Adios Ugenie

About 1.5 years back I made a decision. It was drastic. It was unexpected. Frankly, I wasn’t giving it too much thought and was trusting my intuition. A few people called me up telling me not to. I had decided to switch jobs – quit an extremely successful career in IBM and join a startup.

The recession was expected to hit and it was supposed to be a bad time to switch jobs.

It was a roller coaster ride right from the beginning but I enjoyed it thoroughly. The first all hands meet (all hands meets in startups are NOT about going to a fancy hotel and spending the day playing games), we discussed the recession that was about to hit and several alternatives were discussed to cut the costs and extend the runway. Things didn’t work out as expected and the next all hands I saw the team strength reduce to roughly half!

Right from the beginning, I liked the “openness” culture that was part of the company. Engineers got to decide to a large extent the roadmap and product features, and also interact with and learn from the users directly. A lot of what was being built was being determined based on user feedback. We had a whole bunch of success stories on the way.

4 months into my job, I came to know that we were about to be acquired. It came as a surprise to me, because things appeared so drastic. We had only started tasting success. Why this sudden decision? What about my dreams of working in a startup? Will Ugenie continue to function like one? How will things be different? Will our dreams be crushed by this parent company? Will there be a change in culture?

However, things didn’t change a lot – if anything it got better. While we did gain some financial stability, which allowed us to think about and execute longer term projects (measured in weeks instead of days), things didn’t change drastically in terms of work and the responsibilities that people had. Plus, we got to work with an excellent team over at Lulu spearheaded by Bob.

Now when I look back, I feel, making the switch was one of the most important decisions I took in my life. The last 1.5 years has been such an experience that I could not have expected from IBM.

So, after this wonderful journey, here I am, making the next leap in my career. I have accepted an offer from an early stage seed funded startup and am beginning work early next week. Why the decision? Well, it just feels right and I am mentally prepared to take up the responsibilities that this job entails.

During the course, I made some amazing new friends each of whom is unique in their own personal way. I would like to thank every one of you, who I have interacted with directly or indirectly, for the many things that I have learnt from you. It was a pleasure to know you.

A parting quote:
…, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. –

Steve Jobs

iRead – a social book discovery revolution

It has been a while since I thought I should write a review of iRead.

weread logo iRead is a social book discovery application. It has been quite successful on Facebook and has a very large userbase. Currently iRead has a total install base of about 1.4 million users, mostly from Facebook.

So what do we mean by social book discovery?

iRead is not just about maintaining a bookshelf online. It tries to bring the social aspect into picture. ‘social’? iRead depends a lot on your social network. You can share your bookshelf with your friends, learn what your friends are reading and what their reading tastes are. You can discuss about books in various book clubs. You could participate in Quizzes or even add your own. You can find out how compatible your reading tastes are with other people in the network. iRead does not require a separate registration. It is available right in your social network. (As of now the application is available in Facebook, Orkut, MySpace, Hi5 and Bebo.) So when we are talking about friends, we are talking about your friends from the network where you are using iRead. So if you use iRead in Facebook, you see your Facebook friends in iRead, while in Orkut you see your Orkut friends. Many a times, all it requires is to just add the application to your profile. ‘book discovery’? For one, iRead provides recommendations based on your reading tastes. Then there are various other mechanisms by which you can discover new books to read. Let’s explore some.

Several ways to browse

* You could first start off by searching for books and adding them to your bookshelf. This helps us learn about your tastes and recommend books that you may like. * When searching, you could either enter the name of the book, or its author, or if you know the ISBN, you could enter that. * If you want to just browse through the application you could start off by looking at what other iReaders are doing. The home page shows the most recent activity in the network.

* So let’s say you find some interesting book. Just click on the book and you are taken to the book details. Here you get to know how many readers the book has, how many reviews people have written for the book and get some instant user reviews and an editorial review. You can also find out similar other books.

* If you see that the book is interesting, just click on the ‘See All’ reviews link. This will display all the reviews for the book. Read the ones you like and you will soon learn what the book is about.

* Since there are multiple ways to reach your data, your reviews are never buried. So even if you are writing a review for a book, that already has a thousand reviews, you can expect your review to be read by other iReaders. * If the book interests you, you might want to check out other books by the same author. Just click on the author’s name. This will show all books by the author. You could also click on the small icon next to the author’s name to search for the author in Author’s corner. This will give you other details like the profile of the author, what others think about the author, how many fans the author has etc.

* Author’s corner is a forum for readers to interact with their favorite authors. So if you are the author of a book and are looking for a forum to interact with your readers, this is where you should be. Author’s corner allows authors to maintain their profile, and also learn about their readers’ expectations. * While reading reviews, you might find that the review from a particular user is very interesting. You might now want to look at this reader’s bookshelf. Many a times, I have found this to be a good mechanism to discover new books. You can get an assurance of how close your tastes are by looking at the number of common books amongst you. Ok, now you might want to look at other reviews by this reader. * You could also contact the reader by leaving a wall post/scrap. * You may also want to check out who among your friends is on iRead and what they are reading. Click on the Friends link in the header. If you want to know about your friends’ reading tastes and they are not yet on iRead you could invite them to add the application.

* For selected books, you could even browse inside the book. A lot of out of copyright books are available for free online viewing. Some other selected books are available for limited preview.

Other features worthy of mention

Take your reads with you


So what if you are in all these networks and want to use iRead everywhere? iRead has a feature to import your bookshelf from Facebook to Orkut, MySpace and/or Hi5. Once imported, you will see the same bookshelf in all the networks. However the friends shown to you depends on the network you are currently in.

Import books from other sources


If you have been maintaining books in some other place, you may want to try importing books using the import books option. The link to this is found below the search box.

Add a book

Can’t find a book you want to add to your bookshelf? You can add it to our catalog. The link to add a book is found below the search box. So what’s more?! Happy iReading! Disclaimer: I work for Ugenie and am part of the iRead application development team. The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of Ugenie.

Bye bye IBM, hello Ugenie

If 2007 has been a very long year, December has been a very long month!

I quit IBM this week and took up a new position in Ugenie today [1][2].

This news came as a surprise to many, who considered that I was quite loyal to IBM. IBM has been a splendid place. There is no dearth of opportunities there. The more you are ready to take up responsibilities, the more you are given.

So what on earth made me switch?
The primary reason for the switch is, I wanted to work in a startup on something that is directly used by non-technical end users.

How do we serve a large user base? How do we keep up with the ever increasing and conflicting demands of users? How are things prioritized? How is it that a small group of 15-20 individuals can do something in a matter of days, that large organizations take weeks to implement?

The equation in a startup is quite different from that of large organizations. I have read this before, but have never had first hand experience. So I decided to take the plunge and experience it myself.

And then there was the question of the 'right time'.
Is this a good time? Should I wait? What will I gain, what will I miss? The more I thought about it, the more it confused me. So finally I just chose to go with Ugenie.

The work seems to be interesting. I am looking forward to it!

With some people predicting a dot-com crash in 2008, was this a good idea?
Time will tell. But whatever the case, I am not quite concerned.