Nov 26, 2009

a sudden surge of memories

Dear Grandpa,

Your memories struck me all of a sudden in my dream during a quiet, afternoon siesta today. I woke up with your image clearly lingering in my eyes. It took me back to some of the best moments of my childhood during my days with you and Grandma.

As a playful kid, your strict disciplinarian rules made me hate you a lot. Now looking back, those days are funny; days when you chased me and my brother while we were climbing the guava trees, when we used to jump on the fresh sand you had bought for some construction work and so on. Although everyone else seemed to have ignored you or your words, for a change I was intrigued by you.

How did you manage to be so disciplined even when you were in your 70s, grandpa? I do sometimes struggle at this aspect at my young age, thanks to my laziness. I still remember those days when you never used to miss hearing the 6 o'clock morning news from your radio. Being self sufficient is something I had learnt from you. Managing your own type-writing institute post retirement, incentivizing your grandkids to get their help in correcting the typed papers, your whistle to announce to the whole street that there are mock exams happening in your institute, your way of organizing the corrected and uncorrected papers everyday and many more vivid memories. There were times I used to just sit in front of you and watch your habits keenly. Being organized and methodical is something I saw in you everyday.

Remember the time when you helped me with an essay competition in school! We sat together, gathered a pile of your old history books in front of us and you typed out a whole essay for me. Being in this Internet age, the essay you helped me write just by referring to your old history books now seems like a spectacular task, though it was very obvious to you then. I wish I had saved a copy of your hand typed essay.

Doing more with less is something I learnt from you, grandpa. You saved up one sided papers, you tried to reuse as much as you can. These habits somehow got internalized in me as well. Your excitement and fun during the event of Bhogi is still vivid in my memories. How you used to bring things of no use from nook and corner of your home so the kids in your home can burn them and have fun on Bhogi! I recollect those days when you were having a lot of interest in gardening and you used to give away bunches of curry leaves and drumsticks from your garden to the neighbours.

Although I didn't understand many of your words, some of them are making sense to me now. "Money gets more respect than people" - this is something you were murmuring every now and then. I didn't get it then but I get the deeper meaning of that phrase now. It's been a few years since you left your home to meet grandma in heaven. I have never returned to your home after that day. I cannot bear to see your home that personified you and characterized by these beautiful memories, now being renovated and remodeled as a modern day apartment.

I never got a chance to meet or interact with my paternal grandfather. You filled the gap in many subtle ways. Thanks for the many memories that made my childhood the happiest phase of my life.

Yours loving granddaughter.

Nov 16, 2009

Share the risk

It's interesting to analyze the low penetration of e-commerce in India from a consumer behavior perspective. Why are Indian consumers not really buying this idea of e-commerce? What are the critical factors that prevent them from becoming an actively engaged buyer in the Internet marketplace? Although the factors could be many, I would like to look at it more from a risk perspective.

Pick up any text on consumer behavior and you will come across this relevant concept called "perceived risk". Schiffman and Kanuk in their book on consumer behavior define perceived risk as "the uncertainty that consumers face when they cannot foresee the consequences of their purchase decisions".

Although Internet has become a powerful tool in enabling information search and content aggregation, many consumers still prefer to make the final transaction by visiting a store. There are certain uncertainties in the minds of consumer that need to be addressed.

Consumers think about the following consequences before transacting online:

- Is my financial information secure? Has the correct amount been debited from my credit card? What will happen if there is a network issue and the financial transaction between the e-commerce provider and my bank is incomplete? How do I resolve such issues?

- Will the product that I order be delivered on time? Will there be any issues with the quality of product delivered? What if I'm not happy with the product? How do I return?

The first set of questions can be classified under "financial risk" while the second set of questions can be classified under "functional risk" or "time risk".

How can e-commerce providers ensure the financial risks are mitigated? Although transactions using standard payment gateways are secure, the firms need to ensure the consumers are made aware of the facts in case of any issues. The e-commerce providers should take responsibility to enable safe transactions. In case of an issue, the provider shouldn't delegate the responsibility of issue resolution to the consumer. Instead, he can help the consumer in resolution by working with the bank and payment gateway providers. This will help a great deal in increasing the trust levels of the consumer. Completion of a financial transaction in a safe and secure manner is a basic hygiene factor that e-commerce providers should take care of. They should work with banks and payment gateway providers to identify and set the right performance SLAs.

The time risk elements can be alleviated by letting the customers know in advance when exactly the product is expected to be delivered. The e-commerce provider has to be specific with the timelines. Individual status tracking notices such as "Product dispatched through XXX courier service - tracking ID yyy" can also be emailed so the consumer doesn't get anxious.

Return policies and warranties should be provided to the consumer as part of the transaction flow so the consumer can review them and continue with the transaction only if he agrees with the policies set by the e-commerce provider. The risk levels could be reduced by being transparent and providing the required information as part of the buying cycle even though the customer may not have asked for such details explicitly.

As a service category, if e-commerce has to evolve and grow, these perceived risks ought to be resolved so that consumers find the service to be more credible and trustworthy. Unless these basic factors are taken care of, the industry will continue to face challenges in growth.

Navigation for your mind

I'm an ardent believer of mindmaps. I have been creating a lot of mindmaps in my professional and student life. Whenever I need to work on a presentation or a report on a relatively new topic, mindmaps have proved to be very helpful. As I read up on different aspects related to this topic from various sources, I create nodes with the information I have collected. After a thorough research, my mindmap is filled with little nuggets of information in a somewhat organized fashion. Once I sit down to write the report or make the presentation, I just need to refer to this huge mindmap and prepare the material as needed. This last step takes little time compared to earlier days when I used to open a document and start collecting my research notes directly and then organize the content in a presentable manner.

In projects or tasks where you have little prior knowledge or the outcome is not very clear, mindmaps help to take the next set of actions and capture the details in a single place. At present, I'm working on a presentation on an industry about which I have little prior knowledge. I have been doing a lot of secondary research, reading up market research reports and press releases. In my mindmap, the root node is the industry. The first level child nodes are market statistics, key players, revenue models, current differentiating factors and challenges.

I also have two child nodes -
- Ideas to capture my personal thoughts as I work on this project and
- parking lot to capture interesting tidbits and facts

These child nodes then branch further into more data and information gathered in the past few days. I also highlight important points as I build the mindmap. When I work on the powerpoint deck, I find it extremely easy to sort out the relevant details and organize the presentation.

I have two mindmap softwares in my laptop - XMind and FreeMind. Both are easy to use and very intuitive. You can also export the mindmaps to jpg files or pdfs.

Mindmaps help to sort out relevant knowledge from the overload of information we get from various sources. I highly recommend using mindmaps for any kind of research, exploratory or academic work.

Nov 12, 2009

Infinite blessings

My contribution to 3WW

monsoon rain tapped my windows
I opened, a flurry of drizzly rain
on my dry face and frizzy hair
a fresh feel, it was

hankered for such a moment
I stepped out, leaving behind
the colorful blue umbrella
with a dejected look

the empty roads, no longer murkier
an errant walk in the rains
dancing and getting drenched,
my palms gathering droplets

infinite blessings from the sky!

Nov 10, 2009


She is lost in her deep thoughts. The bamboo swing gently sways due to the cold monsoon breeze. The effects of the distant drizzle and the dark clouds creates a slight shiver but aptly alleviated by the steaming ginger tea held tightly onto her palms. The complimentary effects are sublime and soothing. Her gaze is directed at the tiny squirrel running on the grills of the balcony. "A very active creature", she wonders. Her woolen shawl wrapped nicely around her shoulders provides the much needed coziness. A pink colored journal and a blue fountain pen on the side table are her best friends in these pristine solitary moments. She rambles everything that was going through in her mind - her dreams, her wishes, the past and the present.

The doubtful sunshine peers through the dark clouds once in a while announcing its erstwhile presence. The gentle breeze transforms into a sudden wind, wiping out the dark clouds in a jiffy. The clear sky with patches of clouds interspersed in a random fashion becomes visible to her dreamy eyes. A sense of clarity emerges. She quickly picks up her journal and writes as though there is no end to her sudden realization.

"My morning walk around this beautiful lake gives me a refreshing feel. With the peak season in the vicinity, this lake will no longer be my possessed asset. I have to share it with the rest of the world. The motor boats will cause a deafening noise, disrupting the serene surroundings.

As expected, the peak season started and the tourists thronged from all possible directions. Some were in a hurry, picking up tickets for the boat ride, hiring the fastest motor boat and racing past everyone and experiencing the adrenaline rush as navigated by the boatman. Some were not so in a hurry but impatient, yelling at everyone to maintain discipline and stand in a queue. When their turn came, they chose a colorful big boat and a skilled boatman who can paddle very well. Some more people wanted to experience the ride on their own. They hired a pedal boat and slowly pedaled through their way on the lake. Their feet hurt a little with constant pedaling but they seemed to enjoy the pain in return for the pleasure of their self drive. There I was, standing amidst these different sets of people, wondering where I belong. "What kind of a boat do I want to hire? Is there a need for a boat? What is the higher order purpose of this journey?", I asked myself. Valid questions to ponder over. That's exactly what I was brooding over during those long morning walks.

With a few skills picked up earlier, I trusted my instinct and went back home to the basement. There it was, the old rugged canoe, unused and untouched for a long time. It was heavy but I decided to lug it over towards the lake. My shoulders hurt because of the heavy weight of the canoe but I was determined. "Let me be the one who rides through my lake", I made up my mind. The accessories were neatly wrapped around in a cloth. I walked slowly, panting for breath and took breaks every 15 minutes until I reached the lake. Having placed the canoe in a safe spot, I returned back home to bring the accessories.

It was my turn and I slowly pulled the canoe onto the lake, with a thick coir tied to a metal handle on the shore. At first, it rocked and looked like it was about to topple. But I balanced its position and slowly untied the coir. I clutched the paddle tightly and started to steer towards the direction I wanted to go. The old canoe seemed to have understood my intentions and we moved, slowly and steadily. After a while, my hands started to hurt but I started to appreciate the pain. We ventured out onto areas typically unexplored by the other boats - the quiet corners filled with white lilies, the low hanging mango trees on the sides of the lake. At some spots, I lost the balance and was about to topple but recovered at the last minute. I slipped into the lake once and was holding onto the edge of the canoe and after much effort, I pulled up myself and got onto the canoe. Quite an experience, I should say.

I paddled towards the center of the lake where the tourists were sitting on their row and pedal boats and clicking pictures. I waved at them and gave a big smile. Some of them responded by waving their hands while others seemed to be in a grumpy mood, either unhappy with the boat, the boatman or the journey itself.

After spending the whole evening, I steered my canoe back to the shore. The sun had already set. I looked all wet and dirty but the experience I gathered in the past few hours was rather memorable and exhilarating. It was my own effort using my own boat. I was in the driver's seat and I decided where to go and what to do than leaving the fate of the experience in the hands of a boatman. It was a satisfying ride and I went home for a peaceful sleep...."

Nov 3, 2009

Healthy breakfast in multiplexes

Years ago, when there were fixed timings for movie shows in cinema theatres (11 AM, 3 PM, 6 PM and 10 PM), a bag of popcorn and a glass of pepsi were an ideal combination to munch and enjoy the movie. With the proliferation of multiplexes, there are shows at different timings starting from 10 AM. Some of the screenings are at odd hours - for instance 12:30 PM show. It is too early to have lunch prior to the movie and too late to have lunch after the movie, especially if the movie runs for 3 long hours. The same problem occurs with a Sunday morning show at 10 AM. Sundays being the only days where most of us get a chance to enjoy sleeping until the sun rays start to peep in through the window. Mornings are also the times when the ticket rates are relatively less expensive compared to other show timings. So what do we do? We end up waking at around 9ish, have a quick bath and rush to the multiplex without breakfast. Although popcorn and pepsi is the perfect combo, that's not healthy at all and can never replace a breakfast.

How about idlis chopped into manageable chunks that you can eat them using a fork while watching a movie? I'm not talking about regular idlis here but the different flavored ones like podi idli (sprinkled with spicy gunpowder) or whole moong idli that doesn't really need a sambar or chutney as accompaniments. Maybe, stuffed paranthas can also be split into pieces and sold as a pack. Before entering the cinema hall, one can grab a pack of these idlis or paranthas, enjoy the movie without the guilty feel of skipping breakfast and enjoy popcorn and pepsi during intermission.

Probably, Mr and Mrs.Idly can explore this idea further and test out this concept in prominent multiplexes like PVR or Inox.

Is this a plausible business idea? Or am I just thinking about a painpoint I faced as a customer of PVR Cinemas?

Notes from Nasscom Product Conclave - Oct 2009

Last week, I attended the Nasscom Product Conclave on Oct 27 and 28. Although I couldn't attend all the sessions as they were overlapping, I managed to attend a few interesting sessions and panel discussions. Most of the discussions were focused on issues related to startups, business plans and GTM strategies. Focus on specific product related issues was rather missing. But overall, it was a set of useful discussions.

The twitter session was entertaining but I don't really agree with some of the strategies suggested by Guy Kawasaki in using twitter as a marketing tool. Bombarding the followers with interesting links will just be an overkill in order to add more followers. But Guy is an entertaining speaker and definitely a good marketer. I'm sure the number of pageviews to Alltop would have increased in the past one week.

Raw notes from the sessions below:

Guy Kawasaki's key note (The art of the start)
  • Put everything in the cloud
  • Ship, then test
  • Use TweetMeme in your blog
  • Forget venture capital
  • Niche thyself (I agree with this completely)
  • Don't let the bozos grind you down
  • Position yourself in a 2*2 where you are high on uniqueness and high on value
Workshop on Marketing and Branding Strategies for Product Organizations
  • "Product made in factory, brand is what customer buys" - David Aaker
  • "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win" - Mahatma Gandhi
  • Brand communication should make you relevant to your customer and different from your competition
  • Media and Public relations have been leveraged well by Infosys to build their brand
  • Three customers of your brand - Investors, Consumers and Employees
  • Consumer Experience - more important than brand identity or advertising
  • There is very little or no difference among products which creates the need to identify the unique value proposition (UVP)
  • UVP includes everything that engages a customer
  • Always stay in touch with consumer and buyer behavior
  • Product has become the minimum hygiene factor for all product companies. Uniqueness has to be derived outside the product
  • In the initial stages of the company, the brand is "YOU"
  • In many of the business plans, questions like "Who are you building the product for?", "Is there a need?" are not answered well
  • You need to justify the marketing spend in terms of RoI when you mention your marketing plans as part of your business plan. Calculate the marketing spend per acquired customer and the revenue gained per acquired customer
  • Keep asking "How will I get my first customer?"
  • There is a need for an evangelist within the company for brand creation
  • You need to identify points of dissatisfaction. You cannot sell to a satisfied customer
  • Customer service also helps a lot in building your brand. People don't have problems with problems but the ability to respond to problems and being honest about them is critical for a start-up
  • Keep questioning "Do I really want to build my startup in a crowded marketplace?"
  • During customer presentations in a B2B scenario, do not directly pinpoint the customer's inefficiencies. Let the customer open up and talk about the issues they are facing. Ensure you are able to steer the discussion to get the customer to talk and then explain how your product can solve the customer's issues
Panel discussion: Product Strategies in the telecom sector
  • VAS contributes to 8 to 10% of operator revenues in India compared to 20% in LATAM
  • Product Management capabilities needed in the sector to build products and sell to international markets
  • Identify the right partners in delivering end-to-end solutions. Ensure there is effective agreement on content aggregation with providers
Keynote by Pallab Chatterjee - MD and Operating Partner, Symphony Technology Group
  • Curtis Carlson's definition of innovation - Creation and Delivery of new customer value in the marketplace with a positive return for enterprise
  • Value proposition identification (using NABC model)
  • - the important customer Need
  • - the unique, compelling Approach
  • - the superior, customer Benefits per costs
  • - when compared to the Competition
  • Innovation Index = Value/(Cost*Time)
GTM strategies for product startups
  • Web presence more important in the consideration stage of buyer lifecycle
  • Product knowledge and passion to sell are just not sufficient for selling
  • Connecting to end users should be continuous either through newsletters, new product releases etc
  • Ensure enough efforts are spent towards sales resource readiness
  • Price = Value = Perception
  • Tools for GTM
  • - Affiliate Marketing
  • - Paid Search
  • - Organic Search
  • - Free Trial
  • - Brand advertising
  • - Email
  • - A/B testing
Panel discussion on Accelerating Product Innovation
  • Innovation must be to India what quality is to Japan
  • Mindset towards innovation - deference to the developed world, deference to industry giants and deference to industry and market trends
  • Innovation starts with a challenge and capabilities are acquired next
  • Deference v/s Positive Irreverence
  • Secondary research or brainstorming not sufficient to validate a new product idea

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