Tag Archives: Vivek Wadhwa

On Tech, Was India Naive?

The Chinese government banned Facebook in 2009. And even Mark Zuckerberg — despite having a wife of Chinese origin; learning Mandarin; and doing public relations stunts such as jogging in the smog-filled streets of Beijing to say how much he loved China — was not able to have it change its policy. Zuckerberg even went to the extent of creating new tools to censor and suppress content — to please the communists.

But the Chinese were smarter than he was. They saw no advantages in letting a foreign company dominate their technology industry. China also blocked Google, Twitter, and Netflix, and tripped up companies such as Uber. Chinese technology companies are now among the most valuable few in the world. Facebook’s Chinese competitor, Tencent, eclipsed it in market capitalization in November 2017, passing the $500-billion mark. Its social media platform, WeChat, enables bill payment, ordering taxis, and booking hotels while chatting with friends. It is so far ahead in innovation that Facebook is desperately trying to copy its features in the payment system it added to WhatsApp. Other Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and DJI, have also raced ahead. Huawei has become a global threat with its 5G technologies and deep government links.

The protectionism that economists have long decried — which favors domestic supplies of physical goods and services — supposedly limits competition, creates monopolies, raises costs, and stifles competitiveness and productivity. But that is not a problem in the technology world. Over the Internet, knowledge, and ideas spread instantaneously. Entrepreneurs in one country can easily learn about the innovations and business models of another country and duplicate them. Technologies are advancing on exponential curves and becoming faster and cheaper, making them affordable to every country. Technology companies that don’t innovate risk going out of business because local start-ups are constantly emerging to challenge them.

Chinese technology protectionism created a fertile ground for local start-ups by eliminating the threat of foreign predators. The government selected what companies it could best control and gave them the advantage.

China actually learned some of its tactics from Silicon Valley, which doesn’t believe in free markets either. The Valley’s moguls openly tout the need to build monopolies and gain an unfair competitive advantage by dumping capital. They take pride in their position in a global economy in which money is the ultimate weapon and winners take all. If tech companies cannot copy a technology, they buy the competitor.

And then there is data, the most valuable of all technical resources. Data analysis enables everything from micro-targeting of advertisements to voter suppression and population control. Mobile applications are the greatest spying devices ever invented, monitoring not only their users’ interests but also their locations, purchasing habits, connections, political opinions, and health.

That is why the top technology companies from both East and West, the monopolists and predators, see India as the juiciest of all spoils. It has a massive market ripe for the picking, and data gold mines. India has also been naïve in its data protection policies and support for domestic innovation; it bought the old propaganda about the need for open markets.

There are some big differences, though, between the Chinese and American companies that are vying for the Indian markets. The Chinese government largely controls the actions of its companies, feeds them resources and technologies it has stolen from the West. It gives them every unfair advantage so that it can steal more and subvert democracies. Silicon Valley companies want more data so that they can sell more products. They may show bad judgment and cross ethical lines, but they aren’t playing geopolitics or endangering the sovereignty of free nations.

This is why the Indian government’s decision to ban TikTok and other Chinese companies makes sense. What was long holding Indian entrepreneurs back was the lack of Internet connectivity and mobile phones. When these became pervasive, the foreign companies stepped in. Eliminating some of that competition will give Indian entrepreneurs a chance to build world-changing technologies. These will benefit not only India but also the rest of the world, which is desperately looking for an alternative to Chinese influence and domination.

This is not to say that, without broad data and privacy protection policies, Indian technology companies won’t abuse the data that they gather. Such policies are needed as well. But the day politicians talk of breaking up companies such as Inmobi or Jio because they have become global monopolies and gained too much power will be the day of recognition that India has taken strides forward. Right now, what the country has to worry about is the dire threat from the East.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at the Labor and Worklife Program of Harvard Law School and the author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future.

This article was republished with permission from the author and can be originally found here.

Anyone Can Become an Entrepreneur

With a billion people becoming connected via smartphones with the computing power of supercomputers, India has the ability to build a digital infrastructure that is as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways. There are opportunities to create dozens of new companies as valuable as Reliance.

Just one thing could hold India back: That the people who should be availing themselves of these opportunities continue to believe that entrepreneurship isn’t for them but is the domain of young college graduates like those from Silicon Valley.

The reality is that even Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs aren’t young and don’t have special backgrounds. They merely saw an opportunity and seized it. Anyone can become an entrepreneur.

I know, because I made the same transition.

I was 33 years old. I had developed a revolutionary technology at First Boston, a New York-based investment bank, and IBM offered to invest $20 million in it — provided that we spun the technology off into a new company. I was asked to take the job of chief technology officer.

I didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family and starting a business was something I never even thought of. My father was an Indian government official; my mother, a teacher. I had no entrepreneurial aspirations and had a wife and two children to support. Taking this position would entail relinquishing a great job that paid a hefty six-figure salary, for a startup that could easily go out of business and didn’t pay well. So it wasn’t an easy decision; but I took the plunge.

Our startup, Seer Technologies, grew to 1,000 employees and had annual revenue of $120 million in five years; then we took it public. The IPO was fun, but the experience thereafter was like a nasty hangover. The excitement had gone. Sick of the big-company politics and the obsession with meeting short-term revenue goals, I wanted out.

Microsoft tried recruiting me, telling me it would offer stock worth a fortune, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of working for another big company. So I chose to start my own company again. Having tasted entrepreneurship, I had become unfit for the corporate world, and there was no returning to it. My only regret was having wasted so much of my life in it. I was 40.

Some people say that my transformation was a fluke; that entrepreneurs are born, not made. They also say that successful entrepreneurs are young and have special entrepreneurial traits. Research — including my own Duke and Harvard team’s — says otherwise. But my health suffered due to the stress of running my second company, and I had to switch careers. I still didn’t want to go back to the corporate world; so I became an academic. And the question of what makes an entrepreneur is one of the earliest I researched.

My Duke and Harvard team researched thousands of American entrepreneurs. We found that the majority, like me, did not have entrepreneurial parents and entrepreneurial aspirations at school or university. They’d started companies through tiring of working for others; they’d had a great idea and wanted to commercialise it; or they’d woken, one day, urgently wanting to build wealth before retiring.

We found that 52% of entrepreneurs surveyed were — just as were Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Naveen Tewari, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — the first in their immediate families to start a business.

While in college, only a quarter had caught the entrepreneurial bug, and half hadn’t even thought about it by then.

Family entrepreneurship, prior interest, and extreme interest, then, hadn’t heavily influenced their successes. So what had? Tertiary education — though not which university they’d graduated from — provided a huge advantage.

But what about all we hear of IIT graduates’ dominating Silicon Valley? It is a myth. My research team found that only 15% of the Indian immigrant founders of tech and engineering companies were IIT grads. Delhi University graduated twice as many Silicon Valley company founders as did IIT-Delhi, and Osmania and Bombay universities both trumped nearly all of the other IITs. Education matters but not the school.

We also found that, in the tech world, older entrepreneurs are not the exception but the norm. The average founder of a high-growth company had launched his venture at 40. Most were married and had, on average, two or more kids. They typically had six to 10 years of work experience and real-world ideas; they’d simply tired of working for others and wanted to rise above their middle-class heritage.

There is no real difference between Indian entrepreneurs and American ones. So if anyone tells you that you’re too old to be an entrepreneur or that you have the wrong background, don’t listen. Go with your gut instincts; pursue your passions. You’ll come to wonder why you wasted your time working for your idiotic boss.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

This article is published with permission from the author.

The Problems of Tech Addiction

Till late 2014, an Android phone eluded me. While the world was catching up on that paraphernalia, I settled almost doggedly for my humble Symbian, which came in the form of a Nokia E72. It had completed over four years with me, and I found it hard to give up on the device, even though it would freeze each time I attempted to open Facebook, or text on WhatsApp. The phone had been purchased when “push email” was still a novelty — the excitement was palpable, when for the first time, I was notified about an email in my inbox. But, the over-heating battery of the qwerty phone finally gave up on me one fine day, and I had to reluctantly join the bandwagon. Life hasn’t been the same ever since.

In the light of a new book, Your Happiness was Hacked by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever (Penguin Random House), a rather timely work on the problems of tech addiction and how it is controlling our lives and well-being, it felt like self-introspection was the need of the hour. Not too long ago, London-based tech blogger Jamie Bartlett in his book, The People Vs Tech, cautioned us to employ self-control while using the Internet. “Hordes of us are now members of a zombie army that walks while looking down at our phones,” he wrote. Wadhwa, a professor at Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering, and Salkever, a technology leader and author, share similar concerns. The paranoia about us being the last generation to remember a life before technology invasion, is very real.

Tracking the addiction
While reading Wadhwa and Salkever’s new title, I consciously decided to make an attempt to track my technology consumption over a period of 24 hours. It would be wrong to call myself an addict, because in the past, I have weaned off social media — once, for as long as a month — and I didn’t feel any withdrawal or unhappiness. In retrospect, the decision to cut off had stemmed from the anxiety, stress and discontentment that I was feeling in the process of being inundated with information, photographs and sometimes vacuous chats, which I found hard to process.

My first real obsession with the web began when I was on social networking website Orkut, back in 2005. The good part about not having a smartphone then, and having a home landline driven Internet connection meant that I could only invest 30 minutes each day. The Symbian, where I could download only limited apps, barely fuelled the desire to be on the web constantly. The Android smartphone changed the dynamics. The first app that I downloaded was Instagram, which was a rage. An hour later, I posted a photo of the neer dosa I had prepared. I barely had any followers then, but the ‘likes’ came pouring in from everywhere, including dosa fans I had never met.

The book highlights how social media platforms use likes, hearts, and retweets, as an attempt to encourage you to use these apps more often. The more the love, the greater the social approval, and the bigger the possibility of you getting hooked. Sending your love might seem harmless, but as the authors point out, too much of it might be dangerous for the soul. It’s also possibly why Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012. It had the ability to entice users by not just having them scroll through images posted by others, but also getting them to spend hours planning the images they wanted to post.

Four years on, 1,359 posts and 992 followers later, I am not sure if that was what motivated me to keep putting up pictures. And, I try religiously to upload every day — even if that means sharing a photograph of a leaf from a home garden, which amusingly garnered 80 likes. Putting up a profile photograph, always gets over 150 likes. The day it doesn’t, there is niggling feeling at the back of my head, that this isn’t my best shot, yet. Again, isn’t this problematic?

While tracking my Internet use, which included using my phone as well as the desktop, I also figured that after uploading a picture on Instagram, there was this unwarranted need to check on my hearts. In 30 minutes, I had visited the platform 10 times. Each time, I go back to Instagram, I am also investing a few seconds scrolling. If there’s rampant commenting on a picture, the seconds soon turn to minutes. On a friend’s suggestion, I also downloaded an app — Quality Time, once I reached home at 9 pm. I slept off by 11.30 pm, but, in the short span, I had already invested 62 minutes on the web, having spent the maximum time on WhatsApp, Netflix and Instagram. The following day, between 7.30 am and 12.30 pm, the app notified that I had picked up my phone 88 times.

Way out of this whirlpool
Not just social media, the authors also talk about the need to keep going back to our work emails, post office hours, and how it has eaten into our relationships. Then, there is Netflix, which they reveal, has PhD data scientists on their roll, to figure out how to get you to watch more movies. Binge-watching the latest series is not just then about your lack of self-control, but also about how your watching behaviour has been tracked, to further feed your consumption. This explains how when I am just done with watching a comedy special on the platform, I am immediately led to a menu of similar shows.

There is no way out of this, unless you are honest about the feelings that technology raises in us. The authors suggest we ask the right questions — whether it makes us happier or sadder, does it change our behaviour, and hurt those around us, and most importantly, would we miss it, if we stopped using it?

Like Bartlett explained the need to plan your personal time and space carefully, which includes having switch-off times, avoiding the checking cycle and never hitting refresh, similar suggestions with real-life examples are doled out for us in this book too. One person stopped taking his phone into the bedroom. Others don’t check their emails after work, and many have just deleted social media apps from their phone. Many Silicon Valley leaders are now speaking out against this disruption. Roger McNamee, a technology investor and mentor to Mark Zuckerburg — who has written the foreword of the book — is one among the many voices. If anything, we are at a crossroad, and measured steps, is possibly the only way forward.

Reprinted with permission by the author.

Silicon Valley Forum’s 2018 Visionary Awards

On May 17th, 2018, Silicon Valley Forum’s annual Visionary Awards returns for its illustrious 21st year—four of Silicon Valley’s brightest stars and leading founders will take the stage in celebration of their achievements, work, and contributions to Silicon Valley’s renowned business and technology ecosystem. The Visionary Awards invite the Valley’s thriving community—from up-and-coming entrepreneurs to lifelong company leaders, from seasoned investors to service providers—to come together for this singularly inspiring evening. The 2018 Visionary Awards will be held at Domenico Winery in San Carlos, California.

The 2018 Visionary Award recipients are:

  • Kimberly Bryant– Founder and CEO, Black Girls Code; visionary entrepreneur and speaker
  • Caterina Fake– Cofounder, Flickr and Hunch; author, entrepreneur, and angel investor
  • Astro Teller– Entrepreneur, scientist, and author; Captain of Moonshots, X
  • Vivek Wadhwa– Author, entrepreneur, and Carnegie Mellon Fellow

“Every year at our annual Visionary Awards, we look forward to the opportunity to celebrate the absolute best of the best of Silicon Valley—the leaders whose work is synonymous with what makes this region so magnetic,” said Denyse Cardozo, Silicon Valley Forum CEO. “We’re proud to invite the Valley to join us this year as we celebrate the achievements of this extraordinary group.”

Tickets are available at the event page both individually and in tables of 8 for attendees who want to enjoy a shared client or team experience. The evening begins at 6 pm with a wine reception, followed by a seated dinner and speeches from each of the Visionary honorees. Cocktail attire is encouraged.

At Silicon Valley Forum, we believe in the transformative power of entrepreneurship. We’ve dedicated the last 35 years to helping people learn how to build a business the Silicon Valley way, with a focus on creativity and innovation, using technology to bring society towards a better future. Whether you’re trying to create a company here or build your own Silicon Valley at home, our events and our online portal light the way for you to learn and grow as a 21st century entrepreneur.

Throughout our 35-year history, we’ve created thousands of successful events, programs, and conferences that educate, train, inspire and connect technologists, entrepreneurs, corporates, investors, innovation and startup hubs, and students—in Silicon Valley, throughout the U.S., and globally. We organize over 70 different activities per year, have over 20,000 subscribers/users, and work with over 40 countries worldwide.

Our partners include global leaders like Accenture, IBM, Microsoft, Mercer, and SAP, just to name a few, as well as leading venture capital firms and service providers. Silicon Valley Forum is a fully independent 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.

For more information, visit our website at http://www.siliconvalleyforum.com.

India Deserves Better than Mark Zuckerberg’s Watered-down Internet

Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, is taking intense fire in India over an initiative that his organization Internet.org launched, to provide limited Internet access to the masses. He seems genuine in his desire to bring digital equality to the world: in an op-ed for The Times of India, he defended this initiative, called “Free Basics,” citing the example of a farmer named Ganesh, who would be able to find weather information and prepare for monsoons, look up commodity prices to get better deals, and invest in new crops and livestock.

Zuckerberg is on the defensive because he doesn’t understand the culture and values of Indians. He doesn’t realize that Ganesh cherishes the freedom that India gained from its British colonizers in 1947 and doesn’t want a handout from a Western company. Ganesh may be poor, but he doesn’t want anyone to dictate what sites he can visit, what movies he may watch, or what applications he can download.

Like a billion other Indians, Ganesh can afford a cellphone that lets him call and text anyone, anywhere. He is saving up for a beautiful new smartphone, just like the ones he sees other people using, which costs around $40. He would rather spend 50 cents a month for 100 megabytes of unrestricted data access than compromise his freedom and dignity.

Zuckerberg is right about the benefits of Internet access: it will enable village artisans to access global markets; farmers to learn about weather and commodity prices; and laborers and maids to find work through sharing-economy applications. With unrestricted Internet access, they will have access to same ocean of knowledge as we do and become our equals online.

And here is the problem with Free Basics: the Internet access on offer is not unrestricted. Facebook and the mobile carriers get to decide what websites people can visit, and Facebook becomes the center of the Internet universe. Users can’t do Google searches and explore the web; they can only go to supported sites and search Facebook.

Zuckerberg compares this limited service to libraries and hospitals. But imagine a private corporation being allowed to decide which books your children could read and which videos they could watch— and to monitor everything that they did. Imagine the corporation’s dictating what services your hospital would offer and what treatments it would provide. Would you accept that?

The debate centers on the concept of net neutrality—whether a mobile carrier should be allowed to favor which websites a person visits. This is not an Indian issue; we are fighting these battles in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission enacted rules in March 2015 to require broadband providers to treat all data equally rather than provide preference to some sites. A federal appeals court is challenging these rules at the behest of the telecommunications industry.

Google has the same motivations as Facebook—to bring billions more people online. But it is pursuing a more sensible strategy: it is setting up fast and free WiFi Internet access points at 400 railroad stations all over India. These are frequented by tens of millions of people. Facebook could one-up Google by setting up access points at thousands of schools, libraries, and villages. This “no strings attached” approach would earn it gratitude—and signups— rather than resentment.

The ultimate solution, unrestricted Internet for everyone, is, however, something that Facebook, Google and others are already working on providing, via drones, balloons, and microsatellites.

With its Aquila Unmanned Aircraft and laser technologies, Facebook has demonstrated the ability to deliver data at a rate of tens of gigabytes per second to a target the size of a coin—from 10 miles away. This is 10 times faster than existing land-based technologies. With interconnected drones, it will, within two or three years, most likely be able to provide Internet access to the most remote regions of the world.

Google is further ahead in its efforts. It has already piloted a technology in Brazil, Australia and New Zealand to beam Internet data from the sky. Google’s balloons, called Loons, are essentially floating cell towers that can relay a signal to a mobile device on the ground.

And then there are low-orbit microsatellites, which Oneweb, SpaceX, and now Samsung are building. These beam Internet signals by laser to ground stations.

Google was supposed to launch Loons in India, but India’s defense, aviation, and telecommunications ministries raised technical and security concerns and stopped the project. When the telecom providers figure out that with unlimited, inexpensive, Internet access, their cell and data businesses will be decimated, they too will place obstacles in the way of these technologies.

This, therefore, is the real battle that Facebook should be fighting. If the goal is to provide everyone with Internet access, Facebook and the Internet-freedom groups that it is fighting should be working together to lobby for a change in government policies—for when the new space-based technologies are ready.

Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. You can follow him onTwitter at @vwadhwa and find his research at www.wadhwa.com. First published in The Washington Post.