambiguous identifier (“primary key”) for the customer. I told him my number, he typed it into the system and asked back after what had prompted on his screen: “Are you Mr. Eife”? As a good German I would have had to correct him, ask him to change the name into the correct one, and if he doesn’t get it let him know that “verdammt noch mal, jetzt merken Sie es sich gefälligst!!” (too German to translate)

Yet, being in South India, knowing that it would just do nothing if I ask him to make that change, knowing that I would just get a virtual head-swing with “ya, ya, ya” and zero action to my request, and even worse create confusion and drastically increasing the risk to go to bed hungry that night, I succumbed to my destiny and replied to his question if I was “Mr. Eife” – “Yes, that’s right”. And frankly, I found so much of a likening of this name that whenever I called Domino Pizza I would say myself: “Good evening, my name is Eife and I would like to order a Pizza …”

3D-Rendering of Kidneys


3D-Rendering of Heart, originally uploaded by drurin.

I am just testing the direct upload function from my Flick-account to my blog. The picture, by the way, I took at the event at Teleradiology Solutions on Tuesday. It shows how the company is able to transform 2D-pictures from a CT into a 3D-model which can be turned around at will.

Inauguration by Kiran Shaw of “Teleradiology Solutions” (Bangalore)

Yesterday in Bangalore I felt honoured to attend a function of my friend and fellow EO -member Dr. Arjun Kalyanpur and his wife Dr. Sunita Maheshwari. Arjun is a radiologist, his wife Sunita a pediatric cardiologist. Five years ago, without having an M.B.A. or financial backing, this doctor-couple started a company out of their living room: Teleradiology Solutions. A medical service provider which delivers radiology-reports from Bangalore to the world. Or like Sunita explained: “A brown company in a white space.” Today the company boasts 160 employees and sits in the reputed technology-district of Whitefield in outer Bangalore. This is the building with the chaotic Indian reality to the left, and the highly performing Indian reality to the right. (All the pictures from the function are here in my Flickr-Set ).

Teleradiology Solutions in Whitefield (Bangalore)

Teleradiology Solutions’ value proposition is very straightforward: Enhance the capacity of radiologists to hospitals in the U.S., Singapore and India by a remote service, including a cost-advantage, where radiologists in India would receive digital scans via broadband. In their speciality “emergency cases”, these tele-doctors would submit their diagnosis back as fast as 30 minutes. The company is the only provider outside of Singapore which has been granted the necessary approval by the Singapore Health Ministry to do so and is currently making inroads to Europe as well.

The reason for yesterday’s function at 5 pm for High Tea was the next consequential step to enable the company’s further growth. Hence, a state-of-the-art training facility under the Sanskrit name of “Rad Gurunkel” has been inaugurated. The guest of honour to do so was Ms. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder and Chairman of Biocon Ltd . Ms Shaw, besides being the richest woman in India, is highly respected across the entire country and often quoted as a role-model for women to reach highest achievements in a predominantly male-dominated society. Ms. Shaw is here with the candle lighting the lamp, Arjun to the right in the black suit.

Lightning of the Lamp

The speeches of Ms. Shaw, Arjun and Sunita reflected pretty much the key-challenge for knowledge-driven companies like Biocon and Teleradiology Solutions: Scale. Getting the right people on board, bringing them to the required level of skills, and retaining them by growing these skills. Likewise, Infosys has recently invested US-$ 300 mn into an entire campus in Mysore. Being an entrepreneur myself, I felt amazed by the level of meticulous detail how Arjun’s company has artfully crafted processes which would be able to replicate quality of a radiology diagnosis 8,000 km such as if the doctor was right sitting beside his patient. There is for instance one FTE (full time employee) only taking care that the regulatory requirements from the U.S. are met and audited accordingly.

Constant training of medical, technical and administrative staff has according to Arjun in the past proved the most important factor in attaining that quality along with a very low defect-rate in this not very error-tolerant area. In order to be able to take the company to the next level, the new training facility will be able to scale and institutionalize the various training programmes. Here is Arjun on the right (still in the black suit, not in a white lab coat :-) and me to the left.

Rene Seifert & Dr. Arjun Kalyanpur at Teleradiology Solutions in Bangalore

I wish Arjun and Sunita and all the fantastic people I met in their company yesterday all the best for their future aspirations which are constantly bolstered by hard work, dedication and honesty. In that respect, I felt deeply moved by a quotation which Sunita brought forward from the great Mahatma Gandhi: “Learn as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.”

Smoothing Climate in the Indian IT-Industry

Yesterday it was raining like mad in Bangalore, with the usual effect that the temperature drops immediately and significantly. What happens then is that the sewers can't take all the water. The resulting effect is that the shit (or what has turned into a liquid from that feed material) is being flushed from the canalization-system onto the surface. Hence, my Sunday afternoon-walk through Bangalore received an unexpected layer of olfactory enrichment. Yet, on the pictures, one can't tell. 

Here a view on the Empire Hotel on the crossroad of Brigade/Museum-Road.

Empire Hotel in Bangalore

That's my coffee-break in Coffee Day on Richmond Road in my neighbourhood.

Coffe Day on Richmond Road in Bangalore

The entire picture set (19 photographs) is here on Flickr

Similarly, the IT-industry in India has been facing some smoothing and soothing as well lately – if not outright shit.  The drop of the dollar has created some major headache as it puts margins under tremendous pressure. Undoubtedly, in such a scenario, the vulnerability of the entire business model becomes obvious: As the major reasons for most companies in the west is clearly still cost saving, the ability of Indian companies to raise prices to compensate for the decline revenues (after exchanging them into the home-currency Rupee) is very limited. Economically, speaking prices in this sector are relatively elastic

I had an interesting conversation with a friend who is working in a HR-position at one of the successful mid-tier companies in Bangalore. Internally, cost are being cut. Where the HR-team used to fly to some other Indian town for recruiting and stayed in 5-star hotels, they are back to 3-star and occasionally even the Indian Railway System. Yet, on the labour market, interestingly, the unidirectional spiralling-up of wages has changed its momentum. Top performers, especially in some sought-after technologies and industry-verticals are still commanding high and higher salaries. 

However, that's the surprising news, some companies have fired staff, something which has been unheard of since the collapse of the "New Economy"-bubble in 2002. Again, having a closer look to what happens, it reveals a more differentiated picture. As companies can't really afford to forego growth by not getting talent on board (otherwise their competitors will snatch them away), they are still hiring. At the same time they are sacking the "bottom of the pyramid" which they felt they could carry around in fat times, but can't when the belt needs to be tightened. That, in turn, has led to a re-shuffling of the labour-market where the increase in supply has broadened hiring options at reasonable rates.

Sounds like an interesting case-study for aficionados of price-volume phenomenons with a pinch of game-theory in competitive environments … :-) 

Global Citizenship on the Rise

Driving yesterday evening though Bangalore, I wondered from  a journalistic angle what is really new, what is worth mentioning that hasn’t been covered yet. Globalization is there, it’s a done thing, in spite of critics claiming the opposite or worse some conspirational “there-will-be-a-backlash-at-some-point-in-time”-claims. Then, Bangalore City is growing like hell; driving through Cunningham Road, I almost didn’t recognize this street compared to when I was sitting in Audrey D’Souza’s office from the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce for the first time in 2003. The road, which had the typical functional look and worn down structures, nowadays boasts of shining shopping malls, one McDonald’s, a Reliance electronic store and some more. Amazing, the speed of transformation towards progress, whilst Germany as a developed country is facing backward steps with a political drift to the left. Well, true, but not too new.

When I arrived at my destination, the house of Moritz & Nadine for their farewell party, a couple who has met in Bangalore and who have become very dear friends of mine, I realized how big the expat community has emerged. How organized and at the same time scattered it is. And how luckily inevitable it is to become somehow socialized by the environment you get exposed to. Finally, what scale of magnitude the exchange into both directions has grown: This week, I got to know that on any given daily Lufthansa-flight between Frankfurt and Bangalore (LH 754) and back (LH 755) 20 seats would be occupied by staff from the software giant SAP. Indian engineers being trained in Walldorf (Germany), but in its own right German engineers being trained by the Indian practise in Bangalore. So another very good friend of mine Ingo who runs the Indian operation of Wienerberger and me, brought together some thoughts on our way back from the party what has happed over the last years.

With a pinch of nostalgia, in 2003 when I moved to Bangalore, there was one platform for Germans to meet: the first Friday evening per month in the Goethe-Institute, then still in Lavelle Road on the upper terrace-floor of Axel Schorlemmer’s German restaurant.  A tiny, little group of expats, at good days 15, at less fortunate days maybe 8, but where in fact everybody knew everybody. With Bangalore getting increasingly interesting for students for an internship, a “Bangalore Trainee Group” got started. A rather loose and fast changing mailing-list on Yahoo where stuff got posted on “where’s the next party” and “who wants to join the weekend trip to Hampi”. Needless to mention, also a good dating platform for bridging lonely evenings in the remote parallel world of South India.

The point that I want to make is the dynamics in group building with all the phenomenons that come along: group cohesion, a higher degree of organization, brand identity and the emergence of sub-groups. A good example is the Bangalore Expat Club (BEC) which was founded in 2005 by Arvind Chandra. And his story goes like this. Being an Indian (!), who had spent the last years in France, he was sent to an assignment to Bangalore. He didn’t know anybody, sat around alone in a pub and said to himself that this is an awkward situation. Hence, he founded BEC with one regular meeting once a week, same time, same place. In additional, what helped leverage the reach of his effort, his mother was in web-design and set up the BEC-website. Slowly, but steadily, this group started to build momentum, with a vast array of activities from scavenger hunt to cooking classes happening. Today, Arvind is back to France, yet the club is run with a highly active and institutionalized board who is taking their responsibility very seriously. What is more, the quantity and quality of members has grown exponentially, too, so that each member adds a lot of value by his or her network and serving as a catalyst for exciting events as well as access to companies, institutions and governmental bodies.

However, as nobody is forced to join the club, and the few hundred members of BEC by far don’t reach out to all the thousands of expats in Bangalore, sub-groups have started to emerge. You might go to one party, meet lots of Germans, go to another party and meet lots of Germans again, yet the people from the two groups might not know each other. Something which was unthinkable five years ago. Maybe for those, a social network like InterNations is taking of the concept of permanent “expatriotship”, or let’s call it “global citizenship”, to the next level. Capitalizing on the flexibility of an online platform with global reach combined with natural group-anchors in various physical destinations, it combines the best of the real and the virtual world. I am convinced, looking ahead, that this is a life-model that more and more people will embark on. It has never been as easy as today.