Small businesses are backbone of Indian economy

In the past I have written few times in this blog about “Challenges of Doing business in India” and “Running a Product business in India“. Is it only thorns along the way?, not really. There have been many instances of “Small Indian Companies that have stood over time” and how you can succeed by taking advantage of technology and first step for that will be to “Secure your business website“.

In this background, I was happy to see a new initiative titled “The Action Committee for Formal Finance for Non-corporate Small Businesses”, certainly a mouthful. The group is constituted by leading organisations from across India, to create a financial architecture for small businesses. They have launched a new good looking website smallbusinessisbigbusiness.org. I appreciate this effort and wish them good luck.

Small-Business-India-Banner

In their advertisement today in Economic Times, I noticed these impressive statistics:

  • 5.77 crore enterprises
  • INR 6.28 Lakh crore per annum
  • 45% contribution to national GDP vs. 15% by the corporate sector
  • Provides 90% of employment in the country
  • 46 crore employed; 24 crore self-employed
  • 62% owned by ST/SC and OBCs
  • Only 4% of their financial needs are met by banks

VoIP Services I am using now

Like many in Indian Software services industry with teams in USA and servicing customers in North America, I too make many calls to US  every work week. To do this cost effectively and to have a US Phone number, the option is to use a VoIP (Voice over IP) service.

Vonage to Ooma

In my business, for last 10 years we were using Vonage.com VoIP service. For the two numbers based on our usage we were paying $80-130 per month inclusive of taxes. In the Internet world of lowering cost, this was strange, as our spends remained the same or was increasing slightly year on year. Recently we started to experience poorer voice quality, which I suspect may be due to latency in our Internet broadband in India (we are using a dedicated leased line of 16 Mbps for every ~50 users) and Vonage not being able to adjust dymanically to it. Few months back I checked out for alternatives, I came across many including Ooma.com, 8×8.com. They were offering Conference facility, Voice Mail, Business Extensions and so on. I was disappointed that Vonage was not innovating, though they were a good service, there was nothing new coming from them. (While writing this post, I checked out Vonage website, I noticed they have a new Vonage Business Portal with many new features).

In this background, on a friend’s recommendation few months back I moved my business connections from Vonage to Ooma Business. We got a new device from Ooma that supports attaching up to 4 phone instruments, unlimited extensions and other features. One by one we ported both our numbers (425, 206 Area code) from Vonage to Ooma, they guided on the process and it went well. We discontinued our Vonage subscription. Ooma currently don’t have a Mobile app for Business users. Now for last 3 months, we are paying around $58 ($40 for service plus taxes) for 2 numbers of unlimited calling to US. And Voice quality so far has been good, no complaints from users.

MagicJack

While I was using Vonage (and now Ooma) at work, I needed a VoIP connection in my house for late night calls from India. Few years back while visiting USA, I brought a MagicJack device which I had purchased for ~$50 which included a free subscription for 2 years unlimited calls to USA. Voice quality was fine, but to use it you had to connect the USB device to your PC and be running an app in your PC. This was a nuisance for regular calls. Later MagicJack introduced MagicJack Plus, which you could run without a PC, just plugin 3 cables (USB Charger, RJ11 to a Phone Instrument, RJ45 to your Network) to the device and you are good to go.  I found the MagicJack Plus device to be working fine for me, once the initial free subscription that came with the device ended, I renewed my subscription. At that time they offered a irresistible deal of 5 years unlimited calls to US at ~ $59.95, which I gladly paid.

Few weeks back the device (MagicJack Plus) conked off. I saw MagicJack was now having a new device called “MagicJack Go” for $59.95 plus taxes. It was advertised that the new device will include a one year free subscription (unlimited calls to US), but I was not sure whether my existing US number will port to the new device and whether I will get the remaining subscription period migrated from the earlier device to this new one. Anyways since a  colleague was returning from US I bought the device online.

Yesterday I connected the device (MagicJack Go) to my iMac at home, installed the app that it prompted me to do so. After logging in using my MagicJack credentials, the app wizard guided me to have my existing number (425 *** ****) ported from the old device to new one. In the process it added the remaining subscription duration to the free 1 year that came with the new device. This whole process from the time of inserting the device to making a call with the new device, was about 5 minutes. It was all self-service, no need to speak to any customer care. I have been using MagicJack for many years now, I was really surprised to see how far they have come in their online self-service and account management. In their initial days you had to literally hunt for the screen in their website to see your account details or even renew the service.

I have started using MagicJack App for Android Phone for last few months. The App has been impressive and extremely convenient to make calls even when I am not in my den. Unfortunately it has been crashing for last few days after I upgraded to Lollipop (Android 5.0) in my Nexus 5.0.

Skype Phone calls

Lastly, apart from VoIP services I use, I try to maintain a balance of Euro 10-20 in my Skype account all the time. This has been a convenient  and cheaper way for me to make calls to anywhere in the world from my phone/laptop especially when I am travelling. It is useful as well when I am outside work/home locations, using 2G/3G wireless data and want to make an outside India call. I also use it to make calls to other countries (non US) even when I am at work/home as its cheaper than the voice calls that the TELCOs charge.

 

Tamil Handwriting

For nearly two decades this has been a dream for many of us in (when I was in) INFITT. In  all the handful of Tamil Internet conferences and in many other Indian language software related research this has been a popular topic.

It was to get Tamil Handwriting input working. Finally, early this year Google has included this as a feature in its Google Translate App. I came to know of this only last week, through a post in a friends’s Facebook page.

It is easy to use the service. Launch the app and write at the bottom, casually, the system recognised text is shown on top, below it is the English (or any other language) translation. It couldn’t be any easier. I  wish this is introduced as a keyboard input as well. I hope Google will take this technique, improve on it to an OCR service, incorporate it (if they haven’t done so already) to Google Books/Search to search in Tamil inside scanned books.

Tamil Handwriting Input seen in Google Translator App
Tamil Handwriting Input seen in Google Translator App

This is the second significant contribution by Google to Tamil (Indian) Languages, a year or two back it had introduce for the first time a translator service for Tamil texts (both from and to).

Forum Vijaya Mall, Vadapalani

இன்று விடுமுறையாதலால் என்ன செய்வது என்று யோசித்து, நானும் பையனும் காலை உணவு முடித்துவிட்டு மாலுக்கு செல்ல கிளம்பினோம். எந்த அங்காடிக்கு (மாலுக்கு) செல்வது?. சிட்டி செண்டர், ஸ்பேன்சர்ஸ், எக்ஸ்பிரஸ் மால் எல்லாம் நிறைய முறை போயாச்சு. எதுவும் வாங்க வேண்டியதில்லை, வேறும் கண்ணாடி வழியாகப் பார்த்து வர தான் போக வேண்டும். மிக தீவிரமாக யோசித்து, வடபழனியில் இருக்கும் ஃபாரம் விஜயா அங்காடி (Forum Vijaya Mall) போனோம். என் வீட்டிலிருந்து இந்த மால் இரண்டு/இரண்டரை கிலோ மீட்டர் தான்.

காலை பத்து மணி என்பதால் எங்கள் காரையும் சேர்த்து வெறும் பத்து கார் தான், முழு கார் பார்கிங்கும் காலி!!!. என்னமோ தெரியவில்லை, எப்போதும் கூட்டம் அலைமோதும் இடமாக பார்த்து பழகிய அங்காடிகளை வெறிச்சோடிப் பார்க்கும் போது வினோதமாக தான் இருக்கிறது. ஒரு வகையில் நன்றாகவும் இருக்கிறது.

மாலின் முற்றம் வெளிச்சமாக இருக்கிறது, சூர்ய வெளிச்சதை நன்றாக பயன்படுத்தி இருக்கிறார்கள். அடுத்த ஆண்டு இந்த மாலில் சத்தியம் சினிமாஸ், சென்னையின் முதல் “ஐமேக்ஸ்” (IMAX)  திரையரங்கை திறக்கிறார்கள். அதன் பின் என்னை இங்கே அடிக்கடிப் பார்க்கலாம்!

நான்கு மாடிகளையும் சுற்றிவிட்டு, சாப்பாடு கடைகள் (Food Court) இடத்திற்கு சென்றோம்.  காலை உணவு முடித்துவிட்டதால், மேலே எதுவும் சாப்பிட முடியாது (கடைகளிலும் உணவு தயாராகி இருக்கவில்லை), அந்த வருத்ததோடு, செல்பேசியில் வண்ண மேஜைகளையும், வெள்ளை நாற்காலிகளையும் ஒரு படம் மட்டும் எடுத்துவிட்டு கீழே இறங்கினோம்.

Forum Vijaya Mall,Chennai - FoodCourt
Forum Vijaya Mall,Chennai – FoodCourt

கீழ் தளத்தில், பிளாஸ்டிக் பால் உறைகளுக்கு எதிராக ஒரு  கலைப்படைப்பை வைத்திருந்தார்கள். பெரிய கண்ணாடி பாட்டில் போல ஒன்று, அதன் மேலே பலநூறு பிளாஸ்டிக் பால் உறைகள். அழகாக இருந்தது, அதையும் ஒரு படம் எடுத்துவிட்டி நின்றுக் கொண்டிருந்தோம்.

Vijaya-Forum-Mall-Milk
Anti-Plastic Milk Packets – An Art campaign

செல்பேசி சிணுங்கியது, எடுத்துப் பார்த்தால், மனைவியின் குரல், மத்திய உணவு தயார். மந்திர வார்த்தையை கேட்டுவிட்டதால், வீட்டிற்கு கிளம்பினோம்.

Bharathi by Shraddha

Shraddha theatre group have done 15 plays in their four years of founding. The 15 plays have been across genres, all staged with the goal of promoting Tamil Theatre and encouraging the habit of watching Live Theatre with the youngsters. This week’s play, in celebration of annual Children’s Day in India (November 14th) is called பாரதி (Bharathi).

The title (Bharathi) of the play that I saw today is of a little girl with that name in the play, and is not named after the Great Tamil (Freedom struggle fame) poet Thiru.Subramania Bharathi (மகாகவி சுப்பிரமணிய பாரதி). Its a story that’s easily understood as one which is a fusion between “Alice in the Wonderland” and “Toy Story” for the Indian setting. In the story, we are taken along with the little girl (Bharathi) to visit her dream land. Bharathi spends most of her time after school alone in her house, waiting for her parents to come back from work. This happens almost every day and the girl to fight boredom builds her own world in her imagination. A world which is frequented by Akbar (the great Mughal ruler), Birbal (his trusted aide and confidant), Chatrapathi Shivaji,  Mickey Mouse, Angels (Stars, Fishes) and  Moon goddess. The world is filled not only with lovable characters, it contains those that are scarier to Bharathi too, including her strict teacher, Ice Cream vendor, bully classmate, scolding Father and a rude bus conductor.

Bharathi-2

My son loved the play thoroughly. The stage effects were superb, especially the underwater world scene with Octopus, Flying Angels, Oyster and Glowing fishes. Many of the characters were little kids from Alchemy theatre group and the youngest of them (a cute little girl of say 4 years) was adorable. The lead character “Bharathi” was played by an Alchemy student Mahima, she was a natural on stage, handling long dialogues, dances all with ease.

The original story of the play was by legendary Marathi Playwright (Late) Mr.Vijay Tendulkar and it was titled “Bobbychi Ghostha” in Marathi. It was adopted to Tamil by Yadartha Sri K.Penneswaran about 15 years back. Tamil film music director Mr.Ramesh Vinayakam has composed the music and background score for Bharathi. To interest the generation of XBOX and Avatar 3D with a stage play and that too a dream world is a great achievement, credit goes to the Director Mr.G.Krishnamurthy and to all the actors on/off stage for the same.

I suppose all interested are welcome to watch the play in the dates below – Contact Shraddha’s Facebook page. The Hindu Newspaper’s review can be read here.

The play is happening Nov 14, 15, 16, 17 in Narada Gana Sabha and Nov 22, 23 in Vani Mahal. A must watch for parents and kids.

Bharathi-1