Feb 10, 2020

Book Review: When coffee and kale compete by Alan Klement

As a product enthusiast, I have been exploring the concept of Jobs-to-be-done framework and its applications in building products customers love. The popular milkshake example by Clayton Christensen was such an "aha" moment when I read about it a few years back. I had jotted down a few thoughts on the same topic. Intercom's e-book on Jobs-to-be-done is a fantastic resource to understand this theory in detail. A few people that I have found to be sharing interesting perspectives on JTBD are Kathy Sierra, Samuel Hulick, Ryan Singer, Des Traynor, Paul Adams and Alan Klement. Kathy Sierra's Badass: Making users awesome is such an interesting book that I read a few years back. That reminds me, I should revisit it soon.

I recently finished reading this book on JTBD / Customer Jobs theory written by Alan Klement titled "When coffee and kale compete" (available on Kindle Unlimited).

If you are unfamiliar with the Jobs concept, the author takes the time to explain the need and context of why this theory is important in today's context. So this book could be the first step for anyone stepping into the world of JTBD. He explains the concepts along with relevant case studies of how various organizations have been applying this framework to create value.

The basic shift in the way we talk about "value creation" is summed up in this sentence
"Instead of attaching value to what products are, value should attach to what products do for customers."

In today's age of Creative Destruction, where new innovations disrupt the sales of incumbent ones and go on to replace them, Customer Jobs theory helps us to understand why customers buy a product to complete a Job to be Done. It is also imperative to not just focus on customers' needs and expectations of today but also create new systems that help customers make progress.

The author emphasizes on approaching Jobs as a way towards making progress. The basic premise that Self-betterment is a core human behavior helps us to unravel this idea "jobs-as-a-measure-of-progress" in a structured way. It makes sense across all use cases, irrespective of B2C or B2B.
What's the desire every customer has to improve themselves and their life situations?
How customers imagine their lives being better when they have the right solution?
"We can't build the products of tomorrow when we limit ourselves to the needs and expectations associated with the products of today. Instead, we should focus on what never changes for customers: their desire for progress."

The author defines JTBD as
"A Job to be Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever she aims to transform her existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop her."

The few key principles behind Customer Jobs theory are
  • Favor progress over outcomes and goals
  • Customers need to feel successful at every touchpoint between themselves and your business
  • Design your product to deliver customers an ongoing feeling of progress
  • Focus on delivering emotional progress and not focus solely on functionality

The case studies are quite detailed and showcase how the Jobs theory can be used across a wide set of use-cases. The chapters that talk about the four forces of progress - pushes, pulls, inertia and anxieties were quite insightful. Pushes and pulls are part of demand generation, whereas inertias and anxieties lead to demand reduction.

A few questions I had jotted down that I plan to use for my work:
What's the business situation that prompts customers to take action?
What are the struggles/aspirations that push customers to take action? => helps us to unravel the motivation for change
What are the events that influenced the customer to take action?
What does progress mean for our customers? Not just in terms of functionality, but also emotional progress.
How does his transformed life look like, after he has adopted our platform?
What other solutions have they tried? Is it a single solution or a combination of different solutions?
What did they like or don't like about these solutions tried? => helps us to unravel what they value.
From which budget will our product take money from? => competition is a zero-sum game
What are those triggering events that would push the customers move from the solution tried to a new one?

This book has loads of insights and questions that would make you stop and ponder. If you are an innovator, product manager, product marketer or startup founder, I'm sure you would have plenty of takeaways. I highly recommend that you check out this book.

Feb 9, 2020

FAQs on Millets

In 2014, I wrote an article on how to incorporate millets in your daily meals. Whenever someone asks me about millets, I point them to this article. It's been 6 years and so much has changed (for the better) with respect to millets - increased awareness, easy availability, tons of recipes online and proven effectiveness towards various health issues. I've been wanting to write a follow-up article to address a few questions that I get repeatedly on millets. I have compiled the answers below for quick reference. If you prefer a video version, I have made one (basic phone recording though). Or if you prefer the written word, continue further :-)

(1) How to buy millets?
When you buy, make sure you select the unpolished variety. Many supermarkets have polished varieties that are pristine white in colour, especially varagu(kodo millet), saamai (little millet) and kudiraivali (barnyard millet). 
Varagu is pale brown in color, saamai is pale cream-ish in color. Kudiraivali has tiny black spots on each grain. Thinai (foxtail millet) looks slightly yellowish. 

(2) How to plan and buy millets?
My suggestion would be not to overstock all varieties since I have noticed tiny black bugs infesting most of these grains after 2-3 months. For a family of 3-4, I recommend buying 2-3 varieties of 1/2 kg each.

I classify millets into two categories:
  1. Ragi (finger millet)/Kambu (pearl millet)/Solam (sorghum/jowar) - more suited for breakfast/tiffin items
  1. Thinai/saamai/kudiraivali/varagu/panivaragu - can be used for both breakfast and lunch
So I usually stock up 1 variety from the first category and 2 from the second category. This would last me for around 2 months, post which I would rotate the grains. This way, we get a variety of nutrients from these millets without any wastage.

(3) When to eat millets?
I typically include millets for breakfast and lunch. I don't prefer them for dinner as they are quite filling and take time to digest.
If you are new to millets, plan 2-3 meals per week where you use ONE variety of millet in your main meal. Take it slow. Observe how your body is able to absorb - whether you feel comfortable or not. Gradually increase the type of millets used and the frequency. After a year or so, you can plan for 1 meal a day based on a variety of millets.

(4) Can we mix 2-3 millets in a single meal?
Usually, it is recommended not to mix multiple grains in a single meal. But my answer is it depends on each individual's digestive capacity. If you find combining millets to be on the heavier side, avoid it. There are no hard and fast rules here, try and experiment with what works for you.
If millets are dry roasted and ground, it should be okay to include as a mixed millet sathumaavu kanji / porridge.

(5) Can we eat millets in all seasons?
Yes, definitely. A few points to keep in mind. Some of the millets tend to be heat-inducing IF consumed in large quantities.
Kambu/Ragi/Thinai - supposed to be heat-generating. So if you include either of them in summers, include cooling foods such as water-based vegetables, buttermilk and shallots along with your meal.
Solam - a summer grain. Can be easily consumed for breakfast in the form of idli, dosa, oothappam or paniyarams.
Ragi  - best suited during monsoon and season shifts. It helps to control mucus formation. 
Saamai - good for all seasons. Easy to digest. 
Kudiraivali - good for all seasons but since it is high in fibre, drink enough water.

I hope you find these pointers helpful. If there are any further questions, do let me know in the comments below.

Tang Orange Drink Review

Summer is nearing. And who else to remind this than a powdered flavored drink! The sponsored ad I came across this morning pushed me to write this down. Do note the tone of the message used. 

Adding Tang to water will help us in meeting the required 8 glasses to keep us hydrated. Wait a minute. Isn't this the same brand that was called out as misleading by ASCI in their May 2019 recommendations? Yet, the same tone continues. What's the point of regulations then?

Coming to the product, the first ingredient is sugar and 94% of the serving is nothing but sugar. Each recommended serving contains nearly 5 tsp of sugar (to be added to 200 ml of water). Artificial food colors are being added. And the actual orange fruit powder is only 0.8%. Where's the goodness of fruit here?

Let's look at the much highlighted Vitamin C - 24mg per serving, which pales in comparison to real natural foods.

100gm of gooseberry contains 252mg of vitamin C.
100gm of guava contains 220mg of vitamin C
100gm of green capsicum contains 123 mg of vitamin C
100gm of orange contains 43mg of vitamin C.

Water is all that we need to hydrate ourselves. Not sugar-loaded color powder.

Jan 30, 2020

Sugar free diet muesli review

The most common reasons that have led to the increasing adoption of breakfast cereals in India is that they are easy to make, quick, instant and convenient. Many of us prefer muesli for breakfast as the "perceived health factor" is higher. We might even choose the sugar-free version.

Muesli is typically made with grains, nuts and dry fruits in the proportion of 80:10:10. Let's look at the ingredients list of 3 popular diet/unsweetened muesli brands.

Baggry's no added sugar - diet muesli doesn't contain any nuts or dry fruits. Rolled oats and wheat flakes are the primary ingredients but the dietary fiber is only 3 gm per 30 gm serving. This is because the two ingredients are so highly processed that they are stripped off most of the fiber. Also, there are a couple of antioxidants that might increase the shelf life of the pack but what they do to our body needs to be understood.

Kellogg's muesli no added sugar contains a mix of grains with wheat and corn contributing to 40%. The dietary fiber here is only 2 gm per 40 gm serving. Do note that sulphite is added to dry fruits to maintain color. Sulphites are a trigger of asthma attacks.

Soulfull's diet millet muesli contains only 10% ragi. It contains unwanted ingredients in the form of stabilizer, palm oil and antioxidants. No nuts or dry fruits present. Though the brand claims that it contains 50% rolled oats, the dietary fiber is only 2.8gm per 30 gm serving.

In all these 3 brands, the sucrose value might be 0 but what about other forms of sugar - glucose, fructose, dextrose etc?
Highly processed, super expensive, low fiber, unwanted synthetic ingredients. Is this what we want to consume for the sake of convenience?

What's the alternative, you might ask? I have a super quick, filling, healthy and local recipe. 5 min is all it takes to fix this bowl of breakfast.
1/2 cup of organic red poha - wash and sprinkle water on it. Let it rest for 2 min.
Meanwhile, chop 2 bananas and an apple.
To the soaked poha, add grated coconut, 1 TSP of organic jaggery powder. Mix well, add chopped fruits, raisins, soaked chopped almonds and cashews. Filling and healthy no-cook breakfast. You can also add crushed, roasted peanuts.

Jan 24, 2020

How to reduce expenses through Home Budget Planning

As I mentioned in an earlier post, "Lifestyle" is a topic I wanted to write more about. The lifestyle we choose dictates multiple areas of our lives - our health, our food choices, clothing, weekend activities, our hobbies, where we live, where we work, how long we work, what BS are we ready to tolerate etc.  In the Tamil movie "Velaikkaaran" (Sivakarthikeyan one), there is an amazing scene where the hero would wonder how the expenses of his family have suddenly increased ever since his income increased. The following scenes where a salesman sells a stabilizer for an LED TV and how the hero thinks about past conversations about our mindsets are just brilliant. Here's that particular scene if you haven't watched it. What I'm trying to convey here is well narrated in this scene.

The rigor with which we focus on increasing our income is so high, but most of the middle and upper-middle-class families don't seem to have the same rigor when it comes to reducing expenses. I'm saying this, purely out of my observations. I'd be so glad if this wasn't the case.

Financial planners and personal finance-related thought leaders even go to the extent of saying "Stop thinking about expenses, think about investments". Choosing the right Investment portfolio is extremely important for securing our future, but at the same time, our future lifestyle depends on our present choices. I heard this quote many years back and has stuck with me - 
"Luxury once sampled becomes a necessity".

My point is that if we put some thought into what our current lifestyle is and how our expenses add up, we can plan out a strategy to cut down our expenses so that we can make better choices in terms of our job/career/life in general.

Do we really need Netflix?
Do we really need to take Uber/Ola every single day?
Do we really need to have that fancy meal costing Rs.2000 per person?
Do we really need expensive branded clothing to show who we are?

Only when we are aware of our monthly expenses, we can ask such questions and decide for ourselves. Given the numerous temptations, sales and discount offers running almost every week on every single e-commerce app, we can easily succumb to such deals on things we don't really need. And as our expenses keep rising, we try to increase our income, fight for that pay raise/promotion, accept all possible ridiculous work hours, take loads of stress etc.

Let's assume, you are convinced with my rationale so far and want to reduce your expenses. Here's a plan I suggest:

  1. Open a Google spreadsheet or excel. List down the broad categories of expenses. Add/update the categories listed below as per your family's requirements. Once you have listed them down, mark each of them under two categories - Fixed (F) and Variable (V)
    1. Annual
      1. Term Life Insurance Premium (F)
      2. Medical Insurance Premium (F)
      3. School Fees (F) 
      4. Car Insurance Premium (F)
      5. Locker Rent (F)
      6. Streaming services (Amazon Prime/Hotstar) (F)
    2. Monthly
      1. House rent (F)
      2. Maintenance (F)
      3. Electricity Bill (V)
      4. Water Bill (V)
      5. Househelp / Maid salary (F)
      6. Cook salary (F)
      7. Internet Bill (F)
      8. Mobile Bill (F)
      9. Landline Bill (F)
      10. DTH Connection (F)
      11. Streaming services (Netflix, Google music etc) (F)
      12. Milk (V)
      13. Newspaper (F)
      14. Groceries (V)
      15. Fruits & Vegetables (V)
      16. Eating Out (restaurants/order-ins) (V)
      17. Car cleaning service (F)
      18. Fuel charges (V)
      19. Commute expenses (Ola/Uber) (V)
      20. Gym membership / Yoga classes (F)
      21. Library subscription (F)
      22. Entertainment (movies, events) (V)
      23. Household item purchases (V)
      24. Personal care purchases (clothing, shoes, accessories) (V)
  2. Sit down with your spouse, look through past 6-month or 12-month credit card statements and other bills. Add approximate values for each month under the identified categories. Don't worry if you don't have the exact numbers. It is okay to start with some approximate figures for now.
  3. For those listed under the variable category, take an average of 6-month/12-month values. For eg, your monthly groceries average to around Rs.8000. Eating out expenses average to around Rs.5000 etc.

  4. Create another worksheet for Budget Planning - Variable Expenses.  Copy the expenses analysis sheet with ONLY the variable categories and the average values calculated. So now you have all the variable expense headers and the average values for the past 6/12 months.
  5. For the next month (say Feb 2020), think of a plan on which categories you can possibly reduce your expenses and how much you can reduce it. For eg, if your eating out expenses average is Rs.5000, see if you can bring it down to Rs.4000 in Feb 2020. Do this exercise for all variable categories and commit to a number before the beginning of the month. That's your Feb variable expenses budget.
  6. Collate all the daily cash expenses quickly in a notepad or an app. Once every week, sit down, look through your credit card transactions, cash expenses and update the expenses incurred under each category. For eg, the Budget for eating out expenses is set to Rs.4000. At the end of Week 1, you realize you have already spent Rs.2000. For the next 3 weeks, you would be more careful in not exceeding the remaining Rs.2000. 
  7. Do this work diligently every week. It doesn't take a lot of time if most of your transactions are via credit card. 
  8. At the end of the month, see if you have remained within the budget or exceeded the budget. If you have exceeded, identify the categories where you have exceeded the most. If required, adjust the budget to a reasonable limit for the subsequent month.
  9. Repeat steps 5 to 8 every month. Set a budget/spending limit for each variable category, track your expenses and analyze how the expenses fared at the end of the month.
  10. Regarding fixed expenses, for some categories, it is a binary decision. Should we need it or not? For eg, we decided to stop buying newspapers. So that category is no longer relevant to us. We take a monthly subscription for Netflix and renew it for a month once every 3 months. From my personal experience, it is easier to cut down variable expenses THAN fixed expenses.
Hope this approach is helpful to some of you. 

Many financial planners compute retirement corpus based on your current monthly expenses and then using inflation as a measure, they forecast a lumpsum amount needed by the time you turn 60. When I went to a personal finance workshop, the amount predicted by the instructors was a huge figure. They then go onto share about how much our income levels need to rise to save this amount. I felt quite perplexed at the end of the workshop. If our monthly expenditure is the key factor that determines this retirement corpus, why not simply reduce this value, keep our needs simple and not spend on extravagant/unnecessary stuff?

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