Tag Archives: business

Raising A Rennu: What Parents Should Know

Genius Kids founder Rennu Dhillon says our greatest fear after death is public speaking — unless we make some incremental changes in our education system while we’re alive. 

“Confidence is critical,” Dhillon says. “You have to learn how to take control of your life. Compassion, communication, eye contact — these are the kinds of soft skills that we as parents and teachers need to instill in our kids today.” 

Her personal odyssey — long before she became a Bay Area education mogul, Radio Zindagi talk show host, and community activist — is its own story of confidence and coming into one’s own. Dhillon grew up in a tightly-knit Kenyan suburb, much like our Bay Area cities littered with extracurricular activities and educational pursuits. 

“My mother, being the typical Indian mother that she was, enrolled me into practically everything from music, art, piano, and sports,” Dhillon says and laughs. “But my father, a medical practitioner and the local Deputy Mayor was very deep into politics. So one of the big things that he really wanted us, kids, to focus on was communication. They enrolled me into a drama school called the Little Theater Club at the age of three.” 

Dhillon’s childhood in Kenya marked the intersection of so many rapid changes, from an early wave of the feminist movement to political unrest in India following the death of Indira Gandhi. The young actress put pen to paper, drafting impassioned poems and letters for the local newspaper.  

“I was a very, very controversial figure in my town,” Dhillon says. “I mean, I was always expressing my views, especially when it came to women’s issues. And my dad didn’t even know half the time when I was writing to newspapers. It would only be when we would get anonymous phone calls at home threatening me about something that my dad would look at me and say, ‘did you write that?’ And I’ll be like, ‘yep.’ God, I caused so much drama at home.” 

Twenty years later, the outspoken Kenyan pre-teen, after completing her Pharmacy Degree in the United Kingdom, and Doctorate of Science,  launched into two very successful businesses of her own – a matrimonial dating agency and recruiting firm in the United States. She then ventured in Recruiting CEO’s for start up’s and went from hooking people and people to people and jobs. As a single mother navigating the labyrinthian American Dream, helping young men and women find love offered startling insight into the role of ‘soft skills’ within the South Asian American community.  

For Dhillon, the devil was in the details. From critiquing her client’s fashion choices to providing advice on eye contact and tone, she realized how the simplest features of personal interaction paved the way to success. Her experience as a dating coach and recruiter molded her vision when she opened up a Fremont-based daycare and accelerated learning center named Genius Kids. 

Unlike mainstream education programs, Genius Kids instills public speaking and collaborative skills in students from a young age. Founded in 2001, the organization quickly caught on among Bay Area parental circles. Dhillon’s effortless relationship with kids, paired with her knack of combining learning strategies with the latest technology, brought in more families than ever. 

“I think kids learn with smart and interactive technology,” Dhillon says. “We were actually one of the first preschools to ever introduce smart boards into the classrooms. Even the toddlers will come up on our stage, look at a screen, and point to the answer with their little fingers. These are our ways of teaching children. To stimulate students’ curiosity, I don’t want anyone memorizing stories in my classes. I want discussions. I want kids to tell me the story back in their own words — add their own flavor to The Three Little Pigs and use their own imagination. This is how we access a child’s voice and build on their confidence.” 

For the second time in her life, Dhillon embarked on a writing journey, this time penning a parenting book titled, Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. The book has different sections dedicated to Dhillon’s ‘Cs’ — compassion, conflict resolution, charisma, control — the different elements that shaped her experience in both teaching and parenting.

“There’s a need to simplify parenting into its basic ingredients,” Dhillon says. “It’s not something that always comes naturally — especially now that we have all these distractions. The world was very different for my great grandparents, grandparents, and my parents. Now, we’re living in a crazy world — completely insane. And if you don’t prepare your child to be able to face a world of the unknown, your child won’t have any control over their life. So I’m a huge one for books. I’m always on the search for new material and information because learning never stops.” 

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there may be no better time for Dhillon to release Raise Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders. As lockdown restrictions force schools to adapt to a virtual learning environment, every parent must challenge their preconceived notions about testing, college admissions, and academic life. And perhaps there may be no better writer to release this book than Dhillon herself. As a woman who ventured across borders, within new industries, and into the lives of hundreds of children, Dhillon seeks to embody the very experience she chronicles in her book — a journey into the precarious unknown, where learning and adapting is always essential. 

“Don’t underestimate your children,” Dhillon says. “Let them pursue and find their path. And most of all, listen to what they have to say.” 

Stay tuned for Confident Children: Today’s Kids, Tomorrow’s Leaders, which releases on October 6th on Amazon! Click here for further details.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor for India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as the Executive Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak. Connect with Kanchan on Instagram: @kanchan_naik_

Gurukool Waits to Open Its Doors to Students

Madhavi Prabha, a teacher with a vision, quit her regular teaching job after 10 years to start an After School Education Center for cultural enrichment, GuruKool, in 2018. An immigrant to this country and unfamiliar with the government system, her entrepreneurial spirit was met with red-tape. Frequently redirected from city to county to state regulations and guidelines, she was unsure if her idea would ever come to fruition.

After many queries, online searches, legal procedures, and authorizations, Madhavi began to recruit students for her classes. Her first class began with just one student, Anvika, who imbibed the education with glee. She learned Indian mythology, shlokas, Hindi, singing, dancing, and art. It proved the need for education derived from one’s culture. Slowly but steadily, GuruKool began to pick up traction and by 2019, Madhavi had a waiting list for her After School Education Center. Things were looking up and the business began to recoup the losses of its first year.

Then the pandemic hit…

Education Week reported that 6 out of 10 After School programs across the U.S. may have to permanently close their doors. After School programs, a valuable service, are finding it hard to adapt. GuruKool has had to stop its program and attempt digital, online learning.

Madhavi says, “Teaching the kids online is hard. I struggle with technology at times and the kids get bored. In person, I don’t just teach them visually but through sounds and physical actions which don’t come across on a screen. Its harder to keep them engaged and I worry they will forget what they’ve already learned. This is the time they need to remain engaged.”

Madhavi Prabha is less concerned about her business and more about her students – a teacher through and through. She asks her students how they feel during the pandemic – unable to go to school and interact with their friends. Children will grow up with the pandemic in their historical narrative and how they interact with it will determine parts of their future. What is the younger generation thinking and feeling? Madhavi guides her students through a series of questions to explore their emotions and understanding of the world around them.

Here are some of the student’s reactions:

Anvika Bhatnagar, 3rd Grade

Anvika’s Thoughts

On COVID…

I feel sad that people are dying and COVID-19 is spreading so fast. It is also not fun to stay home and get bored because there is not much to do.

Being at home…

I really like being home with my family because my family and I do a lot of fun things like playing games and doing crafts. I also enjoy playing with my brother and not having to do so much school work.

Being online…

When I do something online, I feel safe and happy I am talking to my friends and that no one is catching a virus at that time.

When the pandemic ends…

I would want to for a long trip and see cool animals and have a long playdate or sleepover with my friends.

Given power…

What I would do is I would fly up the sky and sprinkle some potion that will kill Coronavirus and I will go to the spot where scientist try and figure out how to deal with the pandemic. I will give them a potion that will make dead people alive and again and if you give it to sick patients they will get to normal in a second.

Aarav Saraswat, 4th Grade

Aarav’s Thoughts

On COVID…

I feel that this pandemic is not fun for a lot of people. You can’t meet other people in person, you can’t really play with a lot of people and you can’t really get out of the house. And it is not easy for parents either. They have to do their work, and now they have to cook for the whole family and they have to get a lot of groceries and they have to take care of everyone the whole day. But this lockdown is also very important because no one wants to get COVID-19, so I’m actually feeling good that we are in a lockdown from the health perspective.

Being at home…

Sometimes it is fun to be at home with my family but sometimes it can be a problem. For example, if I was playing outside then it would be fun because I can play with my brother and parents. But if that same day I am doing my work, but my brother is doing something noisy and I’m trying to concentrate, then it can be kind of hard having everyone home.

Being online…

Online schooling and zoom contact is good for me because that is one of the only ways to contact people, and that is something we all want to do; see people besides your family like friends! but sometimes you can get a little bored of that.

When the pandemic ends…

The first thing I would like to do when this pandemic is over is to go and meet all of my friends. I want to meet every single one because I have been isolated for 10 weeks now, which is 2 ½ months. S0 after I meet all of my friends I would play with water balloons and water guns because it is so hot. 

Given power…

If I had the power to change this situation, one idea which I would like is that we have a staggered schedule meaning that we go to school for example two hours and the rest of the schooling we do at our homes. And as things get better, we can slowly extend the amount of people coming to the school.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Indian Ambassador Talks Trade With Wisconsin Governor

Ambassador of India to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers today held a virtual meeting and discussed trade and investment as well as people-to-people relations between Wisconsin and India.

Both discussed strategies to tap the potential in the agriculture, infrastructure, and manufacturing sectors common to India and Wisconsin that would lead to win-win outcomes for both. The Ambassador briefed the Governor about the initiatives India has taken in healthcare and education and discussed collaboration in these sectors.

India and Wisconsin share a robust trade and investment relationship. The total trade between India and Wisconsin is over US $1 billion. Many Indian companies in the IT, engineering services, medical equipment, and manufacturing sectors have invested in Wisconsin.

These companies have invested close to $185 million in Wisconsin, creating over 2,460 jobs in the state. They also add value to local economies and communities through their Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. Similarly, Wisconsin-based companies in the automobile, electrical equipment, financial services, and technology sectors have established a strong presence in India. They include Harley Davidson, Rockwell Automation Inc., ManPower Group, etc.

The Indian community has a vibrant presence in Wisconsin, which is also an important destination for Indian students. Close to 1,500 Indian students are studying in educational institutions in Wisconsin.

India has a strong education connection with Wisconsin. The tradition of Indian studies started on the University of Wisconsin campus in the mid-1880s when a Professorship of Sanskrit was established.

Renowned biochemist Dr. Hargobind Khorana received his Nobel Prize in 1968 for research he conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was on faculty.

The Ambassador underscored the need to revive and strengthen the university-to-university linkages between India and the U.S., including in the fields of R&D and bio-health.

Ambassador Sandhu and Governor Evers agreed to further strengthen the multifaceted engagement between India and the state of Wisconsin.


This information comes from the Embassy of India based in D.C.

Local Teens, Global Impact

It’s vital that we don’t forget about aiding communities impacted heavily by the virus even as the lockdowns and shelter-in-place are lifted.

Rayan Garg (Left) Arjun Gupta (Right)

Non-profit Elevate The Future, started by teens Arjun Gupta and Rayan Garg, is a 501(c)(3) organization is focused on “providing youth with the resources and support in order to spark their passions and set them up for success”. This involves giving students exposure to fields beyond the traditional STEM sphere — topics such as business, finance, and computer science. Established a year ago, Elevate the Future has seen incredible success, with 22 chapters all over the world, 200 volunteers, and 1000 completed hours of service.

While the coronavirus pandemic could have stopped this organization right in their tracks, Elevate The Future has emerged resilient and prepared. Recently, they collaborated with the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to help family-run businesses adapt to this rapidly shifting environment. This involved providing them online presence for takeout meals and coaching their students in developing websites for these businesses. Not only does this endeavor protect local establishments, but also provides students with a web development skillset that they can use for the rest of their lives.

To encourage the same creative, entrepreneurial spirit that led to their formation, ETF has hosted multiple online Global Entrepreneurship Summits in partnership with local chapters. Their most recent effort is the Cloud 9 summit, which is a virtual competition that produces student-led businesses. The judges include the Head of Global Customer Conferences at Juniper Networks as well as the co-founder of the 1517 fund. First-place winners will receive a mentorship opportunity from an IBM Executive Partner, while top competitors will receive prize money and assistance in filling out a patent. 

During these tumultuous times, it’s heartening to see young students like Rayan Garg and Arjun Gupta encourage and empower their communities. To find out more about Elevate the Future, check out their Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn!

If you are a business and need help, you can complete this form. If you are a student who wants to learn or would like to volunteer and help, you can reach them through their website.

Kanchan Naik is a junior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor of India Currents, she is also the editor of her school newspaper The Roar and the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

An Open Letter to Hoteliers

“Tough times never last but tough people do” – Rev. Robert H. Schuller

In these tough times, Prince Organization, run by fellow Indian Sunil Tolani, has stepped up and applauded his hotel staff for their work on the frontlines. Frontline staff encompasses a multitude of industries, yet hotel staff seem to be lost in the bevy of healthcare-related professions. Here is an open letter to those in the hotel industry, providing a safe space for the homeless, vulnerable, and sick populations, for little to no compensation. Thank you for all that you do!

Dearest Prince Organization Team/ Hoteliers,

I hope this message finds you healthy and safe during these trying times of dealing with fundamental uncertainty. For the first time in modern history, the world is at the mercy of a virus that knows no rank and no title. The world is united in our shared experience of pain. But during all this sorrow, I really believe the entire world is also united in a shared prayer praying for relief and going through something that is globally profound.

We live in unprecedented times when, for the first time in over 100 years, the country is almost shutdown. Over 275 Million Americans are at home. Times like these tests one’s spirit and fortitude as those of us that are in the hospitality industry face challenges we have never seen before. We have managed through the recession of 2008-2010 but this is unlike any economic enemy we have dealt with in the past. This health crisis has created an economic catastrophe of historic magnitude. We are in a deep freeze and it is bone-chilling. The US was on a good roll and then came March.   

At LAX airport on January 21st, I heard the morning news of the first coronavirus case in the U.S. and the first words were “Oh, No—Holy Cow,” March began with a booming economy riding an 11-year economic expansion with unemployment at 50 years low and the #1 worry for employers was finding employees to fill positions. The Dow Jones was flirting with 30000.

March 3rd, the federal government announced an emergency rate cut. March ended, ravaging personal and professional lives, bringing the economy to a standstill. A new reality was gripping the nation: 10 million jobs were lost, the Dow at 21917, airlines on the verge of bankruptcy and American icons of commerce shutting down, and countless small enterprises failing.

As of this weekend, over 20,000 Americans were dead with the toll expected to increase exponentially in the coming weeks. Retail centers and malls, restaurants, gyms, parks, schools and universities, places of Vice and Worships, and millions of other “nonessential” businesses shut down, movie theaters dark, professional sports suspended, and the Olympics postponed. A couple of months ago, we were afraid if we saw somebody with a mask on, now we are afraid if they do not have the mask on. The buzzwords were communal, sharing, and now the word is social distancing.

The nation has made a call to us Hoteliers, essential businesses, to remain open. On the frontlines, you are doing a fantastic service to the country. You agreed on “what can we do to help here” driven by your faith and sense of duty preparing for the worst-case scenario but hoping for the best-case scenario dodging the coronavirus bullet. THANK YOU for doing your part in supporting your community. Providing medical and emergency personnel with FREE rooms and at deeply discounted rates to keep your hotels humming along with positivity. Unlike others, we did not shut down or walk away nor cut fast and cut deep. The communities value and admire your commitment and dedication.

We are grateful for the bravery and sacrifices of our hotel staffs, women are over 70% majority. We are not doctors, nurses, firefighters, or policemen but like them, we too are on the front lines to help and offer comfort and solace, shelter at the hotels. It is way economical and makes total financial sense to shut down our hotels, but we are open for our communities, keeping our neighborhoods running and making our guests feel like home. The pandemic has dramatically enlivened our company’s workforce. The word is proud. We feel enormously proud of what we are doing.

Hotels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We are a symbol of our people’s resilience, as we never close. This is a very unsettling time – both physically and emotionally. We are concerned about our health and that of our family, friends, and co-workers. We are uncertain of when this will end and what the future will look like. We are also uneasy because in hospitality what we do is take care of guests and we are virtually unable to do that now with limited services. We do our best as we dig deep within ourselves and muster all the perseverance and grit, we can. We must continue to live our values of being humble, caring, and kind, and apply them to our new circumstances and to the team members. Every day you are at your Hotels, you contribute with pride and purpose. 

The devastation that coronavirus has rained on the world, from a business perspective, is something we have never experienced. Local restrictions combined with the nearly complete drop in business levels require the temporary suspension of brand standards at many of our hotels franchised hotels. The financial loss to continue to operate these hotels will be anyone’s guess and extremely severe to cause even more damage to the company long-term. While there is much uncertainty remaining on how long our lives and business will be disrupted and what the recovery will look like, we do know the economic hit to the company will be significant. That is why we are taking aggressive steps to manage controllable expenses limiting operations and managing expenses as well.

We are making the tough decisions needed to weather the storm that is wreaking havoc on our country by waiting longer to pay suppliers, shutting down floors, saving electricity and utilities, ordering in limited supplies, and re-evaluating capital investments. These decisions do not come easily, but it is our belief that by making these decisions now it will allow us to be properly positioned for recovery after the war on this enemy is won. Almost every variable is changing and the disastrous negative impact on our business in so many ways cannot yet be fully quantified. Simply put, we need to watch our cash management as we did not budget for a close to a zero-revenue scenario.

Of course, none of the excellence, passion, and grit in the face of the adversity brought on by the virus surprised me. That is simply our character, and the pressure we already deal with on a day to- day basis not only reveals it; it forged it. Through the sheer power of our perseverance and with our collective character as a guiding light, that is exactly what we will continue to do as long as it aligns with our three North Stars — the health and safety of all team members and our valued guests.

Thankfully, we are not aware of any of our team members who have contracted the virus. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are experiencing the virus themselves or who have family or friends with it. I am grateful we have no cases of this insidious disease. We will see this through. One lesson from the virus is the realization of how connected we all are. While we find ourselves physically separated from each other, it is with a sense of community that we will meet these challenges and overcome them. We will continue to care for each other, and when people start to travel again — and they will — we will do what we do best — welcome them like family. Treat them like family, Once again.

We could not be any prouder of the character, generosity, and resilience exhibited by our team members over the last four weeks. Let us pray and look forward with positivity to a day where Coronavirus is a distant memory, a day when our hotels are filled with traveling guests and your break rooms are filled with laughter.

Dear heroes of the frontlines – continue to be strong, positive, and kind. Our spirit will prevail. History tells us that we will survive. Let us pray, stay calm, and stay true to our true values to weather the storm. I can feel the purpose-driven nature, the camaraderie, and the coming together of our company. You are playing a vital role with government employees, social workers, medical workers who are coming into your towns to stay with you and depend on your hotels. I have come across many noble acts of public service that you are performing at your hotels. Your true character reveals for what you are and have always been: HERO’s. 

I am foregoing my entire salary for the rest of 2020 and even 2021. In a time of crisis, we have to transcend and come together for the greater good. Please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones. The journey is painful and we hope in the years to come, you will be testing the limits of a new world, as each and every one of you will be able to take pride in how you responded to this crisis. I am hanging in there with you all, PRAYING.

Sunil Tolani

Sunil “Sunny” Tolani is the CEO of Prince Organization. His passions include charity, empowering youth with educational and vocational training, humanitarian work on sexual harassment and domestic violence, prison reform, wage equality for women, and LGBT rights.

Artificial Intelligence: Beyond the hype

To gauge by the news headlines, it would be easy to believe that artificial intelligence (AI) is about to take over the world. Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese venture capitalist, says that AI will soon create tens of trillions of dollars of wealth and claims China and the U.S. are the two AI superpowers.

There is no doubt that AI has incredible potential. But the technology is still in its infancy; there are no AI superpowers. The race to implement AI has hardly begun, particularly in business. As well, the most advanced AI tools are open source, which means that everyone has access to them.

Tech companies are generating hype with cool demonstrations of AI, such as Google’s AlphaGo Zero, which learned one of the world’s most difficult board games in three days and could easily defeat its top-ranked players. Several companies are claiming breakthroughs with self-driving vehicles. But don’t be fooled: The games are just special cases, and the self-driving cars are still on their training wheels.

AlphaGo, the original iteration of AlphaGo Zero, developed its intelligence through use of generative adversarial networks, a technology that pits two AI systems against each another to allow them to learn from each other. The trick was that before the networks battled each other, they received a lot of coaching. And, more importantly, their problems and outcomes were well defined.

Unlike board games and arcade games, business systems don’t have defined outcomes and rules. They work with very limited datasets, often disjointed and messy. The computers also don’t do critical business analysis; it’s the job of humans to comprehend information that the systems gather and to decide what to do with it. Humans can deal with uncertainty and doubt; AI cannot. Google’s Waymo self-driving cars have collectively driven over 9 million miles, yet are nowhere near ready for release. Tesla’s Autopilot, after gathering 1.5 billion miles’ worth of data, won’t even stop at traffic lights.

Today’s AI systems do their best to reproduce the functioning of the human brain’s neural networks, but their emulations are very limited. They use a technique called deep learning: After you tell an AI exactly what you want it to learn and provide it with clearly labeled examples, it analyzes the patterns in those data and stores them for future application. The accuracy of its patterns depends on completeness of data, so the more examples you give it, the more useful it becomes.

Herein lies a problem, though: An AI is only as good as the data it receives, and is able to interpret them only within the narrow confines of the supplied context. It doesn’t “understand” what it has analyzed, so it is unable to apply its analysis to scenarios in other contexts. And it can’t distinguish causation from correlation.

The larger issue with this form of AI is that what it has learned remains a mystery: a set of indefinable responses to data. Once a neural network has been trained, not even its designer knows exactly how it is doing what it does. They call this the black box of AI.

Businesses can’t afford to have their systems making unexplained decisions, as they have regulatory requirements and reputational concerns and must be able to understand, explain, and prove the logic behind every decision that they make.

Then there is the issue of reliability. Airlines are installing AI-based facial-recognition systems and China is basing its national surveillance systems on such systems. AI is being used for marketing and credit analysis and to control cars, drones, and robots. It is being trained to perform medical data analysis and assist or replace human doctors. The problem is that, in all such uses, AI can be fooled.

Google published a paper last December that showed that it could trick AI systems into recognizing a banana as a toaster. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science have just demonstrated that they could confuse almost any AI system without even using, as Google did, knowledge of what the system has used as a basis for learning. With AI, security and privacy are an afterthought, just as they were early in the development of computers and the Internet.

Leading AI companies have handed over the keys to their kingdoms by making their tools open source. Software used to be considered a trade secret, but developers realized that having others look at and build on their code could lead to great improvements in it. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have released their AI code to the public for free to explore, adapt, and improve. China’s Baidu has also made its self-driving software, Apollo, available as open source.

Software’s real value lies in its implementation: what you do with it. Just as China built its tech companies and India created a $160 billion IT services industry on top of tools created by Silicon Valley, anyone can use openly available AI tools to build sophisticated applications. Innovation has now globalized, creating a level playing field—especially in AI.


Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering. He is the co-author of Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain—and How to Fight Back.

This article first appeared in Fortune magazine.

 

Indra Nooyi Resigns as Pepsi CEO

“Today is a day of mixed emotions for me. has been my life for 24 years & part of my heart will always remain here. I’m proud of what we’ve done & excited for the future. I believe PepsiCo’s best days are yet to come.” With these words, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo for the past 12 years announced her resignation. She will relinquish her post to Ramon Laguarta on October 3rd.

Nooyi continued by saying, “Growing up in India, I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to lead an extraordinary company like . Leading this company has been the honor of my lifetime. We’ve made more meaningful impact in people’s lives than I ever dreamed possible. I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve done over the past 12 years to advance the interests of our stakeholders in the communities we serve. What I admire about our global team is an incredible drive to compete – to be the best, to remain the best.”

As the New York Times reported, “She presided over a significant expansion of PepsiCo’s business, with revenue growing to $63.5 billion last year, from $35 billion in 2006, while the company’s share price nearly doubled in that time.” She is also credited with shifting the focus of the company from sugary drinks to other healthy offerings.

 

Copy and Steal — the Silicon Valley Way

By 

In a videoconference hosted by Indian start-up website Inc42, I gave Indian entrepreneurs some advice that startled them. I said that instead of trying to invent new things, they should copy and steal all the ideas they can from China, Silicon Valley and the rest of the world. A billion Indians coming online through inexpensive smartphones offer Indian entrepreneurs an opportunity to build a digital infrastructure that will transform the country. The best way of getting started on that is not to reinvent the wheel but to learn from the successes and failures of others.

Before Japan, Korea and China began to innovate, they were called copycat nations; their electronics and consumer products were knockoffs from the West. Silicon Valley succeeds because it excels in sharing ideas and building on the work of others. As Steve Jobs said in 1994, “Picasso had a saying, ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal,’ and we have you know always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” Almost every Apple product has features that were first developed by others; rarely do its technologies wholly originate within the company.

Mark Zuckerberg also built Facebook by taking pages from MySpace and Friendster, and he continues to copy products. Facebook Places is a replica of Foursquare; Messenger video imitates Skype; Facebook Stories is a clone of Snapchat; and Facebook Live combines the best features of Meerkat and Periscope. This is another one of Silicon Valley’s other secrets: if stealing doesn’t work, then buy the company.

By the way, they don’t call this copying or stealing; it is “knowledge sharing.” Silicon Valley has very high rates of job-hopping, and top engineers rarely work at any one company for more than three years; they routinely join their competitors or start their own companies. As long as engineers don’t steal computer code or designs, they can build on the work they did before. Valley firms understand that collaborating and competing at the same time leads to success. This is even reflected in California’s unusual laws, which bar noncompetition agreements.

In most places, entrepreneurs hesitate to tell others what they are doing. Yet in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs know that when they share an idea, they get important feedback. Both sides learn by exchanging ideas and developing new ones. So when you walk into a coffee shop in Palo Alto, those you ask will not hesitate to tell you their product-development plans.

Neither companies nor countries can succeed, however, merely by copying. They must move very fast and keep improving themselves and adapting to changing markets and technologies.

Apple became the most valuable company in the world because it didn’t hesitate to cannibalize its own technologies. Steve Jobs didn’t worry that the iPad would hurt the sales of its laptops or that the music player in the iPhone would eliminate the need to buy an iPod. The company moved forward quickly as competitors copied its designs.

Technology is now moving faster than ever and becoming affordable to all. Advances in artificial intelligence, computing, networks and sensors are making it possible to build new trillion-dollar industries and destroy old ones. The new technologies that once only the West had access to are now available everywhere. As the world’s entrepreneurs learn from one another, they will find opportunities to solve the problems of not only their own countries but the world. And we will all benefit in a big way from this.

Reprinted with permission of the author.

Don’t Believe the Hype About AI

To borrow a punch line from Duke professor Dan Ariely, artificial intelligence is like teenage sex: “Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.” Even though AI systems can now learn a game and beat champions within hours, they are hard to apply to business applications.

M.I.T. Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group surveyed 3,000 business executives and found that while 85 percent of them believed AI would provide their companies with a competitive advantage, only one in 20 had “extensively” incorporated it into their offerings or processes. The challenge is that implementing AI isn’t as easy as installing software. It requires expertise, vision, and information that isn’t easily accessible.

When you look at well known applications of AI like Google’s AlphaGo Zero, you get the impression it’s like magic: AI learned the world’s most difficult board game in just three days and beat champions. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s AI can generate photorealistic images of people who look like celebrities just by looking at pictures of real ones.

AlphaGo and Nvidia used a technology called generative adversarial networks, which pits two AI systems against each another to allow them to learn from each other. The trick was that before the networks battled each other, they received a lot of coaching. And, more importantly, their problems and outcomes were well defined.

Most business problems can’t be turned into a game, however; you have more than two players and no clear rules. The outcomes of business decisions are rarely a clear win or loss, and there are far too many variables. So it’s a lot more difficult for businesses to implement AI than it seems.

Today’s AI systems do their best to emulate the functioning of the human brain’s neural networks, but they do this in a very limited way.  They use a technique called deep learning, which adjusts the relationships of computer instructions designed to behave like neurons. To put it simply, you tell an AI exactly what you want it to learn and provide it with clearly labelled examples, and it analyzes the patterns in those data and stores them for future application. The accuracy of its patterns depends on data, so the more examples you give it, the more useful it becomes.

Herein lies a problem: An AI is only as good as the data it receives. And it is able to interpret that data only within the narrow confines of the supplied context. It doesn’t “understand” what it has analyzed, so it is unable to apply its analysis to scenarios in other contexts. And it can’t distinguish causation from correlation. AI is more like an Excel spreadsheet on steroids than a thinker.

The bigger difficulty in working with this form of AI is that what it has learned remains a mystery — a set of indefinable responses to data.  Once a neural network is trained, not even its designer knows exactly how it is doing what it does. As New York University professor Gary Marcus explains, deep learning systems have millions or even billions of parameters, identifiable to their developers only in terms of their geography within a complex neural network. They are a “black box,” researchers say.

Speaking about the new developments in AlphaGo, Google/DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis reportedly said, “It doesn’t play like a human, and it doesn’t play like a program. It plays in a third, almost alien, way.”

Businesses can’t afford to have their systems making alien decisions. They face regulatory requirements and reputational concerns and must be able to understand, explain, and demonstrate the logic behind every decision they make.

For AI to be more valuable, it needs to be able to look at the big picture and include many more sources of information than the computer systems it is replacing. Amazon is one of the few companies that has already understood and implemented AI effectively to optimize practically every part of its operations from inventory management and warehouse operation to running data centers.

In inventory management, for example, purchasing decisions are traditionally made by experienced individuals, called buyers, department by department. Their systems show them inventory levels by store, and they use their experience and instincts to place orders. Amazon’s AI consolidates data from all departments to see the larger trends — and relate them to socioeconomic data, customer-service inquiries, satellite images of competitors’ parking lots, predictions from The Weather Company, and other factors. Other retailers are doing some of these things, but none as effectively as Amazon.

This type of approach is also the basis of Echo and Alexa, Amazon’s voice-based home appliances. According to Wired, by bringing all of its development teams together and making machine learning a corporate focus, Amazon is solving a problem many companies have: disconnected islands of data. Corporate data are usually stored in disjointed datasets in different computer systems. Even when a company has all the data needed for machine learning, they usually aren’t labelled, up-to-date, or organized in a usable manner. The challenge is to create a grand vision for how to put these datasets together and use them in new ways, as Amazon has done.

AI is advancing rapidly and will surely make it easier to clean up and integrate data. But business leaders will still need to understand what it really does and create a vision for its use. That is when they will see the big benefits.

The article has been posted here with the express permission of the author.

Three Common Myths About Global Management Practices

businessIf you endeavor to sell your company’s products in a global marketplace, my experiences will help you navigate through unspoken cultural messages present in the workplace. I hope to share my perspective on how to “Think Globally and Act Locally.”

Myth No. 1:
Everyone understands English

I have lived in and done business in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region for over two decades. As a person of Indian origin, I found it very easy to fit into Japanese culture. They admire Indian philosophy and the fact that Buddhism originated in India thousands of years ago. Whether they follow a religious lifestyle or not, they respect the fact that most Indians adhere to a religious practice. Talking about the topic of religion becomes an excellent way to break the ice during otherwise tough business meetings. Also respecting elders, especially if the boss is older, is appreciated in the Japanese workplace.

In Japan, business meetings are conducted in English. But, is your understanding of what is being said match with their understanding? When the Japanese customer in a long winded manner says, “Mmmmm, well..it is very difficult for me to convince my management..it is not very clear…how this product benefits us…I need more data and more time.” If you walk out of that meeting thinking that he just needs more data and time and the deal is yours, your guess would be wrong! He was rejecting your product. But, he cannot say “No” to you directly—especially since you are a foreigner.  Also, unlike English, Japanese is not a definitive language with clear signals for the positive and the negative. If you face this situation in Japan, you are better off walking away from the deal. Then you should follow up by sending your Japanese colleague or middleman to invite that customer for dinner and assure him that you will come back with more data at a later time. He will remember this gesture forever and will definitely meet with you the next time you go there.

When I was in charge of business development for Japan, I used to be confused about how to react when the “big” boss attended meetings only to doze through them. I soon learnt that if the boss was alert and asked a lot of questions, it meant something was not going right during the negotiations, whereas dozing off meant that everything was proceeding smoothly!

On the other hand, in France, if you don’t get a single question during an entire 45-minute presentation, you might be mentally congratulating yourself thinking —“They agreed with me! They were eating from my palm! They had no questions!” Wrong! If a French professional doesn’t ask probing questions or argue with you, that means they are not interested. And if that happens, you might want to prep your colleague (if you have a French colleague) to ask a question and then see if the attendees pick up the thread and start asking questions. If they still don’t, you thank them and say goodbye!

Myth No, 2:
If I can sell in America, I can sell anywhere in the world

There are some countries where customers will make you go through extra scrutiny, rigorous benchmarking, asking for Proof-of-Concept in their environment to make sure your product will work in their company’s technology ecosystem or IT infrastructure—which may be significantly different from many American companies.

When you are in Germany, make sure all your calculations are noted to the 4th decimal place. Attendees are bound to take out their calculators and challenge you on numbers—unless you already specify assumptions and test conditions. If you waver in front of them, you might as well bid goodbye to your hopes of selling to them.

In the 1950s Ford sent a few cars to test the German market. They soon learnt that wipers were flying off the cars on German highways. Ford engineers were confused by this occurrence, as no such issue was reported here. They soon realized that there were no speed limits on the Auto Bahn in Germany and when the same cars were driven around a racetrack in Detroit, the wipers started flying off when the car speeds  exceeded 80 to 90 miles per hour. That’s when wind deflectors for wipers were designed and implemented.

If you are conducting business in India, it is good to remind yourself that the buyer needs to feel that they arrived at the decision independently—and not because the decision was forced. Many American companies follow a strict division of labor with technical, business and legal evaluations being carried out by technologists, business users, and lawyers respectively. In India, you have to make sure that managers belonging to various divisions are brought in to sign off on all aspects. In other words, in the U.S. each individual is considered “master of one,” whereas in India, each individual considers himself or herself, “jack of all trades and master of one!”

Myth No, 3:
Every company wants to be like an American company

In America, taking a risk with a start-up to bring in innovative products, methodologies or technologies is a common business practice. However, in Japan, for example, no one wants to be the first, but no one wants to the third either! The trick is to make sure you get the first customer that is influential enough and to make sure all other customers feel like they are the second customer in line!

For most Asia-Pacific companies, growth is carefully managed because growing a company and hiring employees is done very carefully. Most of those companies hire slowly and almost never fire. A few decades ago, a large Japanese corporation was going through financial trouble, so the management decided to cut the yearly bonus for the workers and the workers went on strike. But their strike was very different. Unlike other countries where strike means no work, these workers started working double—sometimes triple—shifts and production more than doubled. In just two weeks the management came to their knees, begged workers not to produce any more and gave them bonuses by cutting expenses elsewhere.

The point is that local culture and philosophies of different people impact buyer behavior and hence every company is not like an American company nor do they want to be and one must comprehend the differences to find success.

Even while dealing with major markets like Asia, people very often lump a number of countries together. But if you look closer you will realize that in Asia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and China are completely different when it comes to buyer behavior. Similarly, there is no such thing as a “European” market—there is a French market, German market, Italian market, and so on.

In fact, when traveling the world, the physical spaces within office buildings might have the ambience of a conference room within an American company. But the work culture, the incentives and subtleties that power that workplace might be vastly different.

Just like they say, “Buyer beware!”, I say, “Seller be savvy!” Recognize the differences; understand the diversity and tailor your product offering, product promotion and most importantly your own behavior, to be successful in global markets.
Think globally and act locally!

Nitin Deo is a high-tech industry executive in Silicon Valley with vast international business experience. He is in charge of product management for Aster Analytics Platform at Teradata. His business experience spans over two decades in America, Europe, Pacific Rim and India. He has helped set up sales channels for emerging software products and services. He holds degrees in enineering and management.