Saturday, December 31, 2005

On Temples


For me, temples spell tranquility and in terms of tranquility nothing like a Kerala temple; heres a view of one from our village. The Kerala temple is a marvel. It connects you to god instantly. The air inside is filled with the fragrance of sandalwood and oil lamps. A mild chant fills the air and the many lamps light up the dusk (which is the best time to visit them). The peal of the bell announces the arrival of the devotee to the grey stone deity often decked in gold or silver and surrounded by many a lamp. The priest can be seen in the sanctum sanctorum busy offering the god some prasadam or decorating the diety (alankaram). The multi angled mirrors behind the deity magnify the effect of the lamps in font. A small prayer said and the priest offers some sandalwood, tulsi in banana leaf pieces and the visit is complete. A few minutes are always spent in silence sitting at the outside of the temple.

The Kemp Fort Shiva "temple" in Bangalore is a perfect example of how a temple would be, if incorporated as part of an amusement park. Peppermints for prasad, make believe shops, make believe wish fulfilling ponds and what not. Not my idea of a temple.

The big reputed temples in India like Tirupati (lesser so) or others are too crowded or commercialised or both to afford the peace of mind that one seeks in a temple especially during any festive season.

The only ones that come close, IMHO, are the Birla temples that dot many cities in the country. White marble, green lawns, large airy surrondings, they are almost the complete antithesis of the Kerala temple. But they are tranquil and that to me is the best quality of a temple. On this tranquil note, let us welcome 2006.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Haldirams, MTR and regional brands

Haldirams is the one food brand that comes to mind when one thinks of regional food brands which have made it big at a national level. MTR is trying to get into this exercise in a big, ableit in a slightly different way and one hopes it succeeds, because most of its products are, really, high quality, the kind that has come to be expected from MTR.

I wish some of the other regional food brands would take some risks and try for a national presence. The ideal place to sell these goods, among others, would perhaps be near multiplexes (regional movies, regional food!). I wish Grand Sweets of Chennai, Sathyanarayan Chivda and Chitale bandhu of bhakarwadi fame from Pune and the many others get into the act and expand.

The VCs will readily fund any of them.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Two Indias

Many years ago, India was one and the same, an India that lived, ate, schooled, worked, enjoyed and died together. They travelled on the same buses, the same trains and lived in the same localities.

Today, there are atleast 2 Indias. Look around yourself, ye elite blogging crowd and it will be fairly evident. Especially in a place where the haves can have a salary of 25000 per month, whereas the havenots take an entire lifetime to earn that (or a year, depending on the position on the bell curve). Theres an India that uses public transport, travels sleeper class and eats where food is available. There is another India that uses their own transport except when it is absolutely necessary to use a bus (only airconditioned). They prefer a flight to the crowded cramminess of a sleeper class train and their own car or taxi for anything else. Food can be taken only at select establishments.

No this post is not about asking them to give up those comforts and step out into the open, nor is it about socialism. It is not about rolling back reforms or about how must give to help the have nots.

It is about how our reforms have touched only surface of society and how the political class is preventing everyone from enjoying the benefits of reforms. The problem is not in the reforms but that there isnt enough of reform. It is how our highly "educated" remarkably political class that is holding back the have nots because of shortsighted policies. If they built better roads, generated reliable electricity and dismantled some archaic labour laws we would be better off as a country.

If farmers could earn more through contract farming, they would be better off in their own areas and not find their way to the slums in the cities. If retail FDI were opened up for sourcing, many more would find employment in those sourcing agencies apart from creating many entrepreneurs who would otherwise end up pulling rickshaws. It would help handicraft artisans to create and sell their product to a greater, bigger, lucrative market. If our labour policies were easier on companies which want to downsize we would have a significant populace who would have jobs for atleast part of the year. (Now because of the policies on downsizing, companies refuse to hire. Like the rent control policies in Mumbai led to thousands of flats being locked up. Landlords would rather keep their flats locked than let them out in rent creating an artificial boom). If we let the companies access our mines or set up steel plants in remote areas, there would many more jobs.

The generation which is a have today is just a generation away from the have nots. Many of the "haves" parents scrimped and saved yesterday for a good education. Today, a generation later with offshoring, they are reaping the dividends. More reforms are needed so that we give the other India a chance to reap those benefits and this happens, by increasing opportunity and letting everybody move faster, rather than by choking opportunity or creating speed breakers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The maturing of big stores in India

Some years back, the first Shoppers stop was launched in Bombay. A visit to Shoppers Stop was, to many, a visit to a posh store where the "rich" shopped, while, we, the middle class, shopped, hunting for bargains in Dadar, Ghatkopar or in the wholesale areas of Crawford market. That was atleast about 10 years back, probably 15. Then there was, what I call, the hesitant Indian shopper, who would think twice about getting into any place that was airconditioned or bigger than a standard saree shop or had self service or too many attendants or all of the above.

It was an opportunity that the smaller retailers should have taken with both hands. That was the time for them to show how much value they could add with lesser overheads, greater personalized service and, well, providing real quality to the customer. But, I think, that 15 odd years down the line, the smaller guys have lost a lot regardless of whether Shoppers Stop has gained or not. (I would reckon SS has gained a lot, considering its numerous outlets.)

But what have the smaller retailers done? They have learnt from the SS's of the world, printed price tags, and stopped giving discounts. They have increased their prices and margins, while SS has tried reducing its costs, thus making the gap narrower and narrower, while being sure of quality (at a place like SS).

But they should have built greater relationships with customers, which is not happening. Most small retailers have a very narrow view of making some short term money, especially from the new customers, and they, over time defect to the bigger players. Look at the slow decay of Dadar in Bombay or Brigade Road in Bangalore and at other high streets in India and if anybody says its only the ambience, they are wrong. Small retailers have long since stopped offering "value" to the customer. (For items like mens shirting, there is no difference at all wherever one shops. Womens clothing is waiting to be picked up since quality here is still very subjective.)

This is one of many reasons why SS and the other stores will keep getting bigger (better if they can stock quality stuff and continue to provide value). Whether they will go that way or fall by the wayside, we will see in some more years. So, today, SS is a place where people walk in with confidence and pick up stuff. It is no longer the prerogative of the rich. Stores like Big Bazaar, that prides in selling cheaper, have perhaps also made this transformation of the hesitant Indian shopper into someone who can walk into any big retail outlet.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Brand Finance, interview in Bworld

This weeks Businessworld (26/12) has an interview with Haigh and Krishnan of Brand Finance, a UK based independent brand valuation consultancy.

Some nuggets:

Why are Indian brands not able to make the leap globally? What do they need?
David Haigh: Take the case of Indian tea. Indian tea companies should go and buy one of the posh English tea brands. Not Tetley (which was bought by the Tatas) because it is not posh and it is what workers and builders drink. Tatas must be targeting the mass segment, which is why it must have bought Tetley. But there are lots of smaller brands like Whittard, Jacksons of Piccadilly and so on that Indian companies can acquire...

Unni Krishnan: Think of what is happening with Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL). In the last two-three years, Levers has gone through some of this self-fulfilling prophecy. They bought Quality and merged it with Walls. It is in a bad state. They bought Modern foods, saying that it will be the biggest foods business. They bought Tasty Bite, which again is not doing too well. So, they've bought all these brands at a significant value and haven't been able to extract full value out of them...

Is that because of the pressure of quarter-to-quarter profits?
U: Absolutely. One has only a certain pool of resources to invest in these brands. You might be destroying a value-creating brand and under investing in it. Later, somebody else picks it up and extracts the value. And that's what happened with the tea business. When Levers cut all these high-performing local jewels, there was an immediate mushrooming of local brands. If you go to Gujarat, Maharashtra or Punjab, you'll see many local brands like Wagh Bakri, Sapat and Marvel respectively. Ten years back, all these guys were consuming either Red Label, Taj Mahal or some local Unilever brand. The moment they cut these brands, they just gave the entire tea industry an open field. So, from a 65 per cent share in the branded tea business, they have reached 26 per cent.

D: Five years from now, they will think these local brands are great and pick them all up...

Why don't we have strong international brands, especially in sectors we are strong in, say, IT?
U: i-flex has a powerful brand, Flexcube, which has been continuously rated as a top-selling banking solutions brand for the last five years. There is nothing else in this area. Infosys, one of India's most valuable brands, can't be protected legally since the high court in Karnataka came out with a judgement that the Infosys name is generic to the category. There is a guy in Chennai who uses the Infosys name along with his company. Now Infosys has gone to the Supreme Court. This goes back to the fundamental question of where the value of the business lies.

Infy CEO Nandan Nilekani might say that they have a global delivery model. If you tear it apart, we have cost arbitrage and good quality IQ people. But can it be sustained for the next five years? If a Flexcube is valued very high, it is because i-flex has a brand, a defendable IP and that's why Oracle bought it for a huge sum. The key question is: are Indian IT companies developing intangibles, or are they trading on cost arbitrage?...

For some great reading, read the whole piece...

Recruitment billboard, Bangalore!


Need I say more?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Why Indian IT must move up the value chain, an analogy

One of my favourite analogies of the IT services industry in India is the auto garage. Once you see the analogy, it is fairly easy to see why (and how) the garage has to move up the value chain.

As a garage, your margins are low. The real margins are in cars. When a car manufacturer offers you servicing, it is more convincing, than when the garage offers a car of its own brand.

Or to use another example, if your interior designer offered to work on plumbing and carpentry in our house, we are more likely to accept, but if your plumber or carpenter offers to do up your home, you are sure to think twice before accepting the offer.

Thus too, India IT, which is now more at a low value addition stage (more or less). They need to move into niche high value areas, be it semiconductor design(Wipro) or Consulting (Infosys) or something else. From high value service providers it is easy to "create business" for the core business, thats IT services, rather than the other way round.

Wipro makes its moves

Wipro has acquired another in the space of a few days. Close on the heels of its previous acquisition, a semiconductor design firm, Wipro this time has snapped up mPower Inc.

...Wipro Technologies on Thursday announced the acquisition of the US-based mPower Inc in an all-cash deal worth $28 million.

This amount includes the takeover of the Chennai-based MPACT, a joint venture of MasterCard and mPower. MasterCard, which owned a 49 per cent stake in MPACT, has entered into a strategic engagement with Wipro Technologies.

mPower is a $18-million finance software services and technology consulting company....

IT and IT services, the type of work that is being done so far and the scale are miniscule compared to the possibilities that exist today. Our companies have to scale up the value peak and one of the way to get there is to get there is by acquiring niche, high value service providers.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

India, repackaged

As a spoonful of Rajbhog icecream from Amul melted into delicious coolness in my mouth, I wonder why nobody thought of it before. Amul is the first national brand that has an unabashed Indianness in its ice cream flavours. Theres Rajbhog, Anjeer, Kulfi which are a world apart as compared to the sundaes and butterscotches of the other brands (Amul has those too).

Brand India is being repackaged. If, some years back brands wanted to sound foreign, today sounding Indian is in (or perhaps makes marketing sense or is the last resort of those segmenting scoundrels). Either way there is an explosion in Indianising offerings in India. Thanks to Channel V Quick Gun Murugan or McDonalds Aloo tiki, Indianising is here to stay.

Amul is not alone. Dabur has been in this "packaging India" business for years. Himalaya is a recent entrant. Cadburys has one of its sweet flavours as "Kalakand" and a separate "Mithaaee". A few years back, it would have been infra dig to sport Indian names such as these. But today, Indian is the new chic.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Indian IT - new directions, Wipro

Wipro has acquired an Austrian semiconductor design firm for about 56 million USD. (from Business Standard)

...This is Wipro’s fifth acquisition and the second largest in terms of deal size after Spectramind...

...NewLogic’s estimated 2005 revenue is close to $20 million and the company employs 120 professionals. This acquisition will strengthen Wipro’s ability to provide semiconductor IP cores and complete system-on-chip solutions with digital and analog mixed-signal RF design services.

The acquisition also provides Wipro with access to 25 patent filings and over 20 customers such as Philips, Agere and Infineon in the product engineering domain.

The key element which this acquisition brings to Wipro is a royalty-based business model. So far, Wipro, in research and development services, has been banking on the licensing model which involves support services to customers...

and interestingly,

...Hans-Peter Metzler, CEO of NewLogic, will head the new business unit and focus on meeting growing customer needs for innovative SoC solutions...

What does NewLogic do? From their website...

NewLogic Technologies is a leading global semiconductor design service provider and supplier of system intellectual property (IP) cores for complex wireless applications such as WLAN and Bluetooth.

NewLogic's portfolio of IP cores includes silicon proven digital MACs and modems and complete radio transceivers. We have a team of about 120 engineers and provide digital, mixed-signal and analog/RF design services including system level design, specification, layout, verification and test.

Very interesting acquisition this.

The juggernauts of Indian IT; Infosys, Wipro and TCS are all taking steps, slightly different from each other (which is good) towards being bigger yet nimble players in various pockets of the large IT world. TCS, at this time, seems headed towards a process-product-service model. Wipro, on the other hand, prefers a string-of-pearls strategy of acquiring small and medium firms rather than a big bang acquisition (courtesy ET).

This blog tracks Indian IT with passion. It is one industry that is now on the fringes of greatness, holds great potential. How much of it will be realised only time will tell.

Public transport to public culture

A beautiful piece by Gurcharan das on the Delhi Metro, where he wonders if the culture of the Metro (neat, clean, efficient, respect for fellow travellers) will flow outwards into the city (or vice versa). Read the entire piece which ends with

..."But a new mode of transport is a powerful way to bring about a civic and demorctic revolution in what has always been an unkind city. After all, Mumbais superior public culture originated, in part, in its better transport system."

Similar thoughts echoed in me as I saw yet another overcrowded Bangalore bus make its way across the city. Bangalore is a city that has BMTC buses, yet there are many run down vintage "maxicabs" that ply on various routes in the city. The public transport culture in Bangalore, reflects that in Pune and other smaller cities in India. People prefer their own bikes (bicycles to cruisers, anything) and when they can afford it, they move onto their cars. The arrival of the IT industry and subsequent comeuppance of the urban "elite" has made the public transport, more "public" and "its not for me". Add to it the chauvinism of the BMTC powers that be that boards are written only in Kannada (thankfully numbers are in English, but thats really a small mercy) and it makes the buses for "them" and not "us".

All over India, public transport has to move from the "public means cheap and dirty" mentality to a "comfort" mentality that is virtually absent (except Mumbai which actually has some good options like AC buses). It took a Madhu Dandavate to upgrade our wooden sleeper second class coaches into some semblance of comfort with two inches of foam. Much of our public transport is decrepit and rundown; any lesser and they would classify as goods transport.

The way to get people to use public transport is by adding more comfort, otherwise there is no way people will give up the usage of their airconditioned private vehicles. A comfortable public transport, will, over time, translate into better public culture.

Black money boom too

India today, this time has a big story on the black money boom. Nothing much can be found on their website without a subscription, but the fact is that the black money market seems to be growing from strength to strength.

Theres a property boom, theres a stock market boom (78390 crores entered India by way of Participatory notes, says the article and much of it is suspected to be money stashed abroad by Indians) and the former more than the latter has a propensity to create ever greater sums of black money. Try buying a property and you will be told, 50% (or whatever) cash. So, what does a salaried full tax paying individual do? Go withdraw all his white money and convert it to cash? If that is not possible, how else? (Aha, there are markets for everything. Channels that convert black money to white, oops, vice versa.) The IT department should simply buy houses at the registered value for some second sales. That will set the cat among the pigeons.

Two banks and a depository service were recently censured by SEBI over benami accounts. I am pretty sure this the tip of the black money iceberg. VDIS not withstanding, hawala, black money are all growing with the boom in India and sucking the air out of our real boom.

Solutions? none that I can think of. But lest the point be missed, make no mistake, greater than the real, white, boom in India is a bigger, blacker boom. The boom of black money.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Design challenges, phones and roads

A few days back, as I made my way home in the company cab, I was handed over a phone by the driver. He wanted me to change its ringtone. Now, the phone, a Nokia 6600, was a sleek new phone, unlike mine which was a purely "talk only" phone. I tried fiddling with it for a while and while some of the controls were counter intuitive, I finally figured it out. But I was unable to locate the ringtone he had saved; perhaps he had not managed to save it at all. Thing is, he could not read English very well, the only familiar language in the menu of the phone. Wish there were some regional variants on Nokia phones (I am not aware if they are) and on some high end phones, please. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the English literate populace that aspires for a high end phone. So, as a designer, if you had to design a phone for illiterate people, how would you do it?

Drive along the highway and you are sure to see signs that direct you. So, how does a driver from Haryana find directions in Karnataka? They usually know Hindi. How does a driver from Kerala find his way in Punjab? I am not sure. They probably ask their way around. So, if you were to design roads for India with its diverse population, how would you show directions?

Symbols? Pictures? Anything that, over time, can be universally recognised for what they stand!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Honda Asimo, move over BPO?

Can he be a real competitor to Indias population led tech boom?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Of servers and stamp duties

The Maharashtra government had asked banks, bond houses to pay stamp duty on their transactions over the last 10 years. What is stamp duty? See here.

... According to market estimates, unpaid stamp duty on direct deals — transactions where no brokerage was involved — during this period could be close to Rs 700-1,000 crore...

Todays ET reports that these institutions have "informed" the state government that they will "shift" these deals "outside" Maharashtra.
How? By converting the current back up server that collates all these deals to the main server which I guess is located in Maharashtra. Where is the back up server located? Hyderabad! At the click of a button (almost!), transactions are shifted out of Maharashtra.

Maybe the Maharashtra government can now think of ways in which this can be prevented?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

We work 9 to 5 only

Imagine you are a salaried worker. What would your work hours be? The usual 9 to 6 or some variation of it? If you want to visit a bank? It means you would have to take a half day leave? If you wanted to visit a shop, it has to be in the evening? Especially in the urban areas where the number of salaried individuals is so high? The service industry should revise its timings to better serve these customers.

The best time for places like banks, dry cleaners, opticians and many other services to offer their services is at the beginning of the day from about 7 am and then again perhaps during lunch hour (for those who work in a 9 to 5 job) and late in the evenings.

9 to 5 just does not work for these industries. ICICI bank works 8 to 8 on all days. HDFC bank works on Sundays and is off on Wednesdays. Airtel offers a check pick up service, while Bangalore Electricity Supply works 9 to 5 or even lesser. If only there were competition!

Let those Kiranas go

The argument against retail FDI is based on "Save the kiranas". I say that the Kiranas should not be construed as the saviour of Indias economy and poor. In fact, there is no reason why we must all get together to save the Kirana.

Fact is, few kiranas pay taxes. They avoid (evade) tax and pay some to the customer. The customer finally pays for it by way of some extra cess and service tax when the finance minister cannot balance his books.

Fact is, kiranas offer employment rarely to anything more than the number 1, which is the entrepreneur himself. The boys who work there would be better off in schools or educating themselves.

Fact is, kiranas are inefficient, in terms of economies of scale.

Fact is, kiranas are as archaic as our small scale reservation policy.

The entry of big retail (whether Indian like Big Bazaar or foreign like Walmart) will allow the economy of scale to be passed on to where it belongs, to the end customer. The more the retailers, the greater the sourcing. Where do they source their produce from? The farmers. So who gets better prices? (I am imagining that they will be permitted to get in contact with farmers directly).

Our craftsmen and artists will be exposed to demands from the various parts of India and they too will hopefully grow from their niche markets into more profitable markets. Why do I think so? If there are 5 retailers, each one would want to differentiate. One or two of them will offer handicrafts in their stores. That itself will start creating a demand pull for crafts.

Home products and furniture is a fairly unorganised sector. A lot of order can be brought here too. Every sector that retail FDI touches, will make organised, ergo, result in better revenue generation for the government. Eventually, the salaried class will be spared some stick and the rich farmer may also end up paying a few rupees as tax.

Heres an Indian express edit that supports retail FDI

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Democracy = division?

Its panchayat election time in Karnataka and ET had a small report on it the other day. Karnatakas infrastructure destroyer-in-chiefs party has a manifesto that does not mention the word "urban" at all. The manifesto is all rural. The article quoted him saying that they had deliberately left out urban problems out of the manifesto.

The way Bangalore is going, I am wondering what is urban and what is rural. I am also left thinking if only urban areas require roads and electricity. I hope Karnataka does a Bihar and throws these dinosaurs out of contention and into history, where they belong.

But thats not the point. Anytime we read about democracy, we read about votes being split caste wise, religion wise, dissected into sub castes and regions. Then there are alliances both in existence and created by imaginations of political analysts.

This brings me to the question, is democracy only about division? Is it democracy that is dividing our people? Into urban and rural? Creating or magnifying some imaginary grouse? Deepening schisms that exist instead of alleviating them? Creating mountains of molehills?

Every 5 years or whenever a government falls we have to stand on one side or the other; sometimes, it is like a Venn diagram with barely any intersection. Nobody wants the intersection; indeed every party is busy carving out another division. India has to progress, one way or other. If this were the mantra of all parties, that, "we will bring opportunities to you, here", we could all be united instead of sowing seeds of dissent every place, every time.

Why divide in the name of democracy?

Monday, December 12, 2005

A bird in hand....


This is the new ad from Airtel. Free internet for phone owners who dont have the internet or for those are going in for a new connection. So, what happens to people who already have the Airtel internet connection? "Sorry, sir, this offer is not for you."

Sure it is a good idea to get in new customers, but why not extend the offer to customers who are already with you too? Their word of mouth does matter. Or did they make a mistake by selecting you earlier?

This happens at many other levels. Heres one example. When someone joins a company with x years experience, the policy states that with x years of experience you will be designated as a janitor. Then within a few months they begin to hire new employees with the same x years of experience as janitor manager. So what happens to the janitor who joined early? He now has to jump appraisal hoops and wait for a normalization for his chance and be evaluated by a candidate who is a janitor manager simply because he joined a few months later.

In both these examples, the common factor is, why dont companies first take care of those that they already have before trying to please those who arent theirs?

Friday, December 09, 2005

TCS - seeking growth in BPO

In all of the Indias IT services fraternity, TCS is one company which seems to be thinking on its feet. There has been an odd acquisition here and there by the other biggies, but TCS has been doing more in this space than any other.

The latest report is here, that TCS is eyeing BPO units in Europe.

...“The company will continue to acquire firms till we have a substantial presence in the BPO business and for the next one year, the focus will be only on European markets,” said Vandrevala. (TCS Executive Vice-President)

The company is also hopeful of clinching two outsourcing deals of over $100 million each. Vandrevala said the deals were likely to be finalised over the next one-two months. While one deal was stuck with the UK’s largest telecom vendor, the other was with one of the biggest banks in Europe, a company executive added.

TCS is targeting to increase its revenue from the BPO business to $200 million over the next two years, up from $45 million at present. The BPO segment accounted for a small fraction of the company’s revenue of $2.3 billion in 2004-05.

In comparison, the BPO business of Wipro contributed $148 million to its revenue of $1.86 billion. Infosys’ BPO revenue was $43 million out of its total revenue of $1.6 billion....

I like the approach of TCS to acquiring business in the BPO space. In the past few months, it has acquired FNS (Australia), Pearl(UK), a Chilean BPO and now looks to expand in Europe. The difference in this approach is that TCS is treating BPO like IT. In IT companies have small satellite offices across the globe, but BPO has been treated differently by the BPO companies. They have a huge center in India and perhaps some associates travel for a short duration. With their presence in various countries, nearshoring is an option. Nearshoring is a good way to connect to your clients who want to "see" operations, at times. Some work can be nearshored, while the bulk can be offshored.

As this model builds up in scale, TCS needs one breakthrough product (easier said than done to create, but one or a few acquisitions can get them there) to offer entire process outsourcing (and which one that will be can be deciphered from their recent acquisitions) to big clients.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Deccan flies to 46 cities

Air Deccan now flies to more destinations than any other airline in India


...screams the copy. Air Deccan connects 46 cities. Jet airways is second with 44. IA has 41 cities on its route list and Alliance air has 31. Sahara, Kingfisher and Spicejet have 24, 12 and 11 cities on their routes.

Of course, the footnote states that IA+Alliance combined flies to 58 cities, but 46 cities (215 flights every day) is not a small achievement by any means.

Also note that their first flight was in Aug 2003, thats only 28 months back. Pretty good growth I would say by any reckoning. (the pic isnt that good though...)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

One year on!

This blog has completed a year. Two cheers for Venky. One for inspiring me to start a blog. It was a year back at the Strand book exhibition in Bangalore that I ran into Venky (partly because he now could be run into, unlike his earlier self). "So", I asked him, "do you still write". "I blog", he said, and in his characteristic dry wit self deprecating style that almost can be patented, added, "but dont know how many read it." By then I had started reading blogs, but had never thought of starting one myself. I went home, inspired and decided to take the plunge.

Personal stuff was not my bailiwick. Daily humour did not seem possible. And honestly, I did not have the analysis skills or experience of Swami or Seth to back it up. I was not as prolific as Rajesh either.

It surely had to be my passion. Business and money (writing about) the main topic, perhaps a little travel, business, economics, outsourcing, infrastructure, Bangalore all thrown in. And it had to have streetside perspectives as well as strategy, insights, views (my two cents, basically).

The second cheer goes to Venky for writing in a comment one day (those early days when I would post once a week and hope that people would queue up to read) that essentially said, "You would post more often". So I did and I have kept up (almost) the one post per working day routine, more or less.

And then my first post was linked (thanks Anup for linking on Masala pasta). I felt elated, needless to say! Some early inspiration also came from Abi.When I was blogrolled, ahem, alongside Tom Peters in a case or two, I felt wow!! Then I subscribed to my blog on bloglines, there were actually 3 or 4 subscribers already.

So, one year down the line, its my time to thank each one of you who have visited the site, linked to it, commented on it or just browsed and left their footprint on sitemeter. Special thanks to Venky who inspired me to start a blog, the few who read my sites and commented on it in the early days (Abi, Kaps), then the few who read my sites once in a while and give feedback (Niti) and the some who were tortured by me every now and then to "please read this" (Naresh, Venky, Manoj (who was supposed to be a part of this blog), Paddy (no blog yet), Richa (inspired by me!), Suja (wife, who now knows more about me from my blog), Krishna (started and stopped), Kishor (he plans to start a blog every week), Shankar (started and stopped) among others, the ones who blogrolled me; Desipundit of course.

I hope I can continue writing and you guys find it interesting to read along! The goal is to reach someplace, and this is but a stepping stone! Let the comments flow on this one! I have fixed the comments to allow anonymous comments (with word verification!), so dont hold back!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Winners curse?

Strange as it may seem, sometimes it pays to be ignorant, atleast for a while. In my first job, there was a strange fascination with the newly installed ERP system. So, there was a set of people who knew the technology and a set of people who did not. The initial days of the system meant a fair amount of hard work on the systems front, so those who knew the system ended up doing a lot of work, while those who did not, escaped, till the system stabilised.

Sometimes knowing a particular skill can be a winners curse (the original winners curse is different). My first boss did not know excel or as he put it, "I dont understand computers", so we did all the work. Like cooking, for instance. Knowing cooking means you can be called in to cook (or expected to cook) when you dont want to, while ignorance may grant you benefit of doubt! Husbands (or wives) who are the sole drivers in their house would empathise!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Tomatoes and hotels

Our weekly visit to a vegetable market in Bangalore is my lesson on street level economics. Spread over a length of about 2 kilometers on the side of a road, it is a pristine market in all its glory.

Last week saw us shop for tomatoes (among other vegetables). At 15 rupees a kilo, it was quite expensive and as we picked them up for weighing, my eyes fell on a crate that had the squashed, slightly rotten, black spotted on the side, second grade tomatoes that were packed (strewn) in a blue crate. I asked the vendor,"So, what do you do with these?". The answer I expected was, "throw", but the answer I got surprised me and shocked me a little too. It was a nonchalant, "I sell it to hotels. They cant afford 15 rupees a kilo".

Aha, so this is what goes into our sauces, chutneys, red, green and yellow gravies. Once ground, bathed in spices and cooked well with a smattering of good filler (cheap, bulky and tasteless) vegetables nobody will know the difference! Sure there may be hotels that use only good veggies (I hope), but his statement ( and the prevalence of such crates all over the market) gives me very little hope.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Freakonomics

Freakonomics - a much touted book "A rogue economist examines the hidden side of everything" As I walked into a bookstore eager to spend money gifted to me, the cover beckoned. It had the visually appealing image of a cut apple revealing an orange inside. Plus I had read the blog, so expectations were high.

Chapter 1, impressive. Chapter two, less so. Chapter three, well, ok. Then there are flashes of inspiration here and there in the book, but by the end of the book, I am left wondering, is this the everything that the title promised? The answers to the questions on the back of the book existed, but I had hoped for more. The book does not disappoint in answering what it sets out to answer, but I guess my expectation was a bit too high. Then again th books lacks a global perspective (the perspectives seemed very American).

The book does one thing and does this splendidly well. Its explanations challenge and defy conventional thinking and that is one thing that will book will do. Challenge, help, dare and force you to think differently, unconventionally. It also makes one seek unconventional answers to conventional questions. It also, to a lesser extent shows us how we are ready to believe anything that supports our "theories" and how these beliefs may be little more than "superstitions".

I am already thinking contrarian!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Roads, death traps

A few days back, I happened to be travelling along the road to Bangalores proposed international airport. I had travelled this road about two years back befor this. The road works were under execution at that time. The road was riddled with diversions, twists, turns and difference in levels. Well, work was going on.

From then to this time (no, dont expect anything), the roads had not changed. There has barely been any movement in construction of the road. Diversions are surprising (like playing road runner on a video game console). There are times when you ride in the direction opposite to traffic and there are times when oncoming traffic is forced in your lane. Nobody knows which side of the road one must be at any given point on the road except on some strecthes.

Result? Accidents. A biker travelling towards the city was crushed under a truck coming from the city in the opposite direction of traffic. Sure the trucker was arrested (because he escaped alive), but I am pretty sure, it was less a mistake of either motorist, than it was an accident caused because of the way the road is.

If thats the state of a so called superhighway in the making, on internal roads pothole (stones, puddles, mud, tyres, garbage) appearances are so sudden that they would classify as expert in gaming levels, only here people could pay with their lives. There is gravel all along the sides of many roads making it a death trap for motorists, especially bikers, who have therefore to ride through the faster traffic on the right.

Roads are essential for development, but good roads save lives. Not just the life of the jaywalker but also the drivers on the roads themselves. Roads arent about the rich travelling and the poor jaywalking. Roads are needed by everybody. Sadly, our roads are less about good infrastructure and more about improving roads atleast to the extent that lives arent lost needlessly on our roads.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rajasthan and Haryana show the way

(Where Karnataka sleeps...)

Reported in the Indian express that Rajasthan is using the expertise of the IT majors (expertise - read efficiency, transparency) and not money to fuel its mid day meal scheme for children.

This is a better way to do it than hand over such well intentioned initiatives into the hands of corrupt officials. The IT majors are known to get their office buildings commissioned in a maximum span of 6 months. How about getting them to manage some of the flyovers and road constructions (not for money, but for an eye on quality and corruption)?

Governments should not shy away from using the expertise of companies. It should focus on getting things done rather on protocol and who "should" get things done!

Heres Haryana and what they plan to do...

He has an exemplary approach to development, with the goal of "prosperity for Haryanvis" (i.e. improve per capita GDP). Having taken stock of the opportunities ("the world is coming to India", so they will come to Delhi, and Haryana is close by), he plans to enable and empower Haryanvis to exploit these opportunities.

How? By improving infrastructure [power supply and roads (and, presumably, communications)], education--so more Haryanvis can get knowledge-based BPO, manufacturing and service jobs, ensuring law and order, and facilitating regulatory clearances.

This is exactly what both farmers and city dwellers everywhere need. There is broad acceptance in India, except for "outliers", self-servers, and the confused, that the essential enabler for people is infrastructure: access to energy, transport, and communications--the "hardware"--together with basic health services (including clean water and sanitation), basic education, law and order, and orderly markets....

Nice to see other states wooing the IT companies while Karnataka takes pride in "showing them their place"