Tuesday, 17 June 2008

On Open Source and Business Ventures

A question was posted recently to the TTLUG mailing list expressing the opinion that venture capitalists locally would never invest in a business which focused on utilising Free and Open Source Software, more commonly known in TTLUG circles as FOSS, because it was such a risky venture (in the writer's eyes). The following is my response to that post, which I thought I'd share with fellow bloggers.

Sell it as risky and no one will buy.
The focus of any new business should never be "to be FOSS based" or even alternatively "to be closed source based". If one wants to focus on the promotion of FOSS in a business venture, then it should be a business venture for which FOSS is the business-sensible solution.

Building a business just to use FOSS would be the equivalent of selling doubles (a cheap, tasty and popular Trinidian food) just because there happened to be a free corner spot in Curepe (a local densely populated town in Trinidad where doubles is popularly sold). It is doomed to failure unless there are other credible business factors to justify it.

In the case of my "doubles scenario", one of these food vendors I know who successfully made a move from the popular location in Curepe where doubles is sold to a less popular location got it to work because there also existed a bar in his new location to serve as a population centre for attracting new customers. The reputation of the vendor lended itself to helping his move succeed as once word got around as to his new location, loyal customers sought him out still dispite the less convenient location.

Similarly, new "FOSS-based" business ventures need other credible business factors to justify their coming into existence. Support from a major market sector/niche to satisfy a need not being met currently by alternate software vendors/solution providers could be a strong mitigating factor. When I started my first small business several years ago, not only could I not afford it, but my target market, the small business in Trinidad looking to now implement IT solutions, could also not afford the "costly-to-license" Microsoft software. This is why I chose to implement solutions based around the use of Open Office instead of Microsoft Office for solutions requiring no custom software to be built and building customised solutions using LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) or FOSS built on LAMP.

The co-branding of a new venture with the "good name" of a well known vendor, such as IBM or HP or another major vendor who is known to proport open-source solutions could also help significantly. In the case of my first small business it was this, among other reasons, I believe that was a contributing factor to its failing, since the "branding" I had as a small business working only for other small businesses did not grow sufficiently for a sustainable new business pipeline (and thus income) to be maintained.

It is an excellent idea to want to promote FOSS through a business venture. But it is a terrible idea to simply start a "FOSS-based" business for want of having one. There must be, at the end of the day, strong, correlating business reasons to do so as well, if one is to make such a venture sustainable and profitable.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Comparing IT salaries across borders

An email was forwarded to me recently about a Trinidadian living abroad who was looking for a current salary survey for IT workers in Trinidad.
Having lived or worked in 2 countries outside of Trinidad for extensive periods (Barbados and the US), my first advice to this person was that a salary survey is not what one would need to make the decision of whether or not to work in a country.
Rather one should be looking for salary surveys as only one part in a "salaries vs standard of living" survey.

One may ask why does one need to know the standard of living if the salary is at least high enough to be comparable to what one currently earns in the country that one is presently resident, and at best some factorial higher than one's present salary. Here are several observations that may indicate why after they are duly considered.

1. A Trinidad based IT worker makes more than an Indian based IT worker, but not as much as a US/UK based IT worker if all typical annual salaries are equated to a USD dollar annual figure. For Trinidad I will exclude the Oil/Gas sector jobs as well as Government jobs, as I believe both of these are overinflated and eventually will collapse to normal market rates given sufficient time and pressure, especially from lower-priced global competitors.

2. As time goes by and competition through globalisation and offshoring/outsourcing initiatives heats up more from countries like China and India in IT industries, the salaries of those in that industry will tend to move more towards the India side of the scale rather than the US/UK side (unless Government intervenes to set local labour prices in some way, or Trinidad can offer something that proves a better incentive to India/China labour and negates the cost-per-person advantage Indian/China has).

3. An Indian IT worker, as an entry level graduate, makes a salary that is considered middle class income in that he can pay a mortgage, be married and support a family comfortably with that income. By contrast, Trinidad's entry level Computer Science graduates can barely afford to make monthly expenses at the salary one expects to get if not working inside the Oil or Gov't industries (if one rents and is not living with one's parents).

4. Given recent local inflation woes and the outlook that they will not subside anytime soon, Trinidad's cost of living is tending more towards the US side of the scale, even though Trinidad IT workers' salaries are expected to tend more towards the India side of the scale over time. This paradoxical movement would thus put an IT worker in Trinidad into a "lower middle class" level of living, vs a US worker who typically enjoys a "standard middle class" level of living, or an Indian IT worker who enjoys an "mid-to-upper middle class" level of living.

It doesn't really look like that much of a bold new world if one wants to work in Trinidad's IT sector and hope to live comfortably in the long run. This is, I believe, unless one is looking to start a business inside the IT industry that targets taking advantage of the wave of globalisation efforts currently happening worldwide.
Given sufficient incentives (from Government or outside venture capital investors to promote such initiatives) I'd say that this is one outlet I believe possesses the best option for local IT workers to make decent and sustainable incomes in the future and which can help in transitioning Trinidad from an "oil-driven" economy to a "services-driven" economy.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

From Stacey Blackman Consultancy's latest blog posting:
“Do or do not. There is no try.”- Yoda...
Trying makes Yoda sad. Please be kind.

Even though he’s tiny, wrinkly and green, Yoda’s got feelings too. When you “try”, you shove Yoda’s priceless Jedi wisdom back in his face. Sources tell me his feelings get so hurt that he sits on the couch and eats an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Mint Cookie Chip ice cream. In case you didn’t know, Yoda is lactose intolerant. It’s not a happy evening for him. So if none of the other reasons are compelling enough for you, please stop “trying” for Yoda’s sake. OK :)?

Remember, the first step in any transformation is awareness. The fastest way to stop “trying” is start noticing all the ways you do! Then it becomes easy to shift out of “try” and into powerful action."

So funny, yet still so true!