Sep 27, 2012

This day, last year

I've been meaning to write this post for quite a while and it has taken me a year to put down those wonderful memories into words. Memories to be cherished for a lifetime! Memories to be revisited whenever I want to gather some strength in life when I can proudly say "I did it!"

Experiencing labor pains and the transformation into a new mother - something that every woman goes through in her life which is very, very special. Around this time last year, I was having severe contractions and was immediately rushed to hospital. My husband was driving the car while I was holding my brother's hands tight. I never thought a speed breaker bump can be so painful when in labor. We reached Cloudnine hospital around midnight. The gynecologist confirmed that my labor had started and I was 4 cm dilated.  Since we had booked our room earlier, I immediately got settled. With each passing minute, the intensity of the pain was increasing. A glass of mosambi juice gave some temporary relief. The nurses came every hour or so, checking my blood pressure and other necessary parameters. Around 3:30 AM, the pain was severe but labor wasn't progressing much. So they gave me a choice to take a pain killer shot which would help me to get some sleep. I took it and slept for a while though I could still feel the pain every 5 minutes. At 8:00 AM, my gynecologist came and gave some medications for me to proceed with labor. For the next 2 hours, I was screaming with pain and yelling at everybody. Thankfully, things went fine with no complications and I delivered a beautiful, tiny baby girl. The nurses in the labor room were very helpful. My hubby was present with me, throughout the delivery and that was so comforting.

The nurse placed my little angel on my chest and she immediately started crying. That's supposedly a good sign. After checking her initial parameters, they wrapped her up in a clean, white towel and brought her to me. Our eyes met for the first time. I made a promise to her that I'll do as best as I can in my new role as her mother.

The medications and the recovery process made me feel so exhausted the rest of the day. I wasn't sure what was going on around me. The night was extremely tough with my daughter continuously crying and we had to call the nurse every 5 minutes. The nurses in Cloudnine were very helpful and supportive.

Sleepless nights, sudden crying sessions (both me and my baby) and emotional swings were all the after-effects in the next one month. It took me a while to actually lift my daughter with confidence. Slowly, the anxieties of a new mom came under control. I have never been so grateful to the power of Internet as I have in the past year. Even my silliest of doubts had an answer somewhere on the web.

From the beginning, I was very determined that I'm going to nurse my daughter exclusively and will not give her formula milk. I firmly believe that's the best gift a mother can give to a baby. Thanks to the Almighty, I'm still able to nurse my baby and it's been such a satisfying experience for the past one year. The introduction of solids has been an exciting and challenging phase as well. I have made sure that I give her home cooked food and not packaged foods. One thought that keeps pushing me in the right direction is "Choose what is right for the baby and not what is convenient to you".

As months passed, her milestones like rolling over, sitting, crawling and standing brought in a lot of joy and excitement. I can't wait to start walking with her, have conversations, play "Monopoly" together, answer her list of questions and many many more. But this first year will always be the most special one.

Sep 19, 2012

the third time

Before you proceed any further, read this blogpost of mine to get some context.

Now, the third time was indeed a charm. After the disaster that happened three years ago, I made proper kozhukkattais this time for Ganesh Chaturthi. I'm so happy that they were edible. The shapes could have been better.

I planned quite well in terms of risk mitigation. Less quantity of raw materials to begin with so I don't waste them if at all it didn't turn out well. I also prepared a backup offering for Lord Ganesha in the form of moong dhal payasam.


After the kozhukkattais came out well, I felt I could have made more of them. The sweet tooth was asking for a couple more pieces. Unlike me and hubby, our little daughter is not into sweets yet. I just gave her a small piece and her facial expression indicated that she didn't like it. I said to myself, "her reaction might be different next year". Hope so!!

Aug 21, 2012

The unusual lullaby

What better way to dust my blog than to talk about one of the not-so-famous gems of Rahman's music! I fell in love with this song around the same time when I fell in love with my soul-mate (my hubby). It's the title track of "En Swaasa Kaatre". I used to listen to this song continuously while working and waiting for my hubby to come to office (We both worked in the same office and he used to work in evening shifts). Now after many years, my 10 month old daughter loves this song and it's her favorite lullaby. As I rock her in my arms gently swaying, she goes to sleep peacefully, with this song repeating in my iPod.

Very few musical instruments, a gentle beat, the mellifluous Veena interludes and the soul-soothing raaga, all blended together with Chitra's amazing ah-hmm-la-la-s flowing like a stream in a serene forest. She takes this beautiful song to greater heights. Though I felt the essence of this melody could have been captured better in the picturization, I just love this song and can listen to it a million times.




Apr 26, 2012

Learning Python

Before I get into the "how" part of learning Python, let me first list down the reasons on why I am learning Python:

  1. First and foremost, my resolution for 2012 was to focus more on Create rather than Consume. Learning a new programming language was one of the list of action items I had listed earlier
  2. Being a stay-at-home mum, the thinking time periods are more these days, during the times I feed my daughter or rock her to sleep. Random ideas pop up now and then, and I want to be able to quickly create something. Of course, the time to focus on such ideas and spend some quality time on execution is really rare, given the circumstances
  3. I want my brain cells to remain active. Working full-time in a job alone shouldn't become the sole reason for my brain cells to get exercised
  4. My prior programming experience was mainly on PL/SQL and SQL in the databases world. Though I had learnt Java long time ago, I'm in no mood to go back and upgrade. I want to experience something new in the programming paradigm
  5. Having read a few blogs on Python's ease of programming, faster learning curve and data processing capabilities, I decided to learn Python

Whenever my daughter takes a nap in the afternoons or when she sleeps early in the nights, I decided to do my learning. I downloaded Swaroop's e-book "A byte of Python" and started reading it. He has covered the basic concepts so clearly that it gave me a good revision of object oriented programming fundamentals. I also ensured I tried the examples and exercises diligently. After finishing his book, I started loving Python. It's definitely a no-non-sense language !

I believe learning becomes more interesting if there are different mediums and sources from which one can learn. Having read an e-book, I decided to go through the Python video lectures hosted by Google. The lecturer Nick Parlante keeps you really engaged and takes you through the concepts of Python step-by-step. I have always had an aversion towards regular expressions. But through his lectures, I finally understood regular expressions and did some interesting exercises in Python. The more you code, the better you learn - after each lecture video, there are a set of exercises you need to complete. It gives immense confidence as you breeze through them. I still remember the night when I was solving one of the exercises and felt thrilled to be "in-the-zone".

Having learnt the basics, I was looking for some advanced concepts to learn in Python. Many programmers have recommended the e-book "Dive into Python". I appreciate the fact that the author has given a real code snippet and then goes about explaining the concepts based on this snippet. It makes learning much more serious and engaging. I'm one-third through this book and hope to complete it by end of May.

I'm enjoying this slow and steady programming journey with Python. I would love to hear comments from experienced Python programmers on how I can take my learning to the next level.

Apr 19, 2012

Review of bigbasket.com


I have been a regular customer of bigbasket.com for the past 3 months. Since frequency of my purchases are quite high, I want to share my experiences. With a little baby at home, it's very difficult for me or for my husband to go to the nearby supermarket for our weekly grocery purchase. Moreover, the fuel charges for commute and most importantly, the time required to step out and buy groceries, vegetables and fruits from the nearby shops (please note the plural word) made us look for an alternative. Thanks to twitter, I discovered BigBasket through one of my tweet acquaintances.

This is my unsolicited feedback.

First the pros.
  • Shopping for groceries is highly convenient. I just can't be more happier about the time it saves for us.
  • Cash on delivery - the payment method I prefer for products like vegetables/fruits where product quality cannot be guaranteed
  • Friendly return policy - no questions asked. I have returned vegetables and dairy products a couple of times when I wasn't happy about the quality. Such occasions were very few, though
  •  Delivery guarantee - when I fix a time slot, they deliver promptly. Once when it was delayed by 30 minutes, they returned 10% of the order amount
  • Vegetables are fruits are very fresh. Bread and Dairy products are always within the expiry date.
  • Coming to the product -
    • very easy-to-use, no clutter, no ads
    • organized catalog of products. Initially, navigation was a bit clumsier and one could get lost in the individual product description page and wouldn't be easy to get back to the category page. They seem to have fixed it now, with the breadcrumb display.
    • Time slot that I have blocked used to get released earlier. Now they have fixed this problem and I can hold onto a slot for 5 minutes.
    • Notifications are perfect. I get an email and an SMS as soon as I place an order. When the order is to be delivered on a particular day, I get a SMS notification again which is useful
  • Being an early customer, I get a 10% discount on the order value. That's a good savings for me.
Now, the cons.
  • When I place an order for a certain list of items, I expect all the items to be delivered. Many times, there were 2-3 items that were either unavailable or weren't delivered. If I need to visit a physical store to buy these items, then the whole purpose of ordering from an online store gets lost
  • The other irritating issue is the quantity. I'm not sure if the delivery guy (or the person who packs the items) even looks at the quantity of an item ordered. If I order 2 packs of a certain item, he delivers only one.
  • Because of these issues, I always go for cash-on-delivery so I don't have to pay for items that were not delivered
  • Search box - doesn't give me the items I search for, though the items are available when you navigate through the menu. For instance, search for Coconut.
  • Product names do not support multiple languages
  • As I mentioned earlier, I get an SMS on the day of delivery but the SMS doesn't contain the amount that I need to pay. It would be good to get this data so I can keep the cash ready
  • My Shopping List - I find this feature to be totally useless. It is a huge list of items that I have ordered since my first order with no categories or any form of organization. It can be categorized based on the same tab structure or based on my frequency of purchase
  • Good-to-have feature - An event can be added to my calendar if I have scheduled a delivery on a specific time slot.
  • Ability to edit my order placed - Would be good to add/modify a few items to an existing order. There can be a cut-off time before which an order can be edited
  • Order status - orders which have been delivered weeks ago still show as "Ready to ship". What's the purpose of this status then?
  • Last but not the least - the plastic trays they use for packing vegetables and fruits look trendy and neat but also a serious concern to our environment. I would be more than happy to return those trays if they can reuse them.

Apr 18, 2012

Product Management in the E-Commerce world

If you are planning to take up a product management role (or similar such role) for an E-Commerce organization/startup, here's a list of pointers for you to get started, assuming the product is already launched. Hope this list will help you get a head-start in your new role and will give you some direction to think about where and how you want to take the product forward:

Current state of market for the product category to be sold
     - Target segments
     - Estimated market size
     - Buyer personas

From a customer's point of view,
     - Why do customers purchase this product category? What problems does it solve for them?
     - What decision criteria do they use to evaluate before making a purchase?
     - How do customers purchase this product?
     - What are the different channels? (wholesalers, retailers etc)
     - Purchase frequency
     - What issues they face
          - during the product discovery phase
          - during the purchase phase
          - during the post-purchase phase
     - Which of these issues are very important to your target audience?

Your E-Commerce product
     - What is the product vision?
     - Who are your competing against?
          - Online world
          - Offline world
     - What is your USP? Differentiating factors
          - as compared to other online players
          - as compared to offline channels
     - Supply chain - the entire chain of events from the time consumer visits your site, creates an order, makes payment until the time the product is actually delivered

Similar products / Inspirations from other markets

Who all are involved?
     - Suppliers
     - Logistics providers
     - Packaging providers
     - Payment gateways
     - Content editors
     - Web hosting solution providers
     - e-commerce platform (if not built in-house)

Revenue model
     - from customers
          - Markups on products
          - Payment related charges
          - Shipping charges
          - Convenience charges (Example : Express delivery)
     - from suppliers
          - Commissions on sales
          - Channel signup charges
          - Products hosting charges
          - Payment related charges

Your product
     - Key principles/focus areas
     - Transaction path
     - Registration
     - Search
     - Catalog
     - Product description
     - Shopping cart
     - Order creation
     - Order confirmation
     - Payment
     - Communication
     - Collaboration/Sharing
     - Referrals
     - Compatibility with Non-PC devices (smart phones, tablets)
  
Suppliers
     - Hiring/On-board process (Self-serve / Assisted)
     - Signup
     - Product catalog upload
     - Preferential catalog display
     - Price management (Markups / Discounts)
     - Marketing campaigns (Coupons / offers / promotions)
     - Sales analytics

Cost structure
     - customers
          - customer acquisition costs
          - discounts on products
          - referral incentives
     - content providers/editors
         - content charges (description, pictures, reviews etc)

Engineering
     - Product Architecture
     - Data storage
     - Caching
     - Deployment
     - Backup/Recovery

Launch plan / Go-to-market
     - Awareness
          - Teaser campaigns (Signup offers, Limited invites)
          - Social media campaigns
     - Sustenance
          - Coupons/Discounts
          - Affiliate marketing
          - Strategic partnerships
          - Organic search
          - Search Engine Marketing
          - Display ads

Product Performance
     - Tracking analytics
          - Page views
          - Number of searches
          - Unique users
          - Referral sites
          - High demand products (product categories if selling multiple categories)
          - Number of successful transactions
          - Number of failed transactions
               - Failure reasons (dropouts, payment failures)
          - Average Transaction size per product category
          - Registered users
          - Transactions from new users
          - Transactions from returning users
          - Device-specific trends (PC and non-PC devices)

I found this article which I stumbled upon recently to be very useful for product management in the e-commerce world - http://www.beingpractical.com/2012/03/23/what-has-product-management-got-to-do-with-ecommerce/

Would love to hear your comments/feedback if I have missed out something more.

Apr 3, 2012

Try it out !!


An article I had written on "Product trials":

Peter Drucker in his book "The Practice of Management" says "There is only one valid definition of a business purpose - to create a customer". In this era of globalization, many different brands are eying for consumer's attention at the same time. So it becomes essential for the brand to try different strategies for building awareness about its offerings, thereby creating a presence in the mind of the consumer. One such strategy that has been in existence for a while is to give consumers a chance to try out the product. 

The “trial” strategy gives consumers a first-hand experience of the product, which helps the brand to develop certain associations in the minds of the consumers. The recent Nescafe ad starring Vir Das illustrates this aspect where the primary focus is on getting new consumers to try out their “first cup of coffee”. This ad appeals to the target segment – the current youth generation. The protagonist  speaks out his mind without any inhibitions in front of a celebrity (Karan Johar). The messaging clearly emphasizes to the target audience that it's time they get started with their first cup of Nescafe which is just Rs.2.

Brands execute their trial strategies at the point-of-purchase. The trial packs are being offered at leading supermarkets and retail stores. Either a brand representative or a store salesperson locate the interested consumers and offer them a free sample. The sample pack of the new fruit yoghurt brand “Danone” is offered to consumers who visit the dairy section of a leading supermarket. If consumers like the taste, they can pick up the actual packs from the dairy section.

Brands also lure consumers to encourage product trial by offering freebies and lucky draw coupons. During the last ICC Cricket World Cup, Hyundai came up with an offer where people who test drive the latest Hyundai i10 car were eligible to receive two free tickets.

Product trial is one of the predominant customer acquisition strategies in the digital world. Customers can either try the product for a limited period of time or can access limited set of features of the product. Many of the latest SaaS (Software as a Service) products prefer the latter approach so that customers get a hands-on experience with the product's limited set of features and at a later point of time, customers will opt to upgrade their product access to a paid version. The features that are offered free should give a real feel of the product and at the same time, create an anticipation that there is more value to the remaining features which fall under the paid version. Zoho, one of the popular CRM software providers offers a free version of Zoho CRM which the IT decision makers of businesses can use to evaluate the product.

Online brands also try to acquire consumers by offering discounts on purchases for consumers who register with their site. Consumers get to try out the online product and understand the offering when they register. International fashion brand retailer theprivatesales.com ran a campaign where consumers were offered a Rs.200 discount on signing up with their site.

Conversion of trial to actual consumers is the metric to be captured out of these trial strategies. Increased conversion will happen when the experiences from product trial create a positive attitude in the minds of consumers and they are willing to take the next step of buying the actual product. The trial experience should act as a trigger towards actual purchase. It should help the decision making process of the consumers when they compare brands. 

Brands should ensure that there is no variation in the quality of trial packs and actual packs of the product. If the trial pack has created a positive experience but the actual pack didn't cater to the same expectation, it will trigger a negative association towards the brand, which will destroy the brand equity in the long term.

Trial offering creates a promise which the actual offering is expected to deliver. It should demonstrate the value so clearly that consumers are able to make an objective decision when making the actual purchase. Trial-ability is one of the characteristics that helps in the diffusion of innovative products. Marketers need to take advantage of this product characteristic and design a product sampling programme to increase awareness and drive adoption.

Mar 29, 2012

Breaking unwanted habits

The last two years have been a good experience in terms of breaking a couple of habits which I no longer wanted to continue. I felt it might be useful to share my experiences here for people who want to adopt a similar change in their day-to-day routine.

For years (from 2004 to 2009, to be precise), I used to be a big fan of Lays chips. Whenever husband and I went for grocery shopping, we would pick up a few packets casually and dump them into our shopping cart. Though husband would try different flavors, I would always go for the cream cheese & onion flavor. Every evening, as soon as we come from work, we would dig into a pack of chips, sitting in front of the idiot box. In no time, the pack would be emptied. Isn't Lays chips a pack of air with a few potato chips thrown in?

With sedentary lifestyle, no exercise and no diet control, my body became very inflexible. Thanks to my genes, my weight wasn't increasing though. So in 2010, we decided to stop eating Lays chips. Call it, the New Year resolution or whatever. It required certain amount of will power but we completely stopped eating Lays chips. The idea was very simple - when we go to a supermarket, we consciously avoided the aisle containing chips and other savory items. It's better to avoid the sight of such foods and getting tempted by them.

But something had to be substituted in place of chips, isn't it? The hunger pangs would start immediately after we step into our apartment. We started to buy a lot more fruits than we usually do. Yes, they are on the expensive side. But it's better to spend on something healthy rather than eat junk food and spend later on for hospital bills and medicines. We also started eating whole wheat biscuits (McVities, Nutrichoice) and believe me, they go very well with tea.

As we talk about tea, my most favorite beverage in the world, I should also mention about coffee. I'm a coffee person too. During college days, my dad would prepare fresh filter coffee using the traditional coffee filter. I always rate it as my most favorite. While I was working for Yahoo!, there were times when freshly prepared filter coffee would be served right at your desk (good old times, I say). After a while, when the company started expanding, the fresh filter coffee was still available but you would have to drop by the cafeteria. I didn't mind it, as it gave me an opportunity to take a short walk. Coffee used to be the perfect accompaniment while having a quick chat with a colleague or a friend at work. I moved to Cleartrip and the serving-coffee-at-your-desk privilege came back again. Though I always prefer my morning beverage to be tea, coffee began to enter into my routine much more frequently. I wanted to stop this caffeine addiction. A reason, no better than pregnancy helped me to break this habit. Ever since I realized I was expecting a baby, I stopped coffee completely. If it was an addiction, I couldn't have stopped it so easily. It was just my mind tricking me into thinking that I need caffeine in order to be alert and productive.

For 8 months last year, I did not have a single sip of coffee. Though I have read that limited coffee (upto 2 cups a day) will not affect the growing foetus, I decided not to drink it. Even when I had gone to my dad's place, I said No to his amazing filter coffee. My daughter was born and the nightly feeds began. There were nights when I slept at 2:30 AM because my daughter couldn't sleep. I had to keep myself awake in order to feed her. So I restarted the coffee habit but ensured I don't drink more than a single cup in a day. Now that the frequency of nightly feeds have reduced, I have stopped coffee again. The ability to decide what to have and when to have and sticking to it is such an empowering feeling. Sometimes, we just go with what the mind says or asks for.

I always strive to be the master of my mind but sometimes the mind tends to take over the lead. By being conscious and aware of my thoughts and actions, it's becoming easier to take control over the mind. Has this ever happened to you? How do you ensure to take the lead? Would like to know!

Mar 21, 2012

The vegetable vendor

Though I hate shopping in general, I love to shop for vegetables. The fresh produce, different colors and textures give a nice feeling and inspiration towards cooking. The supermarkets these days stock up different varieties of vegetables but sometimes they don't seem fresh. I hate the sight of packed ones because invariably, there will be one or two veggies that had gone bad. I'm the sort of person who like to examine each vegetable and pick the ones I like. Moreover, we end up with more plastic because of the so-called-modern habit of pulling a plastic cover for each vegetable. If I ask the salesperson who weighs the vegetables to combine 2-3 varieties in one plastic cover, he would give me one nasty look as though I'm asking for something stupid.

I have been shopping online for groceries for the past few months because I cannot step out of my home leaving behind my 5 month old daughter. Before that, I used to go to this friendly neighborhood vegetable shop. It's a small place, neatly stocked with fresh vegetables. The vendor who runs this place is a friendly person, always willing to suggest what has arrived fresh. Being a regular customer, he would immediately recognize me and my husband. The variety of fresh produce he had was just awesome, with many locally grown veggies and fruits which you wouldn't normally find in a supermarket. He allows us to take half a bunch of greens - ability to customize according to customer's needs. We used to carry a big jute bag where he dumps the veggies as and when we order. Sometimes, he would even suggest us to take more "why 800 gms of tomatoes, madam? take 1 kg" We couldn't deny, of course.

There have been discussions around how allowing FDI in retail will impact small vendors in the country. I strongly believe, given our habits and culture, small vendors will flourish, even when organized retail picks up big time. Their level of customization, personalization and just being friendly to customers can never be matched by the biggies.

Tips for moms-to-be

This post has been lingering in my mind for quite sometime now. Better late than never. 2011 had given me a lot of insights into motherhood and childcare. Though many of the moms-to-be and new moms might be aware of these, I want to share some of my learnings which might be of help to some of you. Please note I'm not a medical practitioner and so I would highly recommend you consult with your doctor.

Even before the stick confirms the happy "news", taking folic acid supplements is essential. Eating healthy, keeping stress levels low and taking adequate rest are required while you are planning to conceive. One very important point which I found quite difficult to practice while pregnant was to drink adequate water (3-4 litres per day). If you don't have this habit, it's better to start early.

I had severe nausea during my first trimester and the taste of food was sickening. I started taking lemon juice an hour before lunch and dinner and it reduced the discomfort to a great extent. A glass of buttermilk also helps. Since having a full meal is nearly impossible, it's better to munch on something every 2 hours.

Once the nausea reduces, it's time to focus more on eating nutritious foods. Include a lot of protein in your diet in the form of pulses and sprouts. Raw sprouts may cause indigestion and gas problems. So it's better to steam them for 5 minutes before consuming them. I'm not really a salad person. I'm used to eating cooked vegetables. But the dietician advises that one must include 3 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits in a day. So I would add raw veggies such as cucumbers, lettuce, capsicums, tomatoes and onions in my sandwiches.

I also started to include a lot of greens, especially spinach (palak) and fenugreek (methi). The gourd vegetables such as ridge gourd, bottle gourd and snake gourd doesn't give a heavy feeling to your stomach. So I usually cook them with lentils for lunch. Occasional binging on cravings should be fine. I used to have cravings for sweets and chaat items but I ensured I didn't eat too much of such foods.

As far as exercise is concerned, walking for 20-30 minutes everyday is advised by my doctor. But I didn't follow it religiously. I used to walk inside my home after lunch and dinner for around 15 min. Other than this, grocery shopping every week gave me a few more opportunities to walk. I kept myself active at home, with cooking and other household chores. So I guess all these compensated for my lack of doing pre-natal exercises.

Once you start your third trimester, it's better to start planning for the new arrival. The list of things I purchased before my little one arrived are:

   * cotton shirts/tops (for day wear)
   * bodysuits (for night wear)
   * sleepsuits (didn't find them useful as it didn't fit my daughter. Better to buy bodysuits and put on socks to cover the feet)
   * cotton nappies
   * diapers
   * blanket (it was winter when my daughter arrived)
   * sweater
   * caps
   * socks
   * swaddling sheets
   * feeding bottle (just in case of emergency)
   * towels
   * baby soap
   * rubber sheet

Things that I purchased immediately after she was born (wish I had purchased them earlier) are :

   * mosquito net
   * bucket and a mug (better to have a separate one for the baby)
   * baby lotion
   * baby shampoo
   * soap case
   * dustbin with a lid (for disposing the used diaper)
   * cloth drying stand (for drying the washed cotton nappies)

I had arranged a maid to give bath and massage to my baby. Since you might be recovering from your delivery, it's better if someone more experienced can handle the delicate newborn and give bath everyday. Once you feel comfortable holding your baby, you can bathe him/her yourself.

If you are planning to place your baby in a crib, spend time before hand to buy a good quality one. We decided to co-sleep with the baby since it's convenient for night feeds and my daughter feels secure. We tried the traditional cloth cradle but she didn't like it at all.

I hope these tips were helpful for anxious new moms. If you have any other queries, feel free to post them in the comments and I will be glad to answer them.

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