Varalaksmi Akka’s new home

Varalakshmi Akka's home
Varalakshmi Akka’s home

I was looking forward to this day, for past few weeks, every time I thought about it enormity of what Akka has accomplished kept hitting me. For this day close second to when we had our Pondy house gruhapravesam – in terms of sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Let me start with brief history, both our families have roots in the same small street in Thoravi village. But probably our fates were decided long before we were born, my father – encouraged and supported by my grandfather completed M.Sc. in Statistics, first person from the extended clan to get college education. Akka’s father started getting involved in family agriculture and was married-off in early age. Both families during our grandfather generation probably had similar land holding few acres (less 10) and where upper middle class in a village of few hundred. Akka’s father berthed few children out of which 4 daughters and 1 son survived and had mortgaged and had his land locked-up with Co-op bank, which meant the family ended-up in near poverty. This meant children started in village school but had to be sent to work to help the family. When Akka was in her early teens she came to our house to be resident domestic help and she was with us until we arranged her marriage. My mother tried to make sure she could read and learnt tailoring and other skills while she stayed with us.

For my parents sense of fulfillment at getting Akka married changed into despair when they learnt she was being abused by gambling and alcoholic husband. Akka started performing housemaid job and slowly buy household articles that will eventually all get pledged by her husband. After lots of threats from my parents, the abuses slowed to make it tolerable, In due course they had two sons and Akka was constantly struggling to provide food to her family. When I worked in Chennai in late 90, I seriously considered getting a divorce for Akka, as I felt she could take care of her children if she did not have to deal with her husband. But Naivety got a reality check when I realized a women living in poverty and single in Chennai is not going any better, I stopped worrying about what I can do and let her fate take her to her density.

Today Akka has provided education to her sons – Rajesh Finished B.Sc. from Loyola and has been employed in Insurance BPO for more than 5 years now, Kamesh struggled to finish his Diploma and works as mechanic in Automobile show room. Some ten years back Akka borrowed money to buy a piece of land near Porur, it was big gamble. It was done in secret and we had land document at our home for a long time. Finally few years back they figured out a way to medicated and get her husband out of alcoholism, which means things have been better.

Over the years she has got few well wishers (apart from our family) who have helped her pay for sons education and support her efforts to build a two storey home at cost of close to 20 Lakhs. I was myself not sure if Akka would be able complete the house and wisdom of constructing two storey (her reasoning, two sons are marriageable age, need have two one bed room floors!). I was wondering If twist of fate I and Akka had exchanged our spot if I would striven so hard, I am not sure I would accomplished so much.

Akka & Amma
All these years akka has depended on Amma’s advice and wisdom, she does not do anything without talking to Amma and though we never talked about it – this would rank at the same level when Amma saw me and Bhuvanesh do our apartment house warming. Amma went to Akka’s place last morning and was there until today evening.
Akka & Amma (in Akka's house)

She has done so much for our family, I am not sure if we will every repay her but it is gratifying to see her taste some success and hold her head-up and feel proud.

Finally Akka is someone who is genuinely filled with love and does her work with lots of care. She is unbelievably generous recently I witnessed her give Rs 500 to someone – that was her way saying I am there for you. Akka has probably worked so hard I am not sure how healthy she is going to be in her old-age but I am sure about one thing she is not going to depend on any body till her last breath.


Start-up City Conference Feb 25th 2012 – Closing Keynote

Closing Keynote: Best Practices of building technology (internet) companies in India 
Speaker : Murugavel Janakiraman,Founder & CEO, Consim / Bharat Matrimony

Murugavel wanted to share his experience and mentioned he will use 10 key points highlight what internet companies should focus on

  1. IDEA – must have a feel for it, he was running tamil community website and say matrimony page was gaining traction and that is why he started Bharat Matrimony. Do not start another me too!
  2. When to Launch – Get the basics right and have a functioning website to launch, do not wait for perfect product. Learn from customer feedback and improve. If you wait someone will launch before you
  3. Team – Get the team right. You as founder needs to show the future vision and have passion
  4. Usability – can your find what they want easily. Navigation should be clean and there should be consistency in website
  5. Stickiness – cost of acquiring customer is skyrocketing, so create reason for customer to come back, when a new profile that may match customer is available we send SMS with short URL
  6. User Engagement – in Bharat Matrimony website  they have feature like in LinkedIn –> folks who looked at this prospect also looked the following one, these profiles are similar to profile you are looking at. They also built a feature to show highlight profiles that someone has already considered from ones that are new (some folks use the website for months!)  This whole segment drew lots of chuckle from young guns sitting around.
  7. Online / offline strategy- In India transaction may take place online but commerce happens offline. Bharat Matrimony was pioneer is collecting from door stop, we also have physical location with 150 offices …
  8. Innovation – Incremental innovation can be value or process. we have Free members who browse and express interest but cannot contact profiles, only paid members can contact. Then we have premium service and target upper income segment that is 90K for 3 months and a relationship manager handles are matching and ground work.
  9. Technology – changing rapidly. its mind boggling how much we have changed and evolved. Technology changes keeps us on our toes, if we miss a beat competition might triumph us. Invest in Data-warehousing, this helped us when we had challenging time.
  10. Cash is oxygen of business. Being from a computer science not good in finance. We had a tough time in 2008 and made me learn a lot about cash flow and cash. We had opportunity to raise money in 2003-2004 but passed thinking we may not need it. We raised 8 million in 2006, timing was correct because most of my competition had raised ton of money, without this funding we could not have scaled this much.
  11. Marketing – Murugavel missed talking about this and when someone in audience asked him about this, he said early days marketing was usually through banner ads in other website and mentions in friendly websites. Focus on SEO Search Engine Optimization  and SEM Search Engine Marketing. Look for top ten or even 3-4 keywords and figure out how within top ten for those keywords

To a Question “what happens after your customers find a match ? ” – Murugavel answered “Successful Marriage”.  And added “we are one company who are happy to never see the customer back again i.e loose him/her” Then he said his “Nation needs good citizen, future citizen are result of good parenting, good parenting starts with successful and stable marriages, we do not care if matches are made thru our website, we want to contribute to successful marriages”.

To another question he said when we started we charged Rs.300 per year and now basic plan starts at 2900 for 3 months and there are more premium services.

Anger Management – 2

After a week of writing about my decision to not drive to work everyday in Anger Management, here is the update and observations.

I took company shuttle to work on 4 days and took shuttle back on two days and took public transport home for couple of nights, so looks like I should be able to do this. I am confident I can keep at this, the trick is going to be do it when it gets blazing hot or when it rains

I think one of the reasons why I used to get angry while driving was I was impatient, so I think if try and stop honking that will force me to drive differently. So I need to just keep removing things that get me in position to get mad at others, these are human behaviors one should be able to change if you are at it for certain amount of time.

State of Software Industry in India …

We have been on Campus Recruitment tour recently and its been depressing to see kind of programming skill students with computer science related Engineering education posses. Good junk of them seem to posses personal Laptops but seem to not using it to pursue programming as hobby ..

We have a problem of industry that basically is addicted to hiring headcount as the only means of growth.  These companies also do not adequately differentiate top talent from also ran.  I can never understand why these companies have to accept 20-25% attrition annually ?

On the other hand is this 1.5 -2 X years of experience salary raise sustainable ? One of the problem looking-in from outside is these companies seem to be building too many layers and hence end-up many non-productive managers but you cannot blame them if you have 100000 employees how many managers do you need …

I also see a trend of premium being paid for top talent by companies like Microsoft, Goldman Sachs,Google, Amazon, Paypal and KLA-Tencor (where I work), hopefully this motivates students to aspire, learn  and differentiate …


Facebook birthday …

I turned 42 few months back and I have an array of friends who are thoughtful and wish me  every year. This year I happened to be away in US on a business visit. I had a few friends call me and wish me and few at work place wished me too but a majority of wishes was delivered on fb wall and had a few Linked-In wishes too.

Its interesting trend for me to watch as previous year probably I got more email wishes than fb posts …

Not Following traffic rules – I

Driving on the wrong side of the road

Folks who live in my apartment, to save about  50 meter drive around drive their two wheelers (sometime even cars) on the wrong side of the road. I keep wondering why people do this, often times they do this with young kids, they are not worried about setting bad examples to Children

I stopped driving more than 50KMPH inside city after my son pointed out I was driving more than posted speed limit ( I bargained with him on the fact that 40 KMPH in Anna salai is ridiculously low). I try and drive within the limit even when I drive alone.

Also whenever I drive past the stop-line on a traffic light my kids remind me I need to stop near the stop-line.

One of my Friends at work, Alex was saying that there seems to be a big chunk of folks who are like minded and frustrated with other not following rules on road but we are not doing anything to influence a change. I could not agree more with Alex but will I do anything about it ? Time should answer …

International School causing traffic Jams

Super rich and ex-pats in Chennai send their kids to International school in Taramani, there is literally a non stop stream of cars in the morning and evening that they cause lots of chaos in that area.

I sometimes wonder why this school does not offer premium transportation as part of it services. Air-conditioned, supper comfortable Vans  / min-buses which securely pick the kids from their homes or Apartment blocks and drops them back. Even in a conservative estimate if two kids travel in a car, a 16 seater Van / minibus can remove 8 cars from the road! My Guess is god chuck of these kids are resident in Adyar, Beasant nagar, Along ECR, Kotturpuram, Raja Annamalai puram etc, so easily number of cars can be halfed.

Most of these vehicles are driven by drivers, who park their vehicles in haphazard manner, so of them even wait near the school for the return trip !