1. Elon Musk taking a dig at Apple
“They have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’ If you don’t make it at Tesla, you go work at Apple. I’m not kidding.”
Where, when: German newspaper Handelsblatt interview, Sept 15.
Context: Working at any modern corporate like Tesla is obviously a high-pressure job. Quality results, tough deadlines and an ability to function purely on caffeine are naturally expected. What makes the employees stick in any such environment, then? More than just six-figure salaries, it’s arguably a commitment to the mission statement of the company. Tesla’s is to bring sustainable transportation to the market. Everyone loves ‘sustainability’. It ensures our descendants don’t endure a world as awful as ours. Sustainability has become such an immensely popular buzzword over the past decade that today, as a mission statement for a corporate, it carries connotations of working towards a ‘greater good.’
Poaching of employees between rival corporates is fairly common. However, the idea is that if an employee jumps ship purely for better pay, you probably didn’t want them on your team in the first place anyway.
2. Modi on Digital India
“The status that now matters is not whether you are awake or asleep, but whether you are online or offline.”
Where, when: Digital India dinner, San Jose, September 2015.
Context: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative “Digital India” is aimed at bringing e-governance to the people. With the obvious benefit of circumventing a lot of red tape, this initiative also sees a welcome emphasis on technological infrastructure, with Modi advocating the use of “broadband highways” to bring connectivity to remote parts of the country, and also improving services in current areas.
Speaking at the Digital India dinner, Modi brought out the famous rhetoric, speaking about how Google, Facebook and Whatsapp have profoundly changed the way we live our lives every day. He said, “I know to achieve the vision of Digital India, the government must also start thinking a bit like you,” referring to the great minds of Silicon Valley from where some of the most influential ideas have come up in the past decade.
3. Narayan Murthy on Indian innovation in past 60 years
Is there one invention from India that has become a household name in the globe? Is there one technology that has transformed the productivity of global corporations? Is there one idea that has led to an earth shaking invention to delight global citizens?
Where, when: IISc, Bangalore, June 2015
Context: When the co-founder of the country’s second largest IT company tells you there’s something amiss, you listen. He cited inventions like the Global Positioning System and bionic prosthesis which have radically changed lives of everyone on the planet for the better. More importantly, he pointed out that no such world-changing innovation has come out of Indian research institutions.
In the wake of rapid proliferation of “cram schools” or “coaching classes” in India in the past decade, this criticism becomes even more relevant. He pointed out that the research work in India rarely translates to impactful implementation in the real world after the students leave the institutions.
Like Sergey Brin once said, “Big problems are easier to solve than little problems.” Mr. Murthy pointed out that India certainly has its fair share of them – illiteracy, child malnourishment, public health services – and solving them entails innovation that will have implications worldwide. Creating an educational ecosystem that promotes collaboration with universities abroad could be one way of improving the situation.
4. India’s Snapdeal Says the Country Doesn’t Have the Programmers It Needs
“If you think about the landscape in India, not too many product companies got built here,” said Rohit Bansal, co-founder and chief operating officer of Snapdeal.
Where, when: Wall Street Journal report, May 2015
Context: Uber does not own a fleet of cabs, Facebook does not create content, and Flipkart really just puts you in touch with sellers with inventories of their own. Facilitation rather than production seems to be the million dollar idea when it comes to modern-day online businesses. Furthermore, Bansal claims that the emphasis on the use of existing software has reduced the quality of programmers that the country is producing. As a result, Snapdeal is now looking abroad for manpower.
Sachin Bansal, co-founder and CEO of Flipkart, took to Twitter to unleash a scathing response, “Don’t blame India for your failure to hire great engineers. They join for culture and challenge.” Such sparring – sometimes light-hearted and entertaining – has been a characteristic of these rival companies in recent times. However, Rohit Bansal felt the need to clarify his stance, and said that India remains a pool of excellent quality engineering talent, and that Snapdeal would continue to hire from within the country as well.
5. TRAI proposes changes
“Broadband definition to be updated to minimum speed of 2 Mbps from 512 Kbps”
Context: On the back of 2014’s ruling by the Department of Telecommunications to increase the minimum broadband speed from 256 Kbps to 512 Kbps, this proposal by TRAI seems like the kind of ruling that we will look back upon a decade from now and call a turning point.
Not only does this represent a much more realistic and tolerable minimum speed which we can call “fast”, it also indicates the government’s inclination to improve connectivity and quality of service across the country. A TRAI official was quoted as saying, “The penetration of optical fibre in last-mile connectivity —that is [to] the consumer — is very poor and so we are largely dependent on wireless services. We want the central government to work out norms where RoW [Right of Way] is offered at a reasonable cost to telecom companies and state governments and civic bodies do not create hurdles in developing the optic fibre network.”
Having said that, let us put things in perspective. If we compare our current standards with those in the USA, it’s obvious that we still have a long way to go. In January this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in USA increased their definition of broadband speeds from a minimum of 4 Mbps to 25 Mbps – figures that most consumers in India can only dream of. Furthermore, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel believes that the USA is in fact not being ambitious enough in this regard. “We invented the internet. We can do audacious things if we set big goals, and I think our new threshold, frankly, should be 100Mbps,” she said.
6. Tim Cook tweets India iPhone sale
“Thanks to all our customers in India who queued at midnight for the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.”
At the time of writing, Tim Cook’s tweet had 1,432 retweets and 2,599 likes. This year, iPhone prices in India were bloated in comparison to other countries due to two factors: the depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, and an increase in taxation on imported phones. While for some this simply means that iPhones are even more of a status symbol than ever before, the general trend as expected is a decrease in sales. Apple’s earnings report that came out in October indicated that sales in China contributed greatly to its 11 billion dollar profit. However, pre-bookings in India were lower than expected. Foxconn, the electronics manufacturing company that builds the iPhones on contract, plans to open a manufacturing unit in India soon, eliminating the import tax cost. In the meantime, Apple has little to rely on but the fierce brand loyalty that it inspires in its fans. Interestingly, the report also noted that 30% of the new iPhone users are moving over from Android – the highest the figure has ever been. While these numbers may not necessarily indicate a significant global shift towards iOS, they’re relevant in India where several manufacturers are coming up with cheaper Android alternatives. Apple is also reportedly working on a cheaper line of smartphones to be able to compete with said alternatives and to increase its footprint in India. Tim Cook’s tweet is in fact a well-timed strategic move to endear himself and the brand to Indian users.
7. Rahul Yadav – in response to Housing.com being temporarily down
“I would have DESIGNED it better.”.
Where, when: July 2015, Rahul Yadav’s Facebook page.
Context: Rahul Yadav dropped out of IIT-B and co-founded Housing.com, a real estate search portal, with his batch-mates in 2012. Housing.com went on to be valued at Rs. 1,500 crores. In July 2015, he was sacked from the position of CEO by the board of directors for improper behaviour towards investors, partners and the media. How does one manage to shoot oneself in the foot in such spectacular fashion? According to Yadav himself, it’s simply because of “an attitude I have,” as told to YourStory in an interview in May 2015. This explanation came after a dramatic sequence of events in which a rude resignation letter of his was formally acknowledged by the board, but subsequent discussions led to reconciliation within a week. However, the theatricals were far from over. Yadav reportedly resigned a second time in late June 2015, this time on an order from the board. He then proceeded to deny it when asked by the media, before it finally emerged that he had indeed been asked to step down. In the meantime, Yadav had been maintaining an aggressive presence on social media, openly criticising (among others) Shailendra Singh, managing director of Sequoia Capital, for poaching employees. One week after Yadav parted ways with Housing.com, the website went down for a few hours, displaying text that included “#rahulyadav” and “Yes! We will solve real estate, but 10X better with The Chief Architect.” A questionable opinion, to say the least, after two months of constant media scrutiny brought upon the company by Yadav. Meanwhile, Twitter had its fair share of fun witnessing this debacle. Yadav was touted as India’s “Steve Jobless”, while a slightly more serious take on the website “hack” posited that perhaps the incident was a cover-up for actual downtime, which would’ve been more embarrassing.
8. Zuckerberg on internet.org
“Net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles — universal connectivity and net neutrality — can and must coexist.”
Where, when: Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook page, April 2015.
Context: The release of internet.org in India came at a time when the debate over net neutrality here had already gained significant momentum. The idea behind net neutrality is simple – you pay your ISPs and mobile carriers for a connection to the internet. What you access on the internet should ideally be none of the provider’s business. That means a carrier should ideally not charge you anything more than its stipulated 3G tariff whether you want to make a Skype call or download a PDF document detailing the terrible intricacies of general relativity. Airtel, in December 2014, proposed additional charges for VoIP calls carried out over its network. Although later they rescinded these changes, it highlighted a glaring flaw in India’s regulations enforcing net neutrality – there are none. TRAI released a consultation paper in March 2015 seeking opinions about net neutrality. It generated massive response from all over the country, with over a million people sending in emails. Facebook’s initiative aims to provide a certain set of basic internet services for free to areas of the world that have limited connectivity. “Connectivity is a human right,” said Zuckerberg when internet.org released in 2013. However, the fact that Facebook decided which services were made available for free came under heavy criticism as a violation of net neutrality. In response, Mark Zuckerberg wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page, arguing that the objectives of the initiative are not at odds with net neutrality and that Facebook strongly supports net neutrality and believes in an open internet. In May 2015, Facebook, in what appears to be a damage limitation exercise, opened up the internet.org platform for all websites as long as they met certain criteria. Though as of now there are still no laws explicitly enforcing network neutrality in India, 2015 may yet prove to be a turning point in India’s digital history.
9. Ellen Pao
“We screwed up.”
Where, when: July 2 2015, Reddit
“Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years. We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes. We have apologized and made promises to you, the moderators and the community, over many years, but time and again, we haven’t delivered on them. When you’ve had feedback or requests, we haven’t always been responsive. The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of Reddit.”
Ellen Pao was made Reddit CEO in November 2014. In June 2015, she eliminated salary negotiations, saying it helped keep the playing field even for women. In June and July, Reddit banned five subreddits (including the infamous “FatPeopleHate”) citing harassment of individuals, a move that incited responses of wildly varying intensities. Pao also fired Victoria Taylor, administrator of “Ask Me Anything”, a very popular subreddit. Reddit’s response came as a series of blackouts – moderators of certain subreddits started making them inaccessible in protest. The protests were also against a decrease in communication between moderators and the administrators of Reddit. People started calling for Pao’s resignation, with a Change.org petition accruing 200,000+ signatures. On 6th July, Ellen Pao posted an apology on Reddit and answered follow-up questions regarding the bans as well. However, she resigned by “mutual agreement” on July 10th and was replaced by Steve Huffman, founder and original Reddit CEO.
10. Bruno Bowden, Engineering Manager, Google, 2004-2012
“In leadership at Google, you have to be three-plus standard deviations better than normal in technical ability. Sundar [Pichai] is a rare example.”
A case of taking the man out of Google, but not Google out of the man – having worked for Google for 7 years, some of the obsession with data and statistics is bound to rub off on you. Bowden’s rather neat description of the ability of top Google management tells us two things – first, Google’s management is a class above the rest when it comes to coding skills, and second, there exists a tradeoff when you have people of such high calibre involved. Ususally, this tradeoff means a lack of interpersonal skills. Technical excellence and soft skills were generally not to be found at the same time in top Google executives – and Google cannot afford a lack of the former. In recent times, the situation has changed. Sundar Pichai was promoted to CEO of Google on August 10th, 2015. Bowden talks about how Sundar is a ‘people’ person in addition to possessing technical expertise. A rare combination, and a welcome change from when Larry Page and Sergey Brin were known to bluntly (but correctly) call out faults in any ideas pitched to them. This management shuffle has come as a result of Google becoming a subsidiary of Alphabet – a company that Page and Brin created to focus on projects apart from the search engine and the advertising business. The new leadership, including Sundar Pichai and Hiroshi Lockheimer – the new head of Android – are identified as likable people with whom it’s easy to do business. This shift is indicative of Google growing into a more matured company, one that recognises the need for a softer touch.
11. Larry Page on Alphabet
“I want to push the envelope for what’s possible for an innovative company with large resources.”
Alphabet’s homepage – abc.xyz – has a message from Larry Page reminding us of Google’s original identity. “Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one,” said the original founders letter to the shareholders when the company first went public in 2004. The creation of Alphabet as a holding company for Google and other ventures is another step towards becoming and staying unconventional. The idea is to let Google itself prosper under new management, while Brin and Page expand their horizons to allocate Google’s enormous resources into other areas “which may seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses.” Google wants to focus on projects like their drone delivery system and ventures in healthcare. Basically, projects which aren’t entirely in line with the search/advertising business model that Google currently has. Page’s message reminds us that Google’s most popular services today were also nothing more than hopeful ideas when they were first launched. Looking at the company’s success over the past two decades, odds are that this attempt at moving out of their comfort zone will produce something interesting rather than fizzling out into just another idea with unfulfilled potential.
12. Obama on net neutrality
“I personally, the position of my administration, as well as a lot of the companies here, is that you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed.”
Where, when: African leaders summit, Washington, August 2015
Context: The USA did not have any laws explicitly enforcing network neutrality until June 2015. In fact, April 2014 saw the FCC rule against it, by allowing the use of fast tracks for data packets. However, the FCC decided to consider the case for net neutrality the very next month. President Barack Obama took a firm stand in favour of freedom of the internet by recommending to the FCC that they make the hard choice of adopting net neutrality regulations. By February 2015, the FCC had decided to rule in favour of net neutrality, and its rules were published in April 2015, and they officially came into effect in June 2015.
President Obama’s strong stance in favour of a free internet comes at a perfect time for India, where the debate about network neutrality is just about at its peak.
13. Jeff Bezos, in response to a NY Times article about the tough workplace practices in Amazon
“I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.”
Where, when: Memo to Amazon employees, August 2015
Context: On August 15th, 2015, the NY Times ran a story about the immensely harrowing workplace practices at Amazon. Its subtitle said, “The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.” According to the report, employees were made to anonymously give feedback about their colleagues, and that this system was “frequently used to sabotage others.” Several ex-employees chimed in, each mentioning in their own way the horrors they faced in what appeared to be not as much a place of work as the interior of a dark and uncompromising machine built to serve the “unreasonably high” standards of Amazon and its founder/CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos was quick to respond to the report, with his memo continuing, “Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero.” He also brushed aside the implication that Amazon outright intends to create an dystopian system and reaffirmed his faith in the company’s talent.
14. Google statement after the ‘Stagefright’ bug was discovered
“The security of Android users is extremely important to us and so we responded quickly and patches have already been provided to partners that can be applied to any device.”
Context: In 2014, Heartbleed and Shellshock, two of the most widespread vulnerabilities in modern day computers, were exposed. The former affects the OpenSSL cryptographic library, while the latter is present in the nearly-ubiquitous Unix Bash shell. Halloween arrived a few months too early for Android users in 2015, though. In July, a bug nicknamed “Stagefright” was discovered and reported by Zimperium, a mobile security company. The bug derives its name from the Android software library of the same name, which is used to play multimedia files. Stagefright was described as the worst Android bug yet, with the potential to affect upto 95% of all Android devices in the world without need for intervention from the user. It was dubbed “Heartbleed for Android.” This is what researchers from Zimperium zLabs had to say about the bug: “If Heartbleed from the PC era sends chill down your spine, this is much worse.”
15. Taylor Swift in an open letter to Apple
“We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
Where, when: Her Tumblr page, June 2015
Context: Apple Music’s free 3-month trial period comes with the caveat that artists do not get paid for users playing their songs in that duration. Swift, claiming that three months is an unreasonably long period of time, decided to not offer her music on Apple’s streaming service. Swift also pointed out that this model hits emerging artists and producers the worst – those who are counting on every bit of success they can get and are being deprived of the royalties which would keep them afloat. What’s interesting to note is the overall tone of dignified protest that Swift assumes, which is in stark contrast to a lot of social media battles we’ve seen in recent times. The open letter concludes with this snarky quote, which, on the back of the solemn tone of the rest of the letter, serves as the perfect punch-line – not too rude, but drives home the point.
16. Tag Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver on Apple Watch sales
“To sell 5 million watches when you have not been a watchmaker is genius. It’s phenomenal.”
Context: Biver was asked about Apple encroaching upon Tag Heuer’s market share. Citing the initial sales figures, Biver acknowledged that Apple will be “big competition” for those in the luxury watch segment, especially in the price range of $20 - $2,000. Above that, Biver maintains, traditional watches will continue to have the upper hand, because eventual obsolescence of software will compel people to discard smartwatches after about 5 years. On the other hand, there is a certain permanence and therefore longevity associated with traditional watches that smartwatches cannot emulate. Interestingly, Tag Heuer themselves have attempted to counter Apple in the smartwatch category, with their own Android smartwatch releasing in November, expected to be priced between $1,400 and $2,000.
17. Satya Nadella speaking at Microsoft’s event in Manhattan
“As devices come and go, you persist.”
Where, when: Manhattan, October 2015.
Context: “The lesson we have learned is that there’s going to be more personal computing in our lives,” he replied. Forms will change, functions will change, devices will change, he explained, and so, “You can’t fall in love with this one thing becoming the hub for all things and for all time to come.”
Another example of an organisation embracing its own age, realising the need for a little maturity and coming to terms with itself. Satya Nadella is a far quieter and reserved individual when compared to his predecessor Steve Ballmer. He has changed the workplace culture into one that is friendlier and overall less intense than it was under Ballmer. Windows has recognised that it stuck to the PC market for far too long for its own good, and acknowledges that it probably will never catch up to the Apple-Android duopoly. Instead, they have sought to go back to what they’ve done best so far and tried to continue improving personal computers, with the Surface tablet and more recently with the extremely well-designed Surface Book making jaws drop across the world. A bold choice – and one that seems to be paying off for now. Microsoft will secretly be counting on its competitors to make the same mistake they did – in this case, sticking too long to the mobile phone segment.
18. Tim Cook on Apple Pay
“2015 will be the year of Apple Pay.”
When: January 2015.
Context: Tim Cook made this bold proclamation in January after Apple Pay was adopted rapidly in the first few months of its inception. With the benefit of hindsight, that early prediction now looks to have been based more on hope than on anticipation, as it appears that about 80% of iPhone 6/6+ users are yet to start using Apple Pay. However, the strong initial growth was not a flash in the pan – Apple reported a satisfaction rate of 98% from one of their surveys, and a lot of vendors have been willing to make the early move into adopting Apple Pay into their businesses.
19. Sunil Jaglan on the success of “Selfie with daughter.”
“It is heart-warming that a small initiative taken by us at the village was noticed by the Prime Minister.”
Where, when: Haryana, June 2015.
Context: Sunil Jaglan, the head of a village panchayat in the state of Haryana, organised a competition in the village in which everyone was asked to post a selfie with their daughter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28th June, in a radio address to the nation, picked up on this and made it into a public campaign. The purpose behind it was to highlight the importance of the girl child in the country, with shockingly high rates of female foeticide and infanticide along with deep-set notions of patriarchy resulting in a poor state of living for women in the country. The state of Haryana has the worst numbers when it comes to female foeticide.
The “#SelfieWithDaughter” campaign attracted its fair share of criticism too, though, as people took to the 140-character-limited spaces of Twitter to try and express nuanced political opinions. While some called for the Prime Minister’s attention towards more pressing issues such as the extradition of Lalit Modi, others simply lambasted the campaign as nothing more than a flimsy PR exercise which contributes nothing towards the actual well-being of women in the country.
Image Courtesy: Twitter @sarpanchbibipur
20. Elon Musk on nuking Mars
“There’s the fast way and the slow way. The fast way is to drop thermonuclear weapons over the poles.”
Where, when: Stephen Colbert Show, September 2015.
Context: Stephen Colbert, in this episode of his talk show, posits that since Elon Musk is doing good things for the world and is a billionaire, therefore he must be either a super hero or a super villain. He then proceeds to talk to Musk about the possibility of colonising Mars. Musk then very matter-of-factly states that the initial need for transparent domes to live in on Mars could be eliminated by warming the planet up – and the quickfire (pun intended) way to do that would be to nuke the planet. Colbert concludes that Musk is a super villain. Later, in October, Musk talked to Mashable in detail about his idea, explaining that the purpose was to “essentially have two tiny pulsing suns over the poles. They’re really above the planet. Not on the planet.”