Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Week in Mumbai

While California froze (oh, my precious grapefruit!), I was enjoying the balmy Hawaiian weather in Mumbai, India all week. Our office there continues to fund profitable, high-growth, non-tech, infrastructure companies. To illustrate the need for capital in India, take a look at the materials used in the scaffolding deployed to renovate our office building there.

Driving around in India is not for tourists. With narrow, chaotic streets, left-side-of-the-street driving, and low local labor rates, tourists inevitably hire full-time drivers (they come free with the car rentals). Attached left is the view through the front windshield of my car; as you can see the driver must jostle our way through the crowd of people, bicycles, scooters, horses, dogs--rarely with the aid of traffic lights. Light collissions are common and hardly noticed. But still I had to ask my driver on the highway to please stop using the oncoming lane of traffic (which routinely forced approaching vehicles to veer out of the way). In the image on the right, he is stopped and given a 100-rupee traffic ticket, but I couldn't tell why.

The highlight of my week was meeting Rajesh Jain, founder of India World (the high-value acquisition that served as poster child of India's internet bubble). Rajesh is the Bill Gross of India, prolifically founding, funding or running startup after startup (get a sense for his metabolism and creativity on his blog). Among his more ambitious projects are a thin client service that promises to deliver India's households with computer, bandwidth and software for $10 per month.

The lowlight of the week was missing Christopher Moore sign his latest novel You Suck at Kepler's on Wednesday. I tried to console myself by visiting a book fair in Mumbai, but the books were all religious, except the few covering astrology, numerology, and the international Jewish conspiracy. So Chini Krishnan, the Mumbai native who runs Vimo (photographed above left of Rajesh), salvaged my day by guiding me through the backstreets to Strand Book Store (it's not easy to find anything there--there are no street signs). Strand is the Kepler's of India, selling real books--even God Delusion!--for 56 years (the man who checked out my purchases had worked there for most of them). Strand is so popular that it expanded to its current footprint, including the upstairs, of 500 square feet--the envy of the neighborhood! I hadn't intend to buy much, but somehow Strand sells at roughly 20% of US prices, so I filled my suitcases. (Sorry, Clark.)

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  1. Anonymous4:24 AM

    you think this scaffolding sucks!! as a construction contractor in mumbai, i have seen a lot worse.
    when we started our company all the founders had a dream of building a company which could be deliver a globally acceptable service, however, even thogh we have the competency our clients seem only bothered about sort term costs and we too are forced to provide our constuction services by lowering our quality standard.
    sad but true. at least we will survive. i keep wodering how come companies like yours are willing to pay those huge rentals but are in buildings were the standards in general are so low.

  2. Mumbai can be overwhelming at times have fun!

  3. Anonymous11:19 AM

    I like the timing of the blog, or at least my timing of pulling it up... I am sitting in Singapore Airline's lounge in Singapore @ 3:10 am after a flight from SFO, refuel in Seoul and now a 6 hour layover before the flight to Mumbai. :)


  4. Anonymous10:02 AM

    George Bush/Al Gore and others talk about Green Revolution. India practices it.

    Bamboo scaffolding is cheap, reliable, quick to install and tear down, reusable and bio-degradable.

    Other examples:
    fast food plates made out of duarble dry leaves - low cost, bio-degradable and efficient.

    India is a mystery to the western world. Amidst the chaos, there is will-power to succeed, entrepreneurship and a wide open business opportunity.

  5. Anonymous4:59 PM

    And... the bamboo has better tensile strength than steel. It's a millenia old building material! Superior in many (already mentioned respects).