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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chp 458. Bye bye Chile

31st July, 2013 – That is the date I’m supposed to report at Moneda 921, Santiago, Chile, to start my seven months program at Start-Up Chile, a world renowned Start-Up Accelerator. 1577 companies from 68 countries applied and only 100 were selected. The program comes with 40,000 USD (24 Lakhs INR) equity free funding, a capital that we very much needed.

Today, 30th July, 2013 – I’m sitting in my room. In Mumbai. India.

No, I’m not taking a super fast direct flight to Santiago from Mumbai tonight. All trips require at least three layovers, with around 25-38 hours flight duration.

Yes, you must be aware of all the things I did the past two months running from pillar to post, getting all my papers, identifications, passports, police clearances, medical checkups, Visa, travel insurance etc in order. I even went for dental checkups, had a molar extracted, had another molar root canalling, in case I get a toothache in Chile as it’s expensive over there. Bought new clothes, new sets of disposable contact lenses, new glasses etc etc.

I even posted this photo from Delhi right after I got my Chilean Visa approved, dressed in my traditional Mizo clothes, all set and ready to spread some Mizo love in Chile.

But once I got back to Mumbai, a few developments came up and after a long talk with our Co-Founder Sumeet and the director of our company Sidharth, we finally decided that it would be in our company’s best interest if I don’t go!

So… yeah, with a heavy heart, I sent them a mail announcing my withdrawal from the prestigious Start-Up Accelerator program.

Before you judge me or lecture me or anything, here are a few reasons on why we decided to withdraw. I’m making them as short and concise as possible:

1. We have decided to allocate some of our funds on R&D as this is of utmost importance in an ever-developing industry and platform as ours. Apart from that my Co-Founder and I need to focus our time and energy here in India looking for more investors, which is a common issue faced by most Start-Ups.

2. We are not a 2-3 people Start Up. We have already employed 15 people across two cities, and as Co-Founders, we need to keep their welfare above ours. Of course I would LOVE to be in Chile and network with other awesome entrepreneurs and gain from their experience (and also visit the beautiful Andes and drink Pisco among other things), but I cannot just leave my responsibilities and employees back home hanging and probably facing a setback in the next few months while I’m rocking the scene down there.

3. Start-Up Chile does not sponsor our employees working back here in India, as it gives provision for local Chilean employees (contractors) only, or if our people are based in Chile (but there's a limit). And even if Start-Up Chile does reimburse the operational running cost of my team in India, the reimbursement model does not work in our favor because the money comes only after 3-4 months. We do not have the luxury of time.

4. The initial amount of capital I’ll have to take with me to Chile (around 4,00,000 INR since it takes time for reimbursement to come) including flight tickets which now cost a whopping 2.5-3 Lakhs one-way, was also a bit of a problem. Already having spent so much the past two months getting my papers, passport and visa in order (not to mention flying across 11 sectors!), I now have no other option but to take a loan, and personal loans are not approved if the company we’re working at is less than a year old. We are just 6 months old. This is not a very big problem as there are always ways to get that amount, but the point is, even if I do get that amount, we'd rather spend that 7 Lakhs right now on R&D and other verticals we're currently exploring rather than have it reimbursed 4 months from now.

5. Another nagging thought was the time difference. Like I said, we're a 10+ team, so it is obvious some will have to be in Chile while others remain in India. We looked at the amount of time we can actually work together at the same time, and that window is too small. Suppose both groups work from 9:30 AM to 10:30 PM everyday, then we can all be online together for just 3 and a half hours in a day. This can will affect our productivity. Of course initially we were willing to take this risk, but considering all the other points above, this suddenly became a valid reason to withdraw.

Hence, having discussed all this with our Co-Founder and the director of our company, and considering the current scenario, we finally decided that it would be in our best interest if we withdraw from participating in the 7th batch of Startup Chile.

Of course I sincerely regret all the opportunities I will be missing, and I am very much aware that this will haunt me for the rest of my life, but the timing is just not right for now. If only we were able to maintain a steady cash flow for the next few months, then I would have taken the first flight to Santiago. As Romeo laments, “I am fortune’s fool”.

Lesson learnt. And maybe this is a good thing. After all, what is a Start Up that doesn't make any mistake? :) Start-Up Chile works best if you’re a one man, two men, three men Start-Up venture. Or if you employ a large number of people and their financial situation back home is stable for the entire duration of your stay in Chile. We've come to learn that the hard way, having wasted so much time and money chasing paperwork.

But hey, let’s be positive here. I now have a valid passport, a valid driver’s license, a valid Electoral ID card and a valid Residential Certificate because of what I was doing the past two months, and if another opportunity like this arises, I don’t have to go through any more bureaucratic red-tape nightmare.

And let’s not forget the fact that we were selected for a world renowned accelerator program! That in itself says a lot about us. Maybe we’ll apply for other Start-Up accelerators that is more economically feasible to us. The future still looks bright for us.

And hey, I can still go to Chile anytime for the next 365 days as the duration of my visa is one year. A vacation would definitely do me good, maybe sometime in December? :P Who's with me? :)

Cheers. Here’s to the Pisco (Chilean brandy cocktail) that I will now not get to drink :(

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chp 457. You know what I did last month

It's been exactly a month since I decided to stop trying to apply for a passport from Mumbai and flew straight home to Aizawl and start my application from scratch using my home address for all documentations. 16th June 2013 I flew home with a heavy heart. And as of today, 16th July 2013, I have achieved the following -

- got my new Voter's ID card
- got my new birth certificate
- got my new driving license
- got my new ST certificate
- got my updated residential certificate
(Trust me, all the above require a lot of additional documents in order to be processed)

- got a joint bank account made with my mom's account
- got copies of past one month water bill from PHE office
- got copies of past one month electricity bill from P&E office
- got affidavits stating Vanlalruatkima, Vanlal Ruatkima and V.L.Ruatkima are the same person
- got six other affidavits for other various reasons
- got police verification certificate from Dr. Franklin, DC of Aizawl
- got second police verification from the SP of Aizawl himself
- got special request letter addressed to head of RPO, Guwahati

- flew down to Guwahati
- applied for tatkaal passport at PSK the next day with RPO letter
- after a long wait at counter A, B and C, they finally accepted my application
- flew back to Aizawl
- passport arrived in a week!
- since it’s tatkaal, police verification to SP and CID arrived 2 days later
- personally went and pushed them to hurry up with the verifications :)
- CID understood my situation, they verified me in half a day
- they handed me their verification in a sealed envelope
- SP office too understood, gave me my Police Station verification form
- ran to Bawngkawn Police Station, requested them to hurry too
- Bawngkawn Police Station investigated me and finally verified me
- ran back to SP office with the Bawngkawn PS verification
- SP office handed me their verification in a sealed envelope

- flew down to Guwahati the next day with both CID and SP sealed envelopes
- filled more forms and Xerox copies
- submitted the two verifications at Guwahati RPO the next day
- got my Police Clearance Certificate the next day, stamped on my passport
- went for medical checkup the same day, did ECG, HIV test and Hep-B test
- got my results the next day, woohoooo I’m HIV negative :P 
- got my medical clearance certificate
- flew back to Aizawl the next day
- got my health insurance, required for the Visa application
- it was a wrong insurance, so next day got a TRAVEL Health Insurance
- finally submitted all my documents and applied for a Visa
- now I am finally relaxing, waiting for my Visa appointment

- in between all these, three of my neighbors (u Ziaka, Pa Zahlira and u Chama’s mum) passed away, may their souls rest in peace, and is traditional, I tlaivar’ed on all three nights and spent time at their houses. And of course there were also the “we haven’t seen you in a long time, let’s have a dinner party” occasions, playing regularly with a local basketball team I’m currently co-sponsoring, and many other family commitments.

So looking back now, I can’t freaking believe it’s been just a month since I packed my bags for Aizawl. It felt like at least three months. My friends lauded me for achieving the impossible.

Hmmm… well, time is indeed running out for my Start-Up Chile program, and even if I don’t receive my Visa in time and have to forfeit my participation, I must say I am still proud of what I managed to achieve in just a month’s time.

Once again, a big thanks to Muanpuii Saiawi for putting a good word for me at Guwahati RPO, and to all my family and friends who helped me along the way. The best part is, I managed to push most of the people without pulling any strings because as Dr. Franklin advised me “Influence hian limit a nei ve a, a bak chu nangmah a i zu in hai chawp a ngai ang” (There’s a limit to the number of things you can get done through family and political influence, you’ll have to struggle on your own for most of the part).

And I did just that. At most of the offices, I mentioned the reason why I was going to Chile and it felt really good to see them, strangers, feeling proud of my achievements and hence putting my papers on the highest priority. The Mizo connection I guess.

Right now, I don’t know if I will be going straight to Delhi directly or first get back to Mumbai, it all depends on my Visa appointment date, but whatever be it, I will be bidding goodbye to Mizoram until I come back from Chile (IF I DO get to go to Chile). So here’s to all the great moments experienced in the past one month. Love you Mizoram. Cheers.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Chp 456. Mizo Bloggers Meet v3.0

While I waited for my passport (which was recently dispatched via speed post) I made myself useful at home and also caught up with a couple of friends.

Just recently, I took part in my third Mizo Bloggers Meet in Aizawl and I really had a great time.

Like any other Bloggers Meet, even though you’re meeting people for the first time, if you had known each other for a long time online and gone through their blog posts regularly, when you finally do meet, there is nothing awkward at all – it’s as if you all knew each other personally for a very long time.

And so I met bloggers Njldst, Puipuii, Vered, Gisele, Andy and Tluanga for the first time. Father Sphinx was the only person I knew personally from before (he and I go way back, and by that I mean and days, when mIRC was popular).

I turned up five minutes late. The meeting was supposed to start at 7pm. I reached the venue at 7:05. I took this photo at 7:45. Yup. I guess punctuality is lost in most people :)

So anyway, here are the peeps who made it that day –

Michael was as interesting in person as his blog. We tried to pronounce his blog name “Njldst”. Not surprisingly, only those of us who were a bit tipsy managed to enunciate it perfectly. Like me, he was also brought up in Tamil Nadu (maybe the only difference was that his family settled there, whereas I was brought up in a boarding school). And of course it felt great to finally meet another Mizo who had an English Tamil accent :)

Vered was just as I expected – mischievous, playful, witty and full of life. Since she lives in an isolated place outside Delhi, she wasn’t exactly used to all the fancy lights and glitter of an urban lifestyle. In fact, when we went for a ride after our dinner, she thought the parking lights of our cars were disco lights, so she started dancing right in the middle of the road. The video is at the end of this post :)

Puipuii – She apparently lives somewhere in Durtlang tunnel. When you pass through the tunnel, if you see some strange kid climbing the walls of the tunnel, just wave and smile at her. That’s Puipuii. Don’t mind her. But if she starts growling at you from the wall, throw stones at her, she’ll scoot. She was the reason why we drove to Durtlang after our dinner to feast our eyes on the “best” view in Aizawl, according to her. Ah, more on that further below.

Father Sphinx needs no introduction. He had been mentioned more than enough on my blog so I’ll leave it at that. He’s the guy. In Mizo, Mawng means ass, and com (kawm) means dig. So you figure it out why he’s a Don’t believe me? Type on your browser and see where that leads to.

Father Sphinx brought his friend Tluanga along. He’s also a regular blogger, blogging about different topics. Nice guy, he was also another person who had never met any of us before and yet decided to turn up. That’s the kind of person I admire, because we Mizos (including moi) are known to be quite introvert’ish when it comes to socializing with somebody new.

Andy showed up really late because he had a jam session. He’s the vocalist of Scavenger Project, one of Mizoram’s leading rock bands. He’s the rhymester among us, updating his blog with soft penetrating poems (that rhyme). In other words, he was the emo of our group that night :)

Since he loves to rhyme so much, here’s a limerick (a-a-b-b-a):

I met a dude called Andy,
And boy was he all dandy.
He mimes and croons like Mick Jagger on dope
And when he does those, all we can do is hope
he doesn’t flash us his pink panty.

And finally there’s Lal Khiangte. Formerly known as Gisele in the blogosphere, but now known as “Miss Remruati”, she’s a lecturer at Mizoram University. She came to the meeting with an agenda – to get to know more about Mizo bloggers, interview us and do some research and shit. I made sure that didn’t happen and sabotaged her every move :D Yeah, comon, it was a night to enjoy, socialize and let our hair down, not a night of academics and surveys. She’s much sweeter in real life than her blog, and small world, she’s the younger sister of a very dear junior of mine from college! I really do owe her my time to discuss about her research and paper, which I will definitely do so in the coming days.

And so there we were, the seven of us, at one of my favorite restaurants in Aizawl – Octangle, sharing and laughing our way through the night amidst the beef steak, sliced pork and Nasi goreng. It was a night to remember. Kudos to Mahmingi, the owner of Octangle for serving us the usual extremely scrumptious appetizers and main course dishes.

Here are some of the pics that night:

L-R: Me, Michael, Puipuii, Lal Khiangte, Vered, Father_Sphinx, Andy and Tluanga. The bill came to around 2k, which was not bad at all, considering the amount of fun we had.

We talked about ourselves and what we do, about the things we love and hate. We discussed about blogging and Mizoram, and how it is a very powerful and much underrated tool. We shared our opinion on various matters and argued too on a few.

Vlog – we discussed about vlogging, and even though the trend had died down, we wondered why there had been no Mizo vloggers till now. And then Michael brought up a very valid point – why is it called vlogging? By his justification, since “blog” is derived from “web log” and they took the last letter to construct the word “blog”, shouldn’t “video blog” be called “olog” instead of “vlog”? Good point Mikey boy, here’s a cookie.

And then, true to the tradition of socializing in Mizoram, we went for a ride after dinner. Yes, the famous ride culture. Puipuii suggested we drive to Durtlang to enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful Aizawl scenery.

And so we did. This is what we saw from the best Aizawl view point in Durtlang –

Lolz, yes, it was that misty. Visibility was less than 5 meters. Here are some screen grabs of a video I recorded from my phone.

And of course, as promised earlier, here is Vered doing her moves on a heavily mist covered Durtlang road, lolz.

Great people, great time, great night, looking forward to such get-togethers again.