And some stupid concerns to address. Am surprised that the usually optimistic Businessworld is looking at some of them. Ravi Kant in his interview in the same magazine has all the right answers though...
Here are my thoughts...
#1 The car will pollute. It is not as if we are living in some pollution free utopia and our other cars, notably the diesel powered luxury segment are photosynthesising. And then we have a zillion rickshaws, two strokers that too, polluting like there is no tomorrow. So, where are those questions today? True, some 3% of the rickshaws run on CNG, the remaining? So, lets not single out this one. And then again, with its size and light weight, it could be the first candidate for a unique type of engine. We dont know.
#2 The car will congest. Who is to say that a Tata small car will congest the roads and not those SUVs which are as big as an average Mumbai home do not? And guess who is saying it?
#3 We dont have roads. So, get rid of all the cars - why single out Tata? By that logic, we do not have airports. We barely have electricity. Thats a long list that can go on and on.
#4 The low cost is because of subsidies. Hmmm. Who pays for the diesel that you have in those Skodas and Mercs? And then to various cooperative banks that have made embezzlement their forte? Talk of taking off incentives? Lets get rid of them for all.
#5 What about public transport? Ask the government which has allowed those 3 wheeled 10 seater contraptions to ruin the cities (Pune stands out).
#6 Competition. Many others will build similar cars, if Tata is successful. Thats not an easy thing to do. If it were, we would have had similar cars here ages ago. Even as of now, not too many are taking up the challenge.
I think that the car has the potential to transform Indian roads and transport. Previously, here and here.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
And some stupid concerns to address. Am surprised that the usually optimistic Businessworld is looking at some of them. Ravi Kant in his interview in the same magazine has all the right answers though...
Monday, July 30, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
Largely picked up the thread from this post here, very aptly titled - Infosys finds Thailand.
In much the same way that TCS has found Mexico, UK, Poland and other companies have found other shores like Philiplines (and we still arent talking Sri Lanka). So, while it is a nice thing to worry about Chinese dominance in software, IT services; it might come as a good news (or bad depending on which side of the fence you are on) that Indian IT companies are spreading their footprint all over the globe. Chances are, with their processes and controls, they could cut costs just about anywhere - not only in India. And with their establishing of centers at other low cost centers around the world, the age of the Indian services MNC could finally arrive.
I am optimistic...
Link from Atanu Deys blog, written by Tarun Vijay. A fantastic piece, if ever there were one.
''I used to know a man whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II. He was a German Jew. They owned a number of large industries and estates. I asked him how many German people were true Nazis, and the answer he gave has stuck with me and guided my attitude toward fanaticism ever since. "Very few people were true Nazis," he said, "but many enjoyed the return of German pride; and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us; and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp, and the Allies destroyed my factories."
We, as a nation, as a community take pride in sitting on fences bordering on indifference and we almost market it as our forte. You see that everywhere, we are proud to be on the fence - you can start with the NAM, on terror, internal security - so much so, that even in the corporate world today, very few, if any take a stand. Vacillating is almost our national identity and it is not doing us any good.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I am stepping out of my turf here and what follows is mostly a few observations about the government work culture - of course thats an oxymoron, so there.
The bank officer position was once, a coveted position that one looked upto post graduation. Bright candidates approached the bank examination with as much seriousness as many bright candidates approach the IIT exam today. Indeed, for many, their ambition in life was to become a grade something bank clerk and then become an officer. Those were the heydays of the benevolent government being the largest employer.
But walk into a government bank (since this post is really about them, customer service sucks in most private sector banks too, but thats another story) and you can count on one hand the number of times you have had a good experience. The whole culture is based on incompetence. Thank god for ATMs, otherwise to withdraw your own cash you had to jump hoops, walk through burning embers and then await your turn in front of a growling teller.
Now to progress in this career, it was a funny process. First you had to spend some time in a post as a clerk or something, then you had to write an exam and if you cleared you would be promoted and transferred as officer to some remote location. Nice perverse incentive that, if you see. Now here, it would have helped if the incentive was in clearing the exam and if you performed well, you get to stay at your preferred branch? But anyway.
two, three ways to approach this amazing scheme.
You gave the exam, you passed and you accepted life as it came in a remote location. Worst choice that saw you juggle family life, bureaucratic norms, local thugs and bad transport. (I know of a few who have endured this.)
You gave the exam, you passed and you used your charm
influence (letters to the powers that be among other things) to stay in the same branch.
You avoided giving the exam and decided to remain a teller (or clerk) all your life. But every once in three years or so, you had to attempt the exam, which you did and somehow failed (now thats difficult right!). So, you remained a clerk and had your regular increments etc.
A nice culture of incompetence was created and nurtured. So, you had a lot of staff who knew they werent going anywhere and who couldnt care less if you had to withdraw your money and go anywhere. And if you were ever a regular at any of those bank, you knew which teller to avoid and which teller to go to. Simple solution no? So, the efficient teller got saddled with tons of work while the grumpy chap got to share recipes with other staff.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Will an afternoon newspaper succeed in Bangalore, as it has in Mumbai? I think it will be a toughie, though, there are possibilities either way. I picked up a copy recently and it brought about some nostalgia from my earlier Bombay days, but I haven't picked up a copy after that, primarily because it is not accessible and its been a while since I read a newspaper in the day after flipping through the morning one.
Here are my thoughts...
- Culture - the IT culture is a youth culture, so Mid-days irreverent reporting would help it pick up, but entry into the tech campuses, mostly wired and internet driven will be tough.
- Work environment - Mumbai has a significant set of industries that after the early morning hyperactivity cool off at noon (financial sector). Here, that doesnt exist. Here you are either slogging or totally at leisure - I exaggerate, but am pretty close there.
- Coffee houses, colleges - surely drivers and they exist in ample numbers here
- Public transport with enough room - Pretty bad in Bangalore, so that would be tough, but private transport networks of companies can be a good idea if Mid-day can get a distribution channel opened through them. Crosswords, Sudoku are popular here and given the traffic, have a lot of potential.
- Enough point of sale places - Unlike Bombay, except for traffic signals (and traffic jams) much of the other intrastructure is absent or has to be created differently in Bangalore. No railway stations or a thousand paper shops, so newspapers will have to create kiosks.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
A standard question asked at most restaurants in India is this. Fair question considering that the margin in bottled water is a nice one to add to the margins that exist on the food.
But this question goes to those who ask and answer it.
Are you telling me, that the water that you serve in your establishment is not potable? I am sure you dont cook your food in mineral water? Or is it just scare mongering?
And for those who happily tell them, bottled water, how do you ensure that the water in those juices, salads, other food items is bottled? Out of sight is out of mind? I know, like most people you believe that food has boiled water and hence it is safe, but therein lies an assumption...
Scene from a roadside bookstall in the muggles world. Yesterday morning, the faithful lined up at 6 am to get their hands on the latest Harry Potters saga.
Today, he was sighted at the roadside in Bangalore. Not sure if the stall had it yesterday. In the picture is the book which is "standing up". The saving grace is that collectors, would never settle for cheap pirated copies and thats why, there is no line at this shop.
These roadside sellers are, but the plankton in the large food chain of organized (s)muggling and piracy racket, so the big fish are pretty big. How about a nice spell on them?
Update: Spell is cast...
Saturday, July 21, 2007
This is a sign you will see often in India. I have seen it at Railway ticketing counters, bus ticketing counters, retail shops and many other places. Any place which has an electronic system of any type can be held hostage by it.
Many years (not that many) back I used to work in finance for a company. We had a few banks where we somehow distributed whatever money we did not have. 3 of these were "super-efficient" private sector banks, but as a legacy of the promoting business house we had one dowdy government bank to deal with.
Each morning, when we called to check our balances, the three private sector banks would say, "Our systems are not up yet" or on other occassion, "our systems are slow", but the dowdy bank never had such an issue. Sure, the staff was almost anti-customer, but their systems were never down. They would, at glacial speed, look at their ledger and let us know the balance and most of the time the answer was "same as yesterday." Needless to say, we took full advantage of float...
But the point is, the system is increasingly becoming an excuse to offer less than good customer service and many of those who work in "systems" organizations know that systems dont go down so fast - especially simple point of purchase billing systems - which creates doubts in the entire customer experience. Which is bad, because the system is supposed to make things work.
Now, having said this, do you have a plan B, when your system fails? If you dont have a plan B to make the system work (and considering you expect your system to fail once a few days), you better have one or else your customer will have a plan B.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Communism is alive and kicking those who are alive...
The commies (or their lookalikes) down south in Kerala have discovered the connection and a solution to
world peace and happiness Reliance retail entry and a chikungunya epidemic. Its a strike.
Last heard, they had called for a strike opposing Reliance's entry (so that people buy from pure communist outlets) and then they realized that some of their comrades may be capitalist
sheep wolf in communists wolf sheep clothing. Of course, they are - what did you think, they were into politics for social self service? The number of successful politicians who do not have business (read evil profit) interests can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Then, the state had an outbreak of chikungunya. Instead of organizing for relief, the opposition (or ruling, it is the same mindset except for the name) decided to, you guessed it, strike. (This is amazing, it looks like they postponed the shutdown due to rains! Logically then, if it rained more in Kerala, it could attract more business, since there could be no strikes.)
Please all you Keralites (and West Bengalites), if you stopped voting for these idiots, our country would be better off and your states would no longer be Jurassic Parks. Imagine if these dorks ruled the country.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Link, via Core77. Something, we in India are familiar with as an emerging market. In a nutshell, it is this...
Many manufacturers want to break into emerging markets in a major way to develop and sell their goods, but simply making minor adjustments to their existing products isn't the best route to long-term success.
Yup, we know that, dont we. Most of the times you gotta go local and talk to the people who you expect to eat, wear, listen or drive your products.
Ask those many brands that thought we would roll over and die for foreign brands. Start with MTV which came in with rehashed programming only to go local and how. (Of course, dont forget the pioneering effort by Quick Gun Murugan of Channel V).
Ask Nestle and it will tell you that Maggi Masala flavour is the biggest in their stable and ITC which will tell you that Masala Pasta is a hit. Or ask Lays which has a multitude of Indian flavours. Ask McDonalds which has a huge vegetarian menu here - do ask for McAloo Tiki and if you are in Mumbai, dont bother, just try Vada Pav. Try introducing real Chinese food in India and you will know once you taste the local footpath version, without market research, why it will flop.
No country wants a hand me down brand or product or depreciated dyes being used to produce for them. And yes, as the article, says, ask Nokia and their 1100 - the phone with a torch that is one of their highest selling models in India.
Waiting when Xerox can launch a 'emerging' market photocopier after observing copiers at work at Xerox gully.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Actually, its Flag Telecom that did the actual acquisition of Yipes - but Flag is owned by Reliance. I was not planning to blog about this, but I found a post at Venture Beat, which prompted me to post a word on it. The company is into corporate ethernet services.
Venture Beat almost heaves a sigh of relief on this acquisition. Many others had tried and failed, until Crosslink Capital managed a turnaround and it has now been picked up by Reliance.
Reliance communication is using Flag well, especially for the calling cards for the Indian (probably pan Asian) commuity etc., though I am not sure they are doing too much more with it but with Yipes, it has killed two birds with one stone. I can sort of see how this fits in the Reliance model. Reliance provides infrastructure for companies in India, Flag is the link between India and the US and Yipes provides infrastructure in the US. Now, think offshoring network management, providing global networks and theres a lot of juice that can extracted out of this... (This is purely my 2 paisa, so dont hold me for it, but it sounds logical). Smart!
Monday, July 16, 2007
A bit late in the day perhaps, but worth posting nonetheless. Sunita Williams: An Indian space odyssey is an interesting read, though I am not quite convinced its an Indian space odyssey.
But this interview - my guess and take - summarizes it all. I am not trying to diminish her achievement. Its a great achievement indeed.
But to gloat over it, as if it is an Indian achivement is as great as rooting for Monty Panesar or Shivnarine Chanderpauls achivements (I know they are demographically slightly different from Sunita Williams case, but stretching usually proves analogies better). The fact that their cricketing achivements would go into Englands or West Indians kitty and not Indias exposes the myth behind the "Indian" achievement. Achievement, it still remains.
Sure her origins are Indian, but read the interview published in NASA website. She grew up in Massachusetts and went to Naval Academy. What's India go to do with it apart from being her native land? And if thats a criteria, Monty and Shivnarines records should be added to our diminishing cricketing records.
I think she is American for all practical purposes as much as her achievement. The media, fed by the canard that we Indians are salivating to know how people of Indian origin are doing all over the world fell over each other to cover her achievement as Indias achievement. Her achievement is worthy of praise, not her roots. It is incidental that her roots trace to this part of the world to a person of Indian origin - incidentally in Ohio. India has no role in this space odyssey at all - our space odyssey started and ended with Rakesh Sharma and then on we have focussed on sending satellites into orbit, period.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
No pun intended. In realty reality, in an age of vending machines, real tea is difficult to get. In the olden days, companies employed canteen staffers to prepare tea (among other things). Not anymore.
As IT campuses evolved, vending machines took over the function of serving tea and coffee. Tea, Latte, Cappuccino all available at the press of a button. But tea bag teas have a limited appeal - after all it is not real tea.
Real tea has to be brewed. A sweetened milk, tea leaf combination is boiled for a longish time, and filtered and poured into cups as milky sweet tea. Thats real tea, not the machine made vending machine stuff.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Say IT in India and Bangalore and it immediately evokes sharp debates. One side, very rightly, feels that the work that happens in India is grunt work and the other side, very rightly, feels that this is an innovative business model. Both these are facts to a great extent, the second more so than the first.
The first is a fact, only because, there is no job that is pure superstardom, including superstardom. Ask Rajni or Amitabh, behind every movie (and successful will make it even rarefied) is a lot of grunt work.
Behind any software program is tons of grunt coding work. Behind every great musical composition or good write up are a zillion drafts and rejects. Behind every building that stands, is a lot of grunt work. A good theatre show packs in the grunt work of a thousand rehearsals. A nicely written editorial goes through a few proofreads and someone finds a typo. So, grunt work is a given. Can someone create a business/job/career without grunt work? Disagree with me if you like, but grunt work as a composition of "great work" or "aha moments" is pretty much constant for nearly all jobs. On the face of it some jobs have it more than others, but even there, outsiders feel that because of the difference in the definition of the "aha" moments.
So, software has its "aha" moments, as does a call center job; as much as there is an "aha" moment for a teacher's job or a driver's or a cop's or a typist's. Just that you and I may not know about it, or appreciate it. And, in any case, as I have argued before, the primary purpose of a job is to enable you to make a living out of it. If you are dead, you dont need a job, much less a satisfying one - aha!
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
What started off as a post on tech jobs, got converted, somewhere in the middle into something else, which I will post later, but I was able to gather my thoughts together again.
Lately, if you are someone who is following Indias IT industry closely, a change has been happening. You will feel good if you, like me, are one of those who believes in this industry and its ability to make a change. If you are unlike me, rubbing your hands in glee everytime there is a predicted slowdown or yet another report says why Vanuatu will leap ahead of India in the IT, then this piece might come as somewhat of a dampener.
When this industry started off and I mean the IT industry, Infosys, Wipro and TCS were rarefied places to work in. They swaggered across the IIT campuses, got the best students. Today this seems unlikely, but in the early 90s, this was the case. Today the Infosys and Wipros do not get too many IIT students - except in some of their high end departments. Was it only because of the snob value that IIT students got into Infy. I think not. The challenge there was that it was an emerging business model and many of them who are there even today will tell you how much of a challenge it was. As the companies grew and recruited more and more, they lost their charm to the high end students, mostly because the job in itself did not hold a challenge and by then the model had been fine tuned into a production machine.
Today, look at the recruiting list in the IITs and the NITs. You will not see a hundred or a thousand, but a handful of them make it to the Googles, Microsofts, Yahoos and some of the other high end tech and product companies. They get in as coders and programmers who at some point will create new products, architecture. These companies pay them well, very well, but before you get those social benefit calculators remember that that only if they make the cut post multiple rounds of rigorous interviews and discussions will that happen. (Much like it was getting into Infy in those days - good pay after a few gruelling interviews- it is still not easy, but on a relative scale, easier.). Is it only snob value at play here? No, these companies work on the cutting edge of technology. Each day they push the net a little more, with that new product, new tweak and then some. These guys are busy redefining the world you and I live in - I obviously exaggerate, but it does have that potential.
The point that I am trying to make is that the Indian IT industry, even as we speak, is undergoing a transformation. A few years back, it was common lament - with some degree of truth to it to hear that the Indian IT industry does not have space for techies. Indian IT was known to convert the best techie into the worst manager. But with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo coming here, the tide is changing, slowly. You want to code for the rest of your life, go ahead. From here, will spring the seeds of some more new IT product enterprises, much like Infy and Wipro resulted in the creation of many small IT service companies. Indian IT will be known for its tech prowess, more than ever, over the coming few years.
Monday, July 09, 2007
Surprised at this report? I wouldn't be.
There has been a recent talk on how the credit card lifestyle is a drag on the Indian economy and how it is the ruin of the new generation. But, very clearly, that is some infinitesimal percentage. But this report is not really about that.
Cash withdrawals are more than credit card spends. Why? Simple. The economy runs on cash. Daily purchases, maids, vegetables, restaurants, medicines, groceries, movie tickets (Sivaji, included) are all purchased on cash.
Cash = no receipts. Many doctors/establishments charge you more if you ask them for a bill (bet those who wrote the report did not know this). Insist on a bill and the first thing they say is that they will add VAT (it is mostly "VAT"ever they feel like) of 12%. So, for getting your legitimate bill, you have to pay "their share of VAT." Restaurants - how many times do you take a bill from a restaurant? And the payment is in cash anyway.
And there in lies a tale, a tale that this blog has been talking about over the past few weeks. The cash economy - the economy which does not exist. And for this economy, we have to take money out of our bank accounts and pay in cash from which point the trail simply goes cold, for the taxman.
Friday, July 06, 2007
There are two types of car manufacturers in the world.
One, which argues that a 1 lakh car cannot be built.
The other, which is already building it.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Just a few days back, I managed a visit to Reliance Fresh and found that the prices there were comparable and sometimes lower than the "market" prices. Businessworld, this week, also carries a piece on "Green Evolution" - a must read.
As I have mentioned before, organized retail will bring more prosperity to the farmers and better deals the consumers. Meanwhile in Kerala, they are trying their best to prevent progress - how - they have called for a strike.
And did you know, contract farming is not, entirely, er, um, legal in this country, yet.
The Centre has asked all state governments to modify their legislations on lines of the Model APMC Act so that farmers can be benefited, and the marketing practises could be reformed and fine-tuned to the level of international standards, FICCI pointed out.
If farmers can be benefited, why havent states done so? Most of the states, however, have not introduced the required amendments and even the states who have amended the Act have not notified it, the survey said... The FICCI survey recommends that purchasers should be allowed to procure directly from growers and set up private market yards. On this issue, Maharashtra has initiated amendment, which can be followed by other states.
Embezzling, fraud, siphoning money from cooperative banks have near legal status, contract farming, on the other hand, can get you into jail.
Anyone in India who is into health foods, will know Bagrrys. It is in the business of health foods. Oats, Muesli, Wheat bran etc. Heres a piece from The Hindu Businessline on the same.
My take - watch out for this brand - it is a powerhouse in the making.
The amazing thing and I did not know this till I read the piece - they were basically a flour manufacturing company and even now they supply cornflakes to the biggies - but never market cornflakes themselves. Talk about flanking brands.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Car sales buck interest rate hike, it says here in Business-Standard. Coincidentally, it all seems to be at the higher end, newer launches. Choose one of the following:
High end car buyers are,
a - immune to interest rate hikes
b - do not take loans to pay off their vehicles
c - pay in a magical way that somehow interest rates do not matter. (hint, hint)
On a related note, BS also says that real estate scrips have taken a beating thanks to the interest rate hike. Only partly true. Interest rate hikes only deter those who take loans for property. There are signs of oversupply in the real estate market too. Plus, the colour of money in this sector is more off white than any other sector and no washing power will do the trick better than real estate.
Now, Mutual Fund firms are crying hoarse that the PAN norm will hit them. They claim it is the implementation of the PAN that is tough - since they target low income groups. But the same article also says that the low income groups share in MFs is really miniscule. Now I am totally confused.
The same thread links all the three things. The colour of money and it aint white.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Two pieces in the last one week had Ludhiana in the headlines. Coming in soon after the salaried class post, it just goes on to show how money is out there, untaxed. One, about how the McDonalds there has been sending a crore of VAT collected. It is the largest VAT contributor despite having only a share of 10-15% of the market. So, have a good idea on just how much VAT is evaded or worse, collected on the pretext of VAT, but does the vanishing trick. Data on almost any town/city will result in a similar result. It is good that organized eateries/businesses like these proliferate - atleast it ensures in better tax collection. What it also shows is that there is a huge market out there - the cash market, very close to the black market that is untaxed.
The other piece, is on Mercedes in General and Ludhiana since it boasts the highest per capita ownership of Mercs in the country.
Not just in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai — even Ludhiana has around 750, the highest density of Mercedes cars in India in terms of per capita ownership.
Be that as it may, you cannot hide a Mercedes - not under your bed or from statistics. So, there you go.
Within first five months of this year, Daimler Chrysler India has sold 1033 cars, at over over 200 every month. Not a small number for a product which targeted at the top most echelons of the society in a country that now flaunts 83,000 millionaires as per the latest World Wealth Report.
In 1999, the company sold barely 740 cars. But in the last few years, growth has been continuous and impressive. In 2004, the company sold 1815 cars. This number increased to 1915 in 2005. There was an increase of over 10% in sales in 2006 when the sales touched 2121 cars. So on average, in the ten years of its operations in India, the company has sold anything between 18,000-20,000 cars.How about a Merc index of tax compliance in India, followed closely by a Skoda-Pajero-farmhouse-politicians index of tax compliance and then some before the finance minister unravels his latest scheme for unearthing more taxes from those who already pay?
"Idli Vada, Khara bhat, Chow chow bhath, Dose, Rava Dose" he rattled off at a high speed. It is a practised ritual. Breakfast menus are notoriously similar, so the rattling off is almost offhand and for a practiced breakfaster, the ear drum registers the breakfast menu offhand, without as much as looking up from the newspaper.
"One plate idli-vada and a coffee." Dheeraj said nonchalantly.
Exactly three and a half minutes later, came the piping hot idlis - two of them, tangoing with a vada on a green leaf within the confines of a steel plate. Two bowls, one chutney, one sambar slid off the tray to the table.
Dheeraj bit into it with the hunger of a elephant finding a three sticks of sugarcane after a few days of going without food. "Of course, breakfast is about breaking a fast, fast" he reasoned.
"Where is the coffee?" He wondered and looked around for the waiter, who was busy reeling off the menu to a couple at a far off table.
Dheeraj motioned to another waiter, but he did not bite. Waiters, unlike countries, politicians, families never step onto each others turf. He pointed Dheeraj to the waiter who had now moved from the couple to a couple who were unable to decide, on their breakfast.
He decimated some more of the breakfast in front of him. After all, the best time to eat both idli and vada is between a specified temperature range and it cannot be reheated. Beyond that it is like the previous days newspaper. They temperature was still good at last bite.
He finally got the attention of the waiter when during the course of getting discreet attention, his waving hands caught the top of the glass of water causing it to spill on the floor.
"Getting it sir." he said, pointing to his food.
Two bites into the food and there was still no sign of coffee at his table. He looked around. The waiter and other waiters were serving coffee to quite a few patrons. Surely, it was not a shortage of coffee or milk that was causing the delay.
The temperature range was rapidly going down and his idli and vada were getting cold. He could picture the coffee appear on the horizon just as he was about to gulp the last mouthful of a slice of idli and a piece of vada.
"I have been asking for coffee for such a long time."
"But you finished your food just now."
"I want my coffee with food."
"That is not possible, Sir."
(to be continued...)