Author Archive

When a Fellow Tweets in India,…?

May 14, 2009

Thought.  Sounding board.  Pilot.  Ditch.  New thought.  Tweak.  Ditch.  Revive and alter.  Success.  Oops, not so much.  Big lesson learned.  Next idea.  Sell.  Resistance.  Reframe.  More resistance.  Reposition.  Collaboration.  Pilot.  Improve.  Phase II.  What’s next?  This describes a typical fortnight for me at D.light.  The pace is unbelievable.   Our standard operating procedures are defined by risk, act, learn, repeat.

As my blogging has devolved mostly into short-storytelling, I had an Acumen-style a-ha that I should switch my main medium of reporting back on my fellowship year to Twitter.   When I learned that my mother was discussing my Twitter account with my ex-boyfriend at a family gathering in Potrero Hill San Francisco, I knew I had hit gold.  Concise, digestible, and an easy conversation piece for potentially awkward situations.   Its 140 character limit requires me to invoke the “zip it” rule, one of my favorite heuristics for survival as a Fellow.  Plus, Twitter fits the hectic nature of my day-to-day, testing low-cost ways to crack the nut of creating a new category and a new brand in the rural market in India, all the while struggling to find a reliable cab service and a decent glass of wine.  So, for those that are game to follow my fun and foibles in a new way, please check out HKinIndia

Also, I had a chance to chat with the fantastic 7th grade class the American Embassy School in Delhi, thanks to the kind invitation of teacher Elizabeth Namba (who I met at the kiddie pool at the American Embassy).   This has also become a great new partnership where D.light will help facilitate AES’ efforts  to sponsor a village in going solar.  More on that next time.

Trial by Fire…D.light Fellows Applicants Shine

May 14, 2009

D.light Design launched its global fellows program in February 2009 to better organize its human resources strategy to leverage the talent and energy of interns, volunteers, advisors and short-term staff to propel company growth. D.light is sharply focused on building out its permanent core team; we just made three significant hires into finance, manufacturing, and sales operations roles in the last couple of weeks . CEO Sam Goldman recently said that 50% of his time is spent on recruiting. However, D.light has also been fortunate and intentional in bringing talented “short-timers” – e.g. consultants looking for externships, MBAs on summer breaks, investors looking for a career change, and young professionals looking for start-up experience – into the company for three to ten-month stints. When we posted Fellows positions this February, we got an incredible response across positions and offices (China and India). We had 80 stellar applicants for the Business Development position in our India office alone.

The D.light culture is fast-paced and action oriented, so we structured our assessment process to be as experiential as possible. It was trial by fire. We wanted to assess candidates’ ability to think outside the box, apply creativity and structure to an unstructured business question, produce deliverables quickly, and present a concise and compelling point of view. Business Development candidates were asked in their second round interviews to prepare a presentation that could be used to pitch a new partner on a hypothetical solar loan pilot. Plus, they were asked to author a hypothetical, “guest” blog posting that would run on Sam’s SocialEdge blog 90 days later. Our final Graphic Design candidate was asked to spend two days in our Noida office and come up with a new in-store display unit that would build the D.light brand among peri-urban consumers and provide basic education about solar energy. She had to present to Sam and other senior managers at the end of her 36 hours. She’s now on board and we’re going to print in a week. We asked behavioral questions such as “if you had been working with an executive coach for the last three months, what would be the key issues you’re working on? What’s the toughest retreat you’ve ever had to make or hardest no you’ve ever had to give? Can you describe your ideal manager?”

After all of this, four superstars rose to the top as having the best fit in terms of skill, attitude and style for D.light India. These fellows design, strategize, envision, and execute. They speak French, Hindi, English, Spanish and Gujurati. They are artists and authors. They are social change evangelists and entrepreneurs. They are going to help D.light build a movement around solar energy. Welcome to D.light India—Anay Shah (Business Development – from Development Alternatives, Inc), Sana Rao (Graphic Design – from National Institute of Design), Mariette Fourmeaux du Sartel (Carbon – from Haas School of Business, Mauna Kea Technologies), and Jack Godfrey Wood (Product Design – award winning Industrial Designer, educated at Central St. Martin’s).

Yin and Yang. A Buddhist Inspired Reflection in a Hindi Haven

January 16, 2009

I was told that I would either love or hate India. I didn’t expect to experience both emotions in nearly all that I do, throughout every day. It’s as though India kisses my cheek one minute and slaps me across the face the next. Surprisingly this manifests in an odd sense of peace. I think it comes from this new confidence that even if something awful is happening, you will be surprised and delighted with something beautiful if you just keep trucking. A good example is my recent trip to Rishikesh over the Christmas holiday. Many of you have seen the pictures but didn’t hear about the start.

When Mumbai-based Acumen Fellow Joanna and I joined the mob scene at New Delhi Railway Station the afternoon of the 25th we realized a little too late that the WL on our sleeper car railway tickets unfortunately did not refer to Wide, Lower Berth. It meant waitlisted. It also meant we were SOL on XMAS day. After an hour of unsuccessful finagling, we decide to hop a taxi to the bus terminal and try our luck. Here is where India is awesome. Thirty minutes and $8 got us water bottles, Tomato Tango potato chips, and front row seats on a dingy “semi-deluxe” bus up to Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas. Narayana Palace, Ganges River, here we come.

Nine hours and three male-only bathroom breaks later, the bus pulled over to the side of the road, seemingly at the end of the line.  No station signs, 1am, no English. The driver and a man on the side of the road kept shouting “Itibdi!” “Itibdi!” Itibdi did not show up on our map, in our guidebook or in our Hindi-English dictionary. We just sat there, pondering our options. Suddenly the man from the road leapt into the bus and shoved crinkled piece of paper into our faces that read “Miss Heidi.” Ahhhaaaa! We were saved! The driver we had booked from the hotel had actually waited three hours for our delayed bus and was there to whisk us away to our mountain retreat. We gathered our bags and walked over to our car, exhausted but relieved.

As we walked, the sound of scraping metal and plastic on asphalt whipped our heads around. The bus was gone but we saw an overturned motorcycle hurtling down the road behind us and its erstwhile rider slamming into the concrete barrier that formed the center of the deserted town’s sole driving circle. The wall was unlit and surely the cause of the incident. The men that appeared on the streets that night ran to the scene but the motorcycle rider lay still, crumpled against the wall. We froze. It was pretty clear we had just witnessed a fatal accident. For anyone that’s read Shantaram or seen a car accident in India, it’s known that things can get ugly quickly in these situations. As sad as it is, due to ambiguous liability laws and inconsistent policing strategies, strangers will often scatter in the case of emergencies. I hate to admit that I was all for a quick getaway but my traveling partner, Joanna – an Acumen Fellow placed with an ambulance company called 1298 – held back. She had just been trained in first aid and wanted to help. My approach to safety here is to keep as low a profile as possible. Being older and bossier, I won. Were this a woman or child being injured, I’d like to think I would have chosen another course. But, being that it was the middle of the night and that we were the only non-Indians and females in sight, I couldn’t see anything but bad results from inserting ourselves in the middle. At a minimum, we did confirm that there was a hospital in the town before we got in the car and locked our doors. We moved away, but sat stunned, feeling shaken and conflicted.  That silent reflection was quickly broken when our driver suddenly turned around and shouted “Merry Christmas!!”

“Umm. Right” we replied. “Merry Christmas.” Our vacation had begun.

We never found out what Itibdi meant.

For more on our trip please see the clip below.

The Number 17

December 7, 2008

Some of you may remember a 2007 Jim Carrey movie about a man named William Sparrow, who was tormented by the number 23. Once he started looking, he saw that his whole life looped around the number 23. For me, here in Delhi, it’s the number 17. It’s a 17 minute auto rickshaw ride each morning from my new home in Defense Colony to my carpool meeting spot at D.light CEO Sam Goldman’s house in East of Kailash. From there, we are joined intermittently by a D.light intern or two and any visiting D.light partners or staff to make the smoggy, horn-filled commute across the Yamuna River to our offices in Noida Sector 2.

Despite claiming an automatic time zone adjustment ability, my mobile phone clock is absolutely stuck at 17 minutes slow. Now used to this bizarre time lag, when I had to get up at 5am to make my flight down to Hyderabad this weekend to meet up with some Acumen Fellows, I automatically set my alarm for 4:43am.

As I was sitting at a D.light dealer’s electronics store in Aligarh District one night in late November, I counted exactly 17 bug bites on my feet acquired over a long but insightful day in the field. I smiled to myself as the shopkeeper explained how he prefers to sell his homemade lanterns that promise him recurring service and maintenance fees, rather than the sturdy D.light LED lights that do not. For more on the day I spent learning from D.light dealers and distributors alongside Sanjeev (D.light advisor), Rahul (D.light Salesman), and Meenaskhi (phenomenal D.light intern) please check out the clip below. I also wanted send a huge thank you to Meenakshi Chhabra, who devoted several weeks to the D.light business development strategy team during her transition between The Monitor Group and starting her MBA program next month at INSEAD Singapore. We’ll miss you!