Archive for the ‘general discussions’ Category

Why Infosys can’t be a product making company?

April 2, 2007

Before I answer this question (not that I have this beautiful and simple answer which suddenly solves the problem), let me talk about how we got here. Infosys is a great company. I admire Narayana Murthy for what he has done. He is like a WWI War Hero. He fought the war in trenches, faced the gas bombs and artillery shells. He created a services company and made an empire out of it. The fallout of building such an empire has been great for many other companies as well. MNCs started to look at India for outsourcing and nowadays Bangalore is compared with Silicon Valley itself (though that comparison is more hype than truth). Infosys is a great services company. Nowadays you can almost get any kind of software from this company, banking, finance, enterprise, telecom, satellite, wireless, nanotechnology, etc; you name it you get it. While making this superbly well-oiled machine for services (plus consulting and outsourcing), this company has created many war heroes who can fight a WWI with maximum efficiency and minimal cost.

In addition to Infosys, there are other great services companies, like, Satyam, HCL, Wipro, TCS, etc. The combined intake of engineers by these companies is pretty high. Some of these companies take 60-80 engineers from a single college. In the whole process, they create many engineers who are good at delivering services. Services companies have only two factors to play with- Utilization factor and Average Salary. The mantra is- “Keep most of your assets (employees, labs, and other resources) billable and keep the average salary of the employees to minimum”. Give this as a problem to any lay man and he will come up with almost similar strategy most of these services companies employ. You want your engineers to be on a project all the time. So, you scout for projects in all domains and put your engineers to work on them. Though a certain level of skill/expertise is required, you also figure out that most engineers can take up almost any project and work on it. You create engineers who are jack-of-all-trades. Then you also have a set of excellent managers who manage the gargantuan task of delivery (in time and with quality) using these jack-of-all-trades engineers. To keep the Average Salary low, one has to continuously recruit fresh engineers and move the experienced people out or to a management role. So don’t be surprised to see five-year experienced engineers becoming project leaders, and seven-year experienced engineers becoming project managers. Over a period of time, what you get out of such companies are excellent managers; managers who are proficient in delivery mechanism, who know how to thrive and deliver in a services environment, where the parameters for success are very different from that of a product making company. Those who do not succeed in such an environment will be weeded out slowly; or they force themselves to fit into such environments by working on their weaknesses and strengths to adapt to such environment. Give this process twenty years and what you have is hundreds of managers and leaders who are good at running services companies. This is like creating many Generals and Soldiers suitable for WWI. (Just for the sake of argument) Imagine WWI to be services industry while WWII is a product making company.

Now, how can these leaders be suitable for product-making industry (WWII)?

Just by infusing cash and incentives you can’t make product making companies out of this environment. To wage a new kind of war these Generals and Soldiers have to consciously adapt to new rules. Yes, they have the ability to adapt but will they do it? Why should they do it? Especially after winning the laurels and successes in WWI they are keen on keeping the warfare more WWI-like and reap rewards. It is not in their interest to change the rules of the game. Why should one change the rules of the game and turn out to be a loser?

Therefore, all the success stories we get to see are come from services industry. The ex-entrepreneurs are all from services companies and they tend to promote more services company. Books are written on how Bangalore is an ideal place for outsourcing, off-shoring and cost-cutting (by giving projects to services companies). The MNCs who open up shop in Bangalore tend to look at Bangalore as a cost-cutting center, relegating the kind of work they would have given to other services companies. The VC firms who only see such success stories end up promoting services industry. The partners at VC firms have been on board of such services industry and have now attained a flair for advising and helping such companies. Their affiliations and networking is in that industry and hence add value for such industry. Some of the ex-entrepreneurs who have joined this VC firm are comfortable in measuring, assessing and adding value to services industry. If you want to fund a startup that has big names in the industry, those big names come from services industry. The community of VCs and and ex-entrepreneurs consists of people who have waged this services war and have succeeded in this game. They tend to promote more of such industries. Familiarity is the key aspect. It breeds the same kind. So, what we have is a self-perpetuating environment, also called ecosystem, that promotes services industry. There is no room for product-making companies here.

If there are any product-making companies out there, they are exceptions. Such startups may find it difficult to get senior team members with product-making experience. Most of the potential team members with 8-12 years of experience are now managers in a services company. Are they valuable to a product-making startup? Even if they are, will they leave their cushy job and lifestyle to take on this new kind of warfare which they are not used to? Moreover, the startups in product-making space will not find advisors who are veterans of this industry. The VCs are not ready to fund such high risk companies who do not have enough exposure to this different game. Why should they when they have a choice to start another services company? Therefore, most product-making ideas do not take off.

You need precedents to create such an environment but how can you create such environment when you can’t even start off? That’s where it becomes very tough for someone to startup a product-making company in India.

Another analogy that I use is that of a space probe (like Voyager) launched into space. You have two choices. You can move to a planet like Jupiter and use its gravitational force to become a satellite of Jupiter and stay there forever, or use the same gravitational force plus an added thrust to move to the next planet. Most of the Indian companies tend to choose to stay at one level, that is services company, and do not want to venture further to the next level, that is product-making company.

Why do I stress so much on product-making companies?

It’s simple actually. [To repeat myself] In short, it [services-company] is not a scaleable business. If a services-company does $2 Billion revenues with (say) 50,000 engineers, to get to $20 Billion in revenue they need to hire 500,000 engineers. It’s not very practical.

Compare this with a product-making company. A small group of individuals can make a big difference and if successful can create mega business. And it’s not hard to think of a 50,000 people product-making company with $50 Billion revenues.

[Note that I took Infosys just as an example. I could replace it with any other services company and this topic still holds good]

Going Abroad Vs. Staying in India!

July 27, 2006

In the seventies and eighties, going abroad was a very attractive option for IITians. The reasons were evident-it was very easy to get aid; there were good prospects for employment and, most importantly, there was job satisfaction. Indian industry was conservative, salaries were low and jobs were few. What has happened in the nineties? The US has been hit by recession. People who finish their M.S. face unemployment and are forced to choose between a programmer’s job and doing a Ph.D, a five-year commitment at the end of which you can’t even be sure of a teaching job (A typical Ad. for Asst. Professor’s job attracts 350 applicants from Ph.D. holders).

So ask yourselves: ‘ What do you want to be in life?… Five years hence…, Ten years hence,…. and in your mid-forties… If you have romantic ideas of becoming a researcher, I have this to point out, In thirty years of ‘manpower export’ to the US, I am yet to hear of a single IITian stud in any field of engineering. WHY? Every IITian who goes to the US discovers, sooner or later ,that one cannot progress in an organisation beyond a stage without an MBA . One discovers that there is more money in Wall Street than in Silicon Valley.

And so, the tragic ending to the story is that many a brilliant brain has been lost to lure of the lucre. If money is what ultimately matters you can get it by going to the IIMs (multinationals pay salaries in lakhs) or to software jobs (dumb thing to do but, at least, you make a lot of money and escape gheraos and sweat and toil in the factories for a pittance of a salary). Exceptions exist for a few branches of specialization. Consult your friends in the US for more information on these. For a majority of specializations, what has been said is the bitter truth.

Finally the question that comes to the mind is-‘ Who should go abroad?’ If you are seriously committed to hi-funda research then, depending on your field, you may still have opportunities. A warning: Do not fall for these fields, which, dole out aids by the dozen. It is quite possible that you are being lured because the Native American is too smart to step into a potential career doom.

Another question that needs to be answered is: ‘What has changed in India?’ Economic liberalization, competitive business, growing awareness of the need to be competitive at a global level, growing importance of manufacturing management (many consulting firms are picking up Engineer-MBA’s for such jobs) and higher salaries for jobs are just a few facets in which India is changing. A typical 21-year-old IITian simply cannot visualise life in the mid-forties. I hear that people want to return to India, particularly if they have teenaged daughters – that is when the difference in culture and values hits you. You will not understand unless you actually talk to people in this age group.

So think…, think beyond the immediate goals of affluence, hi-tech life, spicy surroundings, instant telephone connections, multi channel televisions… think beyond affluent universities, hi-funda facilities, dream world libraries and hi-tech research. At 45, you cannot,or rather, should not feel empty even after you get all this. Nobody tells you that there is a glass ceiling beyond which you cannot rise in your profession. Nobody tells you that the choice is often between second-class citizenship, first class standard of living in the USA and first class citizenship, second-class standard of living in India. Nobody tells you that it feels awfully lonely out there or that many of them feel within months of reaching here that the massive investment of time and money on ‘apping’ was perhaps not worth it.

Do you now that much of teaching in the US universities is done by graduate teaching assistants and by Ph.D. students and not by the Profs.? Do you know that a few research supervisors may even stoop to the extent of publishing your research work in their name with your name deleted? Remember, you need a certain level of maturity to think of your priorities-not in today’s context but in the context of two decades hence.

Remember your mom and dad are desperate to send you abroad because they belong to a society which thinks that anything from the land of the white man must be superior. Remember you do not have to go abroad simply because your friends did so, your cousins did so or because your parents want you to do so.

Go, if the dirt and squalor of India repels you, Go, if you want to do nothing about it, Go, if the corruption and politics make you puke, And if you do not want to become another T.N.Seshan Go, if you think your future is doomed because of the reservation policy in the country, turning a blind eye to the fact that no upper middle class kid is doing menial labour.

TAIL PIECE: Go to the US if you are despo. Xerox this article, seal it in a cover and take it with you. Open it on Jan 1st 2015 and send us your feedback.