Reading a book is fun. If you have to do a review on the book for the newspaper by Friday, it becomes work.

Writing code is fun. If you have a deadline next week, it becomes work.

Spending time with that special someone is fun. After tying the knot and having no other choice makes it work (or so I’m told).

Calculating sports match statistics is fun. Spending the same amount of time to balance your checkbooks is work.

Is commitment the difference between fun and work?

P.S. Yeah, I had a Godin moment.

Update : After reading all the interesting thoughts by you folks in the comments section, maybe spontaneity is one of the major differentiatiors?

Note: I no longer work with IonLab since Nov 12 of 2009.

Today is the second birthday of our ION USB Charger and we are happy to announce that it is now available in a new and improved packaging!

We needed some improvements to our packaging because:

  1. Our previous packaging did not have the product visible.
  2. The packaging needs to have a hook so it can be hung – that is how all accessories are placed in a retail store these days.
  3. We had room for improvement on the look of the box.

The new packages arrived in a box:

The packaging has arrived

And we soon formed an assembly line. I removed the ions from the previous packaging:

Taking out the old packaging

Vikram filtered out the new packages, including rejecting any damaged ones:

Clean 'em up

Varun folded the boxes and put the new ions in them:

Varun putting the ions in the new packages

It doesn’t sound glamorous, isn’t prestigious to talk about, but it sure was a lot fun and exciting. That’s what startups are about!

Vikram totally excited
ions galore

Here are the newly-packaged ions stacked back in the box:

Stacking them in a box

Just to put things in perspective, here is our packaging and its size compared to the competition:

Comparing our size to the competition

And here is our previous and new packaging:

Old vs. New packaging

Here is the sleek “product photography” version:

The ION USB charger

You can grab an ION with the new improved packaging at www.ion.co.in :)

Note: Cross-posted from our company blog

I attended a Bangalore South Lok Sabha Candidates’ debate yesterday, this time held at NMKRV Jayanagar and organized by the Rotary Clubs of South Bangalore.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Only Capt. Gopinath (Independent) had arrived on time. Ananth Kumar (BJP) arrived a bit late but immediately greeted each and every individual in the hall and asked them to vote. When the organizers decided to go ahead even though there were only 2 candidates, Prof. Radhakrishna of JD(S) arrived. Krishna Byregowda (Congress) never turned up at all.

The session was mostly about questions asked by Mohandas Pai (Times of India) to the candidates and gave them roughly a minute each to answer.

Most of the questions were good and thankfully the answers were also forthcoming.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

IMHO, Prof. Radhakrishna was rambling more than making sense. Since Krishna Byregowda didn’t show up, I don’t know much about him even though he has spoken well in interviews. Ananth Kumar and Capt. Gopinath were both impressive, made a lot of sense and had vision. It is going to be very tough to choose between these two candidates for me.

Plus points for Ananth Kumar include that he has been an MP four times, been the Civil Aviation Minister, etc. and he answered questions to the point. He indulged in rhetoric about why Congress has brought India down, and why things were great during Vajpayee’s tenure – ignoring these aspects, he seemed like a good candidate.

Plus points for Capt. Gopinath include that he has been an entrepreneur himself – Deccan Aviation made flying possible for the average person, he has been in the army and fought a war in Kashmir, and he voices Bangaloreans’ concerns well. He was vocal about the state of the Metro and questioned why trees in Lalbagh has to be cut down, and the whole crowd cheered for that statement.

Towards the end of the session, the audience also got turns to ask questions, but it turned out to be rhetorical provoking questions rather than questions with real value.

For more details about Bangalore candidates, read the full interviews at SmartVote.in. I’m sure there are more sites out there for the other constituencies in India.

Bangalore South candidates debate

I think there are two takeaways from the day for me.

First, vote for the candidate, not the party. If you think voting for an independent candidate is going to be a “waste” of your vote, think again. Is it better to have 500 excellent people in the Lok Sabha regardless of which party they belong to, or is it better to have 500 people, whose usefulness is doubtful, belonging to 2-3 big parties in the Lok Sabha?

There are good people stepping into politics trying to make a difference and we should encourage them. After all, we don’t jump into politics, let us support those who do. For example:

(more…)

I hate tabs, and I like windows.

Why?

Switching between windows is Alt+Tab. Simple.

Switching between tabs is irritating because it is a contrasting situation:

  1. The keyboard shortcut is not a standard, every application does it in its own way. It could be Ctrl+PgUp/PgDn or it could be Ctrl+Tab.
  2. Ctrl+PgUp/PgDn requires both hands since Ctrl and PgUp/PgDn are on the opposite ends of the keyboard.
  3. Ctrl+Tab is awkward to use (depending on your keyboard).
  4. Many applications don’t loop back to the first/last tab (I’m looking at you, gnome-terminal) which means I have to learn a new paradigm such as Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2 which totally breaks the flow.

Amazing how a keyboard shortcut can ruin the usefulness of the feature.

I have been reading personal finance-related blogs for a while now. But due to obvious reasons, it had become very important to have proper habits so that I have a healthy personal finance, and hence I started doing more research on it.

But what is personal finance? I like how Ranjan Varma puts it:

Whenever I tell acquaintances that I have a website on personal finance, the first and last question I get is, “Now, you can tell me where to INVEST”

By the time I finish saying that personal finance is not just investing and there are things like setting financial goals, budgeting,….., I get a feeling that I have lost them. They move on to another topic like the Rakhi Sawant’s latest reality show or something similarly interesting!

Personal Finance can be represented with a simple equation:

Income(t) – Expenses(t) = Savings(t) + Investments(t)

where time t signifies moving money, or purchasing power, backward and forward in time.

So personal finance is not just about Investing but also about maximizing your income, optimizing your expenses and your savings.

When I was looking for information with an Indian context, I was disappointed with websites like PersonalFN which are great sources of information if you already know what you’re doing, but they don’t help you to get started which is the problem in the first place!

I did find their Crorepati calculator interesting. It said that if I invest 50,000 rupees every year with a 15% interest, I’ll be a crorepati in 25 years. I realized then why compounding interest is important!:

Check this scenario out: You start investing at age 25, investing $2,000 each year until age 35. Then you STOP–never touching that money again. Your dumb friend doesn’t start until age 35, but he invests $2,000 a year for 30 years (compared to your 10). Who has more by age 65?

You! Actually, you’ll have over $70,000 more than your friend.

But 25 years seemed a long way off. Then I thought that I was asking the wrong question. The question is how to spend those 25 years well instead!

I found that most personal finance bloggers had reached the conclusion that their Goal is Financial Freedom / Financial Independence. I wanted in too.

But the aim can be different for different people. For example, your question may be When can I retire and live off my investments?

I wish colleges had taught stuff like this because it is an important life skill, especially concepts like Pay Yourself First.

The gist of what I learned are in these links:

Overall Picture

Habits

So, how do I start?

Read the Financial Literacy month articles at the Get Rich Slowly blog, especially:

If you think all this is not important, then I’ll mention that Google has a section called Google TipJar where people share money saving tips. If Google is into it, it must be important, right?

I’m personally looking forward to Ranjan Varma’s upcoming workshop where he mentions these topics:

  • What is Personal Finance?
  • Overview of Financial Products.
  • Financial Goals.
  • Magic of Compounding.
  • Rupee Cost Averaging.
  • Playing with Numbers.
  • Conscious Spending Plan.
  • Insurance Cover
  • Mutual Funds/ETF
  • Stocks
  • Real Estate Planning
  • Credit Cards
  • Documentation/Legal Aspects(Wills)/
  • Planning for your Children
  • Retirement Planning
  • Scheduling a Money Day
  • Tax Planning

There are just so many aspects! And it just surprises me that money being such a life-enabler, I neglected it for so long.

What is your ideal personal finance life? How are you achieving it?

It has been exactly one year since I quit my last job.

The good

Things that I thought was important but didn’t turn out to be:

It has been one year since:

  • I had to do something because I had no choice.
  • I had a boss.
  • I had to attend meetings.
  • Since I have been answerable to someone.

Things that turned out to be important:

Discovering things about myself that had been previously masked. For example, discipline is about doing things even when there is no one watching you. I realized how bad I was at this, and a year later, I’ve significantly improved.

Equally important, I’ve discovered many of my strengths. And learning how to build on those.

For example, I ended up jumping in full-time into our own startup – we have three guys in our little company, and I’m learning how to leverage each of our strengths as a team. Why is this different from previous experiences? Because I was told to do things. Here, we are the ones deciding what to do and the guys actually doing it. In all this decision making, I realized what areas I have a good nose for, and which ones I don’t.

The bad

One year flew by and I don’t even know how. Definitely not a good thing.

I’m simply not satisfied with the results.

Back to the drawing board…

The ugly

It has been one year without a salary.

Thoughts

Like a wise man once said “Only when you’re truly lost do you begin to find yourself.”

This is exactly what happened to me. When I quit, I had all sorts of visions that my freedom would be exciting and I can do anything I want. In fact, the first month was exactly that and I had lot of fun. The second month was disastrous, it is amazing how depressing one can get if there is nothing to do. An idle man is a DevD’s workshop.

I started thinking about what it is that I want out of life and what it is that I can do. Even though I still don’t have an answer, I have a far better understanding of what the answer would be like, than I previously did.

I have many things to look forward to, especially some exciting things coming up with our company. Lots of things to learn. And most importantly, focusing on lots of things to do.

Still a long way to go.

I just finished reading “Idli, Orchid and Will Power”, the autobiography of Vithal Venkatesh Kamat.

Just a few days back, a friend was telling me that the famous Utility building Kamat restaurant in Bangalore no longer has quality food and hence no longer a popular place. I read this book and it gave the background to this situation – it is no longer being run by the Kamats for whom hospitality is everything, it is now being run by the Kamat that usurped the properties. At least, that’s what the book says.

But that’s not what the book is about. The book is about the entrepreneur’s journey. What I liked about the book was that it was written in plain and simple English, and Vithal writes about his life and the hard work he put in, the mistakes made and the lessons learned from it. It sounds familiar like any other entrepreneur’s autobiography, but what made it special for me was that this was an Indian and almost everyone has heard about the famous Kamat restaurants! It was good to read the story of the restaurants and the people who make the place what it is.

Vithal Venkatesh Kamat
Idli, Orchid and Will Power!

During the story, some good traits of entrepreneurs were demonstrated:

  • Having knowledge, great ideas and executing them. For example, when Vithal was a kid, his uncle’s son was getting married and in that event, the soft drinks were not cooled and there was just 15-20 min before the guests started arriving. Young Vithal then used his knowledge of how kulfis are made, took fistfuls of salt and threw it on the ice which made it drastically go down in temperature and hence all the soft drinks were chilled in 15 min. The same goes for many of his tactics such as putting free buses to and fro the airport to his hotel, the Kamat Plaza, to make waiting less stressful for travellers and that became an instant hit. He said that brought in more customers than any amount of advertising could have done. Eventually, the airways people would suggest travellers to rest at Kamat so as to make them less annoyed about delayed flights, etc. A win-win-win situation indeed.
  • Doing a lot of networking. Vithal proves time and again how his networking and at the same time being known for their hospitality and credibility helped him in many a situation.
  • The importance of preparation. This is everything in the hotel business, he says. For example, that’s how you get your food so quickly when you order (instead of the hours that it would take if you cooked at home yourself).
  • Having a great dream, a great passion. Vithal has lost a lot while trying to make his dream ‘The Orchid’ come true, especially after all the property was usurped by his younger brother, and he had taken many high-interest loans so that he could build his dream hotel while his father was alive (who was dying of cancer). And yet, all the goodwill that he had generated and his will power slowly helped him eke out of the pit and the dream came true. This part of the story was heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. These are the kinds of stories that we see in movies but this is a real true story.

The only downside to the book is that you have to read the parts about the perfect character/attitude with a pinch of salt, because it sounds preachy at times and frankly, sounds too good to be true.

If you ever wanted to know what entrepreneurship is about, don’t read MBA sites, just read this book, if you can find it*. And then decide whether you are prepared for it. At the same time, you’ll finish the book feeling inspired.

* It is such a tragedy that this book is not available in any online Indian book store that I know of.