You Are Beer, Not a Colorful Beanbag

What are you?

What do you mean, what am I?

You are beer. And this bottle, is your company. You think, you’ll get into that glass. You’ll have fun. Isn’t it? But look at this [trying to pour the capped bottle in the glass]. Can you see? You actually don’t want to leave the bottle. For the beer to get into the glass, it needs to leave the bottle first. Once you’re out of the bottle, then you can get into any glass you want. In this glass, if you want. Or you can get into this glass. Even in this glass..

It’s a wine glass.

How the hell do you know that? You are beer.


This conversation opens the cap to the protagonist’s entrepreneurial flow in Pitchers, a web series aptly named as a frisky notion of friends drinking pitchers of beer while discussing their startup pitches.

Despite my absence from blog writing due to the slothful comfort-zone of ‘sound bite sized’ tweets and a disgraceful decline in long-form effort, I’m hoping to find time and reclaim my desire for musings and rants, partly thanks to my sister who recommended that I watch Tripling, another web series from the same outfit about siblings on a road trip.

What nudged me, and resonated with me about these web series’ created by the team at a digital media startup — The Viral Fever (TVF), is not just the content, but also the creator. They’re real, honest and funny. At a time when original content from the likes of Netflix is disrupting digital media as well as the appetite of a binging audience, TVF is creating interestingly fresh content and building a monetizable platform in the form of TVF Play for other creators to leverage.

TVF is an interesting venture in itself. Its founder, Arunabh, an IIT alumnus, had worked on a drone image processing project for the US Air Force, before realizing that probably he is ‘beer’, capable of a different sort of envisioning. In a chat on the Founding Fuel channel, he had some interesting views to share on entrepreneurship:

The desire [of starting-up] was stronger to prove myself right, than prove others wrong.

I have a very counter-intuitive opinion [on your office being a workplace or a fun place].. I don’t think offices have become fun or become cooler because of colorful beanbags, that’s the worst thing that Google did.. everybody thinks that it’s a great culture.. it’s not. Culture is not defined by beanbags in any office.. in-fact our office is a great balance of formal and informal environment, and if you take any of that out, it will fall like a pack of cards. We don’t believe that if we’ll be having fun and we’ll be smoking up, we’ll be getting great ideas.. the ways of working have been misconstrued and defined very wrongly. When somebody walked into this office and said that writing is my passion, then dude I don’t really need to make my place fun to make you passionate about your passion.. in-fact the litmus test would be that I should be throwing you into one cave and still you’d be writing because it’s your passion.. so we would rather have people who anyway know what’s fun for them is doing the work that they love, then that’s it, we don’t need to have colorful beanbags.

I read somewhere.. the only three things certain in life are death, taxes and competition. I feel that competition is a good thing.. competition always keeps you on your toes.. competition shows that you’re not the only guy playing the game. The big guys aspire.. and have our name in their PPT’s, so I think that’s a great thing to be proud of. So there are two ways to live life, there’s an abundance mentality and there’s a scarcity mentality. Scarcity would be that there are only so many brand, so let’s try do something, otherwise there’s competition, what will happen. And then there’s an abundance mentality that humanity could have survived without Apple devices, and Apple is the most valuable company in this world. Humanity didn’t need Apple devices, but the guy believed in it, and the company believed in it, and then the entire team thought that let’s make something awesome that everybody would want to own it.. so I think when you come with that abundance mentality, then there’s so much of money and so many opportunities to have that the universe is waiting for you to give it something, so that it will give you that sort of wealth.. so I never consider competition.

We need to keep disrupting ourselves. I wrote some 5-7 rules, when I started.. one of the rules was that we should be doing one scary thing every three months, and if we’re not doing it, then we’re not really moving in that direction. When expectations increase.. you become cautious, and experiments fail and succeed, but you get unpredictable result only when you experiment. I feel that if we’re able to imbibe disruption as a habit, then that’s something which will sail us through.

What do you do to make a community.. you just make great product. I think there’s no shortcut to that.. and you just have fun with it.. and that will resonate. If ever I could write a thesis on the whole definition of “cool”, coolness is nothing but anything that has shocked, and given shock & awe to people, and that when starts to get accepted, becomes cool. When it becomes slightly mainstream, it stops being cool.. so there’s a very fine line between the birth of something cool and the death of something cool. A very good line comes to my mind, from Dark Knight, which says, `either you die and become a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.’

Don’t Stop Talking About Your Ideas

A tweet this morning pointed to an article titled “Stop talking about your brilliant startup idea!“, in which a fellow Melbournian writes (in summary):

Nobody cares about your idea.

Stop talking to your friends about your ideas.

Stop talking to customers about your ideas.

Stop telling me your ideas.

As harsh as that may sound, there is a better reason to “stop talking.” There’s plenty of scientific evidence on the notion of secrecy, which shows that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen. Derek Sivers wrote about it a few years back:

Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”

You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

Having said that, I also think that “nourishment” of ideas has merit. Talking about ideas early-on, yet informally, is a form of “rubber ducking” that forces one to explain their thoughts to others. It not only helps in garnering feedback and involving like-minded collaborators, but it also helps in refining the concept in one direction or another. Such informal discussion, starting at 17th century coffee houses in particular, has been playing an important role in the cultural, social and intellectual advancements since The Renaissance.

The Ottoman empire expanded throughout Europe in the 17th century. From Vienna came the idea of a place where men could meet and discuss various topics over coffee or tea (Viennese coffee house culture). Adapted to Western culture, the Turkish “coffee cafes” became the place where friends met for a drink. The tradition of the Agora was moved from the public square to the center city cafe. Philosophers, poets, writers, and intellectuals of all types made these places their new meeting places. (source: Predecessors of Café Philosophique)

The coffee shops, taverns and pubs back then were a place where people could gather and share ideas. It was the “conjugal bed” where ideas could have sex, as Matt Ridley would say (his TED Talk). Shakespeare and many other laureates hung out at these places to discuss their ideas, encourage and critique each other, learn, and most importantly — listen. Without the listening part, it would all have been a huge echo chamber.

Coffee House

Today, new environments like Internet forums, online or offline social networking, co-working spaces etc. are filling the shoes. So don’t stop talking about your ideas. But listen more.

How Can Hackers Help In The Fight Against Cancer?

When 1 in 3 humans are affected by a disease, it needs attention and help from all corners. There are many types of cancers, so it’s hard to say if we’ll ever be able to completely cure cancer. But prevention, early detection and proper care are crucial in cancer diagnosis and its treatment.

As David Agus, a cancer doctor, would like to say:

In health care today, we spend most of the dollars — in terms of treating disease — in the last two years of a person’s life.

I pondered on it one evening and thought I’d find out about some “programmable” possibilities related to cancer research for hackers from the non-scientific community, besides the obvious means of help like donations (both charity and research), awareness drives and volunteering.

I got in touch with Jon Kiddy, a software engineer who works at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Jon kindly shared his views and pointed out that the current state of cancer research can be summed up in one of Daniel Markham’s excellent posts. After having read the book on the subject called “The Emperor of All Maladies”, Daniel went on to state the general problem with cancer research is that the US healthcare isn’t setup to support individualized care and treatment, which is currently undergoing the most intensive scrutiny. A commentor on Hacker News responded to Daniel’s post with this inspiring message:

You want to fix cancer, don’t wait for the scientists. They are hobbled by regulation. Be an engineer: get out there and make one of the viable solutions work, and make it work outside the US.

What started as modest self-education, has led me to several impactful ways in helping with cancer research:

1. Distributed Computing Projects – In 2003, with grid computing, in less than three months scientists identified 44 potential treatments to fight the deadly smallpox disease. Without the grid, the work would have taken more than one year to complete. Participating in a distributed computing project is the easiest way to get involved with cancer research.

You can donate your unused computer resources to research projects like Help Conquer Cancer, Help Fight Childhood Cancer, Rosetta@home, Folding@home.

Grid computing works by splitting complex computations into small pieces that can be processed simultaneously on individual public nodes, there-by reducing research time and making the technology infrastructure cost-effective.

2. Build on “Big Data” – Massive amounts of raw data is available for analysis in cancer research. As Jon wrote back to me:

The problem comes when there is such a large amount of data to process in a field where each individual’s treatment is usually uniquely suited only to them. Hadoop/Hbase is in use by The Cancer Genome Atlas to make some of this process more bearable. Their datasets are invaluable.

The combination of Apache Hadoop (for distributed computing), HBase (distributed database), MapReduce (for distributed computing on large datasets on clusters of computers), R Project (for statistical computing), and Gephi (for visualization and exploration) changes the way we think about analysis of Big Data.

Data analysis, data visualization and even Web crawler technology are all important in cancer research, for processing highly distributable problems across huge datasets using a large number of computers.

Last year, the Cloudera Data Science Team wrote about some of their work with Hadoop:

Instead of focusing on a handful of outcomes, we can process all of the events in the data set at the same time. We can try out hundreds of different strategies for cleaning records, stratifying observations into clusters, and scoring drug-reaction tuples, run everything in parallel, and analyze the data at a fraction of the cost of a traditional supercomputer. We can render the results of our analyses using visualization tools that can be used by domain experts to explore relationships within our data that they might never have thought to look for. By dramatically reducing the costs of exploration and experimentation, we foster an environment that enables innovation and discovery.

3. Apps and Tools – Personal profiling and monitoring could be another area of focus for developers interested in cancer research or general health-related diagnosis.

There are lots of possibilities for personal solutions that aid in collective science.

“In lieu of spending a decade in training to become an oncologist, I have been able to put my skills to practical use.”, Jon says about the impact he’s making.

I really wish for many more technology enthusiasts to devote their time, skills and efforts in the fight against cancer. In what other ways can we help? Do share your comments and views.