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Nirmal's Blog

Nirmal's Blog

In the midst of Entrepreneurs for Nepal

Rarely does a Nepalese living abroad hear of amazing groups in Nepal like the Entrepreneurs for Nepal. A group that is dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in Nepal, Entrepreneurs for Nepal organizes a gathering every Last Thursday of the English month and brings well-known speakers to come and speak to the audience.

On Thursday, March 29th I walked into the United World Trade Center at Tripureshwor with nothing short of excitement. I had heard about the Entrepreneurs for Nepal group when I was abroad and looked forward to attending my first Last Thursdays event. I had high hopes for a session filled with knowledge and inspiration and I got just that.

The speaker for this Thursday was Rajendra Khetan from the Khetan Group, Chairman of Laxmi Bank, Everest Insurance, Prime Life Insurance, Gorkha Brewery and holds other respected positions. I was introduced to Rajendra Khetan by my dad who had known him a few years back. After chatting with other attendees, I sat in the front row keen to hear the speaker.

After an introduction of the Entrepreneurs for Nepal group by the hosts, the main speaker of the night took the stage. Rajendra Khetan gave a power-point presentation and touched on how the Khetan Group started, the organizational structure of the Group, the diversification of the Group and markets they are in. His presentation was very informative and inspiring.

I especially liked the Question and Answer session. The audience asked some very thought-provoking questions and the speaker eloquently and frankly answered them. It was intellectually stimulating to be in the room. Some of the questions addressed to the guest speaker were: Looking at the portfolio of your investments, you’re only focused on service businesses, what about manufacturing? Shouldn’t banks offer more financing options for individuals who do not have much collateral to take out a loan for their business? What are the skills that young people could work on to be ready for the marketplace?

After close to a two hours session, there was a networking reception and attendees could mingle with each other and enjoy some food. I was very happy to have attended this event and I urge and encourage other people (especially young people) to attend them. Who knows what one can learn from attending a FREE event that is full of positivity, inspiration and ambition.

So, if you are living abroad, stay updated through the group’s website (www.e4nepal.com) and if you are coming to Nepal soon then you have to attend a Last Thursdays event. If you are already in Nepal and are interested in listening to innovative ideas, inspiring stories and want to be in a positive environment and network, then I can’t suggest a better gathering than the Entrepreneurs for Nepal group.

Focus on details

Details are important in any business, the ones that pay extra attention to details prevail in the long run. It’s easy to overlook minor things but when you care so much about your product and customers, you don’t compromise. You take the time and fix it.

I find people who focus on details rare. It’s a rare talent to have and hard to teach. People tell you to focus on the bigger picture (the bigger prize) but I say focus on the details. Your customers will know the difference between a company who cares and one who just says that they care. Let your products speak for themselves and let them speak in volumes.

I love to work with people who are detail oriented and do not compromise in quality of their work.

Inflection point in Online Education

A New York Times report on August 2009 talks about a study that finds online education beats the classroom. “The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

We live in a new ecosystem. It will be interesting to observe how new markets adjust to this new shift in learning.

Out of touch?

In today’s networked world, it is easy to stay connected with others. Technology has completely changed how we stay in touch these days. With email, Facebook, Skype, magicJack etc, your only an internet access away from being in touch with another person. As people spent a great amount of time online trying to stay connected with others, are we losing that personal one on one touch? Technology should be a medium to maintain that human touch but it should not substitute it.

Fueled by passion

It’s gratifying to see an individual fueled by passion. Passion is a rare talent that gets completely overlooked in job interviews. Does the hiring person ever ask: Are you passionate about selling our company’s products? Would you still be willing to do this on weekends if need be?

I suggest that companies ask their prospective hires a simple question: Are you passionate about our company or what we do? This simple question will save the company tremendous amount of time and money especially in the long run. At current, companies are stuck asking boring questions like Tell me about yourself or Tell me about your last job.

When asking this question about passion, you can find out how enthusiastic someone is about the company. Read between the lines of the answer and in some way you can tell whether the person really loves the company or is more interested in just having a job.

Ask them the most important question: Are you fueled by passion?

Online Privacy: That Old Thing You Once Had

It is hard to define privacy in today’s world. What is really private? What information does a website collect about you when you visit it? Are you taking part in “market research” without really knowing about it?

People share an awful amount of stuff online. All this data on Facebook, Twitter to blogs and forums reveal something unique about you as a person. As we spent an increasingly higher amount of time online surfing, loads of data is being collected. Whether that collected data  is being sold to third parties, you don’t really know until you read the fine print (if you can find it).

As a marketer, I felt obligated to share some information so you know what is really happening when you visit a website. This hopefully should not scare you if you are already on Facebook or Twitter or Amazon or all of them. For example, a website can have StatCounter installed on its site. StatCounter as it states on its title is a Free Invisible Web Tracker, Hit Counter and Web Stats.

Having StatCounter installed on a site will reveal these information:

Page loads, Unique Visits, First time Visits, Returning Visits. You can get more detailed information through tabs such as Entry Pages, Exit Pages, Keyword Analysis, Visit Length, Recent Visitor Activity, Browsers etc.

The Jeremy Lin Show

Who is Jeremy Lin? Basketball fans (especially in New York) are excited to have Jeremy playing point guard for the New York Knicks. In his three starts for the Knicks, he is averaging 25.3 points and 8.3 assists. It seems like everyone is capitalizing on his performance on the court. For the Knicks, Jeremy’s success means more excitement for a team which is now 10-15 , for sports writers they have a nice story to cover. For sports enthusiasts like me, it means more excitement to see the game I already love to watch.

As a student of marketing, I find this overnight pop culture hysteria over Jeremy pretty interesting to observe.  You can’t plan to be an overnight celebrity; it happens. The internet is flooded with searches for Jeremy’s game highlights to his background story. This is when people follow the old adage: strike when the iron is hot.

NBA

A must attend classroom

Over the past few months, I have been religiously reading Seth’s blog. His simple notes speak volumes. Apart from reading his books, I urge all business students and especially budding marketers to subscribe to Seth’s blog.

Here’s a great post from Seth titled Who is your customer?

Rule one: You can build a business on the foundation of great customer service.

Rule two: The only way to do great customer service is to treat different customers differently.

The question: Who is your customer?

It’s not obvious.

Zappos is a classic customer service company, and their customer is the person who buys the shoes.

Nike, on the other hand, doesn’t care very much at all about the people who buy the shoes, or even the retailers. They care about the athletes (often famous) that wear the shoes, sometimes for money. They name buildings after these athletes, court them, erect statues

Columbia Records has no idea who buys their music and never has. On the other hand, they understand that their customer is the musician, and they have an entire department devoted to keeping that ‘customer’ happy. (Their other customer was the program director at the radio station, but we know where that’s going…)

Many manufacturers have retailers as their customer. If Wal-Mart is happy, they’re happy.

Apple had just one customer. He passed away last year.

And some companies and politicians choose the media as their customer.

If you can only build one statue, who is it going to be a statue of?

Feature Story: EXPO

I first discovered EXPO at the Silicon Alley Talent Fair (SATF) in Chelsea this past November. I was thrilled to learn about it. In its website, EXPO states “Our mission since 2005 has been to create the largest and most authentic base of product focused videos available.” The Videopinions (video product reviews) consist of thousands and thousands of reviews by real product owners.

Have you given a video review?

Online Networking: Maintaining Professional Relationships

Online Networking: maintaining contact with people  in your professional network in the online sphere. When we hear of the word “networking”, we generally think of meeting people in a group setting, at a conference or at a professional event. However people are getting more busier and the opportunity to meet that contact again soon becomes much harder. Thus the value of online networking proves critical and needs to be given more attention.

Most of your professional contacts will start at a professional event, conference or a meeting. But to maintain that relationship with the contact, one has to stay in touch. These days social media is omnipresent and online communications seems to be the way to go with event reminders, newsletters and such. It has become ever more important to understand how to best maintain the relationship with a person you met at a convention through online communications. Sometimes you can’t meet in person, and most time you are just too busy with your day to day work that does not allow you to devote considerable time to you physically meet contacts. So here’s the solution.

How can you maintain that professional relationship online? At this time of the year (during for the holidays), you can send an online holiday greeting card or just an email wishing your contacts a Happy Holiday. It does not take much time nor expense but a small gesture can mean a lot to the receiver. Also send interesting articles and blogs to the people in your contact who might be interested to read them. If I know someone likes to try Colombian food, I can forward him/her a news piece on a new Colombian restaurant that opened in my neighborhood. Last but not least you can just write an email to a professional contact asking them how they are doing. People are so busy these days that if someone just stops and ask them how they are doing, they will definitely remember you.

Facebook Said to Plan IPO at $100B Valuation

Facebook Inc. is considering raising about $10 billion in an initial public offering that would value the world’s largest social-networking site at more than $100 billion, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The company may file for the IPO before the end of the year, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. Exact timing for the filing hasn’t been determined, the person said.

Source: Bloomberg

A Twitter Conversation with Marius Arter (Founder of Arniko Skateboards)

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I opened my laptop and logged into Twitter account of Parakhi. I had been excited about this moment for a few days now. I had been promoting this event on Twitter and Facebook pages of Parakhi, personal emails to friends and phone calls to people who would be interested in this. I wanted to cover Arniko because the idea of skateboarding in Nepal is still a new concept and more people should know about the cool work that Arniko is doing.

I emailed Marius a week ago to do this interview. The chance to do an interview over Twitter was appealing because it would be engaging our followers and making this conversation interactive, fun and different. We talked over Twitter and below are most of our conversation. My Twitter handle was @theparakhi and Marius was using the handle @arniko. When I wanted to message Marius, I would write @arniko and then state my point. For example: @arniko Thanks for joining us today. I used #parakhichat so people could follow our conversation by typing that hashtag on Twitter. Actual tweets can only be sent in 140 characters. I have combined tweets so its fluid for this blog. You can read the whole conversation by visiting our Twitter page.

@arniko Welcome to the Twitter chat with Parakhi #parakhichat
@theparakhi Namaste!
@arniko Namaste to you as well. Thanx for joining us here. We are very excited to talk to you (on the eve of Thanksgiving)

@theparakhi Thank you for the invitation!

@arniko How did you take your skateboarding hobby into making a company?
@theparakhi Actually I did not really planned to make a business out of it. I went to Nepal
a few years ago to try if I am able to produce skateboards in Nepal. So after three month
I had two boards which I brought to Switzerland. Everyone liked it very much. So I came
back to produce more. After a while it became a business.

@arniko How big is the company in terms of people working there in Nepal? In Switzerland?
@theparakhi In Nepal there are around ten people who are working for Arniko. In Switzerland we are a team with twelve members.

@arniko The response for Arniko has been great in Switzerland..what about in Nepal? Is there demand in other markets?
@theparakhi In Nepal we have about 70% foreign customers and 30% local people. The skateboard scene in Nepal is rising in Nepal so we think that there is potential in growing and getting more Nepali customers.

@arniko Wishing you all the best in establishing the park. Now lets talk clothes..are they made or designed in Nepal also?
@theparakhi Yes, so far we produce everything in Nepal.

@arniko You have a lot of dealers in Switzerland. In Nepal you sell through your store. Are you looking for dealers in Nepal?
@theparakhi No. We are fine to sell our stuff by our own, but maybe in the future we open another shop in Pokhara/Nepal.

@arniko Saw pictures of your store..it is unique and hip who designed it?
@theparakhi I designed it and made the things for the store by myself. That was easy for me because I am a carpenter.

@arniko Fantastic. Are you looking to expand into the US? Do you currently have customers from the US?
@theparakhi We get orders from the US and of course we ship there as well. If I get time I will go to California and do a shop tour.

@arniko We would like to thank you for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview and fun chat.
@theparakhi Thank you very much for your interest!!!
@arniko We had a great time learning more about Arniko and wish Arniko all the best going forward.

Feature Story: SecondMarket

As Barry E. Silbert, CEO of SecondMarket describes in the video, SecondMarket is a secondary marketplace for the trillion of dollars of alternative investments that are out there. In particular, SecondMarket has created a marketplace for private company stocks like Facebook, Twitter etc.

I first heard of SecondMarket when I was reading BusinessInsider’s 2010 The 20 Hot New York City Startups You Need to Watch. SecondMarket was one of them. At that point I did not read too much into it but these days SecondMarket has been getting a lot of press.  I recently signed up to receive updates from SecondMarket and enjoy following its success.

Have you used SecondMarket? What are your thoughts on it?

 

Your Grades Don't Matter (That Much)

First, I have to make this clear. I truly believe education is extremely important and getting educated is the single best investment you make in your life. While your academic success will help you to get admitted to reputed academic institutions and then to a great career in the future, you should also focus on gaining the knowledge and not only the grade.

In Nepalese culture, I believe we overvalue good grades. Students who get good grades get section promotions, top ten listings and perks around the school and in the community. I do understand the point of rewarding good students for their hard work but, what about the students who perform averagely in class and the students who are not good at test taking. Students are grouped in sections depending on their grades and this creates an imbalance amongst students in the same grade level. Also the society indirectly contributes more pressure to those students who are not always the best in their class.

I studied in Little Angels School in Nepal from 3rd to 7th grade and remember memorizing notes and lectures to get good grades. Yet, I don’t have much knowledge now of what I learned because the focus was on the outcome (grade) rather than the process (knowledge). I was driven to get A’s because the “school system” valued students who performed well in class and grades were the single factor that determined your class promotion. Factors such as leadership skills, presentation skills and interpersonal skills took a backseat to letter grades.

Also in hindsight when I think about the education system in Nepal, I was applauded for having the right answers and not on asking the right questions. The education system didn’t inspire me to imagine or question the dogma. Thus my knowledge of the subject was secluded to books and teachers. There was not much room to play around with my creativity, reasoning and arguments.

Then for my higher studies, I attended a public high school in New York City. At the high school, I quickly experienced some sharp contrasts in the education system in Nepal and the US. The discipline and work ethic that I learned in Little Angels School was valuable in succeeding in the classroom. However in my high school, there was no system where an individual who did really well would move to another section. If one did very well, you gained the eligibility of taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which can give you college credit while still being in high school.

In class, I had more questions rather than answers because the professor credited class participation and critical thinking. For example in my AP English class, my grade on papers and exams depended on content and critical analysis. If I wrote down everything I had memorized, it would have been called plagiarism. I was driven to think outside the box. The knowledge I gained from the class was important as was my grades but the emphasis was on the first rather than the latter.

What school you attended does matter when you enter the job market in the US. However, no matter what school you went to, your knowledge in your subject of interest is more important than the letter grades you get in school. Your grades will help you land the interview and then a job but it’s the knowledge that will allow you to advance your career, ask the right questions in your line of work and keep the job.

So, my point is that your grades do matter but they are not everything. Grades are only part of your personal achievement. The fundamental point behind getting an education is the knowledge. I believe taking the best of both worlds the discipline and work ethic taught in Nepal’s school systems mixed with the practical and out-of-the box thinking and emphasis on asking the right questions would be an ideal education system in the US.

Rebranding the concept of "Nepali time"

Last month the Prime Minister of Nepal was in New York for the UN General Assembly. In his weeklong visit he took the time to speak at the New School in Manhattan and at The Chian Federation in Queens. Both places drew a crowd and the concept of “Nepali time” seemed to get rebranded.

At the New School, the Prime Minister arrived on time and the program went as scheduled at 12:45pm. At The Chian Federation, the Prime Minister and his delegation arrived at 7:25pm and the event was scheduled to start at 7pm. The Prime Minster went on stage and immediately apologized for the tardiness. He stated that if he had known that getting to The Chian Federation would take long from Manhattan, he would have left earlier. I applaud him for acknowledging that he was late and apologizing to the audience.

The Prime Minister’s acknowledgement of his unpunctuality triggered a few thoughts to me. First, it showed that he valued time. When you acknowledge the value of time and especially other people’s time, you are being considerate and respectful to others who are there to listen to your speech. Second, he apologized for it. As a person of his stature, people could understand why he could be late but he did not offer excuses. Instead the PM acknowledged and admitted his part.

Nepali people are familiar with the concept of “Nepali time.” Generally the case is you tell someone that you will meet them at a certain time but show up 15, 30, 45 minutes or even an hour later. Of course, there will be times that you cannot avoid being late because of weather, traffic or some unforeseen circumstance but I am talking about the times when you arrive late for no valid reason.

The idea of “Nepali time” has paralyzed our culture and can be seen at its highest level of governance. This is a bold statement and I stand by it. The drafting of a new democratic constitution has been postponed several times from the original date. When we have created an environment where time is not highly valued, it should be little surprise to hear when critical government deadlines are not met and decisions not reached on time. The concept of time has definitely played a part in the decision dilemma. If as a culture, we regard time as a valuable commodity, meeting deadlines would not be such a monumental task.

My point is that we need to rebrand the concept of “Nepali time”. This new concept of “Nepali time” will mean that we arrive early rather than late. Why can we not arrive at least 10 minutes early to a meeting or an important event? Do we want to be known as a culture who does not value time? Are we teaching our youth that arriving late should just be expected?

There are major implications culturally that comes along when living by the “Nepali time”. In the Western business context, if someone says to their clients to meet at 2:30, coming later than that time will mean tardiness and a lack of consideration on the person arriving late. You will lose your client’s trust and most likely obliterate business opportunities. When at times you’re late because of certain unforeseen circumstance, it is good practice to call the other person waiting on you to let them know that you are running late. A simple courtesy can save the reputation of an entire group of people.

I believe the concept of time in our culture is generational and context based as well. I observe that most young people who have grown up in Western societies arrive on time. It’s much harder to change a cultural reputation that we have built so far. When you arrive late because you expect the other party to arrive late too, what is the value in that relationship? If we build a reputation on always being on time or completing work on time, I am sure we will be regarded highly for our punctuality and also build trust and credibility with the people we are dealing with.

I strongly propose that we work on rebranding the concept of “Nepali time” and establish a reputation that we are ALWAYS early than the scheduled time. This message is more for the younger generation who can change a cultural stereotype that we have built. As the saying goes, first impression is the last impression. Just imagine that first impression saving your culture face.

Prabal Gurung: A Cultural Icon

Prabal Gurung is a recognizable name in the fashion world. His success is even more remarkable when you consider that he is from Nepal where most people are encouraged to pursue careers in the sciences rather than the arts. I could only hope that his success gives everyone to believe in their talent and pursue the work they are passionate about.

At this year’s New York Fashion Week, Prabal launched his spring 2012 collection at the modern IAC building on Manhattan’s West Side to huge applause and press. Adam Glassman, the creative director of O, The Oprah Magazine was quoted: “Loved, loved, loved it. Super fresh and chic. He obviously worked very hard on it. Polished and well made.”

If one were to follow Prabal on Facebook or Twitter these days, you would see celebrities from Reese Witherspoon to Michelle Obama wearing clothes designed by him. Now I’ve started to think who has not worn his clothes yet.

The brand Prabal Gurung is strong and culturally iconic. His background is unique and I think they show in the eclectic designs of his clothes. He has attained a great amount of respect and press from the fashion industry and the mainstream media. We have not seen a fashion designer from Nepal take over the fashion world before as Prabal has done. This is a great accomplishment for Prabal and in which Nepalese everywhere can be proud that he represents one of the best qualities of Nepali culture: ambition and humility.

I don’t follow fashion religiously but I am more fascinated with personal brands. I’m extremely intrigued with how Prabal has established himself as a brand in the fashion industry and what he represents. I believe he has inspired a generation of young people and pushed the envelopes of a culture where a career in arts had almost always taken a backseat to a career in academics. It’s great to see Prabal pursue a career path that was different from the cultural norm.

In Nepal, there is still a cultural emphasis for students to pursue careers in the sciences more than the arts. Individuals whose talent resides in the arts and crafts can get lost and their potential never realized. I hope there will be other fashion designers from Nepal or individuals pursuing careers that would be different than the typical career paths.

Someday it should not even be news to see a Nepali person becoming a musician, a chef, an author or a fashion designer and make a living off of it. The ultimate measure of someone’s success should be their talent, work ethic and how much passion they have for their work. At the end of the day we are all trying to be happy or lead a meaningful or purposeful life. And if that means following a path not taken, then dare to be adventurous and you might even push a whole culture to follow in your footsteps like Prabal.

Government Can't Solve Everything

Government is not to blame for everything and not the answer for all the problems in Nepal. Although I’ve not been happy with the people running our government for a long time, respective authorities in media and journalism should also adhere to higher standards and aspirations. I want my country to be in a better situation and read inspiring headlines rather than the recent Times feature: No End in Sight for Nepal’s Political Dysfunction.

It’s extremely depressing to read headlines like the one above from abroad. After getting frustrated for some time, I then take a step back and try to think about it logically and face a dilemma. From one perspective, I see Nepal’s quandary as a chicken and an egg problem. In one hand, thousands of individuals who have left Nepal and pursued their education abroad, the prospect of going back to Nepal and pursuing a career and earning a good salary is bleak. On the other hand, the knowledge and experience gained by these individuals abroad can help the country tremendously. But what should come first? Should the government first provide the best prospects for someone to earn a modest living or should people educated abroad return to Nepal and drive growth in the private sector?

We all agree there is great potential in Nepalese educated locally and abroad. How can we motivate and inspire the next generation of youth to pursue their dreams in Nepal or have them contemplate about returning to Nepal after completing their education abroad? What can be the incentive for some of the brightest students and professionals to return to Nepal? Nationalism cannot be the only reason.

This debate can go on for a long time. The brain drain phenomenon is a national problem. If we keep exporting some of our brightest minds to go overseas and pursue their dreams but never give them incentive to come back, then the country faces a bleak future due to a lack of human talent.

At the Rockefeller Foundation Innovation Forum, I listened to Muhammad Yunis, founder of Grameen Bank and 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner who said that governments structurally are not innovative thus the private sector has to take the lead. Innovation is a key element of job creation and industry growth and its basic economics that people will go where they are opportunities. Thus the responsibility of attracting and encouraging talented Nepalese living abroad cannot be only left to the government. Equally, the big responsibility should be placed on our national media. The national media broadcasts what is happening in Nepal to the rest of the world and thus plays a key role in presenting the country’s internal workings to the Nepalese living abroad. Their news coverage and subjects covered can significantly impact how Nepalese living abroad view their native country.

News organizations can indeed help tremendously to counter the brain drain phenomenon. News organizations should shift their focus from mostly political news to highlighting innovative and growing industries in Nepal and occupations that cater to the educated Nepalese diaspora. I frequently visit national Nepali news sites and am drained with political news. I would like to read more about the state of the economy, entrepreneurship, eco-tourism, inspiring media and sports figures etc. By covering a wide array of topics including politics will not only help the news organization grow their market but also provide an overall state of the country and can encourage people living abroad to think about returning to Nepal.

So, the media as powerful as it is has to refocus its audience and cater more to the Nepalese diaspora. Then can we start envisioning a future where a reverse brain drain takes place in Nepal. We cannot continue to export our biggest asset: human capital and not provide incentives for them to return home.