Random thoughts in non random IRC channel

Few (for very large values of “few”) days back, the topic of discussion on ilug-cal channel veered around to the usual “Starting up my own business”. So here are a few things I had noted down around 2 years back in no particular order.

  • Have a “Will never do” list handy. It will come in useful on those days when you are in two minds about whether to do a thing or not do it
  • Create a set of values that you expect to grow the company around. Remember this is not a mission statement. Just a set of value which will define the areas where the company plans to make a mark
  • Focus on a single area which the company could use to produce “customer delight” and stick to it
  • Recruit according to merit. A large number of startups suffer from having friends on board – that’s nice but merit based recruitment would go longer in providing the technology advantage
  • Figure out a yardstick of measurement that allows assessment of how well the company is doing
  • Don’t wait for the “one great idea” to open a company. Instead have the platform in place to take maximum advantage of the idea when you try out tinkering

The driving force behind successful startups is discipline. All of them traditionally begin their lives out of the garage (or similar) setup and then one day find that there are far too many new products/services, new clients and new employees and there’s no framework to either predict the future or even guarantee the present. The immediate reaction from the founders is simple – batten down the hatches and work overtime. Yet that’s not really a scaleable model. What also does not work is getting “managers from outside” to clean up the mess. A framework drawn up initially that anticipates crisis is one of the easiest way to pass through the growing years without the “slash-n-burn” reaction that is so prevalent. The discipline is also required to invest in the engine that ensures that the company keeps on churing revenue.

The other thing that prevents startups from maturing into companies is the ego driven nature of the business. Most startups are result of tinkering by their founders with either a clutch of ideas or “one great idea”. The inevitable nature of this kind of business is that the personalities of the founders tend to drive the business focus and provide the wrapper for the business goals. The immediate shortcoming of such a concept is the lack of sharing ideas with others or even a healthy debate. The latter is one of the best methods of figuring out where the “vertical limit” is – a debate not to score brownie points but to figure out solutions to problems. Creating a style of leadership that places emphasis on self discipline and a culture of rigorous innovation also means that the base bricks for sustaining survival of the company is laid. Else, there’s a fair bit of chance that the company will not live beyond its founder members.

Some bits from Faiz

Pankaj asks folks to figure out the English of a Faiz gem. Here’s what my trusty Faiz collection gave me:

May I be a sacrifice to your streets, oh fatherland, where

It has become custom that no-one shall go with head lifted

And that any lover who comes out on pilgrimage

Must go with furtive looks, go in fear of body and life;

Applied to the people of heart now there is method of administration

That stones and bricks are locked up, and dogs free

Strange since I was trying to recollect bits of these phrases some days back…

RUM is Rishi’s Update Manager

There is a proposal (or rather an SoC application) for an offline updater for Fedora. Currently called RUM by it’s creator it aims to allow creation of YUMPacks enabling those who are network challenged to update their Fedora systems. The final aim would be to allow the creation of the profile (of binaries) for the machine which is network challenged and taking that profile to another machine (irrespective of the OS on that machine), download the relevant updates and additional applications (if required) and create the YUMPack with metadata that can be used by the network challenged machine to install the required bits. There are minor details that need to be sorted out eg the write permissions on the folder based on which the YUMPack would be created, the tools used to create the YUMPack CD/DVD/media, the profile change handling and reverting of binary bits.
The UseCases it plans to address are:

1. Manu has two machines-- one at work and one at home. The former has a nice
Internet connection, while the other one does not. He is a not a geek, and
wants to install a media player, which is there on his office box, at home.

2. Rakesh has five machines, which are not on the same LAN. Although all are
connected to the Internet, the bandwidth is not good and it is costly to
download the same updates and packages on all the machines individually.

3. My grandmother wants to try out Fedora. She does not know about computers,
and finds it difficult to figure out what to install from the long list of
available packages. So, I want to give her a 'yumpack' on a CD containing the
packages she wants to have, so that she can just click and ask Pirut to
install the contents of the pack, without thinking about anything else.


Balancing the crystal ball while herding cats

Some of the cliches that make me go jittery include “We are like a start-up”, “We have a vibrant project”, “We have great community traction”. Most of them are supposed to be axiomatic sort of like “the sun rises in the east” – you don’t really have to keep on talking about them – if they are true it shows. This kind of cliches abound in companies and surprisingly enough in communities too. It is surprising because both companies and communities are social systems and the means to have a healthy social system is “herding the cats”. Granted it is a tough job since in as much as you try and herd the cats in one direction the potent forces of individualism tends to break free.

Understanding the social system that makes up a company or a community requires understanding the dynamics of the various forces that make it up. This includes individuals and the overall strategy for growth. Herding of the cats goes side by side with balancing the crystal ball of future visions. The glue for the balance is communication – transparent and clear communication of vision and strategy. In companies as well as communities a stemming off of communication results in assumptions and comprehensions that are more often than not wrong. Lack of communication or silo-fication also results in information not being available to the right folks at the right time. This has the disastrous consequence of not allowing innovation to flourish. For this to happen the leader would be required to delegate appropriately with accountability built in ie delegate with batteries included. Innovation does not always follow the direction of immediate go-to-market strategy. In fact it is best that innovation does not immediately relate to marketing or the bottomline. Getting talented individuals to ideate on pushing the envelope ideas more often than not will result in a project that forms the basis of experimentation.

How does balancing the crystal ball become relevant to communities ? Communities are social systems of dynamic individuals and delegating with batteries included leads to niche projects that can be the flagship projects of the system at a future date. Not many communities get this going effectively – those who do, don’t usually required to use the cliches

Everyday is a winding road

Everyday is a winding road
I get a little bit closer
Everyday is a faded sign
I get a little bit closer to feeling fine

A Linux Users’ Group or a LUG (or GLUG) is a community and for a community to thrive what is required is a steady stream of interest. What made iLUG-Cal moribund is that some of the senior members (which also includes yours truly) could never get enough amount of time to get the fresh folks going. Add to that the fact that there were the hiccups with the mailing list, the website, the domain name and you-name-it-we-had-it kind of worries it was not long before the demise of the LUG as we knew it was being talked about. And it was all true (in fact it still is all true – what you see now is just a small bit of the beginning or could be the last hurrah before the end). Individual brilliance can never make a LUG and without time and energy and most importantly events a LUG never flourishes. One hopes that this time around we can get to see some activity being spun around the LUG. For a change (or for better or for worse), I am not part of anything that’s the new LUG. An important reason for such a decision is that sometimes it is just better to thrust responsibility on to folks rather than wait for them to grow into a new role – we have waited long and hard and the only thing that we got as result was complacency. Given that I hardly am in Kolkata and add to that the fact that I don’t have too much time on my hands these days (fancy time management stuff implementation notwithstanding) it is better that a whole new gang of LUG-gers take over. There isn’t much to do to begin with but slowly hopefully there will be more things to do.

An important aspect that led to this decision is that the world I entered (or the FOSS scene) has changed considerably. Things are far more easier and work-out-of-the-box kind than ever before, there are newer slicker distributions. What this means is that a large part of the revival would require innovation in thoughts or what can be called design thinking. The old school paradigms are no longer relevant. And the new school innovations are fun to watch. Heady stuff like Mugshot etc are taking things to a newer level while events like the SoC allow a large cache of new members to come into the forefront. These would be fun times to watch from the sidelines.
I’ve been wondering if all the thing I’ve seen
Were ever real, were ever really happening

Of late I’ve not been feeling really fine – it is like the brain is overclocking at random times leading to dizziness. I’ve eliminated a few obvious causes – it is not my health (the exercises help), not my work (I still enjoy coming to office), not my reading habits (I still average around 3 books a week) but there’s this back of the head niggling worry about something that I cannot quite put a finger on. I’d take a few days off sometime early March to ponder but unfortunately did the cardinal sin of not logging off the internet. Mails can sometimes be a thought killer and I fell into the trap. Perhaps I do need to take sometime off