Sunday, December 31, 2006

What SEZs could be...

Found this interview of Marc Faber (of Gloom, Boom and Doom fame) in ET a couple of days back. I liked his answer to a question on Indian real estate developers.

We have (in Malaysia and Thailand) industrial land development companies. They buy big chunks of land, put in water and electricity and build factories. If you are Sony and you want to produce out of Thailand, you could buy land. But it is a nightmare till you put in water and electricity . You go to these industrial land development companies . They will rent or sell you a factory and provide the whole infrastructure for a management fee. That is a good business model.

Today in India everybody is rushing to put up IT parks, Technology parks but really there arent too many people doing this work. These were done earlier by governments by setting up industrial estates (One which I visited in Butibori - Nagpur was particularly impressive - its better than E-city Bangalore too). Nowadays there is very little policy attention towards creation of industrial infrastructure. But one town I have seen recently comes to mind - Sriperumbudur, TN - which seems to be doing all the right things.

If the SEZs that are being set up can make it easier for manufacturing companies to set up factories here, it will give that boost to the manufacturing industry that is so desperately needed here, Singur notwithstanding.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Blog Blah!

This is title of a piece labelled "Devils Advocate" in the TOI today. I am not a big fan of Web 2.0 myself but even by my standards, this is puke. The article starts in this way and goes downward soon after.

...seems to overlook the fact that blogging and online collaboration are just ways to give mindless drivel a free hand.

Replace blogging and online collaboration with Times of India and its supplements and the same thing can be said about the whole newspaper. And then you read this sentence, it rings true even more.

The whole thing is a virtual wasteland assisting human beings in their quest to think less.

Atleast blogs dont waste paper and and trees. What makes the author think that the crap that got published thanks to the ignorance oversight of an editor is good? Half of the articles in the supplement of the newspaper starts with "ABC in USA did crap, what does PQR in Bangalore think...". I am sure my intelligence increases with this and I think more!

Holier than thou?

So, if you are reading this, I would recommend going through some of these blogs for starters.
The Acorn - Indian foreign policy etc.
Atanu Dey on Indias development
Sandeep
IndiaUncut
Youthcurry
each of which offers a better perspective than any MSM. Once you read them, perhaps you can go through their blogrolls too.

And yes, I do agree that there is a lot of crap in the blogosphere as Nilu will tell you. (Search puke and you will know) and if this particular piece was a blog, it would find its rightful piece there (and then again, if it is lower than puke, it may not)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

How to write about India?

Or how to be successful/popular/sought after as a journalist/writer/author especially abroad. Here are the rule(s) of thumb when writing about India for a Western audience...

Heres how you go about it.

Your piece has to start well. Therefore you first create, with good vocabulary, a nice paragraph on the social inequities in India. Keywords to be used are caste, poverty, illiteracy. Statistics like 80% of India lives on farms or 50% of India is illiterate or 70% of India does not use soap can be very handy. Other than percentages, use population figures. 4,32, 1235 houses do not have more than 12 volts of electricity for 3 days of the week would make a great sentence. Include a few names like Vidharba, Madurai if you want greater impact other than the usual outskirts of Bangalore or Hyderabad or slums of Mumbai. If you want to become particularly rabid at this juncture mention child marriage. A comparison with Pakistan and Bangladesh at this juncture would make great reading especially from a literacy rates standpoint or the great strides those two nations have made. If you have to mention China, mention that they are simply a great nation or that they will overtake India in the next 3 minutes. Never, not even once, create an impression that overall India is moving in the right direction.

The second paragraph should be about India's growth in the last few years. Don't forget to add a sentence in the end of this para to denounce the growth. Keep this para as short as possible. Keywords are myth, haves vs have nots, elitist bias. So, a sentence in this paragraph should read, even though India's IT and BPO sector has grown, farmers commit suicides. Do not, repeat, do not make a connection that reforms have never really happened in the farm sector and that it is because reforms have not reached them that this happens. Insist, by repeated assertion, that it is IT and its success at the expense of the farm sector that causes this to happen.

In the third para or thereabouts, compare to death. Example: Compare the life of an educated professional with a gardener and say that the gardener earns about 1/10th of what the professional earns. The other good comparison is the number of hutments outside the balcony of your hotel room or the number of beggars in trains. Wonder aloud why reforms have not reached beggars travelling on trains. In the same trend close your eyes to the number of people cellphones have reached, also close your eyes to how individuals are pulling themselves out of poverty using these very things.

Over the next few paras, whine and whine. Now that you already know how to write, just continue in the same vein. For every one sentence of India's growth, three sentences have to denounce it in the strongest terms. Mention two murders which took place recently in fairly graphic detail.

Somewhere just before the end, mention that India's progress has not benefited anybody. Do not talk about people who have gotten out of poverty thanks to this progress. Try to ignore gardeners who maintain lawns in the IT campuses, also ignore cab drivers who are cab owners today. Preferably avoid talking to maids and security guards who would not have had a job if it were not for this level of growth. Try not to talk to people who are working hard so that their children are educated and their next generation gets out of poverty. Also, if you have to mention that the BPO sector attracts fresh graduates, mention that these jobs are bad for their gall bladder at the very least. Ignore the fact that for many graduates, a BPO job is a godsend without which they would be working for peanuts at best or standing at the end of a long line at the employment exchange. Ignore the fact that for many of them, the job is a stepping stone to many other things. Ignore the fact that BPOs treat them with dignity and pay them well. Ignore the fact that jobs are available for the asking in India at almost all levels. Cooks to caterers to security guards to courier boys to shop assistants to technology architects to structural engineers. Also never once, ask the question to the man on the street - has their life changed for the better over the last 10 years. (Believe me, the answer, except in some very dark corners or leftists, will be a resounding yes.)

Your last paragraph has to sound a warning to all those who read your article. Mention about how people and companies and the government has to take more responsibility for poverty and paint it with a broad brush of "private public partnership to make a significant impact".

And oh, the title of your article should be sufficiently apocalyptic. "Social inequality threatening India's Economic Stability" would make a great example.

BTW, India really is about contrasts. While not getting carried away by the growth and saying all is well here, let us also not go to the other extreme of saying that the reforms have done nothing and that all is wrong here. Neither will reforms take away inequity all of a sudden nor will inequity take away reforms. Both these arguments miss the wood for the trees (or whatever).

Thai and Malabar chips

Recently, I tasted a potato chip with Thai flavour and the chip was just great. These chips are available in India too, but outrageously priced. It set me thinking as to how many such flavours can be created in India given its range of cuisine.

Kurkure (of Frito-Lays/Pepsico) has tried to do just that, as has Lays chips. Both of them have quite a few flavours, but Kurkure has some more Indianised flavours (Red chilli chatka and some Hyderabadi flavour) and the newest one is something called "Mast Malabari" flavour. It tastes quite good, for those who dont mind a coconuty taste of Malabar cuisine.

And it looks like it will enter the US as well.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Cisco Globalization center, East

I got a whiff of this at Perspective: Here's what he (John Chambers) really says he's going to do:

1. India will be Cisco's Globalization Center East meaning all corporate and operational functions at the US HQ will be mirrored in India.
2. They'll pilot a high tech manufacturing facility outside Chennai and finally, and most intriguingly,
3. One fifth of Cisco's senior management will move to Bangalore.

I then trawled the web to find out more. Ciscos globalization centre east to be led by Wilm Elfrink. Excerpts:

"All of the company's primary business functions, including sales, business development, IBSG, finance, HR, marketing, engineering and customer support will all be represented in India, as well as in the US."

It is not a second headquarters, This is more akin to the major headquarters-like capability centers we maintain outside San Jose in the U.K., Hong Kong and the Research Triangle Park area in Raleigh, NC.

In the process, I discovered Bangalore Tigers - a Businessweek blog by Steve Hamm and of course the story behind Ciscos Globalization Center, East. Bangalore Tigers has this post on the same, here, but for some strange reason I couldn't find the article in Businessweeks own site.

While this is great news for Bangalore and for the tech Industry in India as whole, it is worth noting that Cisco with this step will perhaps be one of the first companies to have such an important office in India too. The Wipros and the Infosys being here obviously have their HQs here, but this is the first example of a high end center being established in India. This center will be management heavy - perhaps a first example of the recognition of an Indian management talent pool. In fact, I would not call this outsourcing at all.

These are but baby steps if Indias tech industry has to progress and move up the value chain (and they are - more on this some other time).

Zed list meme

The Zed list meme hit me from Perspective, so here goes. Whats the Z list meme? Find out here:

Shotgun Marketing Blog
BrandSizzle
bizsolutionsplus
Customers Rock!
Being Peter Kim
Presentation Zen - David!
Dmitry Linkov
aialone - JT !
John Wagner
Nick Rice
Design Sojourn - DT!
Frozen Puck
The Sartorialist
Small Surfaces
Africa Unchained
Perspective
gDiapers
Bob Sutton
niblettes
Readymade news

Ink Sprawl
Interim Thoughts
Round Peg
Write Now is Good
Rita's Drawing Board
Langemarks Cafe
Ranthambhore - The Tiger Project
Big Picture Advertising

Heres my list...
The Acorn - Indian foreign policy etc.
Atanu Dey on Indias development
Sambharmafia
Sandeep

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thyrocare

For those who are in India, this name will be familiar. Over the last few weeks, they have been releasing full page ads in most national newspapers. Their USP is lipid profiles and other blood tests in a package that is slightly lower than what you would pay if you did all these tests separately. Of course, the chance that you would ever do all these tests simultaneously is miniscule, but this is smart marketing.

According to industry experts, the reason individual blood tests cost higher is because of the limited usage of the kits. One kit can be used for a set of tests, but when an individual comes in for a particular test, the kit has to be discarded. By offering all these tests for a package, Thyrocare is cutting its costs as well as making these tests available for a lower price.

The numbers given in the ad are numbers of marketing offices, not their collection centers. Afaik, they have one per big city (Bangalore has one in Domlur) and their lab is in Bombay. They fly out the samples to the lab, get it tested and courier the reports to your house. If you cannot make it to the collection center, they will pick up the blood from your house for a nominal extra charge. Smart model?

Also figured that Thyrocare is in the news for its tie up with Reliance, its lab...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

EIU 60th anniversary

and they are celebrating this occasion with a report that appraises the crucial global developments which have taken place over the past sixty years, and then speculates on what lies in store for business and economies over the next 60 years.

Havent read it yet, but it should be worth a read!

Honda might make a small car here

...so reports Hindu businessline.

I wish it were this.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stars shine again

Hema Malini endorses Bank of Rajasthan, Karisma Kapoor endorses Khaitan fans - faded stars are appearing in the endorsement space. In an age when every brand has a celebrity, right from Boost to Malabar gold to Dabur to TMT bars, every star has a market - I hope that companies spend shareholders and their money wisely!

The theory often used in these kind of endorsements is some kind of time lag argument that goes, "Hema Malini is still popular in rural India". Without doubt about Hema Malini and her star potential (even today) and assuming that rural India is out of the Sholay time warp, the argument should not be around the fact that she is still popular in rural India, the question should be, whats the appeal that the celebrity brings to your brand? The point being choose your star carefully. Today, give or take a few, the divide between metropolis India and small town India is shrinking. So, whats cool in Chennai may not be cool in Bhopal, but Madurai, Trichy wont be too far. Certainly not as far as Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan. What needs to be factored in is the audience. So, Amitabh for a slightly mature target audience is a great idea, while he may not exactly be the best bet for Razr.

There is no single right answer here. John Abraham as a biker is great for Yamaha and we still dont know how much Yamaha is adding to its volume, but Sachins campaign for Victor did made a difference, while Hrithik for Karizma never did. And then again, if you want to stay out of hte clutter, there is space for non celebrity based endorsement too. KBC and KBC 2 were all Amitabhs, will Shah Rukh have the jadoo for KBC 3?

Related Links: Top celebrity endorsements in India; how they all stack up, Sports stars earn, Celebs ranking study.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Companies turn training schools

This is how to beat the proverbial labour shortage in India. I had mentioned previously about how the labour shortage is not really a shortage of people, but a shortage of companies willingness to train.

This piece in the TOI is about companies that are training people required for their profiles. Infosys, Wipro, TCS and the IT companies have been doing this for years, but now there are other sectors too, like E&Y. The TOI puts it as an irony, though I am not sure if it is an irony as much as it is about companies adapting themselves to a situation where people arent 'plug and play' in their jobs. To be honest, I am not sure if in any country for any position, people can be plug and play for any sector. There is always a certain element of training into any job. For specialised positions, it is imperative that the training is longer. Few education systems (and almost any other educational system, apart from technical institutes) are about jobs than about degrees - this is just a logical extension of the system.

Perhaps the next step will be for companies to set up their own academies in collaboration with others in the same sector. Why not? It will bring down the cost, provide a captive supply of employable people and have assurance to those who join that jobs will be available at the end of their course.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dheeraj and innovation...

"This packaging sucks." said Dheeraj even as he tried squeezing the frozen coconut oil from the plastic bottle.

The bottle wore the look of tissue paper after a wiping a bad cold.

"What happened?" asked Savita
"I will tell you about innovation. You see, this company very well knows that coconut oil freezes in winter, so they can surely use toothpaste type tubes for coconut oil? Yet, they use these containers. Wouldn't that be so much smarter. And here I am working for this stupid company coding my life to glory. My life is wasted."

"But wouldn't they have to cool coconut oil to put into the tubes? Because if it weren't, wouldn't it leak?
"Bah"

And then they would have to transport it too right, in cool containers?
"huh"

"Wouldnt that push the cost by so much?"
"Pah"

"And also, here in Bangalore and then in Himachal, it would freeze and only in winters, what happens in summers and in places like Chennai?"
"Hrrmph"

"They would need two packaging lines."
"Pfaw"

"Dont you think I have a point?"
"This is how innovation gets stifled in companies. All good ideas are trashed."

"I was just trying to think why nobody thought of it before and I think you have the answer."
"Pooh"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Retail and farmers

Here's an article in the Hindu Businessline on the effect of Reliance Fresh on farmers. The Indian vegetable, fruit and any farm trade is dotted with middlemen. The effect of these middlemen and their cuts has the effect of pushing the prices at the customer end and reducing the price at the supplier end.

Some months back when I had visited a wholesale market, I found that the price of Onion is 3 rupees a kilo (max) if you picked up a 100 kgs. If thats what you pay at the city end of the wholesale market, imagine what a farmer would have got. Perhaps a rupee? So, if you a farmer you would have to jump through hoops of middlemen and hamalis and agents to get your produce to the city - and there is no guarantee that you will get a good price.

The article says that ladyfinger used to be sold by farmers for 150 rupees for 20 kilos - thats about 7 rupees a kilo. The retail price varies from 12 to 20 rupees a kilo depending on quality and what does the farmer get? 7 rupees minus commission and other charges.

I have argued before (like many others - not including leftists and those who oppose progress) that opening up the farmer end for retail trade will result in benefits that will reach farmers. Ditto for contract farming. As Ravikiran says, we have a stupid romantic view of farming and those far removed from farming invent policies for farmers. The farmers that we have in our mind and textbooks don't exist. Farming is a business and has to be treated as such( and that includes taxing them too).

Retail ventures like Reliance will have a cascading effect on the rural and farm economy - not achieved by years of croses government largesse/subsidy of which 15 % reached the end beneficiary. Retail (and similar ventures like e-choupal) will ensure that all 10 rupees of a kilo of okra will reach the farmer without anybody pocketing it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Factories in the city

I read a piece yesterday about Century textiles finally shutting shop in Bombay and moving its operations to other areas. Theres a larger piece today on how textile mills are moving to Gujarat. Companies are continuing to move operations out of the city; Morarjee has moved out of Bombay to Nagpur as have dozens of others.

The textile mills of Bombay are more of a glorious past. The areas of Parel and central Mumbai were the home to these mills. Even today you can see chimneys, old 12 foot high walls. These mills were doing well until the textile strike of 1982 broke their back.

Bombay was a port city and because in the old days factories were constructed closer to ports, the central Bombay area began to house textile mills. Once textile mills happened, it acted as a magnet for other industries (including cars, pharma, chemicals and also fertilizers). A lot of land was reclaimed and factories were built. Over time the city grew to encompass them, so much so that Thane Belapur industrial belt - a chemical zone- was in fact stated to be "out of Bombay", but today the city has expanded into these areas as well. As the city grew, so did land prices and wages. So, pure economics suggests that they should move out to places where labour and land rates are lower and the high cost land put to better use. As we were once told at a briefing on how Piramal came to acquire the space that the Crossroads mall sits at - this space belonged to a pharma company that they had taken over (Roche?) and it was actually a factory - legend has it that they manufactured Crocin (or equivalent) there. Why should someone manufacture Crocin or textiles or cars or fertilizers (RCF is still there) in the middle of a city?

It is one thing to be nostalgic about it and it is another thing to view it pragmatically and say, well, obviously, there is no reason for factories to be in the city since they dont make money being there. Among other things, in the heart of a city (any city, why Bombay), it is difficult to get daily wage workers cheap and results in high cost of operations. Most industries have found it unviable to continue in a zone of high wages like Bombay and they have moved out. Then land prices are very high. As of today many textile mills and other mills have morphed into land holding companies, housing colonies, malls and bowling alleys. And they are minting money through their land in a way that they never did producing textiles.

1 lakh car

The dynamics of the 1 lakh car when it is launched, will be interesting. Whatever the level of sales, it wont be low. There will surely be takers for a 1 lakh car, whether that number is very high or not is the only question. (For the record, the Maruti 800 was the largest selling car until very recently when the Maruti Alto topped it with 5 lakh cars sold in 6 years).

Whether it beats that figure is for the long run. I would like the car to have, with its sales, a few cascading effects on the economy and country.

For one, I would like the 1 lakh car to displace the rickshaws out of the road, perhaps as taxis. The rickshaws are unsafe, inefficient, polluting and perhaps the biggest cause of urban congestion after small roads.

Two, I would like the sales (I am assuming it will be substantial) to spur governments to create better roads all over the country - much like more airlines are making the government think about better airports.

Three, there has always been doubts on why, we, in India pay a high amount for automobiles. Maybe the 1 lakh car will show the way for cheaper (and eventually alternate energy or super efficient vehicles). I am optimistic...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Small everything...

Our love for small size is well known - with sub 5 rupee sachets for shampoo, pickles, cough syrup, Frooti 2 rupee packets, 100 cc bikes (and 50 cc mopeds), 800 to 1000 cc cars, 200 ml soft drink bottles, 10 rupees cell phone re charge - the list can go on and on.

Now the 1 lakh (2500 USD) car will get added to the list. It does seem real now. Others are gearing to enter the market based on the impact it has on the market. Apart from the retail revolution, this I believe, is another big thing happening in India, rather waiting to happen in India. More thoughts on this shortly...

Japan fund for tourist sites

We, in India, are not too proud of our own heritage - certainly not all of us, which is why our tourist or heritage sites are frequently vandalised, maintained shabbily and generally left at the mercy of all and sundry. Which is why you can find neglect at Konark, shoddy service at all pilgrim centers or random neglect of our hill stations by indiscriminate building.

Well, Japan with its rich Buddhist heritage has stepped in to build tourist infrastructure to the Buddhist holy places in India (and there are many). It speaks volumes about Indias overall interest in conserving history. I just hope that these funds are spent wisely and do not find their way into politicians pockets.

Japan will help conserve Indias Buddhist heritage, will India conserve its own other heritage? Or will we wait with a begging bowl? Tourist infrastructure like other infrastructure is an investment that will pay back for itself, but our rulers have better things to do, like divide the country...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Health food taking off

I had written about this a while back, almost a year ago and it looks like the contours of it are shaping up. This piece in BS does a good analysis of the health food trend.

Last month ITC Foods launched Sachin’s Fit Kit, a new brand of energy bars, cookies and health biscuits, for which cricketer Sachin Tendulkar will extend his brand ambassador’s role to developing a range of healthy foods.

A few days later, the Ahmedabad-based Cadila Healthcare brought back butter-substitute Nutralite, which has just one-fourth the fat content of real butter.

Godrej Foods and Beverages plans to relaunch its soya drinks brand Sofit and PepsiCo India is quietly promoting its Quaker Oats.

With organic food making waves in India almost at the same time as organized retail, colas and fast food, perhaps we are lucky. We missed the junk food wave of the world, colas are not doing well in the Indian market and overall, the nation is becoming health conscious and perhaps at the right time.

Maruti Zen Estilo advertisement

I think this is the lyrics they use in the TV spot for the Maruti Zen Estilo, which I thought was a very nice one. Searched a lot, but couldnt find the storyboard or any mention of the ad online, but I found a video on you tube in which the song is sung.

Quite appropriate when referring to cars, boxes, little boxes!

Let me know it the ad appears online anytime!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Business Standard on retail, M&A

BS has two good pages to watch:

One on - Retail the next frontier


and a page and M&As in India

Good pages to track the goings on in these very hyperactive segment of Indian business.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jeans at 199

Read this report from the TOI today that Reliance retail has plans to sell Jeans at 199 rupees in its stores.

The company has asked Arvind Mills, the world's biggest denim manufacturer, to produce jeans that can be sold at that price. Sources in Arvind Mills said the company was working on it but declined to provide details.

Sriram Srinivasan, head of Reliance Retail's apparel business, said he could not comment on the matter. Other sources close to Reliance said Reliance does not expect to make money on the product, but intends to use it as a "loss leader". In other words, sell it at a loss to increase store traffic and sales of other items.

So, at this point the news article is not 100% verifiable, but my first thought was why jeans at 199? And my next thought was it is a smart move perhaps.

Indias retail revolution has not really reached the masses. Our malls are filled with showrooms for premium stuff. True, with the rentals that the stores have to pay, there is no way anybody (other than perhaps Big Bazaar) can make money selling mass market items. Ever seen Cambridge shirts (a big hit in Bombay some years back for their inexpensive readymades.)

My guess is, if one went by footfalls, a place like APMC (wholesale market - Bombay) or Chikpet (market for everything - Bangalore) would easily outscore any (or all) mall(s). There is a lot of value that value seekers can get in places like this.

The way for a hypermarket to make money is to get footfalls from all types of customers - not necessarily only high end customers. That may be a challenge in itself (and how they plan to overcome it will be interesting to see), but the thinking around a 199 rupee jeans is to attract those who may get dissuaded by a mall, thinking , "Everything here will be costly." - which is what my mom still says each time she says a mall. There are still a lot of people in India who rarely enter a mall or if they do, rarely buy anything because there is a lot of value available outside. Unless these people are "captured", it will be one long haul.

2nd Anniversary

The first one was here... What began as a tentative post on 7th December 2004 is a blog thats 2 years old now.

Well, it is chugging along merrily, as much as a part time blogger/writer can manage along with a day job. It has resulted in invites to blog @ Indianeconomy and Desicritics (where I have not contributed much), a piece published in JAM (courtesy Rashmi).

Heres a short retrospective. In the two years of existence, the post on Bangalores real estate has been a big hit with some people thinking I am an expert on it - no I am not. The others which have got a lot of hits are "The truth about jobs", "Of geeks and coders". The Carnival of the capitalists has also been hosted here, though I have not been contributing there of late. Some personal favourites are the posts busting the myth of Indias labour shortage, posts on the retail revolution in India, travel portals all over the place, Managing crowds and Mobile phone and micro entrepreneurs.

I hope to make something more out of it and write more regularly, especially my own pieces. The last few weeks have been as hectic as a "free for all" traffic intersection in Bangalore and things should ease out in the coming weeks.

Thanks for all the support and encouragement.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wheres your product?

Be it shampoos, creams, oils, toothpaste, for the store owner, a sachet is a sachet and it will be displayed thus...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hero Honda launches a new bike!

that has a name that my grandfather knows...

Life in the two wheeler market get more and more tougher. Hero Honda is the only surviving member of those new fangled bikes which hit India sometime in the late 80s (1987 perhaps). We had a spate of new bikes. There was the Hero Honda CD 100,(and the unforgettable "Fill it, Shut it, Forget it"), TVS Suzuki AX100R, Bajaj Kawasaki (not sure what their model was), Escorts Yamaha RX 100 and one or two more. Hero Honda CD 100 was a great bike, frugal on petrol, easy on maintenance and is the worlds largest selling two wheeler ever, until its own Splendor beat it. Much water has flown under the bridge since then.

TVS and Suzuki have parted ways; TVS showed that it was world class with its hundred percent indigenous Fiero and its Victor and followed it up with the Apache. Suzuki has since made its entry into India on its own. TVS also builds a mean scooterette.

Bajaj, once known for its tilt and start scooters (yes) has morphed itself into the darling of the biking gang with its Pulsar and its variants. This company has redefined the biking segment with its machines.

Honda has entered India on its own with its automatic scooter Activa and Unicorn a bike that performs as good as its looks. Not sure where Kawasaki is in this whole picture. Yamaha with John "biker" Abraham has grown out of the glory of its RX100.

Hero Honda, the company is making money, it is still way ahead of its competitors in the entry level segment (100 cc), but it is getting beaten in the other segments and more importantly, does not show the zeal that TVS and Bajaj have in design and development of two wheelers or their indigenous capability. It is not that Hero Honda has not tried, it did launch the CBZ (a nice looking bike IMHO) and the Karizma (whoever suggested that name?), but they were duds in the market. CBZ was wiped out by the Pulsar and the Karizma sunk like a stone.

In response, Hero Honda launches, what, the CD 100 Deluxe in the entry level segment. Sigh! The Splendor still shines for the company- it was relaunched recently as the Super Splendor. The question is for how long will Hero Honda milk its CD 100 and Splendor.

This strategy reminds me of Hindustan Motors, Premier Automobiles, Mahindra and Mahindra in the 80s, when they built their horrible cars and jeeps. They said, they understood the rural market, entry level customers until their customers rejected their vehicles. M&M understood, Premier and Hindustan never did. M&M responded with a slew of launches, and of course, the Scorpio. Hero Honda will face a fate similar to Premier and Hindustan Motors until it does something soon - the answer is not the CD 100 Super Deluxe.

Update: Rajiv Bajaj of Bajaj auto, seems to share the view that 100 cc is surely out, here.
" The 100cc/four stroke bikes are as out dated now as the 150cc/two stroke scooters were in the 90s so there's no reason why they shouldn't share the same fate,” Mr Bajaj added."

Test your brain today

Pick a train, any train running between any two stations. Now locate it here; on the new time table for the Indian railways.

If you can do it without breaking into a sweat, try for Mensa.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Undercover Economist

Just finished reading The Undercover Economist and I was blown away by it.

If there is one book thats a must read on pricing strategies, price discrimination, it is this. So, how do you not fall into the trap?

Simple. As he says, just be more observant!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Electronic MBA

Can management education be delivered in an electronic form? NIIT Imperia, as I saw in a recent ad seems to have this plan in mind. They plan to make waves in the management education as they did in computer education. They have tied up some of the right names in management in India - the IIMs among them.

Like their previous experience in computer training, they offer short packed courses in various management themes chaired by some impressive facult, delivered through broadband pipes- perhaps which will ultimately roll up to a GNIIT kind of a long term program.

While I wish them success with this, I just hope that NIIT does not end up giving false hope to many who will graduate out of its portals. Too many people have jumped onto the MBA bandwagon. There are two year courses, one year courses (good ones too), part time courses, correspondence courses (!) and many other false hopes out there among the really good ones. There are many, far too many sub standard MBA colleges in India (as there are for other streams) all of which means that we have "MBAs" (who are nothing but graduates or worse) working as phone salesmen or shop assistants. In many of these colleges the MBA is treated like an Advanced BCom degree where the focus is just on marks (copy/paste -mug/puke) and a paper degree.

The MBA is a fundamentally different course - way different than computer education or BCom. In an MBA the focus is on the group that you get to study with as much as the course and college and profs. If the idea is to make management education accessible, then NIIT Imperia is a great idea, because there are many in India who would like such education to be more accessible, exactly what they did with computer education. If it is to compete with a true blue MBA, then it is as wishful thinking as thinking that an NIIT computer course will be equal to a computer engineering degree.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Digital picture frames

Perhaps the last bastion of paper photographs - the picture frame - is being taken over by their digital cousins. How?

I saw a few weeks, at various places, digital picture frames. These thingamajigs are battery powered, come with their own memory, so you can upload a few of your digital pictures and your own multiple picture slide frame is ready! Now if you are one of those who had a hundred picture frames and wanted to add ten more, this frame should come in handy. Prices are on the higher side these days, but I think in the coming year (no plural), prices of these should drop really low. After all, they are just a commodity. Those fancy rosewood digital frames might cost a good amount, but you can get a sundar, sasta, tikaau (beautiful, cheap, durable - Indian customers axiom) frame for a lot of cheaper.

I think its a neat concept, but I admit I did not see it coming.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Of dropboxes...

The dropbox or cheque dropbox as they are known is a fairly well known phenomenon now. But, the acceptance of the dropbox, both by banks and customers was a fairly long haul. This is entirely my perspective, so, correct me if I am wrong.

In an era before dropboxes, everything (remember those pay-in slips?) had a counterfoil and a rubber stamped acknowledgement. When the dropboxes first came, it was pioneered by the private sector which did not have as many branches as the public sector banks. It took people a lot of time to develop the trust to drop a cheque in a dropbox and hope that it will reach the desired account. It was a thousand times better than having to stand in a queue at the wrong side of a scowling/bored (usually) teller at a bank, but rubber stamps were absent as were acknowledgements. The initial days were tough. Even very recently, I saw a Bank of Baroda dropbox placed inside their branch, which, works, 9 to 5 plus or minus a few - which defeated the whole purpose.

The other bigger thing in India is that what is not face to face lacks trust. Online shopping took a long time to get accepted. Why, a few years back, a friend had ordered a gadget (a massager or something) through rediff and what he got was a pathetic broken thing. Trust doesnt come very soon in the Indian market place. Unless clothes are folded, touched, perhaps scratched or until vegetables are smelt, tips broken, squished - nothing can be purchased. When it came to financial transactions, anything that did not have a counterfoil or a rubberstamp was deemed untrustworthy.

And then there were hiccups. You placed a cheque in a dropbox and it never reached them. I did so in a Bangalore electricity dropbox and duly had my connection cut 15 days after the due date. All my pleas were of no avail. It does not reflect in our accounts they said. I had to pay the sum again standing at the end of a long queue - but nobody has picked up the cheque till date - six months on. It will perhaps be discovered during some future excavation.

But over time, dropboxes have gained traction in India and its pretty common so much so that many transactions today do not need an acknowledgement - like bill payments, cheque deposits. Indeed some banks have started a trend of charging you if you visit their branches! I wish some banks paid me everytime they forced me to visit their branches because of some lapse on their part - I would be rich.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A letter to Dr.Singh

From Jerry Rao, ghostwriting for Milton Friedman.

Brilliant.

Customer service

This is an elaboration of what I had previously written about - that from a customer standpoint, 9 to 5 is the worst timing for any company in the business of customer service. This was the lesson the Public sector banks have learnt from the HDFC and ICICI - when they started out - now HDFC and ICICI are resembling their old counterparts - especially as the number of customers increase. The management of a large number of customers, especially on high volume days is something these banks need to work on. Likewise the line outside any ICICI ATM on any weekend will tell you that something is wrong - it resembles the lines outside PSU bank tellers - except that here it is a machine! (Note to myself: Need to write on banking sometime). If you want to service customers, reach out to them - perhaps on weekends, perhaps using different techniques like small mobile offices, mobile ATMs

Coming to my experience, I had to submit the copy of a document to ICICI bank a few months back, which I did. As far as I am concerned, I have done my job. But not ICICI - somebody misplaced the documents (they dont even acknowledge receiving it - because I dont know the name of the person who took my documents etc. - wow! what am I supposed to do - take a picture?). Ultimately I had to go back to their branch and give it. Hopefully this time around it will not be misplaced. But the point is that customer service has to be 24/7, not for just 8 hours a day.

Fancy slogans, internet sites, swanky branches do not make for customer service. Customer service has to be intrinsic, internalised - it can happen out of ramshackle offices - all it needs a big heart. Customer service cannot be from 9 to 5, it has to lived and breathed by the company, day in and day out.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

When abundance is a disadvantage...

A set of people to trying to move a concrete mixer

Yes, its caused the IT revolution in India, but it does lead to situations like above, when people are used for tasks that really should be machine driven...

Self check out


Another chapter of future retail - the self check out counter, as mentioned here...this one at a Walmart.

Friday, November 17, 2006

IT, India and availability

Heres post on Businessweek on design that ponders on the question of Indian IT. Indias IT companies already have branches in China. There is no saying that they will take advantage of Chinas workforce pool, presumably low talent (also presumably involving high training costs).

In the post TCS CEO Ramadorai says that there is a lot of talent still untapped in India. I agree. But if you see all over there is a constant buzz on how the talent pool in India is drying up. I have written on the same topic a while before, but let me delve into it once again here.

At last count the Indian IT was forecast to employ about 13 lakh (thats 1.3 million) associates. This was from a Nasscom report on the same topic.

For the next year, we are estimated to produce about 3.82 lakh engineers and another 1.9 lakh IT related engineers (electronics, comp sci. etc.). Infosys (60,000+) , Wipro, TCS and Satyam perhaps employ about 3-4 lakhs combined (the actual number is slightly lesser). The majority of them are engineers - easily about 60%.

The pool for graduates is almost thirty times larger. This is an anecdotal estimate and in all probability the pool of graduates should be larger than this. (One estimate puts it at 47 million, thats 470 lakhs - which is almost 100 times the pool.)These companies are looking for opportunities to hire non engineers and all of them have started doing so; TCS for a long time now, Infosys relatively recently.

Of course, this pool is not "plug and play". They have to be trained. And this is where our biggies score. The talent pool shortage exists - for specialized positions and people with specialized experience. If you are talking freshers and your company is willing to hire, train them, there is no shortage. Not till the industry grows a 100 fold, atleast.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The future of shopping?


In Hannaford, theres a three star nutrition guidance information provided for most items. The higher the star rating, the more nutritious the food. From 1 upto 3 stars, it indicates foods that are low in fat, high on whole grain, fibre etc., relatively. Its a pretty neat system and quite a good indicator of the stuff we usually buy and ideally should be buying.

Then there are self check outs where you can scan your own items and pay on your own without using a cashier at the end.

Reliance better take note of these emerging trends :)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Incredible India in WSJ Europe

Nice ad and nice placement! Incredible India is being spotted all over. This one was in WSJ Europe.

Quote on the ad "And to think these days men get away with gifting flowers and chocolates to their wives"

Update: Also spotted on the arrival card provided to foreigners on entry into India. Neat. Though, I would have liked it to be more colourful...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

More three wheelers

Heres a set of traffic problems three wheelers awaiting delivery.

Bombay-Delhi in top 10

aviation routes that is. From a report in The Indian Express.

That shows how many people are flying. From a measly number of flights many years ago to the current high of 600 flights a week, each enjoying a load factor of 75-80 %, we have a come way.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

At the end of every truck...

is this metal contraption that ensures that anything thats at the wrong end of the truck will be smashed - loading docks included - hence the tyres.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wheres the viewfinder?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have acquired a cellphone with a camera. As I used it today, I realized (!) that unlike cameras no cellphone ever comes with a viewfinder - all of them use just the LCD display.

Cameras of this day still have viewfinders (I did discover some which don't) and I am not talking SLRs, I am talking about basic point and shoot digicams. True that the viewfinder allows to make precision adjustments - but in a point and shoot digi - how much precision can you get? Likewise, if the argument is about battery life, then that has to apply in cellphones too. There is no great reason to have a viewfinder in a camera of these days - the lcd is simply far too convenient (and some camera makers have figured that out).

The camera without a viewfinder is, really a radical step and it came, not from camera makers, but from cellphone makers. As it says in the Innovators Dilemma.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Retail wars - let the games begin

Even as Reliance retail opens its doors to its first launch in Hyderabad, Subhiksha launches its newspaper in Bangalore. Yes, you heard that right.

As they say in an old saying, "Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed" the retail wars will span all three. The newsletter is just one of the many missiles that will be used.

The newsletter explains very well why Subhiksha stores are always away from high streets (rentals), are not airconditioned (who pays for it), is sparsely staffed (who pays for those people?). It also talks about how Subhiksha offers consistent discounts and not bundled products and nor are their discounts promotional - it promises to offer a 10% off on all MRPs.

All of these are intended at Big Bazaar (and perhaps Reliance) among others and big stores that are airconditioned, have a lot of "smiling staff doing nothing" and are located on prime property. The Subhiksha model is a low operating cost model which passes on the benefits to customers model and by locating themselves closer to their clients, they are pretty much top of mind recall for any grocery. We have seen that happen in our area where Subhiksha is doing pretty well and offers consistent discounts and overall it is a decent experience.

Aside, so who pays for this newsletter?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Pause to reflect

Chanced upon this today. The man in the picture is selling violins - the single stringed ones often seen in villages which are perhaps as old as music itself. True, we are enjoying the fruits of globalization: Chinese toys are all over the place. But we also need to market crafts like these - the simple violin, perhaps our wooden toys and many many others traditional items and ensure that the benefits of globalization passes on these craftsmen too.

Dont miss this post

An open letter to the Prime Minister of India by Atanu Dey. I havent seen anything written more powerfully than this for a long time.

Abhorrent Discrimination.

If there is one thing that makes me see red, it is senseless discrimination in general and unfair treatment of people. But when it comes to discrimination based on a person’s religion, I abhor it with every fiber of my being. It disgusts me and I feel nothing but contempt for people who discriminate based on religion (or lack of religion, in some cases.) One of the distinguishing features of a civilized society is that it does not treat people differently based on their belief systems. Those societies that do discriminate based on belief systems are retrograde, regressive, backward, ignorant, bigoted, intellectually bankrupt, and generally deserve the derogatory label “third world country.”

He starts off with a bang and builds on it. Great read.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Aashirvad versus Annapurna


For those who know the Indian wheat flour (atta) market, these are the brands of the two big players in this space apart from the neighbourhood chakki and the small sector. The former belongs to ITC and the latter belongs to HLL.

This is a purely personal experience. When we had purchased Annapurna atta, my mom after making a set of rotis put the brand in her personal reject list. "The chappati becomes rubbery, it has maida" was her judgement.

With Ashirvaad, she said "This is good atta".

Needless to say, we always preferred Ashirvaad atta after that. Perhaps this was the market buzz too since Annapurna recently introduced a label on its packet "No maida added". Ashirvaad always had this on their packs. So, is it an admission of past guilt on the part of HLL?

BTW, the new pack of Annapurna (we happened to use it only because our grocer delivered it to us by mistake and we needed atta urgently) was good - no maida (as per mom) - but I guess Annapurna has lost some brand equity lost there.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Slow train

Just back from a 24 hours journey from Bombay to Bangalore. For a distance of just about 1200 kms, the train takes a royal 24 hours. Thats an average speed of about 50 kmph. That btw, is Indian railways speed for express trains. There are a few trains faster than that, notably the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis, but the bulk of the trains run in a different era. We dont even need diesel locos for this speed, steam locos can do a pretty job for 50 kmph. Imagine super long routes like Trivandrum - Guwahati (this train apparently runs a day late at times) and the painfully slow journey and then you know that the writing is on the wall for the railways.

Not surprisingly bus operators make hay while the sun shines on the short routes or the overnight routes. With the arrival of Volvos and the GQ (in whatever shape or form), bus operators are giving trains a run for their money. Bombay Hyderabad bus journeys take 12 hours or less while the train takes 15 or more. The Bombay Bangalore bus journey takes about 4 hours less on an average. I have heard that the distance has been covered in 16-18 hours more than once.

If the railways have any doubts that they can take on low cost airlines on the one hand and improved bus services on the other, they have to speed up. Distances upto 1200 kms have to be covered in one night - that opens up space for high speed inter city trains that can cover a longish journey in the equivalent of one night. One night journeys are the train journeys of the future - get in, sleep and get off at your destination. The railways have to capture this segment. They will survive like this for a long time given our population, but if they have to thrive, then this is the segment to tap.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Left or right?

As the proud owner of a new camera phone and looking forward to more blogs with pics attached, I set about exploring the new features of my phone. The PC synchronizing software has a nice swanky look to it, except that some strange reason, the boxes which appear to accept/reject or confirm/deny actions are counter intuitive.

For any normal, message box to continue or abort during an install, the rightmost box indicates acceptance and moving forward. The left box indicates rejection and moving backward. This hero of a software has all forward moving actions on the left. Why? I don't know, but I figured it out and ultimately managed to load the software onto the computer.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Retro design?

Been going around in a Santro for the past few days. The Santro, in India is a relatively new car - with all its upgrades and is a preferred entry level vehicle. One of its design points in my observation is its door. Some readers will agree that in India, slamming a vehicle door shut is a calorie consuming physical activity thanks to what I call the Ambassador effect. The Santro door is designed in such a way that if someone for whom a car door evokes memories of yesteryear your door remains safe. The door needs more effort than many of the newer cars where a cute push is all that is necessary. So Santro owners can relax when that old uncle of theirs flexes his muscles while waiting to slam that door shut. (Many newer car owners often say, Can I please shut the door for you - and its not chivalry). It may appear under engineered, but its smart engineering.

Sometimes, effects like these please consumers. Like the click sound created in digital cameras when there is no reason or necessity for a click, except that we are tuned to hear a click sound when a photograph is taken.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why search when there's Google?

I am regular web surfer. I am forever searching for something - thats when I am out of bloglines - the only aggregator that I use. I regularly search Amazon or Wikipedia. My favourite search engine is Google. It is fast, reasonably accurate and clutter free. Very often for searching for a book on Amazon or for a post on wikipedia, I find that is faster to just type in the subject in the Google search box and retreive it. Amazon and Wikipedia often seem a lot slower than Google to respond and the Google search takes me to the pages on those sites right away.

Which brings me to the question? Why do sites have a search engine when Google does that job so well? Is it necessary for sites need to have a search box at all especially considering that their search is not as good as Google search?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mineral water, 3 rupees a litre

This is the amazing sight I saw at Mantralayam Road during our visit here. (Yes, yes, apologies are in order for not including a photograph and to rectify this, interim thoughts... plans to acquire a camera phone shortly so that such opportunities are not missed).

It was a water cooler like contraption (presumably an industrial water filter inside) consisting of a stainless steel cabinet and a tap. So if you think Kinley is too expensive (at about 10 INR a litre), please feel free to purchase our mineral water at 3 rupees a liter, but you can have Kinley too (they sell both their water as well as other brands).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A time to recruit

Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Gurgaon - the Indian cities that have "IT " in them will face an exodus this weekend. Techies and non techies alike will leave for their homes this weekend, the Diwali weekend. It is a time to get the most out of the annual leaves and official holidays. As a friend here put it, the only thing you hear on the Chennai Trichy train is "Oracle and Java ".

At least from Bangalore, trains are packed, air tickets horrendously expensive, even bus routes are full. Trains/Buses/flights to Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Chennai, Kerala are full as are the buses but there will still be hopefuls who will throng the stations, teriminus and airports to get that last minute tickets.

Bangalore has seen some innovative ways of recruiting, this weekend might see another one. For a potential recruiter (either in Bangalore or in any of these destinations), it would be a smart idea to go advertise/recruit right at these railways stations, bus terminus or airports. But the railway station is the easiest one to pick. What better place for Bombay based recruiter to advertise/recruit than beside the Udyan express on this weekend!

Cellphones and fishermen

BlognetBiz looks like a good aggregator for business/economics related posts on the web. Heres what I found there today - A report on how Cellphones have made a difference to fishermen from Washington Post.

A convenience taken for granted in wealthy nations, the cellphone is putting cash in the pockets of people for whom a dollar is a good day's wage. And it has made market-savvy entrepreneurs out of sheepherders, rickshaw drivers and even the acrobatic men who shinny up palm trees to harvest coconuts here in Kerala state.

"This has changed the entire dynamics of communications and how they organize their lives," said C.K. Prahalad, an India-born business professor at the University of Michigan who has written extensively about how commerce -- and cellphones -- are used to combat poverty.

"One element of poverty is the lack of information," Prahalad said. "The cellphone gives poor people as much information as the middleman."

Rajan said the dealers don't necessarily like the new balance of power, but they are paying better prices to him and thousands of other fishermen who work this lush stretch of coastline. "They are forced to give us more money because there is competition," said Rajan, who estimated that his income has at least tripled to an average of $150 a month since 2000, when cellphones began booming in India. He said he is providing for his family in ways that his fisherman father never could, including a house with electricity and a television.

I remember my cousin from Kerala who told me that fishermen were his biggest consumers of the Tata wireless landlines, until it was declared illegal to use landlines out of the home circle area - of course, the phones mentioned above are true cell phones.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Small servings

A while back softdrink companies in India launched 200 ml bottles of softdrinks priced at Rs. 5. That the 5 rupees is a psychological price - it is a single coin of the largest denomination is a different point for some other time. The "standard" bottle sizes in India are 300 ml, 250 ml. Once upon a time these bottles were priced around 10 rupees - now they are costlier.

The new bottles brought the softdrink within the reach of the coffee, tea and nimbu pani (the real competitors to soft drinks) customers from a price perspective. But now, with inflation (or perhaps margins), the prices of these small bottles is inching up. Recently, I was charged 8 for a small (200 ml) bottle of Sprite. If this is the MRP, then that defeats the objective of having a small serving for this price - the competition with tea, coffee is lost. If it is not the MRP and the shopkeeper charges a higher price, then the softdrink companies objective is lost once again.

Very often, the idea of selling stuff in small sachets/servings is to enable people to sample or buy for immediate use or making stuff affordable (this is a funny argument, because the price of 100 grams of a premium product may equal 500 grams of the regular product that they would have used). But inflation or increased margins could defeat the purpose. And I suspect that this is the case with small softdrink servings. The margins of companies may go down, since customers on an average might chose to go with smaller servings than with regular servings.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Cellphones everywhere

If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, I got this from my last train journey. No, this journey was on a Bangalore-Nanded train - the kind of train which is lowest on the food chain when it comes to waiting on the sidings for a crossing. The last anecdotal evidence from a train journey, triggered off a train of posts on poverty etc., but this one is not about poverty - not at interim thoughts.

Yes, there were beggars on the train, there were a ton of people who sold things ranging from sweet lime to hairpins to coffee and there were another ton of people who were the day trippers- those who use the mainline train as a local train much to the chagrin of us reservation passengers. There were a humongous number of students taking the train to college, which is a good sign.

My son was playing with my cellphone, which is something he does every now and then. As he was playing with my cellphone, a none too primitive Nokia 3100, a nearby passenger offered his cellphone to my son. This cellphone was a few notches better than my phone complete with camera - I tried to search the model on the Nokia webpage, but couldn't locate it (it was some 6000 series0. The fact that my son now had a choice of 2 cellphones caused another kid nearby to bawl and one of the other co- travellers offered him his cellphone - a Nokia 6600. Now, both these individuals were regular sleeper class travellers - as distinct from the regular AC traveller - and both hailed from rural Karnataka. The point to note is that handsets were not regular 1100s or 2100s - these were high end handsets.

If anecdotal evidence were all that were required, this was proof enough that the cellphone revolution is well and truly here with all its bells and whistles. Heres a rediff report on the same.

According to the February 2006 report by ORG-Gfk, 57 per cent of the total handset sales in the top 35 cities were colour screen mobile phones.

That's a significant change: in October 2004, colour screen phones accounted for just 25 per cent of sales. But a dash of colour is not enough. Roughly one-fourth of the colour screen phones that are sold also have cameras.

And there is a market for these high end handsets, not just in the big cities and not just with the urban rich/upwardly mobile.

Many cab/auto/bus drivers in Bangalore have pretty jazzy phones, colour screens, polyphonic ringtones and even Nokia 6600s with cameras. Throughout the trip, I saw how phones have become more and more pervasive. The number of cellphone users on the train was unbelievable. Phones have made a big difference to people in India - our bus (a local RTC bus plying Mantralayam to Raghavendra Swami Ashram) had a puncture and the driver whipped out his cellphone and informed his "boss" that his bus has gone kaput. To see regular drivers and ordinary people empowered and using a once touted status symbol as a utility was truly a great sight to behold.

Previous posts on the cell revolution in India: For the micro entrepreneur and mobile phones and technology.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Market research in India

Many years back, there was this market research person who had landed up at our apartment in Bombay on a hot summer day. I was jolted from my afternoon siesta and the fact that it led me to being sent for the "first job of my life" is a story for some other time, but this was about a product sample.

The person had brought a soap to sample. We had to smell each soap and tell whether "we liked it". We smelt a few soaps, all of which were equally yucky. It was, I presume, for some new soap variant that was being test marketed. But the "researchers" were not interested in me. They asked my mom on how those soaps smelt. The one that was good (marginally, I thought) got a "very good" on her feedback, but the rest of them got a vacillating answer - the neither agree nor disagree kind. She did not tell them that the product that they were trying to sell was crap. And the usual question which is "will you buy this product if it is available in the market" got a "maybe".

This was not an isolated experience - confirmed by my own later marketing survey experience. That whole "market research" process is hilarious, but like I said, thats for later.

Giving negative feedback does not come easily for a lot of people in India and especially when it is being asked of you or you have to write something. Todays generation perhaps yes, but in the previous generation, they never said that something was bad, even if it was crap. Perhaps it was a generation (the generation just after independence) which was used to a lot of crap, so they survived on hope. But I guess that many a market research would have flopped thanks to the gentle Indian who never said that any product was bad and instead just never bought it off the shelf.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Road to Wipro

To call the Sarjapur road a road would have been a pity a few months ago. But today, a few years after a former Chief Minister promised to double lane the road, the road is slightly better or so I thought. The road work in progress was happening for a long time. Only when I walked a few kms did I realise that the road has been widened only upto the Wipro corporate office. Right after that, the road is what it was a few months ago - a pockmarked, ditch ridden single ribbon of asphalt bordered by red soil.

Now there are two things. I dont know if Wipro has forked out money from its own pocket to improve the road, because the road (even till their office) was exactly as I described above, until recently. If this is the case, well, nobody is to be blamed. But if the government spent the money (taxpayers money), by laying the road right upto Wipro's door, it creates an impression that the road is only for IT. This will only serve to widen the gap between the IT and and other industries that these politicians exploit.

Infrastructure is a crying need in this place, but who will listen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Swamped by marketeers

Any regular user of a cellphone in India will tell you about Telemarketeers. Especially if you have committed the cardinal sin of giving your cellphone number to a bank (any bank) or financial institution. Instantly you are deluged by calls offering yet another free credit card, bank account, home loan, demand draft, personal loan (at some atrocious interest - only for you sir). Some of them, even after you politely refuse (I dont need another credit card, bank account, home loan, demand draft, personal loan.), persist, "Why sir, this offer is so good?".

And they are not alone. Airtel has automated marketing calls tuned to trouble you when you trying to grab a quick nap or when your child has gone off to sleep after an hour of trying. Pesky SMS's exhort you to download latest hits when you are busy in a meeting.

Indeed I have not brought a single thing from telemarketeers. I am not sure it is so different with others, but perhaps it is, otherwise this business would have ended long back. The one time I agreed for an upgrade (free, no information wanted), I did not get it. Perhaps this whole thing is about grabbing personal details and may surface as a scam in the near future.

But I digress. My point is that these telemarketeers (and associated tactics like SMS's, automatic calls) perhaps do more harm than good for the brands they represent. Citibank, HSBC marketeers are perhaps one of the worst offenders. I am pretty sure that I will never open an account with Citi or HSBC "do not call" lists notwithstanding. If they call you so much without you having an account with them, I cant imagine how much they could torment you if you did.

Weather India

I did not know that this site existed. It is Weather India and managed by NIC. Right at the top of the webpage is the first link which gives weather for most Indian cities and towns.

I thought it is a pretty decent weather website. Check it out.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Scorpio as a status symbol

The Mahindra Scorpio seems to have replaced the Ambassador as a symbol of power. Earlier it was white Ambassadors that was the symbol of power. For a while pimped up Ambassadors with curtains inside and pretty bells and whistles outside were the symbol of "power". The white ambassador still retains some of its aura in the corridors of power, especially those with a red light at the top, but the Scorpio seems to be the vehicle of choice in many places. It has replaced the old Mahindra "jeep" by a long margin, as also the Ambassador.

The Scorpio with its muscular bumpers, flashy number plates, fog lights, at times suitably pimped up with chrome fittings, flags and whatnots is the new status symbol of sorts on Indian roads. The white Scorpio does beat the white Ambassador by a mile. The Pajero is, of course, the big daddy, but the Scorpio delivers well on this role.

Friday, October 06, 2006

BSNL versus the rest

Everyone knows that in the recent turf wars for more telephone market share, BSNL has been the big loser. Sure, they are still the second or third biggest operator in the mobile phone market and they are really the biggest landline service provider - they are not really known for their nimbleness. It is very evident, when it comes to creating markets, BSNL is a poor second. In many places in Bangalore, there are no land lines. One can argue that we dont need landlines, but they do have a place. In each of these the private chaps have moved first.

The key difference I believe is in the organization structure (and hence some incentives). All of the telcos except BSNL has a sales force driven culture. When there is a new building being built/moved into, Airtel or Tata or Reliance is always there ( a few minutes away from each other) offering, free EPABX, integrated wiring, bulk discounts (more than say, 30 or 50 subscribers), combined offer on broadband. BSNL interestingly has all these (and in some cases lower total cost of ownership), but they are stuck on marketing or in the fact that they still move based on 5 (or something) year plans. So while an Airtel always some infrastructure ready (or they create if you have a small bulk order like an apartment complex), BSNL simply shrugs its shoulders and says, we dont have a line there yet.

Our landline has a "work order" 2 years old as does our entire building. But there is no sight of BSNL. To figure out that we have a work order, we had to jump through a few hoops and then locate the exchange. True there were a few good employees who helped us out (but to seek them took us a short while) - but in the case of Airtel, Reliance and Tata, it is perhaps the efforts of all the thousands of foot soldiers (and incentive structure) in pushing markets and the effort of their infrastructure team that they make inroads while BSNL lies sleeping.

Earlier, how the individual drives Indian IT.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Of geeks and coders

Recently, I had this discussion around the issue of qualification for a software developer. Indian IT services companies often issue recruitment ads asking for first class engineers from the best colleges in India. Notably the IITs. That was how some of the companies started. Then they climbed down, going to the best non IIT colleges. Then they climbed down and now almost any engineer with a first class can make it through to most companies.

There are many other companies who ask for best in class graduates. Some companies prefer NIIT graduates - who are not engineers, though many of them are engineers too.

Really, what is the level of qualification required to be a software developer? This is a funny question if you ask me, since it is like asking what qualification do you require to be a driver. To be a driver, you need no qualification. If you are an MA or a M Ed, well, good luck to you but that has no bearing on whether you get a driving licence or not. As long you can drive a vehicle well and convince the RTO inspector that you can, you get a licence and you can drive.

To be a coder, is exactly like that. In India many people (and companies) make us believe that you need a science background to learn coding. It is like asking for mechanical engineers when what you really want are drivers.

I have some of my friends as young as 8th standard who have waded knee deep into coding. I know of some who have created small tools and other patches even before they cleared their class Xth exams. I know of accountancy grads who are experts in coding/hacking. One of the guys who studied with me had created his own game - and he was not even a graduate - his dad has passed him a defunct PC which he had made good use of. Qualification - well nothing. Except that they loved doing what they did.

Google Jam is a step in the right direction. I wish service companies in India too tried and picked up geeks this way rather than a traditional formal-tie interview process. These are the geeks who will create more code juice and innovate - they may not follow coding standards though and geeks oten come with their own idiosyncracies - which service industries hate. But Google and Microsoft? They love 'em.

The highly qualified educated coder who gets into the IT service industry today wants to "get out of coding" even as he sets foot in the industry - with the result that the industry is filled with (generally) low technical skills. The industry also "rewards" good coders with management positions with the result that they lose their technical skills and that is often seen as the only way to grow in the firm. (That last part is changing though the hiring is still done the old way.)

One point here is that good educational qualifications (ranging from any graduation to post graduation or an MBA) help in assessing whether a potential employee can create documentation, processes - but thats not the same as coding. What IT service companies do need is a mixture of low to medium end coding skills at the entry level followed by good communication, presentation and documentation skills at the next levels. Honestly, you need neither first class engineers nor first class graduates at the entry level in an IT service company. You do need a high level of presentation skills, negotiation skills, strategic thinking at a managerial level and beyond.

Coming back, coding is a fair bit about self interest, which is about the geek - someone who lives, talks and breathes code - and nobody can teach you to do that (not for code, not for music, not for blogging). This is for those whom computers (or central excise or dance) is a passion.

The other part is around technical training, which is for the NIITs and their ilk to milk. The engineering colleges should really get out of creating newer engineering streams for Information Technology (IT - this thing sells like crazy) and focus on creating engineers not coders.

Make no mistake, the uber technical chaps are highly regarded, paid as much as (if not far better -look at any core tech companies payscales) than uber domain guys and there will always be a continuous demand for technology professionals at all levels. And, once again, it does not matter what qualification you have as long as you have a licence to drive (or code).

Guy Kawasaki on Mumbai

Guy Kawasaki (at his fantastic blog) writes about Mumbai and his impressions:

Sample this.

I’ve never seen such vivid colors in all aspects of dress, decor, etc.—even the money is pretty.

“Traffic safety” is an oxymoron. Luggage isn’t tied down on roof racks. People ride on top of trucks. I saw a family of four on a motorcycle. Having said this, I saw no accidents.

Speaking of traffic, it can take two hours to travel fifteen kilometers there. If you have a choice, try to arrive on Saturday or Sunday. Speaking of arrival, I’ve never been to an airport that’s jam packed at 2:00 am.

Yup, this city never sleeps. Trains are jammed at 12 am and 4 am too.

Forbes on India

It is a regular feel good post on India, this time at Forbes. Good read nonetheless.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Motivational ingredients?


I picked up a bottle of HLLs Vaseline Aloe Fresh recently and on its back was this funny divide in the ingredients. The pic is not clear, but you get the picture (heh). At back of the pack, are two sections Key Ingredients and Motivational Ingredients. The latter lists Aloe Vera Extract, Cucumber Extract and Vitamin E Acetate.

I dont know what this distinction is all about. Any idea?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Infosys blogs?

So, Infosys has its own blog at infosysblogs.com. I chanced upon this while trawling through a few links. And I found a blog named Think Flat. Are there other blogs too in the domain? Theres another related site by the name, Think Flat. The site has some good reads. Is this the first Indian corporate blog?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Success based pricing - TCS moves

This piece from ET is on how TCS is moving to success based pricing of its services. These type of structures are typically used by the Accentures and other consulting companies.

Most of the Indian software industry operates on the basis of a fixed hourly rate, referred to in industry parlance as time and material pricing (or a single fixed price contract). In contrast, in a typical outsourcing contract, consulting firms like Accenture tend to promise clients a specific quantum of process improvement, cost reduction and revenue enhancement. If these outcomes are reached, the software firm gets to share a part of the upside.

Success based pricing is not without its risks and it is quite a bold step to take. Until now, most companies follow a milestone based pricing for large projects which means that on every milestone (like builders), customers have to pay. But there is no guarantee that the work will be completed (exactly like builders) or that bugs will be fixed beyond a point. With success based pricing, there is a greater committment on the part of the service provider.

TCS, I have always believed is the leader of Indian IT. They were the leaders who started it all, they explored new markets first, got into new businesses and now they are changing the game with their pricing too.

ET interview with Mukesh Ambani

Quite an insight into the mans mind. Some nuggets, but read the full piece for a peek into Reliance:

My ultimate aim is that the management team should become venture capitalists. Today, we train people. The idea is to bring guys out from school and bet Rs 5 crore on each of them, challenge them to make a 20% return on capital. That can produce returns from day one.

For us, size is not our focus; our main focus is, where is the value generation: where can we go ahead and generate value, how can we scale that up to the peak, and what kind of competencies do we require. Our view is that if you chase some aim — like I want to be x billion by such time, it is unlikely that you will get there. (Thats food for thought for the IT companies)

When people talked about the media, it does not matter if Rupert Murdoch comes in; he is creating employment for young boys and girls. These kids would have not been employed if we had only Doordarshan and there would not have been a satellite TV industry.

We had conversations doubting whether we can we hit 600m; can we really go to all 6 lakh villages. But in ’06, nobody has any doubt — were it not for the Reliance initiative, the acceleration in telecom initiatives would not have come. We build competencies — within Reliance, we had to develop radio engineers or consumer marketing guys.

In terms of global benchmarks, Exxon-Mobil is worth $300bn, while Wal-Mart is a $250-bn company; our own size in comparison is $20bn. We are pygmies in comparison.

Carbon paper

As I stood in a queue watching a document required in "triplicate" being filled out, a few thoughts came to my mind during the time taken between two customers - the carbon paper was removed and inserted in between the pink and green coloured sheets and then again between the green and yellow coloured sheets. The green, pink and yellow sheets were to be given to different people.

Is the Carbon paper industry surviving only thanks to government departments? Much like Ambassador cars? And typewriters - have you seen the rows of typists sitting in front of courts?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Aerospace museum

I had a chance to visit HALs Heritage center and aerospace museum. This is a great initiative since I am not sure many such museums exist anywhere in India, which is sad. I have visited the Intrepid air and space museum which is a mindblowing museum, for those interested/fascinated by air and space technology. Personally I am not a great fan of museums which stuff animals and birds and exhibit them. Therefore, museums like these which showcase technology are my choice of museums.

While the HAL museum is just about good with its HF Maruts, MIG 21, LCA mockup and Canberras, the Intrepid museum is just something else. There you have naval cadets walk you through exhibits (like the Intrepids control tower or anti aircraft guns), conduct sessions all of which makes it a little more interactive. Here in HAL, there is a lot of green space, the exhibits are nice to look at and touch, especially the PSLV shield and the radar. But staff is spartan and that too only to shoo away visitors from gardens. Perhaps the Vikrant will be as good as Intrepid. The souvenir shop at the HAL museum, which imho has immense potential (not only here, but elsewhere) was a complete let down ("No stocks"). The flight simulator is just a computer screen and the simulator part of it does not work. Other than that the HAL gallery was good, only that perhaps there is so much potential out there in the museum which is perhaps untapped.

We need museums that showcase Indias achievements in the technology/military field. More than patriotism, it is these which build a love for technology in the minds of the young. I hope that the HAL museum in its final avatar will be as inspiring as I found the Intrepid.