Lean startup bootcamp with DFS Lab

January 7, 2018

Being part of DFS Lab bootcamp for Serv’d was one of the most enriching experience I have ever experienced. We spent an entire week in a remote resort in Tanzania following the Sprint methodology. Twenty entrepreneurs were invited and finally four teams were chosen to receive the grant, Serv’d being one of them! Here is DFS blog that has more details and a short video that captures this bootcamp experience.




Changing lives one at a time!

January 7, 2018

Check out coverage from YourStory.com for Serv’d, https://yourstory.com/2016/12/servd/ Receiving DFS Labs grant was one of the proudest moments in my life!

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(The article from YourStory is repeated below)

Jatin Agarwal has been a businessman for the last 20 years. But one moment was all it took to put everything in perspective.

A year ago, while his house was getting built, Jatin would swing by every day to check on the work. He started interacting with the labourers during this period, who were also working with him as a part of his real estate business.

This interaction led him to an invite by one of his workers for his son’s birthday celebrations, at the labour camp.

And on landing there, Jatin was in for a surprise.

He saw a lavish party being thrown at the camp, with confetti and the works. Jatin says,

What struck me then was the fact that there was no difference between me and the others. Except for one – the provision of basic facilities.

And this was the very foundation of thought for him to create an impact startup that empowered the poor to come increasingly under the financial gamut.

Hence, in November of 2016, after the government’s demonetisation announcement, Jatin, along with two other co-founders, Tarun Sharma and Suhas Kelkar, kick-started their social impact startup, SERV’D.

Building it for the nation

Targeting the market of domestic help, the core idea of the startup is to bring them within the ambit of financial inclusion, while empowering them with basic financial products.

Moreover, it allows workers such as maids/housekeepers, cooks, nannies, drivers and others to have legal work history, in turn enabling them to have access to financial loans.

Jatin believes that domestic help, as a market, is not below the poverty line. The first basic problem is that their relationships are not strong with their employer. Second is the problem of insurance, as none of the insurance companies wants to lend to this particular segment.

Moreover, neither is the segment privy to savings nor is it offered credit products, since they don’t have a steady income.  And this could be all because of a lack of institutionalisation in the space.

Addressing the problem, SERV’D has created a home service management app for service consumers and service providers (domestic help), trying to further institutionalise the space.

How does it work?

The service asks the domestic help to register their bank account, Aadhaar number and phone number. Further, the Aadhaar number is linked to their bank account and is used to verify the identity of the service provider. Next, the terms of service are defined by the consumer who is employing the provider (domestic help). This could be pointers like the number of workdays, job description and so on.

At present, the service is trying to engage with the domestic help through educational townhalls or their respective employers.

Once all this is done, the service provider gets a call for verification. The service also reduces the communication gap between the consumer and the domestic help.

For example, if your domestic help doesn’t turn up for two days, the service calls him or her to check on his or her status.  Moreover, technologies like GPS history will allow the service to understand disputes better.

Consumers can also give a rating and review to these helpers based on their punctuality, reliability and quality of work.

But the main benefit of the service is to help these service providers create a legal work history.

The real deal

The firm at the backend creates automatic salary slips and documentation like terms of service for these domestic helpers.

Jatin says that once the firm has six months of data available for these service providers, it can start deploying loans to them, which under normal circumstances are given to them by loan sharks at unreasonable interest rates of 10-25 percent.

Further, it is in talks to partner with various NBFCs and microfinance institutions for providing this class with access to easy loans at fair prices. According to the founders, the interest levied wouldn’t be more than one to two percent per month.

Moreover, in order to avoid any lapses, the firm may automatically deduct a part of the service provider’s salary, which will be used to pay off the credit loaned to them. SERV’D also claims to carry out a lot of education about credit rating and managing credit with this particular class of workers.

The firm is also planning to provide insurance to these individuals nine months from now and is looking at partnerships on that front. The firm also claims that the insurance will be issued at a cost of Rs 350 per month.

The business model for SERV’D is simple. The company takes a percentage cut from the margins made by NBFCs on every financial product sold to SERV’D customers.

Goals and numbers

At present, the 10-member core team is working on grass root activations in and around Pune. Once the firm has rolled out the first 10,000 contracts, it will allow its existing set of customers to further act as evangelists for the service.

The firm is also looking to reach a count of 100,000 customers in eight cities by the end of 2017.  According to Jatin, the initial plan was to go live on January 1st next year; however, with the announcement of demonetisation, the team decided to expedite the process.

Within two weeks of the launch, the firm had 100-odd contracts (or terms of service) closed and had already received 400-odd downloads of the app. SERV’D has also introduced SMSes in regional languages and guided assistance in the form of a missed call service.

However, the long-term vision of the firm is to reach two percent of the country’s population, bringing more than one crore Indians under formalisation. By April 2017, the firm plans to be present in eight cities, including geographies like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai.

Good stead

Earlier this week, SERV’D received funding worth $100,000 from the Digital Financial Service Lab (DFS Lab), a fintech incubator fully backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to Jatin, SERV’D made the cut out of 700 applicants who had registered for the prize. He says that the money will be utilised to develop tech for new roles as well as drive activation for the existing product.

While there are other means to still pay your domestic help, Jatin cites the behavioural change that platforms like SERV’D can bring to the process.  He states,

“There is certainly a huge liquidity crunch in the economy. Cheque and net banking are easy to do through conventional means. But, whichever method you choose, it must be preceded by a five-minute one-on-one interaction with your domestic help to explain to them how banking works and ways to access their money by simply using an ATM. Thus, driving the fear of banking from them and encouraging this behavioural change.”

Moreover, domestic workers are part of the legitimate cash economy, and the demonetisation decision has certainly caught them unawares. Because of them using cash as the only means to transact, they have been spending part of their productive time exchanging their money. But considering their limited incomes and frugal saving habits, it is safe to assume that they have made ends meet through a great deal of hardship.

Therefore, platforms like SERV’D could be monumental in bringing about the change in behaviour necessary to dilute the hardships of demonetisation in a cash crunched economy.

You know AI has arrived when…

April 23, 2017

A lot has been written about artificial intelligence or machine learning and how it is going to fundamentally change our lives. Whether it was DeepBlue who defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997, or Watson who defeated Jeopardy champion in 2011 or very recently AlphaGo who defeated the 18 time world champion and a 9 dan rated Lee Seedol! Machines have become better at tasks that we thought only humans can do. Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 1.34.35 PMIt may not be so obvious to you now, but the AlphaGo victory is a clear indication that we have gone from linear to parabolic in terms of how fast the technology around us is going to evolve. In order to have true appreciation for this statement you must read this very readable article, “The AI Revolution: The road to super intelligence” and also check out my earlier blog post.

What prompted this blog post however was a very simple and innocuous looking story that I came across recently from Google Creative Labs about Machine Learning that enables fast drawing. You can read it here. Fast drawing? Whats so interesting about it? Imagine drawing a meaningless doodle and AutoDraw converts it into a meaningful image! Give it a try at, https://www.autodraw.com/ by doodling anything you want and see how AutoDraw will start suggesting what you actually wanted to draw. It is a fascinating to see how accurately AutoDraw will read your mind.

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Defeating humans by learning to play better than us in board games was just the first step. Now artificial intelligence can start to predict what we may want. And every time we tell it whether or not it was a right prediction, it learns! And since everything is connected via cloud, it learns fast!

AutoDraw soon will become so ubiquitous that it won’t be long before it is available on toys as low end as the doodlePro tabs. Imagine how quickly it will kill the art of doodling. Just like we stopped memorizing phone numbers of family and friends when the mobile phones came around, we would quickly give up the art of doodling. So while the machines are getting smarter, human race in general will continue to become dumber!

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Don’t get me wrong, I love AI and machine learning. I love the possibility that long before I get too old to drive myself around, I will have a self navigating car at my disposal. I just hope that we have enough intelligence left to remember where we came from and where we want to go!

Demystifying buzz words…

August 8, 2016

Once in a while you get a chance to work on a presentation that is simultaneously challenging and extremely interesting. My challenge was to explain some of the most exciting topics (Containers, Micro-services, DCOS, Block chain architecture and Deep Learning) to Sales folks with an attention span of a goldfish! (Digression: It is no longer okay to humiliate goldfish about it’s attention span since it was recently discovered that humans have shorter attention span  than goldfish!). I found myself totally engrossed in researching and putting together this presentation and in the end it was very well received. So without further adieu here is my presentation, DemystifyingBuzzWords. Do check out the last slide for some of the excellent articles which formed the basis for my slides.

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The role of the CIO in the Apple-Google era

March 23, 2016

Originally published at, https://www.digitalnewsasia.com/role-cio-apple-google-era

By Benjamin Cher | Mar 21, 2016

(Reproduced here for longevity)

  • Nobody wants to be told how to use IT, self-service rules
  • Enterprise IT services need to be more like Apple products

IN the ‘Google age,’ where the collective knowledge of the world has been indexed for quick reference, solving IT problems is a self-service effort for most users.

This paradigm shift will affect chief information officers (CIOs) and IT departments used to just keeping the lights on and maintaining an iron grip on IT environments, argues Suhas Kelkar, Asia Pacific chief technology officer at BMC Software.

“If you look back to when the CIO role was created in the early 1990s, it was because IT was too complex, but you wanted to use it as a competitive advantage,” he says.

“In the last 20 years, we have made amazing progress in terms of technology, and it has become more consumer-friendly.

“All the complexity is hidden from view, and in that sense the role of the CIO needs to evolve,” he adds, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore recently.

With the ‘consumerisation of IT,’ CIOs now need to simplify their service delivery to match user expectations.

“They have to hide the complexity away from the user – the complexity doesn’t really go away, but it has to be shifted away from the front-end,” says Suhas.

Twenty years ago, CIOs came into organisations to implement huge and complex IT systems, and used a top-down approach to put in place the processes that everyone in the organisation would have to use.

“They dictated how people used IT,” says Suhas.

That top-down approach now needs to change, as users are becoming more digitally-literate and have their own ideas on how to use IT, he argues.

“Now, it has completely shifted – users don’t like to be told how to use IT, they want to be left alone … and the top-down approach cannot continue,” he stresses.

Essentially, CIOs today can be divided into two groups: Those who can cope with these changes, and those who cannot.

Beyond the new breed of users, CIOs also have to cope with pressure from all directions – from cost and governance, to compliance and risk pressures.

The Google and Apple factors

With ‘google’ now a verb, IT departments also have to make technology ever more intuitive – users today expect to be able to use IT without even looking at a manual. In fact, many would not even know what you mean when you tell them to RTFM.

“For example, when you buy an Apple product, you open the box and there is just the product and no documentation,” says Suhas.

“You just know how to use it no matter what product you buy from Apple – that paradigm will have to come into enterprise software.

“Gone are the days where you have to learn complex enterprise software – we have to start treating enterprise software as consumer software,” he adds.

To adapt to this paradigm shift, enterprises could start with how they approach troubleshooting, suggests Suhas.

“Today, if you are working on your laptop and get an error message, the first thing you do is to google it and try to help yourself.

“If you don’t find an answer on Google, the next thing you’ll do is reach out to your friends and colleagues for a solution.

“If they can’t help you, you’ll finally pick up the phone and call the helpdesk as a last resort,” he says.

“People today want to deal with enterprise software differently – they no longer want to call helpdesk,” he adds.

From fact to friction

Failure to adapt to changing user behaviour will result in ‘IT friction,’ which can cause productivity loss.

“IT friction is a concept where you are not delivering services in the way people want to consume services,” says Suhas.

“For example, people want to use their preferred device – if an organisation bars me from using my preferred device, I won’t feel as productive as I could be,” he adds.

And if organisations remain insistent on approved devices, costs can go further up as people circumvent the IT department.

“We have seen a lot of this with the public cloud, with people using their own personal credit cards to get an Amazon server because it is quicker than getting it from the IT department,” says Suhas.

“Once they do that, IT has no control on what is on the server, what policies are applied, and whether it is compliant – we call that ‘shadow IT’ and we want to minimise that,” he adds.
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Adapting to change

There are steps CIOs can take to adapt to this new IT paradigm, starting first with understanding that these changes are central to the CIO of the future.

“First and foremost they need to understand … that there are three types of disruption happening,” says Suhas.

The first is the technology disruption, from autonomous vehicles to 3D printing, but it is the other two that will affect an organisation even more critically.

“There is business model disruption, when a startup comes in and eats your lunch with a new business model,” says Suhas.

“Then there is behavioural disruption – people expect to work with IT systems in a different way.

“In my opinion, CIOs need to understand these disruptions to grow and become transformation leaders, rather than be the end-receiver of all these changes,” he adds.

These changes are leading to some people quipping that ‘CIO’ now means ‘career is over.’

The only way of remaining in charge of a change is to drive it, and CIOs need to drive this within their organisations, Suhas argues.

“In order to stay relevant, I think CIOs need to become CI3Os (chief information, intelligence, innovation officers), or they will find themselves facing a ‘career is over’ scenario,” he says.


“I am too sexy for my shirt…”

July 23, 2014

Right Said Fred released their hit song “I am too sexy for my shirt” in 1991. Almost 25 years later, what Fred rightly said is becoming a reality! Smart fabric and sexy shirts are just around the corner!


Recently I had the honor of hosting a panel on “Wearable Tech” at Confluence 2014 conference organized by Zinnov. I had interesting panelists on my panel, Sathya from BOSCH, Dr. Raghunath from Mindtree and Mohammed from http://www.GetActive.in. Sathya gave us the perspective on how BOSCH is making smaller and smaller building blocks (sensors, accelerometers) that are enabling the wearable technology devices. Dr. Raghunath talked about the role Mindtree plays in helping other companies build cool devices. And Mohammed who is the CEO for http://www.GetActive.in showed us cool wearable consumer products that his startup is making. It was interesting to discuss social, security and privacy issues around wearable technology. Mohammed also talked about what lies in the future for the exercise bands of today. He mentioned that folks are already working on detecting your ECG via these bands. ECG like fingerprint is unique to every person. So when the armbands start becoming your identity tools, we can start using them in variety of ways such as financial transactions etc. The possibilities are endless! Sathya talked about how they are making sensors smaller and smaller. The day won’t be long when instead of wearing a device, you swallow a device! The device will draw power from acids from your stomach. This is a whole new direction that will unlock many barriers and create interesting opportunities.

I am really excited that all the sci-fi gadgets that we grew up watching in Star Trek and other such shows are becoming a reality in our life time! Can we thus extrapolate that what we see in today’s sci-fi movies (Transformers, Matrix) will be our future? Scary but it just might be!


Japan Articles

June 26, 2014

I recently had an opportunity to do a media launch of MyIT2.0-Japanese version. Here are couple of articles that came out of that efforts. These are my first japanese media articles. Here is one that was published in ZDNet Japan. And here is one from IT Leaders.


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