Raj initially began his time at the University of Washington as a PhD student in their computer science department. He credits this environment as his first real encounter of the entrepreneurial or startup culture. This is also in the timeframe when the Internet began to pick up steam.
SM: What was that like, being a graduate student in a developing program? RV: At University of Washington, the environment lived up to all previous expectations, and well beyond. The department was willing to take calculated risks, was focused on good work rather than academic checkboxes such as the sheer number of papers published, emphasized and encouraged student-driven research as opposed to plugging students into existing large projects, and generally fostered a highly dynamic and creative environment. Students weren’t just cogs in the larger machine, but were active participants in building a great department. It’s only in retrospect that I realize that UW was in many ways my first taste of what one might call the “startup culture”. >>>
I did see changes that impressed me this time. The internal airline service is superb. Hot meals, a smiling crew, on time, new and clean planes, and a large choice of airlines. The other is the relatively few number of beggars that can be seen in Mumbai. It is as if people are too busy making money and begging is no longer lucrative. >>>
Josh Catone has written an interesting post on ReadWriteWeb which discusses Ask’s plans for an AdSense alternative.
Ask.com will reportedly be launching an Adsense competitor to all web publishers by the end of the year. This, I think, is an area that Google dominates which is currently ripe for competition (more so than search). Google’s service isn’t great (the most glaring check against them, in the eyes of publishers, is their lack of transparency — they don’t disclose how much of the ad revenue is being shared), and publishers are always willing to try out a new service to see if it makes them more money. And Google would take a serious hit in the pocketbook if a powerful competitor emerged. Yahoo! has its own competing service, the Yahoo! Publisher Network, but it is currently in the middle of a long beta roll-out, and thus far has not gained enough traction to be called a major competitor. >>>
The success of Starbucks is outstanding. Howard Schultz recognized and understood what is a cafe in Europe: a safe place to meet, a place not be alone, an engaging staff, conversation, good drinks and simple food.
He designed the customer experience in detail, executed and scaled.
He came up with a value system that respected employees and paid decent health benefits to them; he made this know to clients who reacted by saying: “yes, that is right and I accept to pay a small premium for this coffee”. >>>
In this next segment, Raj discusses his school career. He again claims to be the recipient of good fortune and a bit of luck in terms of getting unique student jobs and positions which helped him develop his technical skills.
SM: What was your experience like at UC Berkeley? RV: While I was at Cal, I had more fortunate blunders. I was working my way through school in the work study program, and the position happened to be in the mail room / main office at the EECS department (I applied for, and probably got the job, because it happened to be the department I was enrolled in as a student). >>>
India is not operating in chaos, but has a social fiber that allows it to function in what would seem chaos to us. What would be intolerable to us is accepted in India. There are social rules, especially when it comes to couples in public places, but leave to the movies to come within millimeters of violating these rules, and still remain “safe”. >>>
Our family has always been keen on board games… especially Risk and Monopoly. The early stage of these games was always calm and friendly, as we picked our playing pieces, set up the board and shuffled the cards. However, once the land or property was secured and the game advanced, tempers could flare, voices got louder and the players could become very aggressive. Notwithstanding the Irish blood and all that red hair – there is a parallel between our experiences with board games, and the growing intensity around local search. >>>
Visualize the Banana Republic store. It has a few floors of merchandise. When you walk into this store, very little of this applies to you. You are a size 4 woman, dark haired, brown-eyed, olive-skinned. Your style is rather more professional and clean-cut, than much of the frills and laces that you look around and see, much to your dismay.
Frustrated, you go back to your desk, and power up your computer. Log into BananaRepublic.com. You can create your profile, and see a personalized store JUST FOR YOU. It showcases merchandise that fits your size, shape, style, hair color, eye color. It knows that you don’t like frills and laces, and cuts them out of the inventory presented for your consideration.
Instead of sifting through 5 floors of merchandise, you now look through 20 pieces a week, and make quick decisions on what you want to buy. >>>