Feb 13, 2015

Why I like Olacabs and where they can improve?

In the past 3-4 months, I have become a regular user of Olacabs. Though I work from home, I do need to travel to meet customers in Bangalore as well as my colleagues in Pune. In the past, if I had to travel on my own, I would choose BMTC buses if I know the exact location where I'm supposed to go and there were well-connected bus stops. Or I would end up haggling with a reluctant auto-driver who never agrees to go anywhere (Seriously, how do these guys make money if they don't want to move at all?). Sorry, no self-driving for me - neither skilled in that department nor motivated to learn either.

Ever since I started to take Olacabs, I'm not too worried about traveling to different parts of the city. I usually travel during day time and I also ensure I share the SMS of the driver details with my husband. Glad they have also implemented a SOS feature to alert your emergency contact in case of any issue.

I recharge my Ola Money now and then, so there's no need to deal with cash while you are traveling. The invoices are sent by email and so you don't have to worry about paper bills.

The rates are reasonable (compared to auto-rickshaws) and they also run promotional offers where you get some good discounts.

I haven't faced any issues with availability of cabs (except once), which many in my social circle feel, is a big problem with Olacabs.

Yes, Olacabs has made my life a lot easier.  "Thank you all! Keep up the good work!"

The experience of a "tech product powered service" doesn't start and end with the mobile app alone. There are multiple important factors beyond the app that can hinder the overall user experience. That's where I believe Olacabs can improve further.

There's an inherent assumption by the cab drivers that the passenger knows the EXACT location and the EXACT route to take. I might know the location to a certain extent, thanks to living in the city for many years and Google maps. But assuming that I would also know the route is incorrect. There are many who may not have a data plan on their phones. Even if they do, there are frequent disconnections from 3G. 

A weird incident happened when I asked the cab driver to take a certain route. This road was full of potholes, which I was aware of. After some time, he turned to me and said "22 bumps so far". And then I realized he is counting them one by one, shaking his head and showing frustration on drivers who were driving slowly in front of our cab. I don't know what is worse - knowing the route or not? :-)

Recently, I had booked a cab to pick me up from Electronic City. I had given the exact address while making the booking ("Ride Later" option). For nearly 30 minutes, the cab driver was trying to reach my pick-up point. Multiple calls were made, couple of landmarks given but he couldn't figure out my exact location. After finally boarding the cab, the driver cribs that I need to provide him more landmarks and he had wasted nearly 16 km roaming around. What if a person new to the city wants to take a cab? Are they expected to know the location and landmarks in detail? The driver also mentioned that he doesn't get the pick-up address in his mobile app. This should be easy to fix.

If the driver cannot check Maps when he is not aware of the route, there should be a way to key in the destination and the app can narrate the route, in the language the driver understands.

The other area that Ola can do better is share the languages that the driver is comfortable with. In a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, this info would be very helpful, especially if we need to communicate our exact location and landmark. We can even choose Language as an optional parameter while booking a cab.

The important feedback which I have also raised to Ola separately in an email is that of unnecessary talking and questioning by the cab driver. This is even more uncomfortable, if you are a woman traveling alone. Why does the cab driver need to know where I'm going, where I'm working and when I'm planning to return? I usually don't respond if such questions come up. But I seriously believe Ola should educate drivers not to ask such questions.

Hoping to see these nagging issues being fixed and we get an excellent overall experience.

Feb 9, 2015

Baking Basics for Beginners

It's been a year since I got into baking and it has become one of my hobbies that I look forward to every weekend. I bake something atleast once a week, which my family really appreciates and enjoys the end results. Some say baking is therapeutic and brings joy. I totally agree!

This post is an attempt to help others who want to get into baking but don't know how. What's the first step? Buying an oven, ofcourse? Not really, some use pressure cooker to bake cakes but I haven't tried that method yet. I have a LG 28 litres convection microwave oven. There have been many debates on OTG v/s convection but for a small scale home requirement, I find convection oven to be perfect. It occupies less space and cakes/muffins come out good. The only regret is that I could have purchased a slightly bigger one, to make a bigger batch of cookies/muffins. For a family of 3 (2 adults + 1 child), 28 litres is adequate but for a bigger family, I would recommend you invest in a 30 ltrs+ model.

Next comes the accessories. Most MW ovens come with a baking pan/tava that you could use for baking pizza, cookies etc. For baking cakes, I have 3 pans - a 4" square pan, a 8" round pan and a medium loaf pan. I also have a muffin tin that can hold upto 6 muffins. All are made of aluminum and you can get them easily from any supermarket.

Apart from these, you need a mixing bowl, a hand whisk, a sifting plate and measuring cups. Any broad steel vessel/frying pan would be perfect as a mixing bowl. You don't have to invest in a delicate glass bowl. Measuring cups and spoons are a must and they are easily available too.

Now comes the basic baking ingredients to stock in the pantry - flour, sweetener and fat.

Before I ventured into baking, all-purpose flour (maida) never found a place in my grocery list. But it has become a regular now. I usually try to tweak the flour proportion with 50:50 wholewheat flour : maida so it's relatively healthier.

For sweetener, I usually substitute either sulphur-free brown sugar or organic powdered jaggery in place of white sugar. But I would suggest you to start off with regular sugar and once you try out a few recipes, then experiment with these substitutions ;-)

For the fat, I use either sunflower oil or rice bran oil for cakes and unsalted butter for cookies.

Buy good quality baking powder and baking soda. Store them in air-tight containers.
Buy good quality unsweetened cocoa powder. I use Cadbury. I have heard Hersheys is good too.
Also have vanilla extract handy. I usually buy a small bottle of Bush vanilla essence.
I prefer to bake eggless recipes. But if you don't mind eggs in your cakes, make sure you have some fresh eggs stocked up in your pantry.

Now, you are all set to bake.

There are loads of recipes available but figuring out which one to bake when you have the urge to bake something is the tricky part. Many days, I would happily browse one recipe after another, without realizing 30 minutes has whizzed past by then :-)

Here are some of the recipes (eggless) which I have tried many times and have worked out very well.

Banana muffins
Apple cinnamon muffins
Chocolate muffins
Lemon cupcakes

Carrot cake
Chocolate cake
Gingerbread spiced cake
Strawberry yoghurt cake
Chocolate nuts cake
Banana walnut cake 

Oatmeal raisin cookies
Ragi cookies
Cumin cookies
Chocochip oatmeal cookies
Jowar coconut cookies

Other minor aspects to keep in mind:
  • Ensure you have undistracted time of atleast 20 minutes before you get into baking. I usually bake when my little one takes her nap in the afternoons.
  • Baking requires multiple dishes/pans/cups/spoons etc. So if your maid/househelp has informed you of leave the next day, postpone the baking plan :-)
  • I usually don't ice or frost my cakes. The amount of oil and sugar that goes into the base of the cake in itself makes me feel a little worried on the health factor. But do try out icing your cake once in a while. It looks pretty and tastes yummy too.
  • Plan for power fluctuations if they occur in your home in a predictable manner. I have heard eggless cakes are unforgiving if power goes off in the middle of baking. So far, I have faced this problem only once (touchwood!) and the power came back in 10 minutes.
  • You can easily substitute with other flours and sugar substitutes to make healthier cakes. In any case, Home-baked ones are way better as compared to the ones available in the bakery.
Do share your comments if you have any questions. I'll continue to write about how my baking adventure is progressing!

Feb 8, 2015

5 lessons I learnt on startup scaling

Around 3-4 months back, I visited a new health themed restaurant to have lunch with my family. We were the only visitors that Sunday afternoon. The car parking lot right outside their entrance was completely free. We had a delicious and filling meal and the service was good too. They offered a nice spread (thali) with multiple healthy dishes. And the prices were very reasonable. We came back with happy memories of this place. I shared a short review of this restaurant with my friends in Facebook too.

Last week, we had some errands to run in the same vicinity where this restaurant is located. So we decided to have lunch there. To our surprise, there were no parking lots available. When we went inside, the restaurant was packed, with 2 waiters running around. I sat with my daughter in one of the free chairs, which a graceful elderly couple shared. Since we were hungry, we placed the order while waiting for the tables to free up. After around 15 minutes, a family left a table and we quickly grabbed the seats. The used plates were lying around for nearly 5 minutes and we had to "ask" the waiters explicitly to clear the table. There was a young lady, seated next to our table who was arguing with a waiter about the delay in serving food. It took them another 15 minutes to serve food for us. By then, my toddler girl was getting restless and wanted to run around. The even more surprising factor was that the menu had been changed, with reduced spread of dishes in the thali. The price had been doubled for less quantity of food. Though we gobbled up the food and would have eaten more, we were in no mood to top up our order, as we realized it's going to take ages for them to serve additional dishes.

When we reached the billing counter, there was still some more waiting time in getting the bill ready and making the payment. Overall, it was the exact opposite experience that we faced in the same restaurant, just a few months back. After this bitter experience, we decided not to go back there again.

This whole experience taught me five important lessons that startup founders need to keep in mind, as they scale:

1) Customers don't care whether you are growing or not. They expect the same level of service and experience that they received from you when you were a small, hustling startup in the proving stage.

2) It might be hard to predict the customer demand but there has to be some parameters that need to be well understood in order to meet the demand, as and when it arises. This is even more applicable for service based industries. What are the different situations/scenarios that would motivate a customer to reach out to your product/service? For instance, in the case of a health focused restaurant that's gaining popularity, they should be able to plan for certain demand triggering factors - a Sunday afternoon, no festivals/long weekend, first Sunday of the month, a New Year just started (early Feb is still new year!) when people make health based resolutions etc.

3) Understand the factors that are important to your target audience. These don't change whether you are small or growing fast. In this scenario, reduced portion sizes for higher costs, longer waiting times and service delays were the key issues that marred the experience. Healthy food is an important differentiating concept. But this factor alone wasn't sufficient. Also, more than the increased costs, the poor service levels really pushed us to the limits. I sensed the same feeling around.

4) It is not only important to understand your customers' needs but also to have a clear idea about your own strengths and limitations/constraints. In this case, since you know you have limited waiters, it would have better to stick to a fixed meal menu than provide for an ala-carte. Yes, ala-carte gives customers more choices and in the process, helps you to increase your prices but it leaves a bad taste if you are not able to meet the demands.

5) Last but not the least, one bad experience can render all your initial good efforts to wow your customers useless. Talk about the power of recency effect !

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