Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ahmedabad

Tomorrow I'll meet with the people behind the iAccelerator program at IIM Ahmedabad. Tarun talked to them about mentoring their first batch of startups and managed to talk me in as a mentor as well. In the meantime I'm spending quality time with Jessica and Ruchira of Video Volunteers - of which I recently became a card carrying member of the board. If everything works out I'll spend the majority of the next three months here living on the IIM campus helping internet startups get started and working on the video volunteers internet strategy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lamma Island

I'm back in Hong Kong preparing to fly back to India tomorrow. Ulrich introduced me to Jenny and Aaron Farr who have a nice place on Lamma island. Lamma island feels like the famed surf spot that no one should talk about because its so amazing and if everyone knew then it would be big and busy like everywhere else. Its got the laid back beach vibe of a dive down on one of the islands in the Philipines or Thailand. And its a fast 30 minute ferry to Hong Kong Central and maybe an hour and change to the hong kong airport. I don't think there is another place on the planet where you can move from uptempo urban megacenter to downtempo island style so quickly.

**

The shopping trip in Guan Zhao was a qualified success. Apparently the consumer electronics part of the Canton Fair was last week. This week was ceramics, sporting goods, stationary, and furniture. After discovering my mistake we poked around for awhile to get a feel for another world.

Later in the day though Ulrich's assistant Dianne took me to an electronics market that sold mp3 players, mobile phones, and components. In some ways it was more spectacular because it catered to the local wholesale market, went year round and appeared to be constantly busy. There are far more variations in the personal portable electronics than I appreciated.

I picked up a small number of very small mp3 players. Hopefully we can test out the 1mp3pc idea soon. Or maybe I'll start with 1mp3pt - (One mp3 player per teacher)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

china

When I first spent a few weeks in Bangkok and finally managed to get out of the Koh San Rd. traveler district I remember being totally impressed with how modern and upscale the down town was. The skyrail took me from the river thru the city to a giant mall with glass tubes connecting its different towers.

Only shortly before I lived in Calcutta for a number of weeks which looked to me like a plausible semi dystopic vision for the future of a large percentage of the urban population. People swept up the garbage in the mornings and burned it in the streets. On long walks thru town I saw many people shitting on the street. Pollution was dense and the people were more ardently patriotic about their city than I have seen anywhere else. "Calcutta is the heart of India !!!"

Since then Andheri East in Mumbai has risen to compete with Calcutta in my mind for the poster child of the future.

My Skyrail ride in Thailand made me think Bangok was more on the Tokyo path than the Calcutta path.

The big suprise for me about China is that it also seems to be on the Tokyo path of development. The streets in Gwon Zhao are wide and empty. The cars are parallel parked neatly on the side of the roads. They use large Toyota Camrys for the Taxis. An extensive subway system that feels more modern than western airport light rails links the whole city and connects to a high speed train to Hong Kong. The lack of people is the most surprising for me though.

Most of India pulses with humanity. People are everywhere to the point where bumping up against them in movement or travel begins to feel natural. Often when I come home to California its the lack of people that strikes me most. The streets almost have a post catastrophe feel, like some disaster has annihilated the population and only 4 wheel mechanical beasts roam the streets.

China isn't quite that empty. But visible people are shockingly sparse for a country with a 1.4 billion population, and the small sample of it I've seen so far feels much more like Tokyo than Andheri.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

1mp3pc

At the innovations2008 conference in Pune, I think I put AngelMentor as my company on the registration form and word got around that I was some kind of VC. A fellow Vikas Rajrishi (priest to the king) pulled me aside and told me he was looking for funding for a soil analysis business he was trying to start near his farm in Narangoan. I let him know I didn't know anything about the soil business but had been looking for an opportunity to explore the country outside Pune. He instantly invited me to his farm and the next day we were driving up there together.

On the road as we talked I let myself dream a little about the possibility for a rural media and technology institute between Pune and Bombay. We would teach all the skills people can use to make money off an internet connection, and all the services someone can with an internet connection can provide to the local rural community. The institute building structures would be built in a low impact manner such that we could vacate the land in some years and leave it better than it had originally been.

Vikas ran the idea by some of his farmer friends who were all positive as there is a trend of the youth leaving the rural areas for the big cities leaving some apprehension in the parents that when they die their ancestral lands may be lost / sold.

He also took me to see the local politician who wanted to see a large well funded IT park come and increase the value of all the land in the area. In some back and forth it was very clear that the thatch IT institute i had in mind and the glass palace IT parks he was looking for were very different. Somehow, this became an either or thing
and the door to Narangoan was closed.

***

High on the idea of moving outside and teaching for awhile I connected with the people at a vocational school VigyanAshram.com also near to Pune. After coordinating the donation of some wireless networking equipment to them I sent a bit of a shockwave thru my personal life by toying with the idea of moving out there to set up the media and technology institute. That notion fizzled as I came to feel that english is a critical prerequisite for the types of skills I want to teach and the English level of the average rural Maharashtran wasn't sufficient.

Talking with chandita from cometmedia.org she told me about Dr. Kurien with http://clrindia.net/. They've developed a bunch of curriculum for teaching rural and urban poor children and teachers English through workbooks and radio programs. For some time I have been fascinated by the idea of using mp3 players as an educational device, and Dr. Kurien seems to have some of the content that could make it happen. Talking with my friend Ulrich who has an office in China I discovered the Canton fair is happening this week, so I flew over to get a sense of what all options are available in off the shelf mp3 players.

I posted a request for 1gb mp3 players on Alibaba and from the 100 quotes I have gotten every day since it looks like they're about 7 - 8$ each in Bulk. Interestingly, Mp4 players with a screen, video and game capability are 30 - 40$ each.

Im excited about the show.
My hope is to come back with 50 - 200 of them we can pass out to teachers and see how effective they are.

Lets see...