August 30th, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags:

Paul Graham is my hero. Yes, he is. I have admired him since i stumbled upon his essays in 2005. His essays are thought provoking and inspiring to engineers like me. My admiration only grew when he started YCombinator and turned into a powerhouse incubator/accelerator. He is an engineer,  entrepreneur, thought leader, mentor, angel investor, someone who changed venture investing in a significant way. He achieved everything i aspired to achieve and his thoughts and success inspire me.

It saddens me immensely, to see the slew of articles that came out the last few days. After reading them indepth, I am convinced that Paul is deeply biased against the leadership abilities of immigrants. It is even more shocking that he bases this bias on the “accent” rather than coding ability, intelligence, ideas or ability to execute. I guess it hurts even more because not only i am one of his admirers, but also a failed immigrant entrepreneur with accent.

Perhaps, it would have been easier for me to stomach it if he said immgrant CEOs suck because they can’t code lisp. His current arguments sound perilously close to “african americans cannot be good quarterbacks ” or “women cannot be good CEOS of large companies”. His attempts at justifying those interviews and comments seem like a PR representative’s nightmare. His first reaction when someone brought this up – “this is a point that people are eager to misunderstand” – is nothing but defensive reaction. Paul – according to him – is not prejudiced and/or biased, but it is the world that is choosing to view his comments through colored lens. Om Malik, seems to be giving Paul a pass, saying it is just a fallacy. Reading how Strikinly’s Chen is treated by Paul (nytimes article), it is hard for me to be convinced that paul is just a scientist making a poor inference out of faulty data. Paul seems to  have a deeply ingrained bias. Quite contrary to his backtracking tweet “It’s fine if founders merely have accents”, the NY times article details:

He spoke English fluently but struggled to pronounce words like “build,” “mobile” and, most ominously, “strikingly.” Yet Chen had clearly established himself as the fledgling company’s impresario and spokesman. While his partners spent their days writing code and fixing software bugs, Chen met with lawyers, potential investors and reporters.

The empirical data paul graham is referring to, to me, do indicate a systematic bias against immigrant entrepreneurs and not an inability of entrepreneurs to communicate.

I doubt the consequences of this slip-up are going to be consequential to Paul’s networth. Unlike a movie star or athlete or other celebrities, paul’s income/networth is not in any endorsements, tv shows or tied to public appearances. He is a “super angel” and already significantly rich. Entrepreneurs are seeking his money, connections and knowledge, and they will continue to seek those despite Paul’s personal flaws.  Today, paul backtracked from his comments and posted another essay. In that essay, he says “Everyone got that? We all agree accents are fine? The problem is when people can’t understand you.”. That statement of course, proves to himself and everyone that he is not biased and prejudiced. Of course, in eyes “people” are his neighbors, friends and investors. Not immigrants with accents. Nothing is really going to change in the little bubble surrounding paul. His “people” will reaffirm to him that he is right, he is unprejudiced paragon of virtue along with being great technologist and venture investor. It is the rest of the world that has problems. His investments will make him handsome returns and NY Times will approach him couple of years later. He will point to the two eastern european and asian “founders with accent” he funded and repeat this same mantra. “I was never bigoted. The world chose to misinterpret me”.

Entrepreneurs are resourceful. They have overcome much more significant obstacles than a minor “accent bias”. They convinced  all kinds of people to invest in them,  crossed oceans and are planning trips to the moon. Accent is a very minor challenge. I think this event will spur startups to hire (or atleast consider) CEOs with american accents before making pitch to YC. So all those product management presenters with Boston accent, get ready. Your skills are going up in demand.

I really really wish, that entrepreneurs can ignore this drivel from Paul. I hope they can read his essays and take the good out of it and leave the crap for what it is. If you are working on a great product that your customers love and an investor chooses not to invest in the product or the company, merely because you sound different – You don’t need that investor. Focus on the customer, focus on building great products. Your accent is just fine.

March 4th, 2010 | Categories: immigration, india | Tags:

Startup visa is a recent proposal from Senators John Kerry & Richard Lugar. The origins of this proposal can be traced back to some prominent angel investors and venture capitalists. If you have been reading techcrunch.com recently, you probably saw a lot of discussion on the related posts from Vivek Wadhwa.

Most of the discussion on startup visa, that i have seen, centers around the value of such visa for american economy. I am an immigrant into this great country and i can see both sides of the arguments. I have seen how H-1B program has immensely contributed to innovation in technology field and consequently spurred growth in US. I have also seen how this program has been (and continues to be) abused by employers to bring cheap – and often untalented – labor into US.

My main purpose here is not to add to that debate. Instead, I want to look at this visa from the viewpoint of a foreign worker/student in USA who is looking at this as a potential opportunity to obtain a green card. Is this better than sticking with current employer and get green card through them? When should one opt for a startup visa?

First up, a deeper look into the proposal and some details

  1. The minimum round the company has to raise is 250K.
  2. The minimum PER EACH FOUNDER should be 100k. This means, that if you have 3 founders all seeking greencard, they have to raise atleast 300K.
  3. The wording says “a qualified venture capitalist or a qualified superangel investor has invested not less than$100,000″. It is unclear if the entire 100K has to come from only one investor. Let us hope not. I think this will be clarified.
  4. In exchange for giving an entrepreneur a green card, the expectation is that their “commercial activities create not fewer than 5 new full time jobs in US”. I am assuming that the inherent assumption here is that these jobs are not h-1b jobs :) . What is unclear is how they plan to decide which jobs are attributable to which founder. If there are 3 founders, should they create 15 jobs? If so, what happens if they create 13? Which of the 3 founders loses their green card?
  5. Next, the expectation is that they would raise 1M dollars in follow on financing in 2 years or generate 1M $ in revenue.
  6. Lastly, if this startup doesn’t do too well, by the end of 3rd year, they  are obligated to terminate the green card.

So, you are a H-1B worker at google, yahoo or salesforce.com, and you have a brilliant idea. Should you try to raise money and go for a startup visa?  I can envision several scenarios which this visa does not address. Usually such scenarios means that USCIS would define them later. This is often unpredictable and can change rapidly based on a lot of random factors. Just look at how h-1b workers are treated today by USCIS. Folks stopped in Newark airport and questioned for compliance! Here are some scenarios

  • If your company gets acquired in a year, what happens? back to h-1?
  • In case your company fails, how many days/months do you have to find a new job and change visa status?
  • Are you allowed to do other jobs while on this green card?
  • If there are 3 founders and let’s say the expectation is that the company creates 15 jobs. If the company only creates 12, you could be the one that is left high and dry.

Overall, this seems like something that’s great on paper. This has been drafted from the view point of a VC/Angel.  At this point it seems way too risky to opt for permanent residency through this channel. I would say NO, donot pin your hopes on this visa. Getting a green card through a steady employer might still be your best bet.

February 3rd, 2010 | Categories: personal updates | Tags:

I published my 2010 goals on the web in late december. At that time, I did not spend a lot of time setting goals. I committed to those goals, because those seemed right and those goals were somethings i have been aspiring to do for a while. Since i did set the goals, I want to continue tracking them. The best way to reach goals is to start working towards them early on and tracking them aggressively. Early on when you set the goals, you feel the enthusiasm and energetic, it is best to get started then. If you don’t track them, it will be easy to loose motivation and forget.

Here is the update at the end of january.

  1. GOAL 1. “Live Happily Everyday”. I think I did a good job. There was good work/life balance, happy times, loving times which helped handle the pressures very well. There were a lot of pressures :)
  2. Goal 2. “Apply and enroll in eMBA”. The deadline for eMBA programs was feb 1. This contributed to a lot pressure during the latter part of month, but thanks to great support from madhu, i was able to pull it off. I took GMAT, finished up essays, completed app process. Hectic but felt great accomplishing it. I hope i get accepted.
  3. Goal 3 . “Start a non-profit in India focused on education”. To be honest, I was not able to make much time for this. However, last month was great time for some ideas, and crystallization of thought on certain core principles for this org.
  4. Goal 4. “Run a marathon in less than 4 hours”. This is one goal towards which i made no progress. No time to walk, let alone run. Gotta make more time.
  5. Goal 5. “See that my weight is a number  that starts with ‘1′  most days”. No progress here. In fact, i regressed and gained about 3-4 lbs.

As I went through the review, I realized there are quite few other things i want to accomplish this year and am really tracking to accomplish. I might pick few of them and add to the goal list in the next update.

January 27th, 2010 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags:

As usual great keynote preso from steve jobs. I have to say i have mixed feelings about this new device from apple. I still can’t decide my overall opinion, but here  are few thoughts

  • Pricing seems decent, starting at $499 for wifi and $629 for wifi+3g models. This is definitely nice, not having to shell out another 1000$ as reported.
  • No camera! Lot of rumors about front facing vs back facing camera, possible login with face recognition etc. Sadly, there is no cam!
  • Nice dock with keyboard and charger! Looks beautiful, and much better than the soft keyboard. I wonder if has a soft keyboard as well.
  • Price is competitive to netbooks.
  • Looks like a big ipod Touch! If I buy an app on iphone/ipod, can i have it on the ipad too? or do i have to buy it again?
  • Even just being a color kindle is not bad.  Kindle has an iphone app and all iphone apps are supposed to be 100% compatible with iPad, so why buy a kindle? Can we order kindle books without a kindle?
  • I already have a kindle, but i wouldn’t buy a kindle anymore over an ipad, if i were looking at a ebook reader.
  • Borders seems to be the biggest loser here.
  • If I were in the market for a netbook, iPad would be near the top of the list as well.
  • Battery life seems to be a potential issue.

Overall, neat device, but nothing revolutionary. The key thing is that apple got their foot in two segments that are growing very fast – netbooks, ebooks. Let’s hope the next revisions of these devices are even that much better

January 5th, 2010 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags:

Finally, the google phone – Nexus One – is available for purchase. I had a look at the phone few weeks earlier at a friend’s house and was quite impressed. As mentioned in all the reviews, great form factor, amazing voice recognition, beautiful screen! A full set of  nexus one demo videos available on techcrunch/youtube.

Everything seemed impressive and i was ready to pullout my credit card to order this phone at a hefty price tag of $530 but i noticed this fine print. It says,

The currently available Nexus One device is unlocked and will recognize SIM cards from any mobile service provider using the GSM standard, but is incompatible with the frequency band used by the AT&T and Rogers networks for 3G data (see below). Additionally, the Nexus One is incompatible with CDMA networks such as Verizon and Sprint.

What? Vat Vat? Come Again?

It will work with AT&T but no data — not useful

It wont work with Verizon, till they come out with a CDMA phone which then won’t work with any GSM network.

It wont work with Sprint, till they come out with a CDMA phone which then won’t work with any GSM network.

So that leaves it working with T-Mobile. So there is no point in buying this phone without T-Mobile service in USA.

So much for unlocked and open!

December 20th, 2009 | Categories: personal updates | Tags:

While people can always list a lot of pros/cons for being a late december baby, one advantage is that you can plan combine your birthday resolutions and new year resolutions into one :) You can just have one set of goals that you miss  and rehash at the end of the year. Today is my birthday and i thought it would be good to take this day to think about what i want to do with next year in my life.

2010 Goals

  1. Live happily everyday (well most days).
  2. Apply and enroll in a MBA program (preferably emba) at a good school.
  3. Start a non-profit in India focused on education.
  4. Run a marathon in less than 4 hours.
  5. See that my weight is a number  that starts with ’1′  most days.

Seem simple enough :)

December 11th, 2009 | Categories: india | Tags:

The fire has been restarted – separate state for telangana region of Andhra is once again a top of the mind issue for all telugu people across the world. People who argue for/against the state should really keep some simple things in mind – in my opinion.

  1. A state is really an administrative region in a country. Being a telugu person, or andhra telugu person, or telangana telugu person, in addition any other attribute one may associate with themselves (for example, telugu, andhra brahmin, male or female, engineer or doctor or business person, chowdary or reddy, indian, human) should not really matter which administrative area you live in. One’s identity is fully intact whether you live in india, andhra pradesh, telangana, united states etc. To that end to carve out states based on some sort of regional binding attribute would seem rather arbitrary. What if all the kaapus (or any other group) in andhra demand a separate state? Is their claim valid?
  2. The first statement is not against telangana. I am just saying it is not important whether telangana is a seperate state or not for a person’s identity to be preserved. So there is no reason why folks should be offended that some (or all) telangana people want a state of their own. It is indeed ok. Having 2 (or 3) telugu speaking states would not make telugu any less of a language, or telugu people any less entrepreneurial, adventurous, resourceful or any other great qualities we are known for.
  3. Agitating for Samaikhya Andhra (united Andhra) feels like yelling or screaming at a brother/sister/partner who wants to live a separate life. Whether one is right or wrong (may be being separate is better or being united is better), screaming at the other party is not going to help the cause.
  4. Tantrums should not be the reason for getting rewards. Seems like this is one rule most/all parents agree with. However, this is exactly what the indian government keeps ending up with. There seem to be a lack of genuine process for civil discussion, organized process, and voting to achieve these sizable goals. There are no provisions for referendums. Decisions are handed out by AICC president, who – if i may point out – is a not a representative of andhra pradesh, not a member of central or state govts. To achieve something sizable, the process seems to be to first get sizable people mind share (this seems right) win a few elections ( this seems right), wait for some higher power to approve (this is broken), and if they don’t approve “agitate” (this broken).

Full Disclosure: I was born to coastal andhra emigrant parents and spent 20 years in hyderabad since birth, before emigrating to United States. where I have been living for the last 19 years.

I am hoping that the future will be for the good for the next generation no matter how the regions end up.

March 23rd, 2009 | Categories: technology | Tags:

Yahoo Eng Platform. It all feels like way back. In 2003, I wrote up bunch of suggestions for structuring engineering teams for yahoo. A lot of these suggestions made it to a “committee”. I feel that these are still applicable to yahoo! and yahoo can benefit from there.
After these, I tried to pitched that Hack Yahoo team should build an internal sourceforge like product. I could never convince product/eng leaders to invest that either – then google code came along

February 5th, 2009 | Categories: technology | Tags:

recently started working with folks at EveryTrail. EveryTrail is a cool gps travel story sharing site. With the proliferation of GPS enabled mobile phones (iphone 3g, bb curve, etc), people can capture great information of where they go and what they do. EveryTrail has cool apps to do so. I am excited about this space, as more and more people are buying these devices. It is a great opportunity to build services to help those users.

As you can guess, the website traffic for everytrail.com is growing at a healthy clip. When i came in to help with engineering, the first order of business was to tackle that. We were hosting a grid hosting company layered.com. The issue with this grid hosting company is that we had to pay for compute units we got “provisioned” and invariably it seemed that we had to provision a lot of compute and memory resources for our site. As we were growing we need to add more compute units. The idea seemed great but 3tera’s software which powered this grid sucked. We were ending up paying way too much money for the value we were getting.
I pressed early on to move to Amazon EC2, mainly because i knew how to set up things on there, and partly because 3tera’s system seemed like a lot of overhead. Somewhere the number of compute + memory resources and the performance we were getting from those were not adding up. It seemed ridiculously low.
The move to EC2 went way smoother than i thought it would. A lot of different software available, and easy to setup and upgrade! The results were even more amazing. We noticed significant improvement in the site performance as we measured it, and even just browsing to the site, but even more impressive are google bot stats from google webmaster site. As you can see, early december we moved amazon ec2 and the load time for each page is down and the number of pages downloaded is up
.

Needless to say, our servers have been humming since, and handling 60%+ month over month growth since december. All this at a cost saving of approximately 60%!! Moving to EC2 cut our hosting cost by 60% (this may quickly catch up to old number if we keep growing this way), and increased performance. It sounds like i am getting paid by amazon for writing this post, but really – no. I am just a satisfied customer.

December 25th, 2008 | Categories: india | Tags: ,

his week, after about 6 months – we (me&madhu) went to a movie in the movie theater. We heard so much about Slumdog Millionaire, given that this is set in india and supposedly an uplifting love story. Time magazine, Roger Ebert, and every other movie review i read was very positive. I saw jay leno show who was gushing about how “beautiful” the slums and slum folks are/were.

When the movie started, i was shocked how “real” the movie was. All movies/showbiz dress up reality. It is hard to believe that a UPS delivery man lives in a 2 story independant home in chicago or the sometimes unemployed friends can afford a spacious luxurious multi-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. Bollywood movies too dress up “slums” in india. Whether it is “Company” or “Satya” or “Kaho na Pyaar Hai” or any other indian movie, Poor folks in india seem to have decent, spacious apartments, clean, crisp clothes, nice hair & teeth, gorgeous bodies. Danny Boyle – for the purposes of this film – focused on the real real slums in india. So the movie’s initial segments focus on the slums, the dirtiest and trashiest parts of the slum specially. I have not seen another “real” view at the not-so-pretty parts of india since Salaam Bombay.
As the movie follows the early life of these two slum kids, the situations they face very harsh and shocking. All the scenes are shot with extra touch of cruelty and harshness. Even the brief moments of levity this movie provides are hard to laugh with. This is indeed the life (or very cloe to) of thousands of kids in India. It was very disturbing for us and what ever the uplifting part of the movie was, it seemed moot and trivial. I am not sure what has been bothering us more, the way this movie is shot, or the realization that this movie is not that far from the truth.
Everytime i remember that Jay leno called the slums and this movie “beautiful”, i just feel worse. What was beautiful about the challenges these kids are subject to ? I guess it is the way to justify the joy one feels (if one feels any joy) at the conclusion of the movie.
While danny chose to be “real” about depiction of the slums and the kids, he definitely chose to be bollywood about how the movie ends.