Saturday, March 31, 2007

On passion and jobs

This is somewhat of a sequel to my earlier post, The Truth about jobs. This one is about passion. If you are part of the corporate world, theres a constant refrain that is heard "I don't love my job" or "I would rather be doing something else". The corollary is "My job doesn't pay me enough" or "I am in this job for money" or "I wish I could sing/dance/teach for a living but it does not pay me as much as my job does".

Sitting in a cubicle trapped by three moulded walls and a boss, it is easy to take a judgement call on ones job. But the fact is that it really is your bread and butter (or chappati or idli). Most of us view our passion as an escapist route to get out of our routine mundane jobs. The sentences start with, It would be great if I could ...

There are many who love their job - research, project management, accountancy, central excise (one of our old profs said central excise is his hobby), software maintenance, traffic policeman or even printing invoices day in and day out. For them their job is their passion. Every ounce of their energy they put in their work counts for them as an achievement. I have met people who can rave about the latest flexfield in Oracle apps or those who can look at a new software program and work spellbound until they crack the ultimate details of it. Look around you. There are quite a few of them. This is not to say that they are dull outside work. Usually they are not. They have interests outside of work and they cultivate it too.

There is a second set of people who have a great passion for something. Writing or music or driving or cooking or quizzing. They are the ones who quit their day jobs to be their own boss. Remember it is tough for someone who is passionate about, say, music to work for someone else. Because passion for music is an outlet of ones own creativity, it is difficult to alter some notes because your boss doesn't like it. Likewise, if I write something, I don't want an editor to come and prune my prose to a bonsai - I write it because thats how I want it to be, warts and all. These are the people who take the path less trodden and work on their own, for their passion. They work because they love it - the money is a byproduct and it usually happens. The road can be long or hard or both and many do make it - the gains in satisfaction are immense. Needless to say, this road is not easy and it involves a steep climb till you make it.

The majority of people see their jobs and passion as distinct. Out of these are people who do their jobs sincerely - accept it for what it is and do a sincere job of it. "My job brings me the money and I will do justice to it". If they do work on a passion or an art and craft, it is separate from their work. Some of them continue to work on their passion, while for a lot many it is lost along the way - while some expect their children to work on their own unfulfilled passion!

The last set of people are those who want someone else to infuse passion into their jobs. That, unfortunately, will never happen. Either you are passionate about your job or you seek your passion outside of work or you yourself go out and convert your passion into your work. There is no fourth option. No Robinhood or talent scout is ever going to discover you if you don't do anything. If you are a writer, you better write. If you are a singer, you better keep singing. Out of the mountains of paragraphs (or songs), one (or a few) could be diamonds (out of the mountains of coal) - the rest is just a process of discovery. As in cricket, you gotta keep scoring the boring singles, wait for the chances to hit the sixes and all of it totals to the magic figure of a century. All those boring singles and the big hits create a career.

So what is the point of this post? Keep doing what you like, regardless of your job and as Raamdeo Aggarwal once told me, "If you are a star, keep working and you will be discovered" and I must add, if not by someone else, you will surely discover yourself.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Walmart entry can disrupt India

This one is from rediff, click the link above. The author makes a few pertinent points, but he misses out on a few others.

Granted that Walmart will surely disrupt some of the current mechanics in the retail set up. Why only Walmart, any and all big box retail will. But it will also bring in more efficiencies, which both farmers at the producer end and consumers at the other end have been deprived of.

The other thing is that, Walmart and big box retail will bring jobs. Today there are jobs for the highly educated engineers. BPOs provide jobs to graduates, more or less. But that leaves a significant gap which today is filled by Telecom salesmen, Credit card salesmen and the like. Hopefully working in a supermarket aisle will give people money and time, both of which they dont get when they sell either water or coconut water on the street or in the bazaar. The pay here will take them away from the sustenance and poverty mode that they are in currently. Like BPO jobs (or typist jobs), we need to look at a job for more than what it makes the person do at that point. These jobs have a cascading effect down the generations. A retail job will spur more people to look for better opportunities.

Will that sound the death knell for the kirana retailers? I think not. They will adapt and survive.
Yes, some of them will have to shut shop, but many more will adapt, survive and give organized retail more than a few sleepless nights. Should we worry more about the kirana or about getting access for farmers for their produce or Walmart cutting commissions to entire chains of middlemen? Theres a lot to weep about, theres also a lot worth trying for.

People are not products

Ever so often, we hear of how China and other low cost centers will trounce India in services. I have argued over a few posts that this is not as easy as it is purported to be. One, we have a huge demographic advantage - of qualified engineers, so scaling up is an issue in other places more than it is in India. Coming to China, naysayers please note the scale of the companies in India. As per the latest Businessworld issue, Accenture in the next four months will have 35000 people, 5000 more than what they would have in the US. EDS has about 20, 000 people in India. Infosys, TCS, Wipro, Satyam have more than 70% people based out of India. For IBM, India is a huge center (nearly 50,000).

And even today, our services sector is focused on the top tier cities. If they go even to tier II cities like Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Madurai, there is a lot of pool that can be tapped. Thats some distance we can cover in terms of the cost advantage - though there is more than just a cost advantage for our tech industry.

Unlike a manufacturing facility, getting the tacit knowledge out of people is not easy. It can be done, but there is a basic assumption there that our industry will sit twiddling its thumbs. Unlike Chinas manufacturing revolution and Indias faltering infrastructure, this revolution in India is driven purely by people and companies and private enterprise, which is why more than anything else, I believe there is long way to go before China is anywhere in the picture.

So, what am I trying to say? That there is a lot of steam in Indian industry before China can come anywhere close by. The sheer scale of operations in India (and the scale it can take in future) is better than the combined might of all non-China centers. That, the industry is dependent on private enterprise and not government laxity - so, this will entail stiff competition. Try creating a 50, 000 people enterprise overnight and it is not as easy as it seems. Also, note that already our companies are in China - the Satyams, Infosyses and TCS, so, it may so happen that we leverage Chinas cost advantage to our advantage too. This is one interesting game.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Brand Factory

Brand Factory is the name of an outlet that sells brands at a discount. When I first heard this, I was skeptical. But when I visited the place, I realized that it is not ordinary brands that they are talking about, they brands are reputed brands. Only a few days ago I realized that it was floated by the Future group - the same group that runs Big Bazaar, e-zone.

The USP of the place is that it sells brands cheaper; if you are looking for dirt cheap prices, forget it. But every brand is offered at a decent discount. I read in a piece a few days ago that their business model works on sourcing surpluses from various companies - which is a smart move.

Overall, the place is teeming with staff - and the space utilization is high, but if you want brands are you are ok with a slightly claustrophic place, it is the place to be while scouting for discounts.

Interestingly just to the left of the Brand Factory building, the billboard that you (don't) see is for Megamart, Arvinds discount brand. To me, as a consumer, Brand factory is not the best place (not yet) for mens clothing, but for womens clothing, it has a winner (and you know what happens if you have the women coming to shop - the men have to follow).

The footfalls (the guard here has a footfall counter - two - presumably men and women- in his hand) in this place considering it is new, is quite amazing. There are more people here than either of Shoppers stop or any of the other bigger outlets in Bangalore. And the place of its launch Marathahalli is the Uttar Kashi for all discount shoppers in Bangalore. Smart choice. Someone has done their homework very well.

Another lesson here

We all know by now, how to write about India, but heres an advanced course.

First, the name, of the hero of your piece. Preferably the first name should be a Rahul, Vijay or Simran type name. It is preferable that the second is a tough to pronounce one.

Make a necessity a virtue. Repeat as necessary.

The growing American interest in Indian education reflects a confluence of trends. It comes as American universities are trying to expand their global reach in general, and discovering India's economic rise in particular. It also reflects the need for India to close its gaping demand for higher education.

Well, lets not kid ourselves, they are not altruistic. It is a huge market and it is "foreign students" who pay fees in the US, so it is important that, like our search for oil, they search resources who will pay for their courses.

Add salt to taste.

India's public universities are often woefully underfinanced and strike-prone.

Indians are already voting with their feet: the commission estimates that 160,000 Indians are studying abroad, spending an estimated $4 billion a year. (Nobody goes abroad because of strikes and because universities are underfinanced - they go for a thousand other reasons.)

Bring out your servility hat.

The applicants on the recent evening in Chennai were eager to please the gatekeepers from Pittsburgh. They addressed them politely with a series of "yes, sirs." Asked what they could contribute to Carnegie Mellon, some of them became flummoxed.

For every Carnegie Mellon or Columbia there are other dubious colleges from all over the world taking advantage of the lax regulations. Currently, any Tom, Dick, Harry or ponytail can get a tie up with any single room kitchen university from anywhere and depending on his or her marketing skills, get students. After all, in India, getting students is not the toughest part.

From a regular How to write about India "contributor", this one is from - an otherwise excellent read.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Direct to home TV

Dish TV or Tata sky, which are the newly launched DTH services in India are entering into a harassed market and a market that is vastly under served. By who else, the local cable wallah. All over the country, there is hardly anybody who is satisfied with their cable reception. Right from Bombay to Bangalore and all places in between, they offer slipshod service.

One of my cable chaps in Bombay to whom we used to complain frequently about non reception of cable services would say, "Even your neighbour is not getting anything." That was his best explanation for the lack of service. Creaky infrastructure, arbit charges, bad reception are just some of the complaints. Other than that, most of them are anything but professional and collect the monthly subscription more like haftas where the fee payment and service are anything but linked. They rarely attend to a complaint promptly. The cable wallahs are a pain for the channels too since they dont pay for all the subscribers and usually underreport the number of subscribers. They operate as cartels in most places - with links to the local thug and if you disconnect one service, there is very little chance that another one will take his place - if he does, he faces the risk of his equipment being burnt/stolen etc.

So, therefore, the market is ripe for a service like DTH to come into the fray. They have it all laid on a platter and on the ground, DTH is picking up slowly which is encouraging. With the advent of plasma and LCD TVs, the quality of reception is also important which is a good thing for DTH. It remains to be seen if they service the market well or end up being like the cable wallah.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sorry, I am not marketing

I recently happened to try and reach Tata BP Solar as part of an initiative to try and see if we can do something at our apartment colony to go Solar. After a few searches on Google, I found their website and the only link that I found was for Service - not marketing. (Perhaps thats what people seek - which is scary, but...).

The other numbers were numbers of regional offices which did not specify anything. So I called up this number and someone promptly picked up. He was relieved when he realized the purpose of my enquiry and he replied triumphantly, "I have nothing to do with marketing, I am service" and gave me the same number on their website to contact their office. So, I tried and nobody picked up the call. I am still going to try because the need is on our side, but really, every person in your firm is a marketeer, whether you like it or not.

Leads will come not only to the marketing department, but to anyone. Every employee is an ambassador whether he is in marketing or not. Many firms have got this, notably real estate companies and banks, but some companies are yet to figure that out.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Salary gap

Aha, finally a post that puts it in perspective. The salary gap is big, huge. From Steve Hamm.

There's so much talk about tech industry salary inflation in India. And there's no question that it's a problem--both for India's competitiveness with other low-cost countries and, day to day, for companies that are fighting it out on the ground for talent. But my checks with a handful of data sources suggest that the wage differential between the United States and India will remain substantial for a long time.

Survey data from PayScale, another online recruiting site, show software programer pay averaging $8,200 in the state of Karnataka, where Bangalore is located. In Tamil Nadu, where Chennai is fast becoming a tech hot spot, the average is $5,800.

If you do the math you see that the average US tech employee's pay increase was more than half the total pay of an Indian programer in Tamil Nadu. At that rate, it will be a couple of decades before Indian pay scales draw close to those in America.

Thats obvious is it not, but not if you read the headlines as Steve says, "Pay scales are rising at 15 to 20%". The base here is way way lower. And then, when companies spokespersons spout those numbers, what they really are saying is, "My margins are shrinking".

Well, then you got to keep moving up the value chain. Only cost arbitrage will get you nowhere, companies have to add value and look beyond heads in "software maintenance" and "support". Many of them are already doing that and that is where the moolah is.

Its all about the music

Not RJs, not the jokes nor the banter.

Thats what I thought, but every radio station in Bangalore was rapidly resembling the other, atleast after the arrival of Radio Mirchi. Prior to Radio Mirchi, there was Radio City which played Hindi songs and occasional Kannada songs and the RJs spoke in a mix of all the tongues Bangalore conversed. Radio Mirchi changed the game. The RJs spoke in Kannada and the songs were all Hindi. Then, another radio station arrived, I am not sure which one. This one spoke in Kannada and played Kannada songs and Hindi songs. Radio Mirchi rapidly adapted as did Radio city and over three to four months all the stations increasingly resembled one other.

Until Fever arrived - with the slogan, Its all about the music. During peak hours, contrary to popular stations, it plays 40 minutes non stop music and intersperses it with about 2-3 ads. Indeed, I have never heard an RJ on it, though it appears that they do have RJs.

I obviously havent heard too much of Fever, but from whatever I have heard, mostly morning traffic hours the ads are lower, banter is less and I actually hear it more than songs from my player.

This is a tough route to follow. Less ads mean less revenue, but if they can sell to potential advertisers that because they carry less ads, they are more sticky and hence these ads are more expensive - sure why not? Unlike Radio city and Radio Mirchi, I dont switch much when I listen to Fever, except when there are English songs when I move to my collection. I am hardly an ideal radio listener, but perhaps it is a smart move. Time will tell if they continue to do it or if they slowly amalgamate into the Bangalore radio station as defined by the "others".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

On brands and factory outlets

Factory outlets always do well; on an average. Theres a lot going for them. As early as the 80s, I remember going to Jekegram to buy, what else, Raymond wool blankets where they sold factory seconds. The big difference is that, today, nobody really calls them seconds anymore. And it makes good business sense and thats a very well known thing. Remember the number of "export surplus" "shops" in the 80s?

When I know that I can get "value" at a factory outlet, its a surefire deal. So, if at Megamart, I get an Arrow shirt for 30% discount, why not? And it is not a mutually exclusive thing; people can shop in Megamart and also at a premium outlet. The point is people seek value.

"One set of consumers buys my brand both in factory outlets and in premium stores on high streets," he says - Levi Strauss country manager.

No wonder then, the Future Group's Brand Factory, a 60,000-sq ft mall in Bangalore, selling only factory surplus products of 120 brands, sees a footfall of around 2,000 people on weekdays and 4000-5000 on weekends. With Brand Factory up and running in three locations (Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad) and three more ready for launch in the next 3-4 months, value retailing estimated at Rs 40,000 crore and growing at a healthy pace of 20 per cent per annum, consumers are surely in for a mega shopping spree.

Wow, I had been to Brand Factory recently, and I did not realize that it is the Future groups (think Pantaloons) - they are a group thats into retail and have a head start. Their Big Bazaars, Centrals are unique in their approach and add Brand Factory and I would think they have their finger on the right pulse.

But on discount shopping, factory stores and surpluses - they were always Indias favourite and will continue to be. Its good to see companies read the writing on the wall. And while they are it, create brands out of value shopping like Megamart and Brand Factory.

Tatas air car?

This one is quite interesting, since I have not seen this being reported anywhere else. (Link via Shadow Warrior)

Many respected engineers have been trying for years to bring a compressed air car to market, believing strongly that compressed air can power a viable "zero pollution" car. Now the first commercial compressed air car is on the verge of production and beginning to attract a lot of attention, and with a recently signed partnership with Tata, India's largest automotive manufacturer, the prospects of very cost-effective mass production are now a distinct possibility.

Tata has signed an agreement with MDI for application in India of MDI's engine technology, and believes the engine is viable – it's press statement described it as "efficient, cost-effective, scalable, and capable of other applications such as power generation".

The agreement between Tata Motors and MDI envisages Tata's supporting further development and refinement of the technology, and its application and licensing for India.

Theres also a Youtube video and the companys own site.

The Tata agreement link is here.

Jungle lodges

Jungle lodges and resorts, to the uninitiated, is one of Karnatakas best kept secrets - its quite popular actually. It is a one of a kind private government initiative. They operate resorts in some of the sanctuaries in Karnataka apart from a few other places. They are also into adventure sports like rafting or paragliding etc. at some of their spots. But their USP is the "jungle" and their resorts which are spartan yet comfortable. Right from their drivers, almost everybody who works there is a naturalist. They live in nature. Drivers know scientific names of birds, how to track animals and so on - I am not qualified to say if they are experts, but they are pretty good. Their prices are on the higher side, but then places like these dont come cheap. So, even if they are "government", their service is more like private - which means pretty good.

But all that is a separate point. The best part about places like Jungle lodges is the local involvement. It provides employment to a small number of locals - thus driving home the importance of conservation among the 'owner community'.

More resorts like these which use the USP of the forest (Many JLR properties for instance do not have electricity in the day and have one televison set which is in a common place) are required - and operated with local involvement if we want our forests to be conserved. And more importantly, if you want to get the local community involved in the conservation effort and there is no better way to do it than by creating a sustainable livelihood out of it for them.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Retail revolution: 2 links

Two pieces, perhaps diametrically opposite. The first one, which I got a link from The Acorn and the other in the Hindu Businessline. The latter mentions the problem where the former maintains (and I agree) that it is not the problem.

The second piece raises concern on some of the points, notably

Road-side vendors and hawkers also face the problem of zoning. Clearly, the important economic function and the substantial entrepreneurship provided by the wholesalers/retailers are neither recognised nor appreciated.

Last but not the least, let the reformers understand that the retail trader in his fifties with a low level of education and who is probably deep in debt does not have any interest in this revolution.

Well, obviously. But the point is that most of these hawkers are going to die hawking. They will never rise beyond the subsistence entrepreneurship that they are in.

In the first, there is a question,

Second, the whole issue of job losses must be put into proper perspective. India is poor because a large majority of her population is engaged in low-paying professions. Therefore, while we worry about the vegetable seller and the poor farmer, it would be prudent to remember that their income is barely enough to cover their minimum needs and that would always be so -- an ordinary vegetable seller will never be able to afford even a decent standard of living. Should jobs that guarantee perpetual poverty be such a holy cow?

Elsewhere, he says,

We are repeatedly told to remember that 69 percent of the Indian population are employed in the agricultural sector, a useful factoid but surely not something to be celebrated; rather it is a cause for worry. Imagine an India where you are no longer able to hire domestic help or keep a driver unless you are a millionaire.

This is already happening in places like Kerala and perhaps to a lesser extent in Bangalore. In some of the new areas getting a domestic help is a nightmare. (Enter the vacuum cleaner.)

The socialist mindset takes a narrow look at progress - because Reliance or Bharti will get rich - but they forget that in the process of getting rich, they pull many others out of poverty. Those who talk about India's IT revolution not doing much also miss the point. A good driver in Bangalore will not come for less than 5000 bucks a month (and it increases with experience, the type of car and so on). Why? Thanks to the zillions of cabs for BPO pick ups, drivers can aspire for a good life and education for their next generation.

As I never tire pointing out, my maids granddaughter goes to an English medium school. And what was the maid doing before she became a maid? She ran a roadside stall selling bhajiyas; trapped between the daily rental of the cart and the debt on the material incurred, she was in a vicious circle - until she discovered that she can work as a maid. Today, by my estimate she makes upwards of 4000 rupees a month. Her husband is a security guard for a, you guessed it, BPO firm. They are better off than they ever were. Try telling them that IT is bad for them.

Similarly look at the attendants in a Subhiksha or a Big Bazaar. Try telling them and their family members that the retail revolution is bad for them. Take away that option. Where would they work? In the neighbourhood grocer?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Google Transport network

Got this link from PSFK on Googles transportation network.

The NY Times has an the extensive article on the bus network that Google has set up to ferry its workers across the Bay Area to work. The company ferries about a quarter (1,200) of its employees to and from Googleland daily. The 32 shuttle buses come with leather seats and wireless Internet access; and, the NYT reports, bicycles are allowed on exterior racks, and dogs on forward seats:

Thats familiar to Bangaloreans - the majority of peak hour traffic is taken up shuttle buses, cabs and TT (localese for Tempo Travellers and Tata 407s). As far as I know no company, save one, offers airconditioned transport and none of them have wireless internet access. Lets not talk about dogs and bicycles.

But jokes apart, it is good for a company to provide transport - making the commute easy is the best thing that can be done. Indeed as the article shows, it has a cascading effect. As of today, there are very few companies in Bangalore which do not provide a transport facility. It started off as IT campuses are (were) outside the city till the city grew to envelop them and there was no way one could reach the place without transport. Even today, getting to Electronic city or ITPL on your own without a vehicle is a nightmare if you dont count the recently introduced Volvo buses.

Even if the pick up is not a house to house pick up, it is good to have, especially given Bangalores public transport and the general stress around driving down each day. With a bus or a cab, you have the time to catch a power nap, which is what most people do or read a book or catch up on conversation with fellow employees!

Transport has other benefits too, like Deccan Herald used it for a while to market their products.

Trade and peace

The Acorn gives a few good ideas to our idea drought ridden peace process. The idea, is trade.

While the country is lulled into a false sense of progress on the ‘peace process’ with Pakistan, it is ignoring signs that the process is working against India’s long terms interests.

...It is, therefore, unsurprising, that an act of appeasement as monstrous as the one in Havana fails to raise the nation’s collective eyebrows. So too the “non-paper” offering joint-control of the Kashmir valley that India has floated behind closed doors.

The UPA government has gone great lengths to spin the Havana appeasement it as the best India could achieve. So former security officials who dare to point out how bad a capitulation it really is are accused of indulging in bureaucratic groupthink. And ordinary citizens who do so are often accused of being war-mongers, too unsophisticated to understand statesmanship.

Read the entire thing.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

India through the global lens

is the title of a piece in the Hindu Businessline. It takes a look at how,

Till some time ago, to any foreigner who hadn't visited India, the country was all about poverty, cows and snake charmers. Not to mention, the "mighty Himalayas." Courtesy foreign TV channels and their hackneyed portrayal of India. While such imagery may still persist in some parts of the world, it is slowly changing.

There is plenty of interest in India and this is evident in the way international TV channels are now looking at the country. There is a sudden spurt in India-related content in the programming of these channels. The world is finally getting the real flavour of modern India with its BPOs, big fat weddings, Bollywood and flashy cars. Even its history is cleaved off its clichés.

Umm, as the blurb says, With the world becoming a global village and India being an emerging power, why showcase a storybook image when we have so many exciting things to present?

I think not. The media interest is not about wide eyed admiration. The piece itself makes the point.

India is a key market for these channels in terms of viewership and these channels cannot afford to ignore this emerging market.

We, like other civilizations, are narcissists, more so, when something is broadcast about us in a foreign channel. These channels recognize that. You watch it. Companies pay for ads. Everybody goes laughing to the bank. Its the market, stupid.

Warren Buffets letter to shareholders

As usual, an insightful read.

Note the point on CEO pay here. Link via Businesspundit.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Beijing duck?

This post on China is a very very interesting read.

Click here - from Andy Kessler.

Top Web Markets

Got this from The Next Net on the Worlds top web markets and, surprise, surprise - India is 8th in the list - which is saying a lot.

Comscore - ranking of countries by Internet usage, unique visitors.

Jan-07 Percentage
(000) Change

Worldwide 746,934 10%

United States 153,447 2%
China 86,757 20%
Japan 53,670 4%
Germany 32,192 3%
UK 30,072 1%
South Korea 26,350 8%
France 24,560 4%
India 21,107 33%
Canada 20,392 11%
Italy 18,106 13%

A lot of it is perhaps driven by the active college crowd, IT pros and then some. Indian railways, Deccan airlines, banks, online trading should be there. Gaming and social networking too perhaps. As the next table in the article shows, we are nowhere in broadband penetration or in time spent online - not that it is a great metric by itself, but the very fact that the internet has started digging through the mountain that is India means a lot.

How to make this even more accessible? Perhaps e-choupal or Rural business hubs it is for some segments, perhaps it will be cheaper mobile internet access for another?

And then we need to get the government onto the web. The web is a good way to bring corruption down as this piece shows.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Driving blindfolded?

Businesspundit links to a Business-Standard article titled, How relevant is Drucker, making an interesting observation about Indian business culture as compared to the west.

At a recent SME (small and medium entrepreneurs) conference, three leading Indian businessmen echoed a similar thought. Their choice of industry was not something that they knew anything about, but consciously one that they knew nothing about. They reflected that this was because it ensured they worked hard to learn and listen to others and perhaps their "naiveté" ensured that there was enough innocence left to provide for innovation. This goes against classic western business management theory of driving business by core competence.

Read Robs piece and I think he is right. Perhaps the "choosing ignorance over knowledge" bit is overstated.

I read the piece in BS and though the author makes a few good points about the "differences" in India. True, the Tatas, Nirmas, Reliance and Godrej succeeded, but they all did so when the market was relatively less mature and there were fewer brands out there. Then it makes sense going after a brand that is known. Today will you buy a Nirma or a Godrej car? Tough to say.

Is that really instinct over intelligence or madness over method? I think not. These companies knew what they were getting into and those were days when competition was, really, very less if not entirely non existent.

What is obvious is that the Indian industrialist as the Indian consumer seeks value. Maximising gains, much like any other consumer. But in India, since the pyramid is a huge one, there is a substantial chunk that demands more value for less cost. It is in servicing these customers that gets companies to innovate, reach out and serve those who they have never tried to serve before. If it were not for this attitude of the average customer, we would still be saddled with "rejects" and expensive mobile phone services.

What is obvious is, Clearly culture needs to be considered as a dimension when developing management principles and theories.

Rather than blindly adapting western principles and attempting to bring “method” to Indian “madness”, the challenge is to find method in the Indian madness and develop new a new theory.

I think we are already doing that. Our mobile phone industry, our retail formats, our "sachet" marketing are all examples of a new management theory, though I would hate to call it that.

On Mopeds

In a previous post, I had mentioned how the mobile phone and the moped are great enablers to have for the micro-entrepreneur, especially from a not so affluent background. In this respect it is perhaps worth its while to see the moped in isolation, since the moped has existed for almost a quarter of a century more than the mobile phone.

Heres a fascinating account of the history of mopeds

The moped was perhaps the first enabler for small businesses. From the bicycle which greatly enhanced the reach of a person as compared to foot, the moped was a quantum leap. For a miserly amount of petrol, it provided amazingly wide reach as well as low cost of operation per kilometre. For those in the rural areas it was a boon like no other.

I remember that in Kerala in the 80s (the height of the video boom), there was this video cassette library owner who went from village to village on his moped. I suspect he carried his entire inventory of cassettes on the moped itself. Then there was this snacks seller who rode his moped the entire length and breadth of some of the suburbs of Bombay selling murukkus and thengozhal to the Tamil denizens there - he graduated to a shop front not long after. Ditto for bakers who sold khari biscuits and others who sold kachoris and gulab jamuns. There were pundits and cooks who used the moped to give a fillip to their respective businesses. Now, skills were no longer confined to one town or dependent on pedal power or on the lone bus that operated twice a day.

Even today, in Bangalore mopeds serve scrap sellers, buffalo owners (you gotta see the amount of grass that a moped can hold), vegetable sellers, milkmen and a host of other entrepreneurs. All over India (though mostly in South), mopeds are a common sight and they are the preferred vehicle for most small entrepreneurs until they graduate to a bike.

The Kinetic website (not sure if it is updated), says that an entry level Luna comes at about INR 10,000 - which is lower than most of the higher end phones. A second hand one would cost a lot lesser. With a fuel efficiency that can do a miser proud, next to nothing maintenance charges it is actually cheaper than public transport. These things aren't fast, but they get you there.

The first indigenous moped was launched by TVS, the TVS 50 - which then went onto become TVS super, XL and so on - given the penchant of moped owners/entrepreneurs to load as much stuff on them as could be possible (the picture above would qualify as lightly loaded!).

Yes, they are a pain on the road, but perhaps the moped has enabled many a family to come out of poverty, more than the equivalent socialist slogans ever could have.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Udupi: a temple and food sojourn

Udupi (58 kms from Mangalore, 400 odd from Bangalore), notes the Outlook Traveller guide, is Indias favourite kitchen. Having spent a considerable amount of time in a place known for its Udupi hotels (Bombay) and a place known for its Darshinis/Sagars (Bangalore), that was some expectation.

If you would like to know in a nutshell, the result, it is this – Udupi did not disappoint – on any count.

If you are a hedonistic pet pooja seeking foodie or the more accomplished on the hierarchy of needs seeking spiritual solace, or if you just need to decide where you fit on the spectrum, Udupi is the place for you. Want inspiration – Udupi will let you be inspired whether the route is through your stomach or soul.

From Udupi, Sringeri, Dharmasthala and Horanadu are a longish but doable drive away. The journey to Kollur Mookambika (a powerful goddess highly revered from Kerala, which is where the bulk of visitors hail from) is the shortest of them all and is well connected by fast driving private buses from Udupis bus stand. If you want to cover it all in one day, a cab is the best option and you can pray to your god it as the driver zips along merrily on the road. Or take a leisurely pace and cover it all over the space of a few days. If you are a nature lover, a drive to any of these places takes you through some spectacularly verdant scenic beauty, so a camera might be a good accompaniment to your spiritual and gastronomic sojourn.

Udupi is temple land, as much as it is food land. There are temples all over the place. It is a like a buffet in every sense of the word for gods and food. Whatever is your cuisine or god, your stomach and your mind will go back happy.

The Krishna temple alongwith the Ananteshwara and the Chandramoulishwara temple are a spiritual experience by themselves in their quaint and small structures. They are probably the most inconspicuous of any temple in any part of India, given their rich history, but very rewarding, just by virtue of the atmosphere, especially in the mornings.

A look at the Mookambika temple and you are instantly transported to Kerala with the Kerala registered vehicles and the white gold set-mundu of Kerala - quite a contrast amidst the verdant beauty of the place.

Dharmasthala, Horanadu and Sringeri deserve a piece all by themselves – which we can do for another day.

Now we turn our attention back to Udupi. In a single sentence, Udupi’s cooks know how to make food tasty. While their set dosas (with a dab of butter), Neer dosas (served with grated coconut and jaggery ) and onion dosas are like the starting tricks of the magician opening a great show, it is their versatility to prepare “anything” that makes it magical. A bhelpuri in Udupi will not resemble a bhelpuri anywhere in Bombay, but you wont complain – it will be tasty in a way that only it can be. During our over 2 days stay there, we realized this and ordered all the exotic stuff on the menu and like a true genius, we were never let down at any point in time. Punjabi cuisine, sweets, desserts all passed the test of food with flying colours – and no stomach churn either. Don’t look for a menu. Some of the older restaurants do not have a menu and depend on the recollections of the days menu from the server.

Want to savour a little bit of time gone by? Try the Mitra Samaj hotel near the Krishna temple. It takes a bit of doing to locate it, but it is worth the visit. Amidst all the newer restaurants, like the Gauls, this one is still standing – thriving is more like it.

On Udupi, we aren’t done yet. The beaches are a story in themselves. The Kaup (locals call it Kapu) beach is like walking on sand fine as talcum power and water clean as a mineral water bottle. The lighthouse on the beach adds to the mystique. Nothing like spending an evening there listening to the waves thump in. It is perhaps the most peaceful of experiences. As compared to a touristy beach, Kapu beach is like going to a quiet corner of your mind. Malpe is a close second to Kapu – minus the lighthouse.

St. Marys isles is good in parts – the clean parts. The noisy, badly organized boat ride and the overall cleanliness almost manage to kill the beauty of the island – and at this rate they will succeed in a few years if not months in running it to the ground.

Udupi can cater to the tourist who knows what he wants or who is trying to find he wants and therein lies the beauty of the place.

(An edited version of this made it to print. Click on title)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Innovation, talent, Indian IT

This post by John Hagel.

The most impressive thing about the conference was that, in spite of this enormous success, there was little if any complacency. Instead, the leaders of the Indian IT services industry continued to show the same sense of urgency that has driven their success so far.

The point that I like is his take on innovation blowback opportunities.

This is a huge opportunity and has generally been under-emphasized by the IT services industry which historically has focused on overseas markets rather than the domestic market.

and he goes on to say

This opportunity is particularly intriguing because it extends far beyond the domestic market, even though that is certainly attractive in its own right. As JSB and I have written, there is an opportunity to pursue “innovation blowback” strategies, using the Indian market as a catalyst for breakthrough innovation in products and services that can then be used to support global attacker strategies designed to challenge incumbents in the more developed Western economies.

Read the whole thing.

Office space(s)

This has nothing to do with the movie by the same name (and its a great movie!), but about how IT companies have improved the way offices are perceived in India. Earlier, offices were nothing but cubby holes, dusty tables, creaky furniture and stinking upholstery. Now they are about space.

... Satyam Computer Services, the infrastructure spend per person is about Rs 4.5 lakh.

... upcoming Noida campus would have mini-gyms on each floor, besides a possible jogging path and swimming pool.

There are break out areas, lawns, good cafeterias - the more fortunate ones have gyms, reading rooms and dormitories.

If you as a company dont have a good office, you are gone. Gone from the clients mind, gone from a prospective employee perspective. When you call the employee for an interview, the office environs cannot be a dissatisfier, ditto with the client. After all, everybody around has a good campus.