Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pseudo Indians

Even today Indians are living a pseudo life!

Be it color of the skin or language, we tend to 'ape' whatever the westerners do. Let me give some examples:

Fair is beautiful

When it comes to beauty in a person, it is often equated with how fair his or her skin is. Yes! It is unfortunate but a reality. Check out this advertisement from fair and lovely site. A girl, who is a theatre artist gets no audience because she is not having a fair skin. By using fair and lovely cream, she gets fair skin in 8 weeks. Followed by that she becomes a great artist. What is the message conveyed? Be fair, Be beautiful and be famous. When parents are discussing possible proposals for their son/daughter, the color of the skin becomes one important parameter for shortlisting a person.

In case of a person not having a fair skin, it is described as 'weatish complexion but beautiful'. Apart from being beautiful, fair skin is considered as rich, superior, posh and civilized. On the other hand, if any person is not fair, he/she makes all the effort in to become fair and join the bandwagon. They visit beauty paurlors frequently and make facials, apply high quality soaps,herbs,creams regularly to make them look fair. Read our advertisements, TV programs, matrimonial sites and observe our discussions about beauty. Almost all times we equate beauty with having fair skin.

When any person (especially girls) not having a fair skin, they have difficult time in getting married. I have numerous examples many of my friends and their relatives who's marriage proposal got rejected just because they are not fair. We seem to have developed an aversion towards having weatish/black skin. Why do we think so? Why can't we accept the fact that various factors (like genes, food, climate etc) determine one person's skin color. Why do we always try and make attempt to be like 'somebody else'?

English is great

I have had horrible experience when it comes to language. We appreciate English and given elite status to it. Especially in cities like Bangalore, English has become the default language of communication even inside houses. Parents are happy to see their kid communicating in English fluently and take pride in declaring 'My child doesn't know to read or write Kannada'. I am taking example of Kannada, because I live in Bangalore. I am sure that applies to other cities and languages as well. I am a Tamilian and started conversation with one of my friends in Tamil when I met him in office cafeteria. He was so annoyed me talking in Tamil and kept on replying to my questions in english. I don't understand the logic behind people feeling 'inferior' to communicate in their own mother toungue, that too inside our own country.

Let me top it up with some more stuff! I have seen many NRIs and call center folks using the western 'accent' when talking to fellow Indians. No matter how many years one lived abroad or take trainings,the basic accent cannot change completely. But why try talking with western accent? That too against fellow Indians? What are they trying to show up? On the other hand people living in town send their kids to English medium schools and spoken english classes to make sure that they are not left behind. From the childhood they are taught that talking fluent English something they should practice for becoming 'great'.

According to me, English is just another language, but spoken widely in the world. Given India's diversity its impossible to have one language for communication.While our diversity has its own advantages, we can't design a system like China or Japan, where the local language is used for every other purpose. As a country India is getting its competitive advantage mainly because of its English speaking population. I am writing this blog in English and use it for all my official communications. I also believe that English should be taught from primary schools level to make children connected to the bigger world.

That doesn't mean that I should glorify it and feel inferior to talk my own language.I shouldn't hide the fact that I am a Tamilian, in fact I am extremely proud to be. If I am having a 'thick' accent (especially pronouncing words like temple, program) thats my nature. Let me accept the fact and carry on. Let us embrace multi lingual education and make things better. We should learn from countries like Singapore, who have successfully implemented it.

Great Indian 'Copy + Paste'

The amount of pride we take in copying western things is really awful. Let me start with a simple example. During her recent visit to Mumbai, my sister got me a night pant (see picture below) for 200 rupees. The brand name says 'Adidas'. But there is a small white label named 'poonam garments'. What does it imply? We will create Adidas from poonam garments? Don't the garment manufcturer don't even have basic sense before copying the global brand name and shamelessly placing his company name just next to it? Is he so smart to make a Adidas pant for 200 rupees?


Starting from the night pant, we copy anything and everything from the west.Piracy is omnipresent and we don't spare anything: Company brand names, books, TV reality shows, movies, dress materials, music, computer software, MP3 players. In fact one of my friend's blog post was copied (from blogspot) and published in suleka.com with minor word modifications.

Apart from copying from others, we feel happy and proud doing it.

Anything from foreign is great

For years together, Indians believe that anything from foreign country is great.

Whenever I travel abroad, I get multiple requests from friends and relatives to carry one of the items like digital camera, laptop, iPod etc when returning. The main reason for asking this is to own 'something from foreign country' and show off to others. Even small things like shampoo, soap, shoes, chocolate, pen, notebook bought from foreign country is perceived as great.

We give more value to a support engineer living in USA rather than a core R & D engineer scratching his head in India. Any software engineer is of some 'worth' provided he had spent couple of years outside India. Nobody bothers about what type of work one does and how much real value he adds to the overall system. Just because a person is a 'foreign return' he or she is great. I personally know some community, who go abroad so that they can demand more dowry.

Thanks to IT industry,many foreign nationals visit India on business. Even if an entry level engineer from USA visits their counter parts in India, he gets a royal treatment. I have seen ten people trying to help the 'foreign' engineer to fix his laptop power supply. The same courtesy, helping nature just flies off when it comes to fellow Indians. Nobody gives way for ambulances; Nobody stops even for a minute to help during a road accident;

Conclusion

In the past 1500 years, we have not done any great innovation except a very few. We are trying to find some of the above mentioned factors (like fair skin, English etc..) and derive glory out of it. This glory is short lived and not sustainable. Indians need to shrug such feelings and work towards creating something real, innovative and original.

As long as it is not happening, Indians will continue to live a 'pseudo' life.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Startup city event in Bangalore

Yesterday I attended 'Startup city' event organized by SmartTechie magazine. More than 40 companies showcased their products and services in the event. There were many interesting keynote addresses and panel discussions held as a part for the event.

The event was kick started with inaugural keynote by Ashish Gupta from Helion Venture partners. He spoke about various stages/milestones of a startup and challenges at each phase. His venture capital firm has invested in many of the early stage entrepreneurial ventures. I have heard Ashish's pod cast some time back, but it was a good experience listening to him live. Followed by that there were some panel discussions with participants from companies like Microsoft, Sun, Amazon etc. I was not that interested in listening to them, primarily because they perspective changes (or rather looks out of phase) when big company's senior executives start talking about entrepreneurship.

The real cool thing was the product demos from many startup companies, who have built great technology products. Almost all of them have good product, have already raised capital (self/angel/VC funded) and gained initial traction with customers. I personally know the promoters of companies like Sloka Telecom and NGPay and it was nice meeting them, with their products in deployment stage.

It was 11:45 and I got back into the auditorium for the concluding keynote address by Rajendra K Mishra. He is an entrepreneur, turned activitist (by winning the Lead India campaign organized by Times of India). He is currently working on various private-public-partnerships and leading 'change India' campaign. He shared his entrepreneurial experiences in his keynote address, which was really scintillating. He started his first venture of selling imported American trailer houses to Japan. He came across crazy issues but successfully pulled it off. Followed by that venture, he built three ventures and made successful exits.

Then he started discussions about politics and the role of educated, urban Indians in that. He re-iterated that middle class Indians are the major culprits for the current state of affairs as majority of them won't vote. Added to that he explained some of the initiatives he has taken with politicians, bureaucrats, and corporates to make things better. If not for anything, he has got a great communication and convincing skills. With his clear headed thoughts, he will make a difference for sure.

Compared to other entrepreneurial/startup events, this was by-far a mature one I have seen. Loads of importance and discussions happened around raising capital, marketing strategies and acquiring initial set of customers rather than talking about "that great cool idea". I was also able to see and connect with folks from Open-coffee-club and Startup Saturday.

Last but not the least! The growth of event organizers (SmartTechie magazine) is been amazing. I have been associated with some of them from the time they launched their Bangalore edition in 2005. Initially started off with career workshops and tech career advising, the magazine has grown well over the years by covering various other aspects like entrepreneurship and professional networking. I had written couple of articles for them some time back. Hope will write some more in the near future.

It was a nice event packed with loads of energy, enthusiasm and passion. The first half of this Saturday was really worth spending out there.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My favorite WOMMA examples

After reading Andy's word-of-mouth marketing (WOMMA) book, I was thinking my favorite WOMMA examples. Here is the list came right on top of my mind

Example

Word-of-mouth strategy

Bata chappals

Pricing their products with ‘95 paisa’. (Rupees 199.95, Rupees 99.95 etc...). It has created hell lot of talking among consumers and even today. If not anything Bata has provided an interesting reason for people to talk about them. Costs nothing!

Virgin Mobile

Increasing customer base is the top priority of Indian telecom service provides. Virgin mobile has come up with their new idea of ‘paying for incoming’. Nobody knows about the intricacies yet. But it has already generated enough word of mouth among people by making them curious. Check out more details here.

Gmail

When they started it, only gave accounts to power users with some specific number of invitations. It created curiosity among others to get a Gmail ID. Added to that, cool features like unlimited storage created excellent word-of-mouth. Most of my friends are using Gmail today and hotmail, rediff, Yahoo are totally out of fashion.

Landmark forum

This is the best WOMMA example I can ever think of. For the seminar series, they won’t do any advertisements, campaigns, posters etc. Every person who takes the course, in-turn becomes an ambassador thereby bringing more people for future seminar series. Check out this link to know more about the course.


What are your favorites?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Toilets in Indian trains

Found this interesting information in Bangalore majestic station's waiting room:
Akhil Chandra Sen, a passenger wrote the following letter to Indian railways in the year 1909.

I am arriving by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much
swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I doing the nuisance
that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with 'lotah'
in one hand and 'dhoti' in the next when I am fall over and expose all my
shocking to man and female women on platform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur
station.
This too much bad, if passenger goes to make dung that dam guard
not wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honor to make big
fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big report! to
papers.

During those days there were no toilet facility inside trains and the letter made railways introduce them. Many times think 'what difference it is going to make?' and start accepting problems. On the other hand, when issues are raised against concerned people, solutions will start emerging.

Monday, May 12, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Word of mouth marketing

Author: Andy Sernovitz
Price : 24.95 USD

How smart companies get people talking?

As an engineer it’s quite possible to think everything from a technological perspective. Most of technologists think what if they have some ‘cool’ product they can build a business around it. In reality only 15% of overall product cost is spent towards engineering the product. Remaining amount goes for marketing, sales and support functions. No matter how much ever better the product is (in terms of technology, cool features, price and performance), if it is not marketed properly it will be a failure. Most of the technology startups fail not because of their technical expertise, but mainly because of their inability to market and sell the product. In fact, marketing determines the success or failure of these ventures.

Coming to marketing, quite some numbers of methods were invented over the years. For a startup/entrepreneurial venture (which is of my interest), its hard to invest heavily on some of the methods (like advertisements, campaigns, celebrity endorsements etc...) as it will cost them dearly. So what is the cost effective, yet most powerful marketing strategy startups can afford? The answer is 'word-of-mouth marketing' (WOMMA). Especially if you are trying to sell a consumer product/service to retail customers, WOMMA is the way to go.

In his book author Andy Sernovitz, introduces to some of the easy, yet very powerful WOMMA techniques. To start with, he defines WOMMA as 'Giving people a reason to talk about your stuff and making it easier for that conversation to take place'. It’s all about making Consumer to Consumer (C-to-C) marketing happen. There is nothing more powerful than an existing consumer getting another customer. Added to that, it comes for FREE. In core WOMMA is all about building trust with existing consumers and getting more business with help of that.

To start with, it’s critical to understand the power of the end consumer of this era. Thanks to the invention of internet and mobile phones information flow has become seamless. More than a sales pitch, consumers will take their decision based on what their friends, family or some review site says. Just think of examples in your real life about how many times you have taken certain decision (like buying a mobile phone, car, laptop or even real estate) just because it was recommended by someone.

So, how to make the WOMMA happen? The author introduces to four basic rules of WOMMA which are: Be interesting, Make people happy, Earn trust and respect and Make it easy. Then he goes on explaining how to create each of the above mentioned things. Basically any consumer talks about a product/service to his friend/family members mainly because of three reasons:
  • They really like the product/service
  • They want to feel good
  • Feeling connected with that product/service.
At the same time not every consumer will feel the same way. The challenge lies in identifying and helping the consumers to spread the word. The author goes on saying that WOMMA has had a far greater impact on businesses than what we really think. In the next few chapters the author introduces some of the ideas to generate word of mouth. With a good product, great customer experience and consistently making them happy WOMMA can be multiplied in no time. But the end results are really stunning.

Then the author introduces five Ts of word of mouth marketing (Talkers, Topics, Tools, Taking part and Tracking) and goes on explaining about how to go about executing each of these Ts. In each chapters he gives some tips like maintaining a simple website, saying thank you to the consumer, writing blogs, participating in forums, consistent present in the internet, making the recommendation process easier, free samples, leveraging social networking sites, giving cost effective goodies etc. He also emphasizes how important not to do any sales pitch, which will bring down the impression of the company.

I heard from my MBA friends that marketing is a theory subject and people find it very dry. In this book author Andy has made all my perceptions wrong by providing easy step-by-step practical approach to WOMMA. In fact after reading this book, I have become a big fan of WOMMA and Andy. I am following his blogs regularly, where he provides very easy but powerful real life examples.

If you are involved in marketing job this book is a must read. For entrepreneurs, who are bootstrapping their business, this book is a real treasure.

Related links:

BOOK REVIEW : Marketing Mayajalam

BOOK REVIEW : Crossing the Chasm

My experiences with the chasm

Saturday, May 10, 2008

No more Indian apples?

How much globalization is good? Can we allow global players to come in essential areas like agriculture, food and fruits?

For quite some time I am not able to see Indian apples (especially himachal pradesh apples) in many of the retail shops like Reliance Fresh, More and Food world. Almost all apple shelves are occupied by Australian and Washington apples.


This news item claims that Washington apple is looking India as one of the potential markets. What will happen to Indian apple producers? Will they be able to compete with the global players or foreign companies will dominate the market?

Voted for the first time

Karnataka state assembly polling was held today. I got an opportunity to vote for the first time. Fortunately the election commission announced that citizens can a use a list of identity proofs (apart from electoral ID cards) for voting. For the past two weeks I tried to get the electoral ID cards, but no success. Long queues, screwed up computer system, incorrect entry of my name in two different wards made my life miserable. In spite of spending more than 7 hours I was not able to get the card. Luckily, using the PAN card and voter's slip I was able to vote today (see picture below).


I have been staying out of my hometown for the past 10 years. Initial 4 years went for engineering education. After that I came to Bangalore and tried to get my name enrolled into the electoral list for quite some time. During last assembly election I was not able to get proper contact information and missed the chance. This time I made it a point to do it without fail. Fortunately things were much easier this time as I am staying in an apartment complex.

I was just thinking the power we have in a democratic setup. Every individual has got equal opportunity to choose their leaders and determine the fate of the country. Unfortunately educated people are not realizing it at all. They read Times-of-India, talk English, eat pizza, hang out in coffee-day, and crib about everything starting with bad roads. When it comes to voting they feel its waste of time. As of 11 AM, only 8% turnout happened in Bangalore urban.

Here is the live update from CNN-IBN's H R Venkatesh:

11 am: The Election Commission's statistics have come in for 9 am. Bangalore Urban has seen 8 per cent turnout, areas under the BBMP region have accounted for 10 per cent and Bangalore Rural has seen 15 per cent. Rural Karnataka has seen 20 per cent turnout. The signs are encouraging in rural areas, but pretty disappointing in urban Bangalore. Let's hope things pick up!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New Horizon Media raises second round of funding

Chennai based New Horizon Media (NHM) has raised the second round of funding from Beacon India Private Equity Fund. I have been following NHM company for the past three years. They are mainly into regional language publishing. To start with they published few non-fiction books in Tamil and went on publishing in English, Children books and Malayalam. Check out more details from their website.

Coming to their books, I have read about 6 books published by NHM. Check out the book reviews of Marketing Mayajalam, Charlie Chaplin which are published them. Almost all the books are priced less then 100 rupees, which very much affordable for an average Indian consumer. Added to that paper quality, cover design and bigger fonts makes the reading as a pleasant experience. I have also listed to one of their audio books about 'Emotional Intelligence' and found it useful. Stay tuned for reviews of remaining 4 books.

Areas like book publishing is one of the fragmented areas in India today. By bringing in professional approach, NHM folks are able to attract venture capital for the first time in publishing. They have already built a great brand in Tamil publishing industry and I am sure they will go places.

I wish Mr.Badri and his team all the very best for touching 'New Horizons'.

My previous post about NHM: New Horizon Media - A 'positive' media company

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Why Indian technology companies are not innovating?

This is a million dollar question I have in my mind for a long time. We are good in enhancing, fixing, maintaining and supporting a product. Apart from that I haven't seen any great innovation happening in the technology space.

I expressed my frustration to one of my mentors and he replied 'Western companies don't want Indians to innovate. All they want is to get the work done at cheap cost by paying for engineering bodies'. He also added that the local management in majority of the MNCs are clueless about innovation, because they are not expected to do it. Whatever effort an individual makes at the bottom of the hierarchy will eventually end up in vain.

This morning I came across a very interesting quote from Atul Chitnis's blog, which made my day: Here it goes:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
--Upton Sinclair

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Education and Entrepreneurship

Last week Star Vijay (Tamil TV channel) organized a debate about the role of Education in Entrepreneurship. It was organized as a part of 'Neeya? Naana?' (You? or Me?) program. They have called for two groups for the debate. The first set was un-educated (hardly passed 10th class) and successful entrepreneurs. They have accumulated more than a crore wealth thro’ their business, starting from scratch. The second set was the educated, working, middle class people. Following are some of the interesting points from the discussion.

First, the un-educated folks have more appetite to take risk and start on their own. This is mainly because they start doing business as a survival, so there is less to loose. The educated folks get into the comfort zone quickly. This has made them risk-averse. In fact most of the successful entrepreneurs like Dhirubai Ambani, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Azim Premji don't even have college degree but were able to build business emphires. The combination of passion, vision and strategy has made them successful more than what formal could have thought them.

Having said that can we completely rule out the role of education for entrepreneur's success? No. On the other hand educated, professional people are very necessary to scale up the business. They bring in unique skills for business execution, which is very critical for the success of the venture. Many of the un-educated entrepreneurs in India fail here because they lack to see the importance of education. They remain small and medium size entrepreneurs (or even self employed status) rather than building next generation professional companies.

Second, the educated community gets into the 'comfort zone' very quickly due to the job they do. Big company, stable salary and 9-5 job schedule makes them averse to taking risks. As the time progresses, the notion of entrepreneurship diminishes. They end up working for a person or a firm almost all their work life. Also many of them end up doing a job which is totally not related to the education they had. In the debate, many of them accepted that they are not satisfied/fulfilled with the job they are doing.

Third, the un-educated entrepreneurs still have agony of not getting proper education. Most of them agreed that they have heavily invested in their children's education by sending them to good school and foreign universities. Also they expressed that they still feel that they might be cheated by the educated people in the business life.

Finally the debate concluded that each set (un-educated and educated) brought their own strengths. The former has passion, whereas the later had the skill to execute the passion. In a globalized world both are very important to build a successful venture. I am not able to get the complete video of the debate. For people who can understand Tamil, please check out the promo of the debate below.



It’s nice to see such mature debates happening in regional TV news channels. In a way Star Vijay has set a new trend among Tamil channels. Recently they have started a first ever talk-show named ‘ippadikku rose’, which is anchored by a transgender.

Related blog post:
Abundance mentality and Entrepreneurship

Customer un-friendly SMS

I was trying to book a bus ticket thro’ redbus.in by logging in the travel details into their site. After few minutes got the following SMS:

We have received your request. We will call you if we can arrange a ticket for you. For an urgent requirement you can reach us at our call center.

I found this message very irritating due to two reasons. First, I don’t want to hear “ifs” and “buts” when I am approaching for a bus ticket. Second my travel requirement is urgent. In fact most of the cases it is and getting bus tickets (especially over the weekends) is pretty difficult. On top of all where is the call center number?

The mobile advertising or status messages should be short but convey proper information. Unlike the one mentioned above.