Sunday, September 24, 2017

1GB per day-the new data normal due to Reliance Jio

In the 2016-17 annual report of Reliance Industries, they disclosed that the average data consumption per Reliance Jio user is  10GB/month (as against a quota of 1GB/day or 30GB/month). This implies a data pack utilization of 33%, that too on a daily basis w/o usage accumulation, which is great. The icing on the cake, introductory pricing of Rs 100/month. In parallel, smartphones are getting cheaper, with a 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and 400Mah battery phone now costing Rs 9,000(or more). This is beneficial for content owners and apps since folks have more money to spend on their services, and ability to consume on the move(this was earlier not feasible due to high mobile data costs, but with someone who takes the JioFi dongle along, they have their own hotspot in lieu of mobile data)

The implications of this are
-Cloud based services like Wynk(Rs 99/mth), Hotstar(199/mth) and Kindle Unlimited(150/mth) are getting a great audience
-Video hungry channels like Sports, TVF, Comedy, Amazon Central which are usually consumed during commute also gain
-Losers are telcos who got very high data ARPU customers due to the propensity to consume on the same SIM, but now using JioFi dongle, they have their own 24*7 Wifi hotspot using the same phone
-To be fair, Jio has its hassles such as network disruption, dongle life around 6hrs and potential radiation concerns by carrying the dongle with you. Also, employers may not be overjoyed with people using Wifi in office.

Yet, with other companies following suit, the data revolution in India is now in progress

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Upfront Rates and more responsive customer service-Why Urbanclap trumps Housejoy

Let me disclose upfront that Urbanclap is cofounded by an IIM Ahmedabad senior of mine Abhiraj Bahl, but this fact does not bias my views. As someone having used both these apps for home and beauty services (electrician, carpenter, home cleaning, beauty) etc, I find the UI of UrbanClap to be better for the following reason

  1. Most services have upfront rate card(eg carpenter repairs Rs 250/hr) and not the 'On inspection' tariff where you may feel gouged at times. Housejoy by contrast has a visit fee which is adjustable 
  2. Prices usually (but not always) inclusive of tax
  3. Super responsive customer service available on chat from 9am to 7pm. Opposed to this, Housejoy has email or call. 
  4. Intuitive questions to help better identify the service provider and help them scope work. For example, computer repair requests are asked the model type/repair reason. UrbanClap pioneered this before copied by others
Housejoy has recently revamped their app/UI maybe to address #1, and are offering discount codes perhaps to make up for lost time. But for now, UC rocks.

Hope is not lost however for Housejoy. When Uber entered India, they kicked ass of Ola's customer care. But in the last few months, Ola is in my view, much better than Uber now. So with enough management focus, one can always make up lost time


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Some musings over the last one year


Recently, I read an article by the Collaborative Fund Blogger Morgan Hausel about why everyone should write http://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/why-everyone-should-write/
In this blogpost, I take a stab at addressing the 4 questions he mentioned

What is your edge over competitors? Skills in excel, PPT, financial modelling are generic skills, however the initial edge in my view is the ability to understand accounting better than a MBA, and business better than a CA. This is cumulatively improved by  the softskills such as empathy, willingness to get your hands dirty in the trenches, and lack of ego. Successive bosses and mentors have the credit for instilling this in me. However, I am aware of the power of compounding and everyday changes, so it is a mission to become better daily amidst the information overload.
How do you react to unforeseen risk? I interpret this question to exclude insurable risks, since that would be hedged against. But for risk such as 10% market swings against your open futures positions, the stock you just entered being called out as a fraud, your much thought over positional trade failing, these are unavoidable. Hence, I try to structure the portfolio to be within my staying power. For example, I recently purchased the listed Indian private bank YESBANK, on the day before it released its annual report in which it disclosed divergence from the central bank suggested provisioning norms, for certain non-performing assets. This disclosure was not voluntary being mandated by the securities regulator SEBI, and the stock promptly corrected ~10%-15%. Thankfully, I did not have to exit at firesale prices, and could hold and exit at a profit(now the stock is 10% over that initial entry price, after having swung back 25%). So correct risk management applies. In personal life, this maxim would be not to be dependeant on just one income source, professional development etc. You don’t know which one will work.
What have you changed your mind about recently? That there are companies who can grow at double digit CAGR without reverting to terminal growth rates. This is not an excuse however to write fiction in excel and justify outlandish P/E multiples, but rather is an effort to learn from them. To the end, focus on business insight rather than news, and on knowledge with a longer half life. 
What part of your job are you not good at? I’d suppose this would entail dealing with what I consider non value added and ego massaging work, which finally does not serve any economic purpose. This is integral to any corporate job especially as you climb the ladder (notable exceptions are the owner-operator driven companies out there).


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is it fair to exclude student loans(education loans) from personal insolvency? Some possible reforms

While reading the Indian Insolvency Code 2016(http://www.indiacode.nic.in/acts-in-pdf/2016/201631.pdf) , I realized that student loan debt is excluded from discharge during insolvency/fresh start process. The definition below states that:
Sectin 79(15) "excluded debt" means—
(a) liability to pay fine imposed by a court or tribunal;
 (b) liability to pay damages for negligence, nuisance or breach of a statutory, contractual or other legal obligation;
(c) liability to pay maintenance to any person under any law for the time being in force;
 (d) liability in relation to a student loan; and
 (e) any other debt as may be prescribed

While matters of (a)-(c) are public policy items, it is difficult to fathom why student loans should be singled out for unfavorable treatment. One argument could be that these loans are typically unsecured and single borrower so to avoid the risk of student moral hazard of building their skills and non repayment, these are excluded from personal insolvency. This is the case in USA also, but there, if the college has been fraudulent, de-recognized etc, this debt is forgiven. In my view, this provision should be accompanied by

  1. Allowing bankruptcy protection for only those student loans which were unsecured and not under co-guarantee/co-borrower of parents. Reason being these were secured at time of sanction, and therefore should not get special treatment
  2. Allowing student loan protection to the extent the interest charges were less than the equivalent home loan rates by the same lender. If the lender had charged ~13% under floating, why should they get special treatment here
  3. Not allowing retirement annuities of parents to be attached to repay their children's loans for which they had done guarantees
  4. Allowing case/case student loan waiver where the default is not wilful. Possible indicators could be
    1. Income after graduation<200 emi="" li="" loan="" of="">
    2. Person continued jobless
    3. Institute placement records/academic credentials under question
    4. Evidence of kickbacks between lender and institute 
  5. Fine/Recovery from the concerned education institute where fraud by them is proven(Eg advertise 100% placements or facilities which do not exist)-then the bank should be able to attach and auction the institute. 
  6. Similar to RERA Code, liability on education/admission agents 
In the era prior to this Code, I have seen cases of friends debarred from bank jobs since they fell behind on student loan repayment. This leads to a vicious cycle in this economy and should stop

Monday, March 20, 2017

The success of Instamojo

Since the last 7months, I’ve been using Instamojo to collect payments for an event which I co-host. Having collected close to Rs ~80,000 over ~300 transactions(average ticket size is around 160, skew due to one-off Mar-17 event), my experience of the platform has been that it delivers what it promises- an inexpensive, swift, efficient way to collect payments for various purposes(in my case, events). Why do I like it so much, or prefer this to UPI/direct account transfer? Preregistration for events is helpful to build seriousness and minimize dropouts- while Prepayment for events builds a trackable database, and lowers credit risk and operational cash issues, so that you can focus on enjoying the event rather than on who has paid(or not). Besides, while in our case, even Rs 150-200 is a pittance actually, this lowers the odds of overplanning and wasting food/resources.

1.       Sleek and elegant web UI-Easy for payments and vendors
2.       Only option I could locate for individuals(non registered entities) which allows you the full payment gateway functionality
3.       Allows to collect fields beyond name/email/mobile-this can be used to pre-qualify people during signups, and update the database. No need to seek and update spreadsheets
4.       Protects your and the payor’s payment information-neither party is aware of the source or recipient payment method.
5.       Allows different variants and discount codes-useful for price differentiation
6.       Excellent reporting interface, downloadable 24*7
7.       Avoids payment hassles for you and various options for those who need to pay you-no more frequent logging into bank account to check who paid out
8.       Instant receipt-allows confirmation to those who paid that their funds are safe
9.       Easy refunds without time limit-useful if you cancel the event OR issue a discretionary refund.
10.   Premium options for SEO etc which I have not used.
Some things which could be better
1.       Micro Loans on T+1 at 0.25%-This might give a perverse incentive to delay payments
2.       Better Wallet Integration-They don’t have PAYTM for example, and till recently used to charge money for even offering this facility
3.       Mode of payment/Device Type meta data-this could be provided in the payments dashboard for vendor to analyze better his customer profile
4.       Not passing on TDR/MDR benefit from RBI-In the months RBI lowered the transaction charges, they could have reduced it for end customers also. But they chose not to affect the standard pricing, thus demonstrating their pricing power. Not kosher!
For all this, paying Rs 3+1.99%(+service tax) is totally worth it even though it works out to 3.5%-4.0% of my overall proceeds. But considering the time it saves me, it is totally worth it.
Kudos to the team and to their backers(their website includes names like  Kalaari Capital, Blume Ventures, 500 Startups,  Rajan Anandan, Sunil Kalra, Dave McClure, Rob de Heus, Thijs Gitmans, Pankaj Jain,  Shailesh Rao, Bharathram Thothadri, Avlesh Singh.)

PS: This is purely a review without any commercial or other benefit from the gateway. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Who is to blame for Tamil music and dance fading out in Mumbai?

There were three distinct events last week which provoked me to write this post

  1. The lament of the Mulund Fine Arts Society that they had to cancel their annual program because of inadequate contributions to fund the extra expenses due to unavailability of the usual rented hall which is now undergoing renovation. The Society has three main revenue streams, music/dance classes(~40% of revenue, but hardly 10% of this revenue is a surplus), minor entry fees/subscriptions(~15% of revenue) and interest income(~45% revenue). Total budget ~Rs 2 Mn. For a place like Mulund with a sizeable population, this is a pity. That too in a place where stand up comedy/multiplexes routinely fill up despite costing ~1000-2000 for a family. 
  2. My wife's dance senior from Chennai had a Bharatnatyam performance at Chembur FineArts society (a premier hall). Despite this being a free performance (thanks to Mahindra Finance which sponsored it), the hall was just 1/3rd full at starting time, though it did fill up to capacity by 30min into the show. This would not have happened in Chennai.
  3. I read a book on how memorizing is important, and why distributing our memory to the cloud makes us struggle to remember. I connected the dots and realized its implications for performing arts, which needs time devoted AWAY from the screen along with memorizing dance steps
I suppose addressing this topic needs conceted actions from community organizations, venue owners and citizens. Those further interested in this topic can see
https://www.quora.com/Are-Indians-forgetting-their-culture

Uber/Ola surge pricing proves that we need a regulated public transport

In Jan-17, Uber euphemistically announced 'price adjustments' as their communication of  increased fares. With them earlier having abolished time/distance pricing and surge multiplier in favour of 'flat fares', there was no new benchmark or way to compare the impact of this adjustment. If a government agency had done this, there would have been a hue and cry about opaque rule making, edicts etc, but when private companies like Google/Uber make decisions using Black Box algorithms, they cloak their rationale or data under the guise of 'proprietary business secrets'. Anyways, while regulation is usually considered bad by those negatively impacted, it is essential to address market failure which happens in public transportation. Imagine your fire safety, water supply, and utilities tariffs being determined opaquely and with time of day pricing. Would you accept it? Answer is probably no. A player with deep pockets(eg Uber) can sweep into a city, under cut the existing public transport systems by cherrypicking profitable business, and then increase tariffs and profits instead of expanding supply. This is my apprehension with allowing 'innovative' startups to operate under a non level playing field, in such an important field. Those with private cars or ability to afford taxis can probably cope with surge pricing, but the vulnerable folks who rely on public transport which eventually hollows out to Ola/Uber, would not have any back up option. I have covered some of these problems in another blog post here http://apoliticallyincorrect.blogspot.com/2017/01/uberola-value-proposition-fast-eroding.html


So what is the solution? Regulations like below are a good starting point once refined in the consumers favour.
http://mahatranscom.in/pdf/Aggregator%20Rules-15_10_2016.pdf

But the fact remains is that unless the new age startups address age old problems of access, discrimination, non refusal of rides, regulated tariffs with surge limits, we risk later issues

Lessons from Bollywood movie Kaabil

Yesterday, I watched Kaabil, a movie starring Hrithik Roshan and Yami Gautam, which centred around the story of a blind couple whose married life is shattered by two hooligans who have political and police backing owing to one of them being a corporator's brother. This ends up in Hrithik Roshan taking revenge, and finally (as in any Bollywood movie), committing the perfect crime and remaining free. Following thoughts came in:

  1. Quit when you are ahead/Dont gloat: Hrithik discovered the suicide note of his wife due to a chance remark from the corporator. If that guy had not mentioned it in his sarcastic effort to rub salt in his wounds, the plot would have been quite different
  2. Public places hardly 'accessible'  Crowded malls are a difficult place for the blind, and this was evident from the way Hrithik struggled to find Yami when they got separated in the crowd.
  3. One can profit WITHOUT giving back to the cause: The producers could have given a symbolic profit share to the NAB(National Association for the Blind) to promote welfare of visually impaired people, but they did not. So this is one lost cause unlike say Paa, Anand etc which threw light on otherwise neglected segments
  4. The motivation to succeed: The title name comes from the fact that Hrithik wishes to become 'capable' enough to fulfill the dreams of his beloved. Often, PWD(People with Disabilities) have more motivation than their non challenged peers, simply because they need to try harder. 
  5. Importance of a support system: The couple is able to lead a normal life due to their close friends and neighbours. Each of us has the responsibility to help PWDs 
Watching the movie needs one to suspend some belief in mobiles phones(who uses PCOs these days), DNA testing etc, but it is a feel good. With 2.2% of Indians disabled, with just 40% of them in the workforce, and 54% overall literacy rate, PWDs lag the general population on several indicators. If such movies increase empathy for PWDs and narrows this gap, it is goo.  Data is sourced from below link

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The challenges Indian professional accountants in business face for lifelong continual professional education

All professional institutes hold out to the public that their members besides being technically qualified, are well regulated and obliged to update their knowledge. Towards this effect, these institutes (and where allowed, private bodies) conduct initiatives to improve knowledge by structured ways(seminars, courses) and unstructured(articles, teaching, self study). However, the core challenge to the PAIB(or CAs in service/CAs not in practice as we call them in India) is as follows


  1. CPE Program timings conflicting with working hours: CPE programs are often targetted at CAs in practice instead of CAs in service who might not be able to take leave/off. Same holds true for talks from 5pm-8pm or so.
  2. CPE Industry Study circles barriers: CPE study circles of members in industry appear more of an effort to recognize internal KMS than open it to outsiders. That is why study circles like Reliance/Castrol conduct programs but often open only to their employees. This is understandable due to security issues in tech parks etc, but outsiders have a less chance
  3. Journal articles focus on traditional areas like audit, law, tax with very less focus on corporate finance, management accounting and other industry interest areas
  4. Journal articles quality: The quality of articles vary-with many just being a regurgiation of laws/standards, with less incisive. 
  5. Research Practice Gap: Research is not easily dissiminated and there is no central portal for business research. So those in service need to visit multiple sites and/or subscribe to many journals just to keep up. And lesser said about 'peer review' and 'ivory tower' research, the better.
So what to do? It is easy to criticize but difficult to implement. So without much ado, here are some useful suggestions
  1. Track the regional council website for relevant seminars/conferences. Some are targeted at members in industry and may be relevant
  2. Form your own CPE study circle centred around areas of common interest(eg project finance, excel, tax). Exchange faculty with like minded professionals
  3. Use startups like Breathingrom. co to get venues on demand with seating capacity ~50-100. This would help plan events on short notice also
  4. Devote some time each month to professional development(journal writing/KMS). It will go a long way
  5. Use study circle to share expenses such as relevant books, hiring trainer etc. It is useful
  6. Use study circle as a sounding board to share/discuss experiences and professional plans. It would help get perspectives.
I will implement many of these in the next year. Do drop me an email on andy161161 at gmail dot com with the subject line 'CPE' if you are residing in Mumbai and interested. 



Thursday, October 20, 2016

My professional bucket list

  • ·         Activist Investor
  •  ·         Independent director nomination
  •  ·         Small shareholder director election
  •  ·         Ask remuneration list as a shareholder
  •  ·         Organize CPE Group Value Investing   
  •             Business I would love

o   Strategic Growth Advisors/TRISYS
o   InGovern
o   10Q Advisors

o   Getabstract

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How technology helps to organize in person/offline meetups

This month, members of the Valuepickr forum (http://forum.valuepickr.com/) decided to meet up in person. As a fellow member suggested half jokingly, such meetings may be a sign of market touching a bubble (people showing more interest in value investing :D), but I digress. For Mumbai, the effort kickstarted with members getting added to a whatsapp group and expressing desire to meet, but noone stepping forward to 'bell the cat'. I did the honours by suggesting a venue, and finally others chipped in with comments/suggestions and finally the event happened with 45 attendees
http://www.meetup.com/Valuepickr-Mumbai-meetup-for-Value-Investing/events/233931806/ with the meeting report below
http://forum.valuepickr.com/t/valuepickr-mumbai/6978/98?u=andy161161

Though technology does distance us from the offline world, it can act as a force multiplier as well. For example, below tools were helpful

  1. Instamojo for collecting payments at a cost of just 4% (pricing was 2%+Rs 3/txn+tax)https://www.instamojo.com/
  2. Meetup for getting publicity to the event and ensuring RSVP/certain details
  3. Whatsapp as a communication tool
  4. Gmail for sharing presentations and coordinates
  5. Valupickr for starting the critical mass and getting people.
  6. Breathingroom https://breathingroom.co/ for helping get meeting rooms-though we discarded it it was still of great help to book a venue on demand
So far, without payments integration in India, Meetup is not an end-end platform. 






Monday, September 12, 2016

How technology creates the fear of missing out(FOMO)

How many times did you

  •  take a selfie/photo to post on Facebook/Instagram instead of enjoying the moment
  • Check your mobile phone to see notifications
  • Get disturbed by your smartphone beeps
  • Pay more attention to the online world than office world
  • Keep scrolling down into the 'infinite' scroll
  • Stop at the top few choices presented to you on Google Search, Zomato
  • Feel the need to ratify your investment decision on moneycontrol?
  • Stalk long lost friends and see the list of exotic places they had gone(and feel envy)
If you have ticked the box on any of these, welcome to the world of FOMO. While I was reading online on mental models, this one caught my attention, and I came across a really superb article below which highlights the problem with false choices, social media driven ADD etc. 

To avoid FOMO which may drive impulsive decisions, one should restrict social media( OK maybe not delete your accounts but track them only once a week, with the comment that anything urgent would be checked weekly). 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

ICSI NATIONAL AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE IN CORPORATE GOVERNANCE, 2016-Some musings on questionaire

I was going through the questionaire for the ICSI award out of interest. Following points struck me as points which even more investors/professionals miss out, and hence I thought it warrants a post. One can read the full questionaire below
https://www.icsi.edu/webmodules/Final_Questionnaire_1092016.docx


  1. Internal Auditor is envisaged as internal & external, and membership number is sought in each case. Interesting way to hint at professionals.
  2. Like in the tax audit form, qualifications in cost audit/secretarial audit are also sought.
  3. For women directors, it is specially asked if she is executive and/or independent. 
  4. It is asked whether the Company Secretary reports to the CEO/MD/ED, General Counsel, CFO or any other official. Probably they want to gather data on the 'aukaad' of the professional :D since most other KMP would report into the CEO or the Director(Finance & Legal)
  5. It is further asked about whether a separate compliance department exists outside of the CFO/CEO offices, and its reporting
  6. Credit Rating trend in year is asked-Whether worse/unchanged/improved and whether outlook worse/unchanged/improved
  7. % of differently abled employees is sought
  8. Independent assessment of sustainability initiatives/reporting is asked. 
Investors would do well to see many of these points especially internal audit, credit rating, independent CSR/Sustainability spend assessment.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The benefits and drawbacks of working in finance for a publicly traded/listed company in India

Ok I admit it. The title is a blatant effort to win some SEO brownie points. But thats par of the course these days, and given the uniqueness of this topic (I hardly found any relevant links), I thought I would write on this subject, from personal experience, and also from interactions with other finance professionals. Firstly, some background on what distinguishes a public listed company from other companies?

  • Minority shareholders: These are often the very reason for a listing, and to ensure liquidity in trading, Indian stock exchanges mandate a minimum 25% free float i.e promoter shareholding capped at 75%. Not coincidently. key corporate actions in India require a special majority i.e 76% of shareholders to approve matters, but since this % is calculated on those shareholders present and voting, 75% or a much lower shareholding is often enough in practice. That said, minority shareholders have a veto on certain related party transactions and actions, so one cannot ignore them. 
  • Periodic reporting: Quarterly reports in addition to annual reports, within the stipulated timeline of 45 days/60 days
  • Internal Financial Controls certification: For listed companies, there is a CXO level certification with stringent penal liabilities if proved wrong. Hence, the demand for a robust finance controller who can keep the CXO from jail 
  • Voluminous disclosures/ Multiplying non financial reporting Be it CSR, ESG, BRR, IND-AS, IFRS..listed companies are often the first guinea pigs of financial and non financial reporting since they are public interest entities. This can prove a burden to report all this.
  • Independent Directors/Audit Committees: For listed companies, there are mandates to have a certain proportion of independent directors, over and above that stipulated by the Companies Act 2013. These additional stakeholders bring new perspectives, but could also challenge management in a manner not to the former's liking
Why do I single out the finance function here? While all functions experience a (hopefully) more stringent control environment, it is the finance and legal functions whose stewardship role increases here.  The difference being clear (hopefully), let us now see why a listed company would be preferable to a finance professional, and why sometimes it may not. Firstly the pros
  • Independent Audit Committee (in theory)
  • Better controls
  • Multiple audits/certifications
  • Multiple professional interactions
  • Exposure to handling minority interests
  • Investor Relations: This is a unique role in public traded companies, since even private equity companies would have more of internal MIS than an extensive IR engagement. Preparing IR decks, financial press releases, stakeholder mapping
  • AGM/EGM: This is a JV between Finance and Secretarial functions, however every finance professional should get involved in the preparation for an AGM of a listed company atleast once so that they appreciate the extent of background effort
  • Strategic disclosure drafting:Strike a balance between disclosing more to please investors and win awards, versus revealing business model insights.

The cons however could be
  • Non value adding work: Be it reviewing an annual report for the nth time before review despite the knowledge that it will likely not be read by even 0.1% of investors, getting backup certifications/attestations for the comfort of independent board members
  • Disclosure overdose: Not all reporting is likely to help investors(eg BRR) but is mandated and wastes man-months in its preparation
  • Potential Legal Liability: If you are a victim of management override(possible if other functions have 'promoter appointed' people-like a 'Lala company'), you are still presumed to be culpable unless due diligence is proven: 
  • Dealing with controlling shareholder-ethics: The controlling shareholder/management is the on
  • Hierarchial/Ladder-Big company woes: Listed companies usually tend to be large profitable entities (when initially listed atleast). So the issues of 

Overall, it is for one to map their stage of career, aspirations

The benefits and drawbacks of working in finance for a publicly traded/listed company in India

Ok I admit it. The title is a blatant effort to win some SEO brownie points. But thats par of the course these days, and given the uniqueness of this topic (I hardly found any relevant links), I thought I would write on this subject, from personal experience, and also from interactions with other finance professionals. Firstly, some background on what distinguishes a public listed company from other companies?

  • Minority shareholders: These are often the very reason for a listing, and to ensure liquidity in trading, Indian stock exchanges mandate a minimum 25% free float i.e promoter shareholding capped at 75%. Not coincidently. key corporate actions in India require a special majority i.e 76% of shareholders to approve matters, but since this % is calculated on those shareholders present and voting, 75% or a much lower shareholding is often enough in practice. That said, minority shareholders have a veto on certain related party transactions and actions, so one cannot ignore them. 
  • Periodic reporting: Quarterly reports in addition to annual reports, within the stipulated timeline of 45 days/60 days
  • Internal Financial Controls certification: For listed companies, there is a CXO level certification with stringent penal liabilities if proved wrong. Hence, the demand for a robust finance controller who can keep the CXO from jail 
  • Voluminous disclosures/ Multiplying non financial reporting Be it CSR, ESG, BRR, IND-AS, IFRS..listed companies are often the first guinea pigs of financial and non financial reporting since they are public interest entities. This can prove a burden to report all this.
  • Independent Directors/Audit Committees: For listed companies, there are mandates to have a certain proportion of independent directors, over and above that stipulated by the Companies Act 2013. These additional stakeholders bring new perspectives, but could also challenge management in a manner not to the former's liking
Why do I single out the finance function here? While all functions experience a (hopefully) more stringent control environment, it is the finance and legal functions whose stewardship role increases here.  The difference being clear (hopefully), let us now see why a listed company would be preferable to a finance professional, and why sometimes it may not. Firstly the pros
  • Independent Audit Committee (in theory)
  • Better controls
  • Multiple audits/certifications
  • Multiple professional interactions
  • Exposure to handling minority interests
  • Investor Relations: This is a unique role in public traded companies, since even private equity companies would have more of internal MIS than an extensive IR engagement. Preparing IR decks, financial press releases, stakeholder mapping
  • AGM/EGM: This is a JV between Finance and Secretarial functions, however every finance professional should get involved in the preparation for an AGM of a listed company atleast once so that they appreciate the extent of background effort
  • Strategic disclosure drafting:Strike a balance between disclosing more to please investors and win awards, versus revealing business model insights.

The cons however could be
  • Non value adding work: Be it reviewing an annual report for the nth time before review despite the knowledge that it will likely not be read by even 0.1% of investors, getting backup certifications/attestations for the comfort of independent board members
  • Disclosure overdose: Not all reporting is likely to help investors(eg BRR) but is mandated and wastes man-months in its preparation
  • Potential Legal Liability: If you are a victim of management override(possible if other functions have 'promoter appointed' people-like a 'Lala company'), you are still presumed to be culpable unless due diligence is proven: 
  • Dealing with controlling shareholder-ethics: The controlling shareholder/management is the on
  • Hierarchial/Ladder-Big company woes: Listed companies usually tend to be large profitable entities (when initially listed atleast). So the issues of 

Overall, it is for one to map their stage of career, aspirations

What is your signature worth-some musings as a professional

Recently, I was reading a book by Parag Saigaonkar wherein the below passage struck me-it relates to the author being asked to certify homework completion of his son, and his asking to see the homework before certifying. The author muses that
Reflecting on this incident, I realized that I do sign off on a lot of other things as well, especially at work – one of the responsibilities I have as a principal in the firm. As a firm signatory, I have the ‘privilege’ of signing a lot of important documents …… at least they look impressive. What does it mean to lend my signature to business-critical documents? What weight does my signature bear? What are the consequences of not reading in detail every legal word? What value do I put on my signature?
SAIGAONKAR, PARAG. THE PERFECT STORM (Kindle Locations 1682-1685). Westland. Kindle Edition.

As finance professionals, whether it is signing an audit report, letter of representation, approving an expense, greenlighting a project etc, we often need to rely extensively on work done by others.  For this, we need to ensure we are through in every aspect and review the critical points, to avoid devaluing our signature. 
At the same time, we should remember our role as internal consultants and not be bureaucratic in holding up decisions because we want to tick all the boxes all the time. 

As Vaibhav Manek puts it in his BCAS presentation on 'Aligning Human Capital-people as strategic assets'
http://www.bcasonline.org/files/res_material/resfiles/PPT-Aligning%20HumanCapital_%20VaibhavManek.pdf
  1. “We exist because of our clients; The customer is not an interruption of our work; he’s the purpose of it”- Mahatma Gandhi 
  2. Professionals must have “a connect” with the client • To win a client’s confidence, give him the chance to talk to you, person to person, about his needs and his expectations • Make it easy and comfortable for the clients to share his secrets • 
  3. Professionals must adapt a mindset of joint problem solving, instead of trying to win or prevail
  4. People with different views must learn from each other
  5.  Make effective decisions, conform to an execution framework, focus on priorities, have a growth orientation, think with a solution mindset and multitask between production and management. 
  6. Technically brilliant people should be respectful to their peers and must share their knowledge and expertise 
  7. Sharing of ones’ knowledge is critical to have the team come up to terms with the thought process of the team leader 
  8. Team members must have a constant quest for learning and upgrading themselves


Points 3-8 are especially relevant to facilitating smooth reviews of work. Works should be done diligently as per approved checklists with self review, and once done this way, review would be smooth. Yet, one should not lose alertness and be blindsided by a black swan.



How to choose a job-some tips for the finance professional

For finance professionals(whether they be CA, CPA, CFA,FRM, MBA, CS, CWA etc), the difference between others and them is that they owe a duty of care to the public and to their employer. They are not supposed to be mercenaries out for maximizing the buck(though many do). Recently, I have had the fortune to advise some younger folks on choosing between options, so I thought to pen down my thoughts here

  1. Remuneration
    1. Starting Compensation(Stated)-What is the Gross CTC? This will often be the basis of negotiation of your next job-even if not all of it goes to you? 
    2. Post Tax CTC(net of all perks) -Is the post tax CTC something acceptable to you? If you lose something due to inflexible tax structuring(eg No NPS/No car hire), then you should negotiate to ensure this stays flat
    3. Growth Philosophy-Typical CTC hikes given at different rating scales. Also what extent of jump happens after one stays a long time? 
  2. Alignment with your long term plans-Assuming you perform at previous levels, will this role leave you better placed to pursue your ultimate objective? 
  3. Working Hours
    1. Official Hours-How many hours are you expected to clock in per day? How many did the earlier incumbent do? Does the company value face time beyond output? 
    2. Working Days-Whether 5 day week or 6 day week
    3. Flexi timings-Whether you can structure your hours the way you like(subject to outside meetings)
    4. Commute times-Very Relevant to those in Mumbai, Bangalore etc where traffic often eats up 10% of the total hours in a day
  4. Your role/place in hierarchy
    1. Matrix vs Single reporting-Do you have ONE boss or TWO bosses? How many power centres are there relevant to you(eg CFO and CAO)
  5. Leadership Oppurtunity
    1. Reporting Manager-If you are a reporting manager responsible for somebody else, it helps you develop leadership skills
    2. Project Management-Even if you are not a reporting manager but need to demonstrate project leadership skills as an individual contributor, that is a good way.
  6. Working Conditions
    1. Physical Offices-Are the offices comfortable cubicles and designed for peak performance? Is this is a place you can avoid getting tired? Not all places can be a Google but they can certainly be comfortable.
    2. Flexibility-Possibility to work from home
    3. Tech/Automation-Mobile based work applications, shared services helpdesk etc. These all make one's work easier.
    4. Employee Friendliness-Leave Policy, extent of trust in employees
  7. Learning/Development-What oppurtunities would you get to hone your skills and management
  8. Business Model/Industry
    1. Win-Win Is this a win-win business model for society? Or does the company harm society(aka sin stocks) within your moral framework? If so, cognitive dissonance might eat you up and/or regulation may destroy the company
    2. Industry Growth-What is the industry growing like, and is your company winning or losing market share? These two answers often determine compensation and internal oppurtunities. 
  9. Intellectual Stimulating Work
    1. Work-Is the work something appealing to YOUR interests and skills? Would you do this even if you had 'FU money'? 
    2. Colleugues-Would the people be of an appropriate intellectual level? For some people used to working only with other smart MBAs/consultants, it becomes a shock when exposed to multiple intelligences of others
  10. Performance Review framework
    1. Frequency-Are you someone who performs day in/day out? Or are you someone who ca hit 6s at the slag overs? Either way, the performance mechanism matters-some people perform well with structured goals(3+1s), others on projects and perception
    2. Bell Curve-While the gold standard so far, many organizations no longer have a bell curve. These would be interesting for those desiring a truly 'win-win'
  11. Integrity
    1. Tone from the top-Is there a culture of 'Zero tolerance' or is it 'Results at any cost'? What is your risk of going to jail/being disbarred(eg Satyam CFO and some junior team members)
    2. Pressures at your role-Certain roles(especialy sales, financial reporting) have unsaid presures to cook numbers which is often a long standing practice. To what extent can you withstand it, and how ethical is your company vs what you are used to
  12. Talent Management Framework of the organization
    1. Build or Buy-Some organizations recruit at junior levels only and then promote only from within. Such organizations are good to build careers. While others recruit from outside at all levels and hence if you are siloed there, you might not find a fit in some years either inside or outside. Think which one is your future employer
    2. Leadership Programs-Certain Indian conglomerates and MNCs depend heavily on their long established leadership programs(TAS/ABG/UFLP/Airtel YLP etc). Would you be disadvantaged by lateral entry and if so to what extent? Can you accept being possibly a '2nd level citizen' across
    3. Job Rotation-Is there a formal job rotation/Internal job posting policy? And more importantly, is there just lip service or is this done? 
    4. Mobility-Some organizations insist on mobility at all levels and often across functions/locations, as a condition for progress. Are your personal circumstances such to accomodate this, or would you be constrained to walk away after establishing equity? 
    5. Career Path-Is there a structured career path? Or is it a jungle gym that performance establishes it all? 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Long Qs reduce the overall spiritual experiene

Whether it is Siddhivinayak temple in Dadar, Mahalaxmi temple, Tirupati Balaji temple, Shirdi  etc, temples are associated with long Qs for darshan, or else activating speed money, contacts etc to get a quicker sight of God. One of the reasons I hesitate to visit temples in person(more so the famous ones) is the fear of a long Q-recently, I spent 4hrs in Q to visit Shirdi Saibabab temple. While some of it was my own making(I understand it takes 2hrs in morning vs 3-4hrs later), the temple had a blatant VIP/VVIP and donor pass based parallel entry system which really irked me. But temples being outside the preview of RTI and Consumer court, one has little power to change or question this. C. So while one might need to wait in Q, it is not likeable

As the magazine Swarajya puts it corectly,
http://swarajyamag.com/ideas/not-just-smart-cities-india-needs-smart-temple-entrepreneurship-too
"Temples..are run by the state, more to maximise revenues than to build faith. They run a quick-moving assembly line, where the devotee, often after hours of waiting in a queue, gets less than 10 seconds of darshan. Getting into the Tirupati temple is no different from getting into a crowded suburban train in Mumbai or Kolkata. One is surprised how faith even survives this push-and-pull"



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Can on-demand ridesharing transform the peak hour urban commute?

Recently, I had to visit Nashik by public transport on short notice. Unsurprisingly, trains were not available and buses would have taken a long time. Therefore, I tried to locate ride sharing platforms where I found a couple taking their WagonR to Shirdi, and who preferred another couple to share the ride with. By paying Rs 1,000(for self+Spouse), I got dropped off at a tariff of Rs 2/person/km, which compares favorably with car rental.

I am not new to ride sharing being a power user of Uber Pool, Ola Share, Lifto et-al. Let me explain the reason for using certain words in the blog title:
Why on-demand: For people having predictable office timings, they could generally pool with the same person or fix patterns. But for people whose exit time is not fixed, on demand platforms are the method where new supply is created.

Why peak hour? Most people who drive to office would work during the normal peak hours of the city(else office transport is provided via cabs/buses for odd hours)
Why urban? For families travelling together, ride sharing is not a viable option due to limited seats, availability of like minded people and possible reluctance by older generation. Also, the cost per seat would not be much lower than hiring an entire car. Hence, I have not considered outstation or rural travel as a use case. Also, in semi urban locations, there are share autos at very low tariffs for popular routes, and ride sharing would not be too viable there in my view
Why Commute? While there are other use cases like leisure travel, commute is the repeatable demand pattern for ride sharing, and the one where the person often commutes without family in peak hours.

The benefits are cost, flexibility, comfort, company and time savings. It better utilizes existing assets without adding new vehicles(like Uber/Ola) on the road.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why do Indians buy fewer books or spend less money on reading

This post's title suggests that Indians read a lot, it is just that they do not buy enough new books.
As this question on Quora suggests(https://www.quora.com/Why-dont-Indians-read-books-as-much-as-our-Western-counterparts) other people have the some question to which Ashutosh suggests the following reasons for people to read less books, Books are a relatively new concept to Indians, Reading books till date remains restricted to elite section of society, daily life in India is full of distractions and keeps people busy throughout the day. Also, he feels that newspapers are more popular as also sites like Quora. Lastly, even for those Indians who want to read, there are few non fiction/popular series books. 

While I agree with Ashutosh regarding the present situation, I add 3 more points and then explain why I feel this will improve. Three more reasons for less sale of books

  1. Piracy-It is easy to download books and it translates to Indian preference of screen reading
  2. Digital Editions Pricing-In India, there is often just a 10% gap between paperback and ebook, as compared to ~50% abroad. 
  3. Indian edition expensive and delayed-While publishers are waking up to the market potential and pricing affordable paperbacks, this often comes AFTER the foreign release. As Hollywood producers have learnt to their expense, anything short of a simultaneous release runs the risk of piracy


However, the situation is improving due to

  1. Kindle Unlimited-At just Rs 199/month(or Rs 150 if you take an annual subscription), you can read 2Mn ebooks. While maybe just 0.01% of them may be good, it is still 200 books for you to read, many of them foreign editions otherwise not available in print. 
  2. Experiments with Distribution-New formats such as short/mobile first novels are coming
  3. Expanded distribution-Recently, I saw a shelf of fiction/non fiction at a stationary shop, which is an encouraging sign
  4. Indian corporate novels-This trend is increasing and now people have an option beyond the Chetan Bhagat's/Ravi Subramanian's of the world. 
  5. Pricing-Many books now in the sweet spot of 100-300 which is a movie ticket cost. Considering both are 2-3hr experiences, this is now comparable. 
  6. Rising disposable incomes and urbanization-This allows for more books-albeit a negative due to issue with storage of novels in rented or small houses
  7. Reduced Piracy-Piracy DOES happen-in fact it has reached the suburb of Mulund(as versus only hubs earlier), but for a much lower range of bestsellers-it does not affect the long tail.




The rise of white collar crime fiction and business novels in India

My first introduction to business novels came with Eli Goldratt's books-The Goal etc. Then further it progressed to real life biographies and exposes which were enjoyable, however nothing beats the fun of reading corporate life through novels.

As RV Raman puts it "
The stakes are high too. A person who is worth a million dollars in his private life may be running a 500 million dollar business. A banker who may be worth even less, could be handling a loan portfolio worth billions. A peculiarity of banking is that ordinary men and women handle vast amount of other people’s wealth. Billions upon billions of dollars of it...If a banker falls to temptation and siphons off a small part of the money he oversees, he can gain a lot more than he can hope to gain by any deception in his private life. The potential payoffs for crime, especially white-collar crime, is huge"

Without much ado, let me list the books I have come across and particularly liked
1)Sialkot Saga-by Ashwin-this book is like a Kane/Abel one, but also centres around corporate crime and stock market manipulation. Don't go by the name-this was awesome
2)Fraudster-RV Raman-The book by an EX KPMG forensic audit expert, gives an idea into how NPAs are created and what could go wrong. Looking forward to his 2nd book-'Insider'
3)Ravi Subramanian-all books centre around banking world and crimes therein
4)Upendra Namburi-'31'
5)Ready..Steady Exit-this book by PC Balasubramanian outlines the story of 2 friends who set up their CA firm, and ultimately F&A outsourcing. Fun read
6)Ticking Times-an accountant and a Gentleman-this book by V Pattabi Ram seems a good read on life as a corporate auditor.

Foreign authors
1) Peter Ralph-Revenge of the CEO, White Collar Blackmail-these centre around stock market manipulation mainly
2) Stephen Fry-all books-these centre around private equity funds, and their portfolio companies

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Coca Cola New PET technology possible game changer?

While reading the Coca Cola conference Call transcript at the CAGNY(Consumer analysts group of New York), I stumbled across this nugget relating to India, which I could not find publicly available online, and hence thought worth sharing.

So, right now, in the coming day s, we'll be launching a new package in India. It's a completely new technology of PET, a completely redesigned bottle. And the principal problem with small PET bottles in countries like India, which are very hot, is the smaller the bottle, the faster you lose the carbonation and, therefore, the shorter the shelf life. And that has alway s been the key limitation to us having very small PET bottles in very hot countries at affordable price points. This new technology allows us to break through that barrier. It's going to enable us to have a longer shelf life through the design of the bottle and a proprietary coating, it'll be not just longer shelf life but lighter weight.

 And the margin will be 15% to 25% margin improvement over the current small PET bottle. And that's going out literally in the coming days. And I think that's a very exciting development for affordability with a very small size in India, and something that can get much more distribution than we've been able to achieve so far.

While the response would be interesting, this development is relevant in the light of the recent controversy on PET/plastic packaging. If this succeeds, we could see more share of throat of Coke

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Brand Factory-the worthy successor to Loot?

In Mar-16, I read about Brand Factory( A Kishore Biyani led venture) claiming better prices on apparel as compared to the big online platforms of Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal. An analysis of this is below, which attributes the pricing ability to selling off season merchandise which is in limited supply.
http://www.afaqs.com/news/story/47399_Flip-the-Kart-Amaz-Off-Snap-the-Deal-Says-Future-Groups-Brand-Factory

Yesterday, I noticed a Gudi Padwa(Harvest season in Maharashtra) sale offering 60% off on sports wear. Needing a new pair of sports shoes, I was however skeptical about the tactic of 'upto' which usually means the maximum discount on crappy merchandise with other normal discounts on rest.W When I visited the store at Sobo Mall however, I was astonished. There were discounts on even Nike, Puma and other reputed brands, and not just private label. The stock being a year old, is compensated by the steep 60%(or net of VAT, 55%) discount that I obtained.

Also, unlike a typical deep discounter with poor service, the service personnel in the outlet were EXTREMELY helpful, on part with any brick and mortar store. Also, the shopping experience is on par with a Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Westside or Pantaloons, which often keep the same brands.

As the below article might lead to infer-discount stores are dead, long live the discount stores
http://www.outlookbusiness.com/strategy/feature/end-of-discount-stores-1675

The So-What
Kishore Biyani seems regaining his mojo with Future Consumer Products riding the Patanjali wave, and now with this tasteful store which is seemingly not bleeding cash. So will be interesting to see what next

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How i use mobile to fulfill my entertainment needs

Having been an Airtel employee for 3yrs with the associated benefits of a generous phone usage allowance permitting virtually unlimited mobile broadband, I was used to consuming data like there's no tomorrow-be it at home via broadband, or on the move through mobile broadband. I love watching movies, TV shows(Hindi and english) and listening to music. However, I need 3 distinct connections-TV, wired broadband and wireless broadband, for entertainment and mobile internet usage respectively. 

Despite the talk of 'cable cutting', it does not quite work in India or abroad for entertainment due
1)  to the heavy costs of streaming. 1GB of wired broadband at a speed of 8Mbps(much less than TV but comparable to 3G) costs around Rs 12. Now suppose one watches a TV serial of 30min/day..data consumed is 0.5GB/30min or 15GB/month. Add to this 5GB for watching Youtube Music videos instead of MTV, and the bill quickly starts adding up to average cable bill, and this is without 'normal' usage to watch movies, torrents, routine surfing, office emails etc. 

2) TV(cable or DTH) has much higher fidelity and does not experience buffering/disruption except in extreme weather conditions. 

Hence, for routine mainstream watching like for me, there is no alternative to a TV connection even if I have a wired broadband connection OR a mobile broadband connection. 

The case I outlined works insofar as there is a single occupancy household. But when multiple people want their daily dose of entertainment at the same time, then it is difficult. A secondary DTH/cable connection is discounted, but that still necessiates the investment and the space requirements for more TV(s). In this era of multiple devices per person and for the family, when mobile operators offer a common family data plan for simultaneous data consumption against a shared quota,I used to wonder why were TV/cable operators so backward. However, a recent launch of Tata Sky transfer (thankfully) proved me wrong. 

Last week, Tata Sky launched their new product ‘Tata Sky+ Transfer’ which will enables set top box recordings to be available on subscribers’ tablets and phones. it will come with a Wi-Fi dongle to enable consumers to enjoy recorded content on smartphones and tablets without consuming internet data. The concept is described in depth on  
http://www.tatasky.com/transfer/ and also in the excellent online only ad campaign as below



The commercial describes a situation where in  a family, people had different content tastes such as wrestling,  Diya Baati aur Hum, Game of Thrones and Football, and would end up fighting for the remote till the time they got Tata Sky+

The main advantage is that I can now watch my favorite program without being shacked to the room where TV is there, or even the time slot of broadcast. Whether I am in the bathroom or on the move, I can watch the program without spending expensive mobile data which costs Rs 250+/GB. Even if I am getting delayed and will miss the broadcast, I can give a command on the app to record the program and then and transfer it on my mobile devices using the home Wi-Fi.

I expect that this program will cut down my dependence on YouTube or torrents to catch the telecasts which I have missed. Also, it will ensure more domestic harmony at home. Hence, a great idea


 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dabur Honey-the honey diet

Last Sunday, I was shopping with my wife in D-Mart, and we had to buy honey. Her first choice was Dabur Honey, despite its 25% premium to the nearest lesser known brand. On further probing, she said that she had tried several brands, but that this one was the best. I have seen Dabur Honey for quite some time now(its not as famous as Chawanprash, but getting there), but this was the first testimony to the brand I had heard in person. My perception of the market was that honey is a commodity and ‘natural’ is preferred to processed, given the ‘organic’ craze prevalent nowadays. However, this comment got me thinking and I went to the Dabur Honey website http://www.daburhoney.com/faq-about-honey.aspx . Here, the FAQs http://www.daburhoney.com/faq-about-honey.aspx helped to burst quite a few myths like the importance of crystals, colour, thickness, processing and so on.
Also, I thought honey is useful for children or for taking a spoon daily to help with weight loss. However, the site also suggests honey as a sugar substitute, and have also given recipes from Vikas Kapoor for this. They seem determined to create a new category itself, and boost the consumption of honey in this country. There have been categories created in India before(like Maggie noodles before the whole issue broke out!), but this is on the lines of Baba Ramdev Ayurveda(using modern techniques of production, SCM, marketing and branding to expand the category).
This campaign has also come around the right time where people cannot hide behind the winter sweaters, and the fat curves would now show! Also, with monsoons around the corner, the appeal of tea and fried snacks might take people away from the gym. Therefore, honey diet sort of things could help to lose weight ‘sitting at home’. Of course, Dabur is quick to caution people not to overdo honey and to combine it with other things via their ‘Stay Fit Stay Young’ campaign.
As a business professional, what do I think of this campaign? Like ITC has demonstrated, it is possible to sustainably grow a category with Indian focused flavours, packaging and pricing. Of course, ITC has a headwind of millions of captive tobacco outlets who need to keep something of ITC food business or risk the wrath of the company(this is more for the distributors who can be replaced at will if they do not push the non tobacco business), but one cannot take away from the company how it has surpassed HUL in just 7  years. Dabur is another example of a homegrown FMCG, albeit more focused on personal care(after Balsara acquisition) and health foods, but which now seems wanting a chunk of the food business. With their patient capital and family stewardship, and now willing to employ the power of new age internet channels to build the category, there seems lot of impending action for honey in the months to come              


Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Airtel App-experience

As an Airtel employee, I had always thought that there was better scope for a great online interface. In the era of ecommerce, the website was a disgrace to the otherwise superb technology interface of Airtel, let alone an app interface. Last month, when Flipkart and Myntra closed their mobile website and shifted to app only versions, I wondered whether Airtel had missed the ‘app’ bus. But thankfully, there have been some great developments recently namely
1)      My Airtel App-for customers
2)      Improved and elegantly designed Airtel site for all
3)      Airtel Genie and Airtel IT app-for employees
I updated the App from Google Play, and then registered my number with an OTP. To my surprise, I noticed an awesome interface with the latest unpaid bill as a reminder on top! That too saved as ‘Anandh Gurgaon Bill’ with awesome options to get coupons. Though not on the same scale as Paytm/Freecharge, it is still trying to drive recharges through own platforms, as also give a better customer experience.
The three features I most like are
1)      Proactive bill reminders on top of the app with the cute ‘ringing bell’ symbol albeit silent one!
2)      Option to apply for a new service and (presumably) get a call back-this is much better than having to call 121 or Google for online form submission.
3)      Options to get coupons through recharge without any service charge/handling charge like done for Freecharge.
Some points of improvement could be
1)      Adding new numbers(prepaid/postpaid/DTH/Fixed line)  could be more intuitive.
2)      Updating registered phone number of other services through the app
3)      There should not be any need to enter the details all over again while re-updating the app. In my case, this seems to have happened.
In this electronic age where customers get freebies from utility and retail companies to transact online, it is not the case with telecom companies which still depend on retailer driven recharges, and channel partner driven acquisitions. Of course, a lot of this is due to the prepaid nature of business and rural/financial inclusion, where telecom companies need to be accessible to all and sundry and this is only possible through multi retailer outlets like retailers. But there is still room for improvement like focusing on own base, employee/customer driven referrals and own channel fulfillment through own retail, ARC etc.  This would albeit lead to channel conflict but there are precedents for this. For example, the financial services sector was heavily dependent on channel partners to source credit cards and loans, but with the wide proliferation of bank branches and ATMs, banks now encourage customers to apply online or at ATMs, to get reduced/waived processing fees. Suppose this works for telecom postpaid/broadband acquisitions, then the impact could be immense.

Of course, the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Customers need to be comfortable interacting directly with the company and that too online. For this, things like Airtel My App is a great start. Do visit http://www.airtel.in/myairtel to download the app and see more. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Together we win-musings on life

Life is at times, a rat race and an arms race. Rat race because people see it as a zero sum game and often play the game without knowing why they do it, and arms race because they feel compelled to participate in a race to the bottom just to maintain parity with the other person. This might play havoc with work life balance, contentment and hobbies, making the person unidimensional. After all, it is the rare person who can put in 12hr+ work days consistently, and still have the energy and passion to pursue hobbies and give the necessary time/attention to sustain professional development, or relationships with family  and friends. And this can make them unidimensional, and unsuited to anything else other than what they do at present.

 In my view, people are the most happy when they feel that their results are yielding fruit, and that they are being recognized for this. When this happens, they might be willing to accept compromises in their personal life also. But  the worse part can be putting in umpteen hours but not getting the desired results/outcome. Though the Bhagvad Gita cites Lord Krishna as advising to put the efforts without stressing too much on the outcome which is not in one’s control,that is easier said that done.
Its quite disappointing when efforts do not yield results. In these times, we would do well to remember the Indian Vedanta philosophy and keep working tirelessly. To aid this, some actions that could help snap out of the black mood could be
  1.   Reading inspiring Q&A on Quora or other self improvement sites like Lifehacker
  2.  ·         Working out/physical activity preferably with friends
  3.  ·          Spending time with family and children
  4.  ·         Writing for yourself only-Be it a diary/blog/notebook, do this on a forum where you are not afraid of being judged-this is also therapeutic when you can vent out your feelings and often understand what is causing the issue
  5.  ·         Diversification-Excel in one/more spheres beyond work. This can help financially and emotionally. Maybe you can moonlight elsewhere for extra income, write a best selling novel/code a killer app, or build your sales/creativity/leadership skills at a non profit, to take up a challenge in your present job

The above activities (except reading and writing) are not meant to be solo acts, but need loved ones. From personal experience, I can endorse the power of this. Some months ago, I had to make an important career decision with significant personal ramifications. In true MBA style, I had made the list of pros and cons, but it was leading nowhere. To complicate, there were organization changes happening around me, and it was possible that my plan would lead nowhere. That decision period saw me quite stressed, and with no one to vent it on except closely family and significant other.  With nothing working, I took a trip home and discussed individually. They unanimously advised me to do what was best for my long term objectives, since what was best for me was also best for them. I was touched by this tremendous show of faith in me, and it helped make the decision of moving from Gurgaon to Chennai. What also helped, was not bringing the office laptop, so that I would not be tempted to turn it on and give in more hours to the never ending work wheel. Weeks of spreadsheet analysis paralysis, bowed to 3 days quality time and discussions.That convinced me of the power of personal interactions.

The new housing.com rebranding exercise also focusses on the personal touch, especially in the ‘Look Up’ campaign, which is extended in the ‘Together’ positioning. For more, do refer their website below https://housing.com/  Their startup story of a few IITians creating the world’s best property intermediary( and this is understatement, not hyperbole) is indeed an example of the power realized by the startup team through being together. But more so, their campaign achieves even more by pushing the optimism wave.


A new start-musings


When I first left home as a kid in 2004 to pursue coaching
at Kota, it was a totally new experience. For two years, I lived away from home
till I returned to Mumbai to pursue studies in commerce. Then, for the next 4
years, I was at home till I cracked the CAT, and then the next 5 years from
2010 till 2015 have seen me live in Ahmedabad, Singapore, Bangalore, Gurgaon
and now Chennai. Having lived out of a suitcase for quite some time, I’ve got
used to shifting locations to achieve my dreams. But these have not been easy
transitions. Having established relationships in/comfort level with each place,
it is difficult to part. Thankfully, social networks like Facebook and
Linkedlin make it easy to keep in touch and even find people.  For instance, Facebook friend finder and
Linkedlin location search help you narrow down on people within your alumni
network/common groups.

Also, even for people without vast social networks, the
internet plays an excellent role. Ecommerce firms have really made this process
much easier. I can use Ola/Meru/Taxiforsure to book safe rides to/from airport,
TruckSumo etc to shift belongings safely, Zomato/TinyOwl to find awesome places
to eat, Olx to sell old belongings/buy new belongings, Pepperfry to order
custom furniture in places where I do not know anybody, UrbanClap for reliable
service provider recommendations, Cleartrip for weekend gateways and so on.
These startups use technology combined with the power of localization, to offer
unique experiences. And of course, who can forget Google Maps for that help to
locate places and get directions in English(albeit weirdly accented), and
preventing you from getting lost. Because of these firms, I have escaped a lot
of horror stories like getting lost/robbed/being starved of good food. It does
make life less interesting when you do not have these horror stories, but in a
good way.
Of all the cities I’ve been, its probably the decision to
move to Chennai, which was the most difficulty and the most impactful. As a ‘fraud
tam’(campus lingo for a Tamil by birth who does not speak fluent tamil) without
roots in Chennai, it was a return to my roots, and a chance to experience what
my forefathers might have. Of course, the IIM-A professional network is much
smaller here, which reduces the chance of serendipitous interactions but which
does make for deeper relationships. Also, Chennai with its slower pace of life,
has changed my outlook to a lot of things. And it is actually easier to live
here than in quite a few other cities. There’ just one bugbear for people which
is finding a nice home. With restrictions basis gender, marital status, caste,
profession etc, finding a house without the notorious broker mafia, is quite difficult.



When I had social networks in place(read metros like
Bangalore, Gurgaon), it was quite easy to find accommodation. But in Chennai,
it was quite difficult. After weeks of looking at forums like Olx, an IIM
batchmate suggested to check https://housing.com/in.
And then I was hooked. The level of details and visualization was startling.
For a stranger to the city, it makes it much easier to contemplate relocation
decisions when you have the pictures of the house, locality ratings, landlord recommendations
and so on. Their ad below gives an idea of the whole thing. 




For those of us needing to make housing decisions, using
technology and websites like housing.com would make life much easier. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

When the future seems bright

The NDA won the May-14 general election on the promise of ‘Acche Din Aane Wala Hai’(in English this is a promise of good times to come). Since then, despite the hiccups in between, the stock markets have cheered the pending economic rally. But what this post focusses on, is the positive employment outlook for the Indian digital natives of tomorrow. As a finance business partner at India’s number 1 telco , there are quite a few occasions necessitating travel into rural India. On these occasions, I noticed innovative uses for internet for purposes like educational videos to prepare for exams, getting weather forecasts to plan cropping/harvesting, agricultural prices to decide which mandi to sell from, and even stock trading/ecommerce ventures. The most interesting story however, was how the internet inspired people to think beyond the confines of their rural environment. For example, the rice farmer’s son in Salem who used his understanding of agriculture to try and do futures trading speculation on MCX, the artisans store on Snapdeal who can showcase their wares and fulfill orders seamless ly and end-end with the help of ecommerce fulfilment expertise, the web designer in Coimbatore who used the benefit of the powerful broadband connection at his home to  deliver work to clients securely and remotely, and the Bangalore based startup Zerodha which has made trading much more affordable for retail traders. All these are examples where one can use the power of technology and the internet to improve their economic condition. The Industrial revolution was the golden age of B2B, the IT age was that of B2C and now is the age of C2C. Sites like Ebay, Flipkart and Snapdeal have really democratized commerce and helped smaller traders harness the power of the global market. There were fears that the digital divide would increase  the gap between the rich and poor, and those with access and those without. But now that people have the power to dream and  are not accepting the status quo, it is hoped that the next generation will not join the ranks of the frustrated unemployed which started the Arabian spring/other discontent, but will instead believe in the power of capitalism and turn away from the Naxal/other secessionist movements. Equity and growth are going hand in hand with the social security measures proposed in the union budget and other measures for inclusive growth.
This is also having a trickle-down effect on the real estate sector where the power of technology is being harnessed to equip small agents with the same tools as that available to large companies like Knight and Frank. Housing.Com has an excellent technology interface, for example, which is rated as among the best in the world. In my view, they are at the right place in the right time, to capitalize on the impending surge in disposable income, as also the tendency of Indians to do comparison online. Housing.Com could not have existed and disrupted the real estate market even 5 years back, yet now it is joining the ranks of a Zomato, Flipkart, Ola Cabs and so on. For more, refer their site as below https://housing.com/lookup

In conclusion, lets hope that the impending digital boom will transform India’s economy faster.