Resist the temptation of that bigger round


Dear early stage founder, 

Resist the temptation of that bigger round. 
Bigger need not be better.
Bigger could mean larger dilutions, longer conversations and higher exit thresholds.
Bigger could result in larger and persistent drain on your time & attention.
And expensive mistakes. 

Opt for smaller rounds instead.
The ones that are strategic and close fast.
Raise as little and as late as possible.
And only from those who offer friendly terms.

Rounds done right can propel.
Done wrong could derail.
Rob momentum and land you in dead ends.
View fundraising process also as a potential distraction.
One to be gotten over quickly and not having to revisit / regret. 
Time and attention being most precious capital.

Think organisation building.
All attention and mindshare going into building product and customers. 
An early stage round coming at the expense of building defeats the purpose and is just too costly. 

Rethinking import substitution in the knowledge age

Import substitution is a trade and economic policy which advocates replacing foreign imports with domestic production.

Over the past few years, considerable amount of my time and attention have been directed towards board games. Over the past year or so, fair amount of my time has also gone into dabbling with code — mostly Dialogflow, Telegram bots, Apps Scripts & most recently Jekyll (in that order). To pursue & advance on both these interests of mine, I have relied on the internet a lot.

Videos, blogs and websites have been my primary sources for learning. Almost all the board game titles, I learned to play not by reading up the manuals but by viewing gameplay videos on YouTube by independent creators. Reviews and strategies for advanced game play were picked up by reading through several websites. Even when I had to refer to the manual, I have mostly googled it up on a need basis as against locating it from my cupboard or storing a digital copy locally on my machine.

Similar has been the experience with coding also. While all the platforms I have listed above have fairly good official documentations, I have seen me use them as reference resources. What I used for learning was by and large tutorial videos and blogs / articles by independent creators. Beyond doubt, this is a better way to learn than official manuals. The statement in no way invalidates the need for official manuals. They aren’t mutually exclusive. They coexist and complement each other.

What I wish to bring the attention however is to another point. Almost exclusively, all these videos and articles were of foreign origin and their creators foreign nationals (Amit Agarwal might have been the only exception). In all these instances, reputation and value is flowing out of our local economy and to another country. Each time I direct people to these resources as part of any guidance efforts, it is adding on to the value drain.

This got me thinking about the need to advocate for local production of such knowledge resources. In the information & knowledge age that is the 21st century, the concept of import substitution has to be consciously extended to such digital resources. This is also one category of goods that can be created through cognitive contributions alone.

In summary, start publishing tutorials. You will be helping yourself and also contributing to the development of your country. Your learning retention will be better, reputation will be enhanced and you will also doing your bit towards nation building.

The challenge with internships in Kerala

Context

  • The candidate should be able to spend 6 months (min 2) in internship.
  • The internship window should be fixed and know in advance.

The present scenario

  • Exams keeps getting rescheduled.
  • Resulting in shortened and uncertain semester break periods.

Interventions required

  • Exams to happen on time as per academic calendar.
  • One semester in final year to be kept aside for internship.


Ignore them both

No single image has left so much of an impression on me as this one.

                                        Ignore them both & keep doing doing work

I had come across in one of the articles from Brain Pickings titled Advise to Sink in Slowly. This illustration also helped me appreciate the role of art to convey in a powerful and profound manner.

Ignore them both. Advise to sink in slowly indeed. I have also added a line to that in my head every time I reflect on this post — Keep doing good work.

Bring down cost of experimentation

A guiding principle for all those interesting in instilling a culture of innovation or nurturing an innovative ecosystem: Keep bringing down cost of experimentation. Both economic and emotional.

A welcoming environment where people feel the comfort to try things out and have fun with it is your responsibility. Start by being appreciative of people trying things out.

Slay hoaxes

When in doubt, search.

Arya’s article from the other day about fact checking brought to mind a website I have often relied on – hoax slayer. Just that very day, I also came across this page / segment titled hoaxposed in ThePrint.

Hoaxes have always plagued humankind. Its nature has changed in the digital age. While its change in nature has resulted in hoaxes spreading wider & faster, slaying hoaxes has also never been easier. All it takes is a one search on the internet to ascertain the veracity of the information. If the information is not available or not carried by any trusted sources, then it's most likely a hoax. Even better, if it actually is a hoax, most likely it will throw up as a link itself mentioning it as a hoax.

I have made use of hoax slayer on numerous occasions to convince people that a text message or mail is actually is a hoax. Just yesterday, I also ended up realising that hoax slayer website is the result of the efforts of one individual.

Hoax-Slayer is owned and operated by Brett Christensen from his home office in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. Bundaberg is a small city a few hours drive north of Brisbane and is famous for its rum, ginger beer and sugar cane. Brett founded Hoax-Slayer in 2003. He researches and writes most of the articles published on Hoax-Slayer and manages the day-to-day-running of the site. 

From the hoax slayer website

Taking a cue from Brett, each of us can also do our bit towards the phenomenon and social menace of hoaxes. Each time we come across questionable information or appeals to forward information, we can commit to take out a moment to do a search & verify. Should it turn out to be a hoax, we could also share back the hoax slaying information. Both these actions, together and individually, can contribute to curbing the propagation of hoaxes. Armed with the sword that is the internet, each of us can be hoax slayers ourselves.

Auria Kathi, the AI artist

An interesting 20% collaboration project of Sleeba Paul & Fabin Rasheed.

Today’s Office hours call was with Sleeba Paul, an ML professional and a GECT (MTech) alum. Few days back I had received a note from Sleeba, appraising me about a project he had put together along with his friend Fabin Rasheed, a designer with Adobe.

On 2019 Jan 7th, we’ve launched Auria Kathi. She generates a short poem, draws an abstract art based on the poem, and then colours the picture depending upon a mood. All these creative tasks are done without any human intervention. Everything from her face to art to voice is artificially generated. We try to push the limits of generative art here. Auria is envisioned as a hub for artificial artistry. In the coming days, she will be creating more varieties of artificial digital art.

Excerpt from Sleeba’s email note about the Auria Kathi project

Sleeba mentioned that this was a project that he was pursuing on the side and stemmed out of curiosity. Auria has made it to the 12th edition of the Florence Biennale 2019 under the under the contemporary digital art section. While Sleeba has reached out for guidance on raising funds for the their travel to participate in the Biennale, my interest in having a chat with him was based on my sheer interest and curiosity in their work. What I wished to understand was how they came up with this project and what their plans were with it going forward. My objective was also to nudge them towards different use cases that could be explored with their present project or with the underlying capability.

For those who wish to check out Auria, she is on both Instagram and Twitter and will be posting daily for next year.

Links


Americorps

It’s time we shifted our policy making towards such well designed programs.

It was during my IVLP that I came across the Americorps. Americorps is a voluntary public service program, supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors.. The objective of the program is to improve lives and foster civic engagement.

Members commit their time to address community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks etc. The members rewarded for their contributions through living cost stipends and education credits.

Members may be provided low financial compensation in the form of cost-of-living allowances, student loan deferment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and the Americorps Education Award.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is a United States government program that was created under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 (CCRAA) to provide indebted professionals a way out of their federal student loan debt burden by working full-time in public service.

The AmeriCorps Education Award is granted to members who are serving, part-time or full-time, in participating programs through Americorps. After completing a term of service, Americorps members are eligible to receive the education award to pay education costs at qualified institutions of higher education, for educational training, or to repay qualified student loans.

What was striking to me about the design of the program was how they had tied the rewards to education credits. What was even more striking was that the education rewards can also be transferred to your child, (including step-child, foster-child, grandchild, or step-grandchild). There are few safeguards also put in place. There are limitations on the numbers of terms an individual can serve and the maximum value of education award an individual can receive. Education credit transfer is allowed only for those who are over 55 years of age as well.

By combining service with education credits, it incentivises people to both take up service roles and pursue their education. For young adults, they get to do service roles at an age where you are most idealistic, stand to gain some professional experience while contributing and also get to reduce their cost of education. For seniors, they get to contribute their expertise and time to meaningful service roles while also affording the ability to gift education credits to their children.

Every country and society needs people, and qualified people particularly, contributing time to public service. A well designed program similar to Americorps has the potential to attract more and qualified talent to public service. I also find this education credits approach better than the one hinged on market salaries to attract talent to public service roles. Studies have also found that participation in Americorps strengthened civic attitudes and made members more likely to choose careers in public service.

It’s time we shifted our policy making towards such well designed programs.

The only book I have reread

Four hour workweek by Tim Ferriss.

I have generally been fond of books and have read many. Only one though have I reread – 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferris.

I have picked up several concepts & approaches from the book. The book also shifted my approach to execution & getting things done in a profound manner.