Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blog on dental hospitals

Mona has worked with dental hospitals over the past 3 years helping them with their social media strategy and IT related strategic plans. You can read more about her experiences in her blog on dental hospitals.

Given below is an extract of an article she has written about dental hospitals

There are more than 1500+ dental hospitals in Hyderabad. Consultations cost anywhere between Rs. 100/- to Rs. 300/-. It is a business that functions a lot on word of mouth and references. However, if you are someone like me who came to Hyderabad and don't have anyone to point you in the right direction, then this is the dental review blog for you.If you call up JustDial, they will redirect you to the one that is paying them the most and who is in your area, ofcourse. However, for me, teeth are personal and sensitive and after horrible experiences, i decided to come up with this blog - To share information on good dental hospitals and in my own way give back to society. 
If you refer to JD's reviews they are fake and from what i've seen on most review sites, there is no way of assessing the genuiness of the complaints as none of the people posting put their real name and contact details.
You can continue reading this article by going here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Landing a programming job

It is getting harder for freshers to break into the software industry and land a good job especially if you are from a tier 2 or 3 colleges. So what can you do.

The answer to this is very simple – the industry is looking for people who can do a task that is given to them – when you join the industry the key is to be able to “write code” as that is what you will be hired as a fresher to do. Let us say you go for a training you should ask yourself at the end of it – can I write code and if the answer is NO – then you will find it extremely hard to get a job in the software industry.

The key is to get a computer and get comfortable with it. The more you work on the computer the more comfortable you will get at it. So go for the training and come back to your PC and you need to work hard at it writing programs – what programs? – You may ask and the answer is simple – any program that will teach you the concept that you learnt.

You can find these programs to code at these locations

  1. Mindqjobs.com and we have a section on programming and their solutions. 
  2. Click here to get a list of programming questions - 50 programs for software engineers looking for jobs
  3. Any book will be able to give you enough samples to understand and learn. 
Do not copy-paste the sample and execute it and say you tried it out. Read the sample – close the source – try and do it without looking at the source – if you run into difficulties stop what you are doing – go back to the source – read it once again – close the source and come back to the computer and fix the problem – that is the only way you will learn and get confident. The key is to be able to implement things on your own.

Let us say, now you have the required knowledge and the confidence that you can program given the problem – you may ask – How do I now get a job? Write about the tougher programs that you have programmed or what you have learnt on a blog. Some examples of blogs of students that have trained under me are

  1. Step Towards a Corporate World
  2. Summer at Inforica

Include this URL in your resume. You should be able to write these programs if asked to at the interview and I can assure you that in 8 out of 10 cases you will land yourself a programming job. In any circumstances do not lie about your skills or experience – even if you get through the interview your shortcomings will be exposed and things will get tougher once you start working.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Who best fits the QA Role ?

For those of you who are not too familiar with these terms I would advise you to read my first article - Quality Assurance Vs Quality Control where I have spoken about my understanding of the two terms and it kind of leads into this article.

I have been asked this a few times by professionals who do QC (essentially testers although testing != QC) - "How do I move into a QA role?" and I have also read in a few websites and newsgroups for QA and QC where one looks at moving from a QC role to a QA role like a natural progression in ones careers.

Since I have played the QA role I would first talk about some of the things that helped me perform this role.
  • Since the QA role expects the person to have a holistic view of the process of software development it is important to have a bit of experience in all the facets of software development right from requirements to design to development to deployment. Its only when one understands all of these elements in software development can one be competent enough to be able to define a process.
  • Its important to understand the business for which the process is being developed. The process that is developed for software product development will be different from software services. Hence it is important to understand the business so that the appropriate process can be developed or enhanced.
  • The person implementing a process needs to understand the implications of a process change. Process change is a mindset change - you need to get everyone else to think like you and then get them to implement the process. Hence it is very important to gradually move them to where you want the process to be. Hence reading some theory and saying oh it will be great to have it lets roll it out may backfire very badly its important to understand the implication of each step of the process and implement it gradually showing the benefits of the process that is being implemented.
  • A QA person needs to be an evangelist - he needs to convince a lot of people that he/she knows what they are doing. Hence it is good to have good communication skills and marketing abilities to be able to sell the benefits of the process. Secondly the experience of the person in implementing what the person is preaching will go a long way in convincing everyone that what is being implemented will work.
Hence as you can see just understanding the testing phase of a project development lifecycle or being very good at testing and identifying defects in the software does not gaurantee that the person will be good playing the QA role. Hence it is important to understand that moving from QC (aka Testing) to QA is not a natural progression of ones career.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Advertising as primary revenue stream in startups

Over the last few months I have seen a lot of business ideas that base their revenue generation through advertising. In my experience this is a very dangerous strategy for a startup. Let me narrate my experience about implementing this strategy on a website that Inforica had developed called mindqjobs.com.

We launched this website in the last week of december 2012 with much fanfare with the assumption that we will get the traffic to monetize through advertising. The assumption was made on the fact that the website was to be used by the students of a software training institute Mindq Systems which number in the 1000s every month. We started off by putting Adsense and the pennies started to flow in almost immediately. Thats right, all we got were pennies which added up to a few dollars every day, an amount barely enough to pay for hosting the site on a shared server. One of the reasons is because the traffic was from India and not the west, so you end up making very little in terms of CTRs and CPCs. About a month later one fine day we get a mail from Adsense saying that our adsense account is banned for illegal traffic and that was the end of adsense on the website. 

We then went on to try out other ad networks such as Komoona ads. We get absolutely nothing from this ad network, just a few cents every day which we continue to get as of now. We got an account on infolinks - this made the whole page very ugly by linking up text to extra information and it was not the kind of user experience that we desired on the website. Another ad network that we tried out is Chitika - the issue with this is that it is targeted towards search pages and not content pages so they have very few ad types. The new one that I am trying out now is Tyroo - this is an ad network where you promote products and you earn commissions. 

Based on my experience this is my feedback for all those considering an advertising as their main source of revenue
  1. Ensure that you have 10's of thousands of page views per day with a majority of the traffic from the west. 
  2. Adsense is by far the easiest ad network to implement with the least amount of work. They have a wide array of ads suitable for every kind of page and the kind of revenue you earn from it is much more than any other ad network we have come across.
  3. Have one person full time only evaluating and trying out ad networks and changes to your web pages so that you manage the fine line between a good user experience and good chances of a click through.
  4. There is very little control that one has over the ad network and if all your revenue is dependent on a third party you have very high risk inherently built into your revenue model that can drive you into the ground very easily.
  5. Since traffic takes time to build up so ad revenue takes time to build up and also there is no guarantee that the ad revenue is directly proportional to the growth of the traffic although a pattern develops over time.
My personal opinion is that ad revenue cannot be your primary source of income of your product unless you are a google, facebook or linkedin and none of us are that when we startup. Ad revenue should only be a supplementary source of income. Build something that a customer is going to love using and is willing to pay you for it. That should be your primary source of income. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

10 guidelines to be a valued associate

Its appraisal time and everyone wants to be the most valued associate. But how do you become the most valued associate - here are my thoughts

  1. Creating a belief that you can meet your commitments. Given a task you will do what ever it takes to complete it in the allocated time.
  2. Take pains to ensure that the task is done with minimum defects or issues. This can be achieved by multiple practice runs or by a lot of testing.
  3. There is an eye for detail to ensure that simple things are not overlooked and there is no compromise made on quality.
  4. Shortcomings of delivering the application are noted and brought to the attention of the superior as soon as they are identified so appropriate action can be taken. Do not wait to be asked for status to bring this up. 
  5. Having the knowledge to deliver and train others so that you gain respect within the community. Should have the passion to learn new things and apply them in ones work.
  6. Documenting what is being done so that anyone else can take over and continue if you have to ever leave the task mid way.
  7. Being open minded and inclusive in discussions and meetings.
  8. Having good communication skills both written and oral. They should have the ability to write well written emails or be able to hold a discussion comfortably with clients and fellow associates in the organization.
  9. Being able to admit ones faults and shortcomings and put action plans in place to rectify them.
  10. Not being afraid to challenge the norm and work on actionable points to improve the organization.
With inputs from Vidhyashankar Kannan - you can read his blog here

Friday, April 12, 2013

Startup events in Hyderabad

Was reading this small write up in the times paper about the NASSCOM initiative to create 10000 startups and over the last one month I have been part of 3 startup events in Hyderabad focused
primarily towards students and encouraging them to take the entrepreneurial plunge rather than take up a campus recruitment offer.

Startup Weekend University

Startup Weekend University is similar to a regular startup weekend event except that the combination of students to experienced professionals is 70% students and 30% professionals. We had about 75 participants and the event was held at the beautiful BITS Pilani, Hyderabad campus over 3 days with many students staying on the campus. The students were primarily from BITS, IIT, IIIT and Vignan University, Guntur with a few students from other colleges in the city. 

The event was a highly successful event in showcasing that students can build products over the weekend that have a business side to them. There were 13 startups formed over the weekend and all of them had a working prototype to show the judges on sunday evening. There were ideas ranging from playing puzzles to win free food orders to home automation systems where hardware was fabricated at the venue. 
The event kicked off on friday evening with pitch fire (1 min to tell everyone what your idea is), voting for the top ideas and team formation. By 11 PM on friday night we had 13 teams ready to start building their startups. Saturday was filled with mentoring sessions with successful founders, investors, CEOs of companies and product building using the resources that startup weekend provides. Sunday saw final demos being presented in front of a panel of judges that run incubators and accelerators.

Idea Carnival

TiE along with Hyderabad Angels and the Uber Accelerator conducted an event called Idea Carnival at IIIT,  Hyderabad. This was a 2 day event with students from IIIT, IIT, BITS and ISB that attempted to put together a business model and a wireframe/throw away prototype over 2 days to be presented to a panel of judges that consisted of almost 10 angels. It was amazing to see the confidence of the students in putting forth their ideas and business models to a large audience in Avasa Hotel.

Ideato

Ideato was an event conducted in IIT Hyderabad by the students of IIT Hyderabad for the students of IIT Hyderabad. They got about 35-40 students to spend a weekend to ideate and validate their ideas. The ideas were very exciting from creating videos out of images to local search and coupons. 

Other articles I have written about startup weekend

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Staying the course

Life can be challenging for an entrepreneur. The inherent risks of running the venture are high and thus each
day presents their own challenges. The risks are there as the number of people that can do a job is limited, the money available on hand is limited, the number of customers you have is limited and vendors do not give you attention as you are small. Any one of these can change every day and you will notice that you have ups and downs in quick succession - just like you are going on a roller coaster. This can play with the mind of the entrepreneur in a very significant way.

The important thing is to keep evaluating your position with respect to your employees, customers, suppliers and money flow as often as possible and take actions accordingly. There are days when it would seem impossible to manage all of this and you feel like throwing in the towel wondering if it is all worth it. It is at this time you have to go back to your vision and believe completely in your vision and then stay the course to reach that vision. That is where it is very important to have a vision as an entrepreneur.

Forming a vision is like dreaming and can cover

  • What kind of an organization you want to create - its values, beliefs?
  • What kind of work do you want to do in case of services? 
  • What kind of a product do you want to build in terms of a product?
  • Understand who are your best customers, suppliers and employees - figure out how you are going to work with them in the future to grow your business and organization?
Your vision should create assets (Read Post on Assets and Branding) - assets can be in the form of a very good customer list, a fantastic set of employees, suppliers who answer your call on the first ring :) and products or services that more and more customers want. If you have this vision and you feel you are moving towards it then it is a lot more easier to stay the course and reap the rewards in time.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Passport Renewal Application

Its been 5 years since I have applied for my daughters passport and I wrote a series of articles at that point of time on the process
The process now has changed significantly and so much for the better. I got the passport in about a week after applying for a tatkal passport. Let me go over the steps here. Please note a few things with respect to my application 
  • It was for a minor.
  • It was a renewal of a passport that expired less than 3 years ago.
  • There was no address change. The address on the expired passport and the new passport is the same.

Step 1 : Create a login

Create an account on https://portal2.passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/user/userLogin. Give a valid email id as you will need to validate the email id after registration.

Step 2 : Apply for Fresh Passport / Reissue of Passport

Once you login, click on the link that says apply for fresh passport / Reissue of passport. Follow the instructions and download the PDF and complete it. If you are using Adobe 10 then you can save the PDF. Use the offline method where you have to fill in the form > Save an XML file on your desktop and then upload it onto the site.

Step 3 : Schedule a date

On the same site you have to schedule a date at the Passport Seva Kendra. There are slots that open up every day at 4:00 PM and within about a minute they get filled up. The important point to note is that they open up at 4:00 PM on the server time at the passport office and this time is located at the top left hand corner of the screen. Keep applying for a slot right from 3:55 PM continuously refreshing the time. If you stay idle then it times out the session and you will have to login again. Do not login with the same id on multiple computers it will log you out of all the sessions. Do not give up, it took me 3 days to figure it out and finally get a date. Each day they open up the slots for 1 day about 4-5 days from the date you try to make the booking. 

Step 4 : Collecting the documents

You can get the list of documents needed by going to this URL - https://portal2.passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/docAdvisorSecure/attachmentAdvFresh. Select the appropriate choices and it will give you the list of documents needed. You will have to carry photocopies of these documents and also the original on the date and time that you got a booking for in the Passport Seva Kendra. In addition to these documents I was asked to give the photocopy of the fathers passport and the mothers passport. You do not need to carry photographs. They are taken in the passport seva kendra. 

Step 5 : Submit documents at the Passport Seva Kendra

Report at the allotted time at the passport seva kendra. Its a 4 step process 
  1. Get the documents verified and get a token. At this point they will put the photocopies of your documents in a file. 
  2. Your original documents are scanned, photograph is taken and fees collected. At this point they will collect the fees based on whether the application is tatkal or normal. 
  3. The documents are verified online that were scanned in step 2 vs what is present in the file.
  4. The file is submitted and a receipt is given to you and the old passport is stamped. 

Step 6 : Passport is sent to your address by speed post

The passport is then dispatched to your house by speed post. The status of this can be viewed on the website by logging in. The day the passport is dispatched you are sent an SMS on the registered mobile number. 

The process is very simple and straight forward now. The documents can be photocopied at the passport seva kendra as there is a photocopy center inside and also there is an ATM to withdraw money if needed. The kendra's are air conditioned and there are chairs to sit down and wait for your turn. You have to wait for your token to come up on the big TV displays and then go to the appropriate counter. It took me about 2 hours inside the kendra to complete the entire process.