Monday, 27 October 2014

How much I wish I were not a Luddite!

I was a nerdy kind of a guy by the end of engineering when it came to my brush with the latest technology. I was the kind of guy who used to rip apart my age old Pentium 3 with a whopping 192 MB extended RAM just because a tutorial suggested some weird pin configuration, I was also the kind of guy who after occasionally playing with XP skins went on to try all kinds of Linux dixtros. Alongside, I had a happy Nokia 2600 and life was mirthful and full of joy when it came to technology. Any new accessory brought that jubilant feeling alongwith it and my first usb data dongle was a smash hit(well for me at least!). For someone who moved from a 56K dialup in 1999 to such astonishing speeds that were now accessible from anywhere, life was more like an Elysium. I embraced every rapid advancement and I welcomed every move on the microprocessor market which was rabid with a host of announcements by that time. It was more like a nirvana, getting so much in so less, getting happy people shop for their stuff in the nearly venerated Nehru Place and the nearby Laxmi Nagar markets. And then suddenly, as if to vanquish my dream of mellows, came the era of tabs and smartphones. 

Those wonderful days
The world had a surreal attitude full of utter turgidity, with all kinds of modern cultures evolving around the use of these new devices. Selfies went on to become a cynosure, but there were many things that people started doing with their devices. Like ravenously watching some video on their literally larger than life tab even while taking an escalator and then nearly tipping off with no one around them to hold their hand because even the persons behind were engrossed in the brilliant effulgence of the tiny device. I couldn't bring up a number on how many casualties were reported with this cause but there would be many. What's more, initially this penchant which belonged to only a few, went on to become a passion for everyone as rates went going down and older devices had to go to someone. Markets expanded, consumers became more savvy, and I always lacked pace to catch up with the enigma. When asked why my smartphones(which wouldn't qualify in that category for many) appeared so squalid and laggard, I would stumble and regurgitate and come up with the reasoning of not wanting intrusive forces to take over my life. People found it too arcane and maybe and went back to a nearby store to buy another latest model to extenuate their bad mood on the disrespect my sore comments meant for the entire world of tabs and smartphones. 

The crowd that is increasingly shrinking
To avoid prevaricating again, I had to learn about the new phenomenon even though people were living it by now. The latest models, the latest launches, the latest announcements, the new entrants. I soon realized that except for some features, other parameters remained pretty much the same as for PCs. Although I never found focus on a L3 cache or processor performance being measured in flops. But sooner than I thought, I gleaned enough from online portals what processor is in, what model is selling bizarrely or what blemish a latest model has. And then I even expanded my horizon to tabs, the nascent phablets and all that argot that was a part of public parlance was still with me. But my smartphone(which still didn't qualify as one. Actually I still owned the same model) remained recusant and refused to leave me so easily. Actually I found it so hard to leave tech stuff that I still keep an old IDE 10 GB hard disk that had to be later replaced with a 40GB model just because the 10GB model had the look and a bravado of its own. So how could I let go of a phone? Never! But Alas! Technology struck again and the latest upgrade of WhatsApp(Which my smartphone, okay I wont call it one again, barely managed to run) left my unit incapable of running it anymore. Now WhatsApp is a desideratum, the last barrier between those who are normal and those who are recluse. So I finally had to budge and get what would finally qualify as a smartphone.

My enemies will do anything. Anything!
I spent a month making the final decision, dithering every now and then, seeing the looming trouble by spending more than 7k and still foreboding the trouble of making a historical investment which may fall out. So I was wary, apprehensive and I knew very well that I'm neither the bourgeoisie, nor the proletariat and hence my range would fall in the middle. It did and I could even hear the cash register rattle, even though I bought it online. I knew I'd manage how to use the device. I had years of simulated practice and I had sometimes dreamt of being able to do all on a smartphone which I did on the best PC available 3 years ago. Even though that best smartphone of its era would have costed me a portion of the bone marrow or maybe a kidney. So I knew that I may actually be entranced by the new device and be stuck in a never ending labyrinth of believing I was the boss and actually being a lackey. But courage and determination to get in the contemporary crowd, I had aplenty. I'll no longer have to keep up appearances, and now I would flash a unit of my own, so what if that in front would be far more superior. I could smell victory but humph!

Realities always jostle you up and so it happened again. My dream of blending in without a hitch, my long awaited entry into the sacred coven, all of that got quashed away. People had moved from one smartphone to two, both of which costed more than plots on moon, and some of them usurped my attempt of breaking in by having a large tablet on top of that. People also kept power banks like garrisons defending a post before actual military reinforcements arrive. The dynamics had changed as people still had the same money(economy just came out of a blenching, remember), but maybe these guys finally did sell their kidneys and marrows and traded their eyes on a future or a derivative. They raced past me again. Yes, they look frail and morbid. Who wouldn't after donating body parts while alive? But they fended off my attack on their impregnable fortress. They were seditious and they set my claims on fire, knowing I would never try again. Gnawing and agape, I stare at how many bags they carry to put in those devices, how they let go of that dream house down payment by sticking with a gadget instead, and how they won their joust against me. And all I'm left with after this humiliating defeat, is that same 1999 PC, a 2003 IBM laptop which IBM themselves would denounce as they sold off their hardware division and they hate it now, and some new age gadgets which were either outdated when I brought them, or went so after another day or two. How much I wish I were not a Luddite! 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The state of Indian entertainment industry.

For some reason when I watched all these TV shows and promos where the buoyant HNY team would come up with the glistening side of their movie, I knew this is going to be another letdown and I was pretty much certain that this one too is going to be another record grosser. As my clairvoyance was just in line with the predictions of millions of Indian audiences who never had the temerity to watch sordid cinema after spending hard earned money, but who still had to do so because there was nothing else to watch, I just knew all of that would happen just like it did with more morose ventures like Chennai Express, Dabangg and Dhoom 3 in the past. So in a nutshell, so sad is the state of our movie industry that you know a big budget movie is going to be absolutely bereft of any logic or rationale, you know it's a complete waste of money because your money will add on to the coffers of nincompoops, and yet you've no other option but to watch them because once in the glorious past you adulated the Khans and Hritik.

Then I switched to some other channels which I knew would be spreading muck. But I just wanted to test my perseverance for some reason. So one TV serial came up where a daughter of an erstwhile member of the show was being played by the same actor herself. Bewildered, I switched to another and saw that we've got vamps even in what was supposedly an adaptation of an age old epic. Akbar had a lugubrious second wife who is being portrayed as so devious that even her grave would be trembling right now because she is being slandered 500 years post her burial. So I switched to another channel where I saw a typical RomCom where comedy was amiss and romance was so dull and somber that I felt like switching to India TV to see how UFOs took away a few cows and how wannabes contemplate on whether the aliens are a little too enamored by their milk or whether the cow genes would be mutated and they be sent back to the planet to embroil all of us in a never ceasing infection. At least that has some drama and some unpredictability. Otherwise all you have is one vamp and one Adarsh Bahu who crumples under the tyranny of almost half the world's population. 

Then just for a moment, I got lost in reverie from the past. The vignettes from the golden days of Indian television and cinema. The gilt of a refreshing show like Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai which went down quickly alongwith the channel Star One just because it was too topical and uber. The kick you got when SRK ran his eyes through the Indian section on a map in the denouement of Swades and decided to come back. The way you jumped in joy when Bhuvan hit that winning shot in Lagaan. And then there are umpteen examples of how good these realms once were. Even today you get that occasional movie like Haider, but it barely manages to do as much business in its full time than HNY does on day 1. The best actors got swayed and winnowed by the wind of commercialization and all that matters anymore is gross earnings and TRP. 

What I've written maybe just a redux of what a lot of you may think and this might seem as just another palaver by a person who himself is no more than a minion and who is just raging opprobrium against the stalwarts. But what hurts me is the fact that even meaningful shows will have an audience even if it is small; and they in fact will have a cult following, unlike the viewers who don't remember the names of the characters once they're out of the darkness(literally!). Another thing to ponder upon is that though good movies come seldom, people will watch the sullen ones. It's just like an economy. Once you're in an economy of shortages, anything that shines is worth its weight in gold. And what lacks the enigma is discarded as being plain and bland. We do have ardent movie makers who fight this quagmire and make a GOW, but we are largely headed towards a very very sorry state of affairs as far as our brush with movies is concerned. We're getting more and more of them and every such movie soars new heights, I can only hope that some sense prevails and not every director and producer goes awry and just after the money. I just hope that some of them will continue making movies that imbue us with the feeling that we carry for a lifetime, so what if it seems a distant proposition now. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

5 entrepreneurship lessons to learn from Walter White!

I never believed that a sitcom based on a renegade would succeed in sweeping me off my feet. I've completed all the seasons before I could know and now I've come to realize that Walter White was not merely a character, he was a phenomenon, You knew Walter White's life was a ticking time bomb and he was just able to dodge and circumvent a few grisly turns. You knew his arrogance would knock him down, you knew that from the inside he was completely vanquished by his recurring cancer and it was just a matter of time. But yet you tarried on just to see how far Mr. White or Heisenberg, as he was fondly called, would go to stay afloat and to live another day of adventure and enigma. The story of a school teacher who earned a morsel 43k per year and who eventually rose the top of the drug distribution mechanism in a state that is known for debauchery and binge. Walter White did it all in those last 2 years of his life and gave us with some valuable business lessons to embrace and ensconce in our own ways and to help us become as profound as him specifically when it came to getting what he needed. 

1. You're never too old to start up!

It was his 50th birthday when he realized that his life's savings were never going to suffice for the needs of his family. A man who had given his all to the science of Chemistry and to take it amongst the school going fledglings and minnows to turn them into experts, was struggling even to have enough for his chemo treatment. If it wasn't for Walter's nimble thinking of starting out as a top notch meth manufacturer, he would have vanished in thin air and so would his family. So Walter White taught us that it does not matter how many years you've spent in the rut, you've still got enough in you to start a million dollar business all on your own. You just need the right idea and right partners. 

2. There always has to be a core value proposition 

In order to cut short sales and marketing budgets, word of mouth referrals can always be seen as a viable way for market penetration and also inducing brand trails. By including the cult blue color which came as a result of methalamine as an ingredient, not only did Heisenberg's meth became impeccably pure, it even got a strong brand association - the blue tinge. Meth heads soon started identifying the blue color with the promise of high quality and the product became an instant hit. What's more? The blue color even became an agent for inducing top of the mind recall. 

3. "Your business" v/s "The business"

You can always masquerade your actual business under the pretense of another business. This keeps your rivals from knowing what you're upto and they simply believe that your actual business is where you're seen. However, they never know where you're found. It's because behind the veil of what the world believes to be your business, you've got a business of your own. This prevents you from anxiously prevaricating any questions on tax evasion and other violations because your actual business is always clean. Moreover, you can also use capital gains in the core business to grow your identity business and even to diversify the risk. Walter White's car wash did just that. 

4. Look for a capable business partner 

No matter how good you are, you cannot run a multi-million dollar business all on your own. You need a partner who synergizes with your capabilities and talent and takes business a step ahead. You may have to capitulate to his demands but his expertise comes at a cost and so does his radical perspective on some of those tricky business decisions, Sooner or latter, you'll call upon the services of this partner to take care of various other aspects as the business grows. Like terminating a threat to the ongoing operations of your business. Pay your partner well and allow him some personal space to take care of his own needs. Also be open to endowing them with stock options and other sops. Even if that means embezzling your own product and consuming that. At least you've got an in-house tester who can vouch for your product quality and also deliver instant results on any new formulation experiments!

5. A ceo with big large glasses is capable of doing anything 

It does not matter what your usual call of duty deems mandatory for you to do or indulge in. Getting into a business means getting your hands dirty from day one. You may have to do those things you always considered execrable, you may have to deal with scurrilous clients who'll demand all sorts of caveats. But you have to keep going. You have to keep your ears and eyes open and have to remain paranoid. You also have to envisage possibilities for possible ingress into line extensions or even brand extensions. Walter White trading methalamine which was otherwise an ingredient, was one such instance. But as a ceo, you just have to be ready to execute any and every operation. Because then and only then do you become as prolific as Walter White and only then do you leave a legacy and fortune as big as that of his.   

Monday, 6 October 2014

5 reasons why FlippantKart is the new Palika Bazaar/Fashion Street

If you've ever meandered around in any of the above markets, you can probably come in terms with the association I'm about to draw. For decades these two markets have developed an indomitable reputation in the respective cities for being a perfect flea market. A place where glib sellers and gullible shoppers galore. A place where price tags of every deal are no longer a mere function of the cost or the price, but a function of factors that are beyond the scope of conventional trade. Sales are made at what are apparently jawdropping(Oops! Took this from Snapdeal) prices but then the goods turn out to be a facade. You prowl on the fact that your latest buy lost color after the first wash, also embroiling the remaining innocent clothes in the same laundry, or the fact that your 64 GB pen drive that you brought at a throwaway price kept attenuating in space till it dropped to 64MB of actual storage. In short, you get the best price for the worst thing. We already had one such cult market in every city and suddenly, a sane business model went topsy turvy and competed with these markets the other way. This time though, the product remained intact and its quality still supreme, what suffered though, was the price, and the junta of course! 

Every major daily had this front cover ad, the largest hoardings across the most prominent of places housed the Big Billion Day sale communication and this time, the pioneers when it came to taking ecommerce to TV didn't leave that avenue either. So effective was the strategy that even the nearest competitors Snapdeal and Amazon had to come with lucrative deals of their own to stay intact in the online marketplace. So consecrated was flipkart's promise that it made even the most phlegmatic of shopper feel sanguine about this one single day, slated to be the gamechanger in the Indian ecom history. And alas! It did change the picture forever. It did show how squalid market dynamics remain online, it did evince the fact that these models continue to remain not so sustainable, and it did show that even an established player like flipkart had to resort to deviousness and deception to gather its share. So despite the fact that a moto e was sold at 5499, 1500 below its usual MRP and that a few people claimed to have bought the Tab 2 at an unbelievable 1100, the Big Billion Sale was largely a farce, which left a lot many people bereft of what was otherwise quality time they could have spent with their family, friends or other much more rewarding pursuits. 

I woke up a little too late, knowing well in advance that sale starts at 8 and I had my regrets on getting a flurry of WhatsApp messages that said how people were grabbing the deal of a lifetime on shoes and headphones and what not. I later on found out only a handful of these people actually went with the excitement and brought something. Others quickly found out that better deals were already available elsewhere and in some cases, flipkart itself had quoted better prices than it quoted on this sanctified day. So, I simply tracked flipkart throughout the day and came up with 5 tactics that they applied throughout to keep buyers engaged. Just like the sellers at Palika Bazaar would set leather belts on fire to allure a passerby or those in Fashion Street keep jabbering or twiddling about theirs being the hub for best deals. 

Missing Reviews

One of flipkart's usps was its extensive network of ardent reviewers and the fact that reviews always reflected a veracious picture of true usage experience thereby helping prospective buyers zero in on what products to choose. By removing the reviews, flipkart made sure that the naive and credulous could have no avenue through which they could solve their qualms and make purchases with confidence. There was complete lack of information and one had to go by what flipkart said. I chose not to buy this cherubic Zebronics MP3 player that was even back then sold for a morsel 300 just because I read through the reviews that it was a complete disaster. Today, it's deal came @ 250 and I guess a lot many people brought it without knowing its obvious aberrations.

Disappearing Deals

Another doltish feature of today's sale was the way in which deals kept disappearing and even reappeared from time to time. Just like the flea markets in the title, you'd have a deal and when you click at it you find the deal doesn't exist anymore. In some cases, it might have been the product going out of stock but wait, it actually came back!

The not so best prices

Consider this pair of shoes. flipkart mentions with conceit that it's giving a 40 percent off on the entire range, which other competitors are giving already. Check for yourself!

Offers that never came through

And this riling section at the bottom of the site that claimed that a few deals a going to come up soon. While some deals did come through, most of them either got quashed in flipkart's back offices, or they were too evanescent to be claimed.

You call them offers

And finally, the three offers that were mentioned alongwith almost every product. Boastfully lined out on every deal, these 3 offer tabs lured many people to scroll to a deal to see what these additional 2 offers could be apart from the usual discount. And you find that it's specifically for a Citi or StanC credit card purchase and that too with basket sizes that were more often than not 5 times your acttual purchase value.

All in all, flipkart may deserve all the praise for being the bellwether of the Indian ecom industry and they're rightfully the leaders courtesy of theirs being the literal torchbearer for so long. However, the shoddy and sleazy job they did today, specially after being so good throughout these years, deserved its share of obloquy and opprobrium. I genuinely hope that SnapDeal and Amazon give flipkart a hard time in the coming days so that it never even dares to commit this self inflicted committal again.