Thinks 103

Bright side of the moonshots: From The Economist. “Covid-19 has brought together biomedical technologies that will transform human health…The basis of all this is the application of genetics to medicine in a systematic and transformative way—not just in understanding the pathology of diseases but in tracking their spread and curing and preventing them. This approach could underpin what is becoming known as “natural security”—the task of making societies resilient in the face of risks stemming from their connection to the living world.” More on the power of RNA therapies.

An economist’s tips on making email work for you: by Tim Harford. “Clarify and decide. A hundred emails a day is a lot if you leave half of them sitting in your inbox. Keep that up and in a month you’ll have 1,500. Give it a year and you’ll be begging to be allowed to declare email bankruptcy, post the keys through the letterbox and walk away. The solution is to be sharper about your decisions. If no action is needed then delete or archive. Most archived email is easy to find again. If action is needed, and it is brief and obvious, do it immediately.”

Reading: The CEO Test.

United Voters of India: Constructing the Collective (Part 6)

The Basics – 1

The idea behind United Voters of India (UVI) is straightforward: it is a voting bloc. The core support base of the existing political parties is about a third of all registered voters. Another third are non-voters and the final third are what can be considered as non-aligned (floaters and wasters). Floaters are those who will swing towards the party likely to win, while wasters are those who will vote for one of the smaller parties or independents who have no hope of winning. So, if the non-aligned and the non voters (NANVs) are aggregated, they account for two-thirds of the electorate. If a majority of these voters can unite, vote and vote as one, then it becomes possible for them to get almost any candidate elected – irrespective of what the other political parties do.

Of course, there are many questions. Why will people vote as one? Why will erstwhile non-voters suddenly start voting? Who will they vote for? What if the NANVs commit and then don’t vote as one? Is there any way to monitor the actions of the bloc? In my earlier series on UVI, I have attempted to answer many of these questions. UVI is entirely voluntary. There is no coercion for anyone to join or to vote for a specific candidate. My point is that it is mathematically possible for a third of the electorate who are not committed to a political party to come together and decide the outcome of every election in a first-past-the-post system that India has. A united 33 from the NANV’s 67 has a very good chance of trumping a divided 33 that supports the existing political parties.

Technology in the form of a smartphone app can make the coordination between NANVs much easier than was earlier possible. All someone has to do is to sign-up on the app. The identification will need to be via that person’s VoterID which can be digitally mapped to the individual. Care can be taken to anonymise the identity once it is verified. What matters is the aggregate rather than the specific individual. Once a threshold is reached (let’s say 10% of the electorate in a constituency), then primaries can be held prior to an election for the selection of a people’s candidate. Only those who have never contested an election on behalf of another political party will be allowed to contest. (IndiaVotes has a record of all candidates who have ever contested a Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha election.)

The winner of the primary gets to contest as an Independent. All the members in that constituency are asked to vote for this particular candidate. It is an honour system and there is no point joining if one doesn’t plan to abide by the rules. Of course, political parties can try and rig the internal vote by asking their core base to sign-up. My belief is that most political parties do not really know who their supporters are so such a drive will not be as effective. Another way around this problem could be to have a new UVI member get a referral from an existing UVI member but this could slow the adoption.

Thinks 102

Rajan Anandan (Sequoia): “If you go back to 2015, there were 200-250 million internet users, monetization was virtually non-existent. Today, we have close to 600 million monthly active users, monetization is probably 10 times better than it was five years ago. In 2010, India had zero unicorns. In 2015, which was the last time everyone was saying ‘valuations are high’ and ‘there is too much capital’, there were four unicorns. At the end of 2020, we have 37 unicorns…In 2020, you have 580 million monthly active users (MAU), 400 million daily users on 4G networks.” (ET)

Dan Shipper, the Sultan of Superorganizers. “I’m the co-founder and CEO of Every, which is a bundle of business-focused newsletters that we started in late 2019. As part of that bundle, I write this newsletter, Superorganizers, where the goal is to interview the smartest people in the world about how they organize themselves to do their best work. ”

United Voters of India: Constructing the Collective (Part 5)

Ideas for New India

Indians need freedom at all levels. The challenge arises because most of us think we are already free. But the freedom we have today is an illusion. In reality, the government controls almost every aspect of our life. We have never experienced real freedom and we only hear horror stories about the licence-permit-quota-raj of pre-1991 India, so we are thankful for the small mercies of semi-free markets of today. While we can argue about the extent of our freedom, what is indisputable is the outcome – a per capita income that is a fraction of the richest nations or even some of our Asian neighbours. We try and console ourselves that our journey is only now beginning – not realising that it is just a false start. If only we read our own history, we will realise that this is how our parents and grandparents would have thought in the 1960s and 1970s. Poverty programs, import tariffs, discretionary and retrospective policies, high taxes on the rich, increasing deficits, single leader worshipped as God, price controls, loan melas, political interference in the judiciary, sectoral interventions, random export bans – they are all back with a vengeance.

A few of us need to genuinely put our minds together to create an India that at least for a short time is freed from its politicians and parties so a new Republic based on the principles of liberty, non-discrimination, non-interference, limited government and decentralisation can be created. This Nayi Disha can forever constrain the growth of government via Dhan Vapasi. The agenda itself is not complicated – legislation to be passed in the Lok Sabha to dismantle the anti-prosperity machine and at the same time taking care that no Indian is left behind. All it needs is for a one-term Lok Sabha of Independents to birth this New India. That is what UVI aims to do – not as yet another power-hungry political party, but as a people’s platform with a clear agenda, rules and a software layer that enables P2P collaboration. Think of UVI as a construct of contract, constitution and code for the collective.

Many tell me that in present day India, it is better to mute oneself than take on the high and mighty. That has also guided my thinking about the solution. If there is one person who tries to rise, that person can be pressurised, silenced, indicted, incarcerated or eliminated. But what if there is no single person? What if it is a platform with tens of millions as participants? Exactly like Bitcoin. With anonymity guaranteed. No one needs to reveal themselves except the candidates who wish to contest. If that stage is indeed reached where candidates are encouraged to stand, then the power of the platform will ensure they cannot be subdued. A few can be individually targeted one by one, but that is impossible when there are hundreds supported by tens of millions.

I know the odds of this happening are infinitesimally small. And yet, hope springs eternal. I have had hundreds of ideas in my life as an entrepreneur. Some die in the mind, some fail when they meet the reality of customers and the market, but a few pass all the tests and succeed big. Failure has never been a barrier for me either in thought or action. I do not start wanting to fail but I recognise that only through experimentation can ideas be made better. If UVI fails, maybe it can encourage others to create better versions in future. The important thing is to get started, and that is what this intellectual exercise is about.

Thinks 101

20+ Top Email Marketing Influencers You Should Know in 2021: includes Netcore’s Matt Vernhout.

Email is 50 years old, but there’s life in the old dog yet: from TechRadar. “According to data from Statista, roughly 306 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2020, which equates to more than 110 trillion across the course of the year.”

Bangladesh at 50: TN Ninan. “Dhaka’s justification for breaking away from West Pakistan is now self-evident. If it has done better than New Delhi in 50 years, it has completely outpaced Pakistan on every metric.”

United Voters of India: Constructing the Collective (Part 4)

Freedom First

What I will outline next is a vision of what can be done. It is one possible future for India. It is definitely not an extension of the default path we are on as a nation. As such, I want to state a few things which will help provide the wider context of my ideas.

What I propose is at this time just an intellectual exercise. The fundamental question I have tried to address is: how can Indians become prosperous? There is nothing deficient in our genetic makeup that condemns hundreds of millions of Indians to a life barely better than subsistence. Wealth in the world is not a zero-sum game that we need to impoverish others to enrich ourselves. There is a proven path to prosperity and it is simple: freedom. People need to be free before they get prosperous. If the government indulges in predation, there is no incentive for wealth creation. In the ideal situation, economic freedom needs to come with political and social freedom. But as we have seen in countries like Singapore and China, economic freedom by itself can go a long way to create prosperity. The American ideals of individual, social and economic freedom laid out in its Constitution is what we must strive for in India.

I am not a politician and have no desire to be one. I am a successful technology entrepreneur who was luckily exposed (albeit a bit late in life) to the world of economics and works of Adam Smith, F. A. Hayek, James Buchanan and Milton Friedman. I had the luxury of time and a curious mind. Over the past decade, I learnt from mentors, books, conversations and conferences.

Having understood that countries are rich or poor because of the political choices that they make, I decided that I must do something to try and transform India’s future. My first hope was that a wise leader would do the needful – as we saw in Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, China, South Korea. That hope has been proven false, and therefore there is a need for a different solution. Instead of relying on a leader who will do the right things, we need to construct a collective which will get into power and do the transformations India needs. What I will outline is one possible path for making this change happen; there can be many others. While I did try a few independent initiatives and failed, I am not dissuaded. The prize is far greater – unleashing the potential of a billion free who can accelerate human progress even as they simply search for betterment of their own lives. If more of us start thinking about the problem and possible solutions, we can indeed make it happen.

Thinks 100

Why Opposition must not only oppose: by Ruchi Gupta. “The Opposition needs to find ways of making politics a site for community, an avenue for public service and a source of intellectual stimulation. The role of the Opposition in a representative democracy is to provide an alternative, not just to oppose. This requires serious deliberation to come up with an agenda and political programmes which can meld people’s identity and aspirations with their grievances. Traditionally, civil society has played a role in generating ideas, which were adopted by political parties but civil society too has boxed itself in the “resistance with capital R” box and is unable to move beyond rhetoric and protest.”

The 5 Purchases Every Entrepreneur Should Make: by Jodie Cook. “The products in your life directly affect how you present yourself and spend your time. Making purchases that result in you doing better work, reaching more people and being propelled faster into greatness can result in happiness, prosperity and wellbeing.”

How to Think Like a Successful Entrepreneur: by Per Bylund. “Successful entrepreneurs think about their business in value terms, and they recognize that they do not themselves determine the value of their offering — the consumer of the final good does.” [via Atanu]

United Voters of India: Constructing the Collective (Part 3)

Exponential Change

As a generation, we have seen a lot of technological disruption and innovation. In 1995, we connected to the Internet on 14.4 Kbps dial-up modems from a computer. We now routinely get speeds 100-1000 times faster with the smartphones in our hands. We can summon goods, foods and cabs with the click of a button. We have the world’s information available with a click. We are no longer just passive consumers; we are also content producers – our wit, tweet, photo or video can be spread to our tribes or across the country with the same ease. We have harnessed the power of solar and the promise of AI. We went from virus to vaccine in less than a year. In the midst of a pandemic, many of us can do our work and manage our businesses from the safety of our home – something unimaginable just a few years ago.

We are on the cusp on even more exponential change. A chart from Balance Point Ventures tell the story of our immediate past and near future:

One very interesting innovation (predictably banned by India’s politicians) has been Bitcoin. Look at its astonishing rise over the past 8 years:

Bitcoin’s rise has in part been driven as a safe haven against the debasement of fiat currencies by central banks which keep printing more and more money, especially after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and then on steroids in 2020 during the pandemic. Bitcoin’s idea was first proposed as a set of rules laid out in a white paper by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. The first bitcoin trade happened in 2010. The current market cap of bitcoins is $600 billion. All of this has happened with no single person or entity in charge – in a single decade.

Can something similar happen in politics? Can the combination of a contract (agenda), constitution (rules) and code (software) create a disruption in India’s politics? I believe so. The triad of United Voters of India (UVI), Nayi Disha and Dhan Vapasi can, in a thousand days, build on the power of P2P to launch an irreversible virtuous cycle of freedom and prosperity (Lakshmi) for 1.3 billion Indians.

Thinks 99

Graphene and Beyond: The Wonder Materials That Could Replace Silicon in Future Tech: from WSJ. “Researchers on the bleeding edge of physics, chemistry and engineering are experimenting with exotic-sounding substances to be used in microchips. They include graphene, black phosphorus, transition metal dichalcogenides, and boron nitride nanosheets. Collectively, they’re known as 2-D materials, since they are flat sheets only an atom or two thick. Largely unknown just 20 years ago, they are now regularly fabricated in labs, using methods as mundane as a blender and as tricky as high-temperature vapor deposition.”

Economics 101: from IEA (UK). “The first in a two-part series, providing 33 films in total, will cover everything from basic economic theory to important historical case studies; guaranteeing viewers will receive a comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals of economics.”

United Voters of India: Constructing the Collective (Part 2)

United, We Can

We can of course blame the politicians for our current state of affairs, but few of us do. For most of us, politicians are the do-gooders. They give us the freebies – never mind that they extract many times more from us to dole out those goodies. We turn to them when we have a problem – which is exactly what they want; a favour given now is a rent to be extracted over and over again. We cannot easily measure their performance and hold them accountable; instead we are swayed by words they say days before we vote. Elections are about deciding between the lesser of the evils. Our limited attention span for anything political is less than that of goldfish, which of course they know so well.

Just around the time when the US got its Constitution, Indians became colonised – first by the whites and then by their very own. The British were allowed to rule over us for 150 years; after that under the mirage of Independence, we have let India’s politicians continue that legacy for the past 75 years. A rule that exploits and extracts, a rule by kakistocrats. But we don’t care. The bar of the acceptable behaviour of politicians keeps lowering and our tolerance of that keeps getting raised to the extent that we simply tune off and focus on the next video on our app. And then as dutiful citizens delighted with being able to exercise our democratic right, we go out and vote them (or their variants) back into power every few years.

There is no point blaming a single political party or politician. Each one of them in the course of their tenure in power has shifted the Overton Window of what is now seen as acceptable. The definition of tyranny is revised and redefined by every action of the powerful; it is the voluntary servitude of we the people which lets it happen. But what can we do? Individuals, busy with our daily lives, in a constant battle of survival, in perpetual crisis mode, singletons in an ocean of humanity. We were as helpless when the British took over; 100,000 of them commanded 300 million Indians into submission. We are as helpless now when an even smaller number commands 1300 million Indians into obedience. We just feel free now because we have our own flag, and the skin colour of the rulers and their accent matches our own.

We are our biggest problem – and also the best solution. The greatest and most powerful force in modern times is not that of a politician in power, but P2P – peer-to-peer. Each of us is connected to hundreds of others. Technology has linked us into a network where words and videos can spread at the speed of light. We don’t need a director or designer; each of us can become a decision-maker and emergence can do the rest. But we don’t know the superpower that we have – individually and as a collective. Unlike Superman’s ‘S’, it is not immediately apparent. But if someone or something can harness this, the change that is seemingly impossible today can become inevitable tomorrow.

We. United. Our support, made visible by technology. Spread P2P via our smartphone. Identity hidden because no one else needs to know. Finally, the vote, in secret. Put it all together and we can rid India of the biggest cancer that has destroyed our past, is eating away our present, and limiting our children’s future – the politicians and their parties. It took 5 years to go from ‘Quit India’ to ‘Independent India’. It can take even less to go from ‘They, the Powerful’ to ‘We, the Free and Rich.’ This is the revolution India needs.