The American Dollar

posted by on 2007.11.08, under India, News, Travel

It is a topic for discussion almost every time America come up in conversation out here, and it is something I can’t ignore while scanning my trusted news sources. Most of all, I am feeling the pains of this economic backlash first hand, as the value of the dollar to the rupee is at an all time low. Since my contract with our partners out here is fixed, they too are feeling the pinch, as the agreed price now is worth less than when we negotiated it. Other outsourcing companies that deal with Americans have experienced similar pain points, and have in some cases renegotiated the deals, or outsourced the project themselves to a country where the operations would turn a profit. There is talk about some Indian outsourcing companies setting up office in the US itself, as the operation costs would be cheaper to run there than in India, with the weak dollar.

My thoughts are that is seems like the best time to start a business outside the US, and convert those profits from the local currencies, such as the rupee, back to dollars to get an added boost from the exchange rate. US exports are improving because they are now affordable abroad, and helping to reduce the $800 billion trade deficit. So…how does TheWedLink export to India? (or any foreign country for that matter)

Perhaps there is an opportunity to piggyback on the matrimony sites, such as or These sites alone have arranged over 1.6 million weddings. TheWedLink, (or perhaps TheShaadiLink in this case) would happily help those couples, (who represent more than half of the total number of US wedding couples) make their wedding day spectacular, and share the memories with all their friends and families in the most simple and modern way possible. One thought I had was to employ the Eunuch as a secondary marketing distribution channel to get other families on the website….The Eunuchs as I said before have a network that somehow informs them of every single wedding and child birth in the cities they live in. I might have to work with them on their customer service, and sales approach, as I don’ want the company to be branded along with the negative opinions of this third gender of India, but perhaps it could be an amusing experiment. In all seriousness, we are learning about the Indian wedding industry as quickly as possible, and if the mix of what we can offer matches the demand, I will be happy to let you know when we and if we decide to put our fingers in the air and do the bhangra dance to launch our glocal version of the site here. Ideas are certainly welcomed on this topic

Finally, as the topic of this post related to America and money markets, I heard something interesting which I wanted to share on here. Most of my thoughts recently have been on shifting from the US to India, and the financial implication of doing so, however even with a weak dollar and a struggling economy, there is no shortage of demand for immigrants coming into the US, especially from India. With the recently updated Immigration Policy, they number of Visa holders have been cut in half, and it is damn competitive to get to the US from India. Some of the factors that go under review is having a minimum balance in the bank of 30 lakh rupees. (3 million rupees, or about $76,000). You might be aware that due to high taxation in India, most of the wealth people have is hidden in black money. Those that don’t have 30 lakh’s to show can’t get a visa, and therefore a form of bridge financing was introduced in the banking system. Originating from private investors, who would float the money to show the required balance during the time of immigration, legal banks have started doing this, recognizing it as a profitable business. The customers are willing to pay something like 30,000 rupees for this service, or $760 (1% interest) for this short term loan, to reach the land of dreams. For those who qualify though, the competition has become so high, that there is a lottery system to pick who actually gets a visa, and the $200 dollars spent on a visa application is non refundable. Perhaps these Indians will start making threats like the Chinese to switch to euro’s eventually, or instead stick around and build enterprises here in the motherland. Schools like Indian School of Business (ISB) make a good argument to continue grad school here in India rather than going abroad to study like in the past. I n fact, American schools like Harvard are opening branches here itself in Hyderabad. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the upcoming years with immigration, education, and spending/selling dollars.


“Woman Like a Man”

posted by on 2007.11.07, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

I met some of the worst Indian gangsters, street thugs, and criminals the other day. It was a really awkward encounter, as it happened at 8am outside the Imax theatre. I had met some friends for a treasure hunt, which is actually a race around Hyderabad that an automobile company organized, where 100’s of cars drove around finding clues, solving them, and racing to a final destination where they would be awarded something close to $5,000. My friend, a real estate agent invited me, and I thought that with my wit and his knowledge of the city, we might stand a chance. Needless to say, we only made it 8 out of the 10 stops before giving up and spending the afternoon at the water park resort.

The morning started on a very bad note, which I blame for our lack of concentration and stamina throughout the contest. Standing outside the theatre, a sudden commotion presented itself on our group. I only knew the fellow that invited me, but we were joined by a crew of 3 other guys, which under any other circumstance I would have felt comfortable to defend me in a fight. You learn a lot about people after just meeting them, and sharing such a confrontational experience with them, and watching them react. That is one thing I have learned in my travels…

This particular morning, the confrontation that took place was initiated by what the locals call “Hijaras,” or Eunuchs. To make a long story short, the belief is that these castrated men wearing saris have special powers which when used to curse someone who does not pay them money upon request, giving bad fortune to the cursed recipient. Most of these Eunuchs were born as men, but it is believed that some were actually born without male of female genitalia . The process of castration is something I would rather not discuss here, but if you would like to read about the origins of this community, please feel free at your leisure.

These people roll around town in groups, like gangs and harass the people that are frightened of them. They are some of the wealthiest people in town, earning something close to $100k per year supposedly. They have such a strong network, that they know about every wedding and child birth in town, and show up on the day of the family celebration and cause a ruckus, singing and dancing and disturbing the event until they are payed to leave. When this source of revenue is not enough, they just stroll around town, stopping cars, or approaching random folks, like the group I was with, and demand payment. When they are unsatisfied with the payment, or the response in general, they rudely flash their missing genitals, curse and touch the person in the most uncomfortable ways you can think of.

I have heard and seen these people before. They are rumored to have the strength or 3 men, being build like bulls, but as feminine as Martha Stewert. When the group of 5 of them approached us, I considered several ways I could react. I thought about my uncle in Canada, who told me he once got so irritated that he hit one in the face, and ran away. I thought about my friend, Ian, who usually handles situations like this in an effective manner, and decided he would probably do the same. We were being watched by a group of 50 or 60 people outside the park, who were mostly amused my my facial expressions at the time. As I prepared to go Oscar Del-D’Mello on a particular enu-thug, I looked at the guys faces around me, as they helplessly gave up the money being asked. I was shocked to see one of these Hijaras‘ grab a $20 bills from my friends wallet, and him just stand still. Fear is something the face never hides.

I gave these people 20 rupees, hoping that it would suffice. It just got them to bother me more. I decided that there was probably a good explanation why the men around me were so frightened, however I refused to pay out anymore, and ignored them until they finally left. Luckily one of the other guys gave them 700 rupees so they left. Their 10 minutes of harassment earned them the equivalent of $40. That is $240 per hour….the rate of a decent lawyer. (I know a few lawyers who might get along with these people)

I held back a lot of insults to the guys around me for their reaction to the situation, as they explained to me that they genuinely fear the curses that the Hijaras‘ put on them. Furthermore, they explained that if we were to put up a fight, the 50 – 60 people around us would have sided with the Hijaras and it would have been, as my friend Ian likes to say, “A really bad scene.” They were upset they lost so much money, but glad the the 3000 rupees in my wallet was safe. That is the part of the Indian mentality that has really touched me, the people who care more for their guests welfare than their own, even when money is involved.

A part of me wants to make a documentary on this community….It is really fascinating how they exist, and profit from human fear. The sad thing is that since they can’t reproduce, in many cases little boys are kidnapped and forced into this lifestyle. Some people also believe that since a homosexual lifestyle in India is prohibited, this is the alternative many young confused men seek. Young men are said to save up for months for the operation to join the community in some places, and it is estimated that the total population of these “girly men” is over one million people. They are arguably India’s “Third Gender.”

1 Month Left in Hyderabad

posted by on 2007.11.05, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

My time is nearly up here, but the adventure seems to only be beginning. I had a lot of concerns about coming out to India for this project, many people have spoke quite negatively about working with Indian vendors, including even many Indians I spoke with. Some of the challenges were there when we started, but we found ways to work around them, and create a unique dynamic that seems to be working. Check out the office…

[The Office]
[Front of the Office]

[My receptionist Yaswanthi]

[Inside the US Embassy of Hyderabad]

[The Lounge]

[Marketing Dept]

[Engineering Dept]

[Sitting with the directors of Threshold -Bharath, Ram, Shiva, Nevine, Prashanth, and Ramu]

Business and money aside, I was very honored that they would think about inviting me to their hometown of Tirupati. This weekend is Diwali, the biggest festival in India, and everyone gets together with their families to celebrate the festival of lights. I grew up participating in dances at the Diwali function in Kalamazoo, much to my displeasure and my mothers amusement of forcing me to wear strange costumes, and involve myself in silly dance moves on stage while hundreds of Indians in the audiences clapped and whistled to their favorite songs.

At the time I was petrified of the whole thing, imagining what my American friends would say if they saw me like that, but today I am thankful I was forced to do it. Now, instead of wearing a costume, practicing dance moves for months, collecting a trophy and hiding any picture/video that could tie me to such an event, I am going to be joining 30,000 daily pilgrims along with the 5 founding members of my partnering company to one of the most beautiful parts of India to celebrate it in a small town with the local people. It should be a wild experience, and I am trying to prepare myself to adjust to any situation that might present itself to me, as every day is going to be something brand new for me.

I am anxious to meet the families of the men I work with. They have been raised to be outstanding gentleman, who truly care about each other and show a level of friendship which we do not see too often in the US. They all are roommates, business partners, and best friends, and I have felt the extension of this friendship through this thoughtful gesture of inviting me to Tirupati. It was nice enough for them to invite me to play on their cricket team. The 6 of us are usually good for 1 or 2 jokes each day, which really makes the environment in the office fun. I brought some trail mix to the office yesterday, which my mom had brought from the US. I offered this to a few people, saw a favorable response to the new food, and decided to walk around and offer some of the snack to the 20 some people in the office. It was damn amusing to see their reactions to the various mix or nuts, fruits and candy. One of the larger men in the office got the biggest laugh when he snatched the bag away from my hands when I offered him a handful. I finally had to tell him that he could get sick from too much trail mix, so that I could get some of the bag back. A mild mannered and entertaining fellow, he had the entire office hysterical with laughter at the time. I have noticed that remarks about peoples weight in the office is not offensive here, as its usually he first observation someone makes about you when meeting.

I have a pretty clever Diwali gift up my sleeve for the office, which I am working on getting. The season is very similar to Christmas, as many people exchange presents with friends and families. This morning, to start the celebration in the office, we had a pooja. The people in the office welcomed me to participate in the tradition, and I was given my first red dot on the forehead, drank coconut water, and was showered with flower petals on my hair. Very interesting way to spend a Monday morning in the office. They seemed thankful that I joined them without any hesitation. Enjoy the pictures coming soon….


Back from Bombay

posted by on 2007.11.01, under India, Travel

I spent a week in Bombay, read Shantaram again, and dreamed about the side of the city I will probably never see, besides the Johnny Depp production of the book, under the direction of Mira Nair, and starring Johnny, Amitabh Bachchan, and possibly Shilpa Shetty.

It was great catching up with family again. I truly appreciate the place each time I visit, not because of anything except the good people.

Some good people in Hyderabad who invited me to their house gifted me the book “In Spite of the God’s: The Strange Rise of Modern India.” I am looking forward to reading that, as it is supposed to be a book that “illuminates a land of many contradictions.” After seeing the lecture on the “Games Indians Play” this book sounds damn interesting.

Google’s stock closed at over $700 today. They are also going head on with Facebook, in an interesting move to build an open social platform that all social networks can use. I hope that TheWedLink will be able to be incorporated into this. Things are going well with our progress out here, and I saw parts of the site working today as they will when we launch, which was really exciting.

This weekend will be filled with extra hours in the office. Next week is Diwali, so we need to work ahead before the holiday begins. There is a slight chance I might travel to Dubai next weekend, but for the most part I think I will stay in Hyderabad. Sunday I am doing a scavenger hunt around the city with my buddies Sainik and Kirthi. Should be a good way to see the city, it ends with lunch and drinks at some resort just outside of town. My absence for 5 days has been received by my daily contacts quite surprisingly. I actually felt missed, coming back today and having all the folks at the gym question me about not coming for so long, thinking I had already moved home without saying goodbye. 1 Month left in Hyderabad, much more to do.