Month: November 2012

Setting up Fat Free CRM on Webfaction

Fat Free CRM is a lightweight Ruby on Rails application, which is very similar to the Highrise application by 37 Signals. These days I am trying to reduce my dependency on SAAS providers by hosting applications I use on a managed service. Why I am following this particular approach is beyond the scope of this post, but I could not find any instructions online that would get Fat Free CRM running on my hosting provider – Webfaction.
Before you start, I should warn you that I know precious little about Rails other than my usage of Redmine and FatFree. If you were to ask me to help you with any issue you’d face following these instructions, the odds are that I would not be able to help you at all. So proceed at your own risk.
1. Set up a Ruby on Rails application as detailed here.
2. SSH into your host and change to your webapp’s directory
cd ~/webapps/your_webapp_name/
3. Export the environment variables as specified in the Webfaction guide:
export PATH=$PWD/bin:$PATH
export GEM_HOME=$PWD/gems
export RUBYLIB=$PWD/lib
4. Check if the correct Ruby and Gem versions are being called. It should use the app’s versions and not the ones installed by default on the server.
which ruby
which gem
5. Install some gems.
gem install bundler passenger activesupport mysql2 activerecord-mysql2-adapter
6. Get a copy of FatFreeCRM from the Git repo.
git clone fatfree
7. Create a new database for the app.
8. Create the database.yml file and change the connection details in it.
cd fatfree/
cp config/database.mysql.yml config/database.yml
vi config/database.yml
9. Edit the Gemfile to uncomment the mysql2 adapter.
vi Gemfile
10. Check the bundler and rake versions, just to be doubly sure.
which bundle
which rake
11. Run db:migrate and db:set-up. 
RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake db:migrate
RAILS_ENV=production bundle exec rake ffcrm:setup
12. Change to config.assets.compile = true in production.rb
vi config/environments/production.rb
13. Edit nginx configuration to point to ‘fatfree’ from ‘hello_world’
vi ../nginx/conf/nginx.conf
14. Restart nginx

Filed under: Business, Start-ups, TechnologyTagged with: ,

Crave, consume, create value; like an addiction

There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the midst of a revolution when it comes to information. It has never been this easy to create, distribute and consume information in the world. This is also the reason why the models associated with creating, distributing and consuming information that we have taken for granted don’t often apply anymore. As a former dedicated devourer of information from mainstream sources I find it fascinating to roam around Youtube’s ‘Most Popular’ section and discover interesting things much before it bubbles into the mainstream sources. Information flow has certainly changed and we are only in the very early stages of a major transition.
This revolution also brings with it unavoidable pitfalls that accompanies the dismantling of any existing system. The pre-internet era was one of only a handful of players who could produce and distribute information. Competition was not rampant and as a publisher you had to compete only with a handful of established players. The current landscape is vastly different from that time. Everyone is competing with everyone else, from being the most read to being the fastest. As the gatekeepers of information multiply, unlike the earlier times of a few, it is no longer sufficient to be an established brand to be read widely anymore.
Consequently, there is a now a perspective or a theory to address any requirement/bias, no matter how oddball that requirement/bias may be. This glut of information has led to a situation where we mistake information for knowledge and knowledge for wisdom. This is best illustrated by an example. I may be well informed about the numerous scams and corruption scandals, but my knowledge of how the scams are taking place is certainly not as good as my information about. Lastly, my wisdom about why these scams are taking place (other than popular trivial generalizations) is non-existent. Yet, in today’s world, since I am well-informed about the scams, I consider myself now knowledgeable and wise about these things.
This blurring of lines between information, knowledge and wisdom has also generated a need for quick-fix bits and morsels that confirm to the popular bias of the day. Since the popular perception on that front is a picture of only corrupt officials, a perpetually suffering population and a world that is horrible to live in, most of the information that tends to get published and distributed also toes that line of thought. If you read the news, browse the opinions voiced by the readers online, it will appear that the world is more like a vision of hell as mentioned in various mythologies and that there is no good left in the world.
A cursory look at our own lives will prove that is not the case. Yes, life can often be tough, but it is certainly not as bad as what people had it ten or hundred years ago. We enjoy facilities and features in our day-to-day lives that our parents’ generation could not even have dreamt of. For every instance of corruption, there are tens of hundreds of people who now have a chance step out of poverty and make something of themselves in the world. A fair world is not one that provides a pre-packaged world with all the benefits to its inhabitants. A fair world is one that provides the essential tooling and infrastructure that anyone who is looking to breakthrough can make use of.
But, the wash of popular information these days will tell you otherwise as it makes for spicier, sensationalist material. For instance, we may know more about the PMGSY as something that is mired in various difficulties. It is easier to report on the failures (which, there are many) in the project, but there is little reporting on how much it has worked too. If you travel in the rural areas of India, you will find these roads going off in different directions. Yes, the quality of execution leaves a lot to be desired, but these programs have also put into place roads where none existed before. Yet, after being ‘well informed’ our recollection of all this will be that the program is another disaster.
Similarly, we have overfunded start-ups, VCs who don’t understand the companies and a million other difficulties. The corporate sector is full of undeserving middle and senior management people, the markets are massively manipulated and doing business here often feels more like a punishment. But, these are all problems that is hardly surprising in a country which could not deliver basic telephony or healthcare for a huge number of people even as recently as 10-years ago and we still have not been able to deliver that to vast chunks of our people. While we constantly keep looking at the Valley, Wall Street and the West, we often don’t recognize that there is tremendous value we can provide towards genuine problems we face in India.
For instance, I do not consider the current e-commerce wave in India as a disaster. For me, these are the early babysteps our market is taking towards moving slowly away from a system heavily dependent on cash and non-existent price discovery. Growing a greenfield market has significant costs involved purely towards educating the market. Yes, not every e-commerce start-up that is there now won’t survive after 5-years, but it is wrong to assume that what is going on right now has little value. In the past 5-years, the ground that we have covered in generating business online is laying the foundation for what will happen five years down the road. That is value, only that it may not be value in the form we like to think about.
This fact about generating value applies everywhere. In the consulting businesses it can often be extremely frustrating to deal with the realities of our country and the people and its organizations. But those realities are a fact of life here that we need to overcome to unlock the value we can provide. A genius painter sitting on a rock, painting a fantastic painting in his mind is only as good as the rock he’s sitting on. To paint, he may need to arrange for canvas, paints, brushes and so on. Maybe, the artist is too poor to buy what he needs. Often, in life, triumph is what follows after you overcome adversity. We have a vast number of adversities to overcome, but we also have a vast amount of value to unlock here.
How we eventually unlock that value may not be a pretty process, nor may it be the most efficient one, but we have to keep chipping away at it, in every possible avenue we can. That will only happen when we have a change in mindset from expecting people around us to do things and bring in the change to doing those things ourselves (no matter how small those things are).

Filed under: India

On Speculation And Doing Good

We do live in interesting times, especially in India. While things look more or less familiar on the surface — markets, technology, culture  have not been drastically different in the past ten-years, once you account for organic growth — almost every aspect of the modern life is changing underneath. The modern world, unlike the ancient one, relies a lot on things being predictable. We rely on out-of-band events in the future to be minimal to make our way forward in the way we do now and we trust that the underpinnings of the world as we know it will always be stable, trustworthy and predictable.
The key thread that holds most of these together is the expectation from money. For most of us money has rarely been anything beyond a means to pay for things we want and use. There has always been income derived from interest in various forms, but that has never been even close to a multiple of the principal to figure as a major factor, unless the principal itself was substantial in the first place. For most of its existence, economic growth in the modern world was always tied to actual economic activity. Someone produced something, which was sold to someone else at a price. This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, but we won’t stray from it for the sake of convenience.
Somewhere in the past 20-years that apparently simple equation changed and money started to be used to create more money (edit: In the sense that wealth creation led by money being directly used to create more money). Speculation in its various forms is hardly a new thing in the world. It has existed probably since the first economic activity took place in human history. What is different is the scale to which it has grown in the past two decades. By recent estimates, the derivatives market is at a quadrillion US dollars, which is twenty times the global GDP. Once, as a minor part of the global economic activity, speculation was not a problem and was even a required feature. Now, the size it is at, it is like proverbial riding of the tiger. You can only get on it and not off it.
Now, why should this post be concerned at all with complex financial instruments? The reason why I am concerned is that the we don’t really understand or know the impact that this speculation has had on our lives. This is the beneath-the-surface change I had referred to in the beginning of the post. Our exposure and understanding of the impact of money being used to make more money is severely limited to the fear cycle that kicks off when a slowdown or a contraction looms high on the horizon. What we don’t realize is that much of the uptrend, that we too benefit from, is a result of the same speculation.
As a part of our daily existence we hear now about scams, media manipulation, paid news, start-ups without revenue attracting investors in their hyper-growth phase. All these are essentially linked and the common link is the speculation-driven money that is looking for stories of growth everywhere. As a result, we are starting to lose one of the key factors that enable our modern lives, which is the predictability/reliability of what we know and what we have. Civilization is a massive unspoken/unwritten social contract that depends on this predictability and on that front we are on unchartered waters.
As it is the case with everything in the world, there is hardly anything purely black or white about all of this. While the speculation has brought about a lot of problems, it has also opened to  us a lot of possibilities to do good with it. While not every problem in the world can be solved with money, there are a lot of problems in the world that can be solved by it. The key is in finding the connections and ensuring that the greater context is to do good than to purely ride the wave, cash in and then leave the world a far worse place than the one you started your life in.

Filed under: Business