Saturday, December 21, 2013

The MBA bubble bursting in India?

Around two years ago, I had blogged on whether the MBA placements would see a permanent downturn or not. While that post was aimed at the Tier I Bschools, it seems the general scenario has worsened since then. The original post is at

Since then, the debate has heated up locally and globally ( . While placements do seem better at IIMs, that is at the cost of Tier II/III/IV Bschools which struggle to place even 50% of their batch. In this context, the welcome address to the IIM Ranchi Batch of 2013-15 was interesting, in the sense that it highlighted the declining MBA prospects, and implicitly conveyed the message that 'Don't be complacent'.

While the traditional 'MBA only' fields of investment banking and management consulting are picking up in recruitment, that does not offset the increased batch size, and competition from 1year MBA students in India and abroad, especially the Ivy league types who now try for jobs in India.

So bottomline to those deciding whether to go for or pursue MBA in 2014-16, think thrice.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Knowledge workers in the service sector-some musings

Its been 15 months since I joined Airtel, since then I've been lucky to work in a company which is (nearly equal parts) an utility, consumer goods, services and products company. Also, Airtel's outsourcing the 'core' operations of network and IT made it to global Bschool case studies-for example In recent times, the top leadership rejig may lead one to think that Airtel is now a consumer products company. After all, with the CEO, CFO, CMO etc from HUL(Indian arm of Unilever and a CXO factory), one may be forgiven for thinking thats the case. However, things can't be more different. For example, a channel manager in FMCG must manage physical inventory/branding/availability without customization, while his telecom counterpart manages zero inventory, and can often customize the recharge plan etc. This is just the tip of the ice berg, but this post is on service sector in general, not just Airtel, so I return to the topic.

I was reading a research paper on TRIZ in service sector( where it explained that Service development is differentiated from physical product development because of the unique characteristics of service products, such as customer participation, simultaneity, heterogeneity, intangibility and perishability, etc
  1. tighter coupling between marketing and operations aspects. Service Operations integrates customer experience management involving customer service, operations, marketing etc
  2. Since end product is intangible, the soft skills matter a lot in front end roles, so this percolates into the (otherwise) non client facing roles too like finance.
  3. Inventory does not exist in service sector-so this is both a boon(less logistics hassle) and also a nightmare(manpower utilization)
Also, knowledge work does not happen only in services sector, even the service/support functions in manufacturing/agriculture can add a lot of value, however since there are unique issues in the service sector, thought to comment on them in the blog

ICICI Bank is khayal unka, not khayal aapka-why I shifted my main banking to HDFC

Next January(i.e Jan 2014), I will be an ICICI customer for 7 years. It was my first bank account, and for many years, the only. But next month onwards, my salary account will shift to HDFC, I will convert my demat account into basic demat services account with zero AMC, and use ICICIdirect trading platform only as a last resort. Why is this? Many reasons, but mostly to do with their not recognizing customer relationships across products, and pathetic product knowledge/customer service.

1) When I went to open a PF account at ICICI Bank Mulund(West) branch in Sep13, they subtly refused to open it for me, saying I could do that via internet banking. They were incorrect, since I could only do that by submitting a physical form. And then a 19year old salesperson spends 15minutes unsuccessfully selling me on an ULIP plan(surprise :D) instead of a plain vanilla term plan.

2) Even at ICICI branch Cyber City, whenever I visit the branch in person, they try to cross sell me into taking investment products rather than addressing my needs.

3) When I converted my single banking account into a joint account, the associated trading account was automatically deactivated without intimation to me. And apparently, a manual request to close the account was submitted in June 2012, while the fact is I had never done that. Repeated calls to customer care by myself and two branches(Sion/Bhandup) resulted in a solution that I should submit a form to relink trading account and banking account. The ICICIDirect Sion branch was OUT of stock of forms-which they could have printed from the net-a clear sign of them NOT wanting to do any extra work, while the Bhandup branch reluctantly  accepted the form, and tried to sell me an advance brokerage product for 15yrs. My form has gone missing now, and while customer care raised a ticket, d note that my so-called relationship manager did not help at all, and the branch landline number given by customer care is defunct4)I had to virtually plead with the customer care of ICICIDirect to raise a ticket

4) When I tried to get a personal loan recently, ICICI refused since I was not residing at the same address for more than a year, and this norm was not relaxable even for customers with long relationships. So much for stickiness!

I decided that I will NOT boost a bank's CASA ratio, when it so evidently can do without my business in its broking, retail assets and other areas,HDFC has been very responsive when I had customer care issues, but ICICI Bank phonebanking has been awesome and its overall technology platform, but people wise leaves much to be desired. I know its a rant but there was so much to say, so felt like saying that,.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why principles of pricing/price discrimination do not work at barber saloons

    Whenever I visit a barber's(or to be more politically correct. hairdresser!) saloon and pay the same rate on a Sunday morning as on a weekday afternoon, I wonder about what if the barber was to apply management principles of pricing to do the following:-
  1. There would be price discrimination by time(charge more on Sundays/evenings)
  2. Each person would be charged differently as per ability to pay-the migrant on daily wages would pay less than the CEO
  3. There would be a membership with credits, to encourage repeated visits to that saloon, and other perks like loyalty program, and benefits like appointments through apps to minimize waiting
          However we have the benefit of observing a corporate chain of saloons i.e Javed Habib, and I notice this does not happen. Why is this so? Firstly, price discrimination by time i.e applying congestion pricing[charging more during high peak hours] would need customer assent, and is more difficult to stomach than merely raising the average price. Secondly, the customer DOES incur some waiting time(indirect costs) while having haircuts done during peak hours, so it is in his interest to come during off peak hours.

Ability to pay is factored in since saloon rent/wages are factored in the costing. And those who care about these costs would frequent a roadside barber or less expensive saloon. So it does not matter, and is not required i.e price discrimination as per ability to pay.

Since people usually frequent the same saloon/barber, loyalty program would entail unnecessary complexity and expenditure-something like why electronic micropayments is not taking off in India, when there is a much easier option i.e cash/notes/ which will anyways be there, why add complexity.

Saturday, June 15, 2013 next flipkart of eyecare?

I ordered my new pair of spectacles online from after the old one broke. It had lived its life of 3yrs and getting a new one is difficult logistically since I get only weekends free and hardly any opticians shop near where I stay, so finally decided to give online shopping a try, and I was not disappointed. My review below of lenskart, but this post is more on the business model,

What do I mean by 'flipkart of eyecare'? Well, flipkart to me means speed, reliability(no cancelled orders), polite and prompt customer service and (till recently) deeply discounted rates passing on cost savings. All these seem true for as well. 

For some background, I read articles about them and founder Peeyish Bansal in Business Today and Economic Times. He is not a first time entrepreneur, in fact he had set up e-commerce ventures earlier in the USA and India in education and eyewear i.e and However, due to logistics issues and economic conditions, his focus shifted away from them to Lenskart.In November 2010, he set up, starting with contact lenses. In February 2011, he included eye-glasses and in March, sunglasses as well.  As per an Apr12 article in Business Today, Lenskart now gets about 45,000 visitors every day, of whom about 400-500 spend an average Rs 1,200 on ordering contact lenses, spectacles and eye accessories, and an expected FY12 topline of Rs 15-20 crore.

Lessons I could glean for this success[I call it success from the customer front, not so sure about the profitability but considering this is his 2nd venture, it should be profitable]
  1. Second time venture, so lessons learnt:-Logistics/customer service probably excellent due to this. Advertising on Facebook is also a good way to tap customers. 
  2. Tapping into an imperfect unorganized sector:-Like how found its niche in bus travel, they found theirs in eyewear, which saw entry of retail chains like Reliance and Titan only recently. As per ET article, optical shops typically sell frames even at 100-200% margins and an average person has no idea what a frame actually costs. “A frame that’s priced at Rs 5,000-6,000 in a store actually costs only Rs 2,000. Also, rates vary as per area, unlike e-commerce, so thats a perfect way to make the market efficient.
  3. Huge scope yet information asymmetry:- Almost one-third of our population has a vision correction problem and off these, only 25% use any kind of eyewear. The market in India is worth around $2 billion, growing at 25-30%. People usually trust their optician to prescribe something within their budget, but that is far from ideal. Online purchasing makes it transparent with his buying guide, risk free returns, and 'Try on your face'. Also, with use of smartphones and laptops increasing eye-strain, the market potential only goes up
  4. Savvy HR policy:- As per Business Today article. LensKart, for instance, has strict rules against poaching. Candidates are employed only if they have not changed jobs frequently in the recent past, and are not offered more than a 15 to 20 per cent hike over their existing salary. This ensures they do not pay too much for talent which quits soon. 
  5. Excellent customer service:-Be it instant chat on website, SMS asking whether satisfied or not, prepaid returns label for BlueDart and returns form, procedures are very streamlined.
  6. Great logistics They handle it in-house via EComExpress, which is quite responsive too, they accepted my request to deliver at residence quite easily, and followed up professionally. 
  7. Great offline ideas like 'Home Try-On', tieup with opticians etc, so they do not ignore the offline sector as well or the importance of physical customer connect.
  8. Spreading common costs like logistics across multiple verticials:- Bansal has launched three more websites, each of which, like Lenskart, aims to become the category leader on the net. While Watchkart and Bagskart were launched last year, Jewelskart went online in January. Valyoo’s investor seems to approve of the strategy. IDG Ventures MD TC Meenakshisundaram says that Valyoo focuses on creating category leaders in product segments where supply chain inefficiencies lead to high costs. Also, synergies arise from giving customers a coupon book to use for the other websites as well, I got coupons 'worth' Rs 2,000 with my eyeglasses.
  9. Getting domain names efficiently:-LensKart/WatchKart/BagsKart/JewelKart all convey their name at a glance, and probably save plenty of advertising dollars. 
Will be interesting to see how they progress. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How to review an Excel spreadsheet aka spreadsheet auditing

Anyone who has installed a spreadsheet software like Excel/Open Office can create a spreadsheet. but reviewing one is much more challenging. One needs technical expertise on the subject matter, but also an ability to review/audit the spreadsheet, which depends on diligence/knowledge of Excel audit tools etc. Having searched this topic for a hour today, I give below my insights on the same based on referenced links, and my own experience. Surprisingly, there is little focussed training on this, both in professional firms or in organizations where it is presumed that people will pick it up on the job.
  1. Keep data/constants separately, at one place for ease in updation, and document the assumptions/link to source file. 
  2. Build in checks(like period y-o-y changes), constraints etc to ensure arithmetic accuracy, sanity check on reasonableness etc.
  3. Use relative references and constant file naming conventions/file structure conventions, so that updating links possible using 'Edit Links' option. 
  4. If any manual changes made to formula cells, shade that cell for identification or else identify it separately. Otherwise, excel has an option to identify cell not simillar to its surrounding cells, that may help you identify cells where formulas have been edited different to that copied across range.
  5. Ensure the Excel is ready for printing, and for copying in presentation. This means, in addition to segregating data from algorithms, placing meaningful column and row labels in each portion of the spreadsheet, and not just what the preparer understands.
  6. Develop "Summary'/'Analytical Tab'  to synthesize the results of all key assumptions and analytical results, concurrent with the ongoing analysis, so that only key findings and results will be presented or communicate

A visit to CCD, Cyber City(DLF Phase III Gurgaon)

At 11pm, when you feel the urge for a hot bite and drink, making it yourself is not the best option for a bachelor(ok even married men would hesitate at waking up their wives for this, but then they would probably be housetrained for basic cooking :D). When I walked 5min to the nearest foodcourt, CCD caught my eye and surprisingly it was still open! Following were my observations-btw what drew me in was the value for money Samosa+Chai/Coffee for Rs 49(+taxes=Rs 58), comparable to what I'd pay in the much less comfortable food court.
  • It is open from 8am-4am(!!!) even longer than McD which is from 9am-1am. Am not sure whether the counter person meant  8pm-4am, actually that would kinda make more sense. There was just a single person on duty there. 
  • Comfortable cushioned couches instead of the normal chairs I saw in other CCDs
  • A TV playing Movies OK channel 'Maine Tujhe Pyar Kiya'!
  • A wall advertisement by having QR codes of products which users could scan to get directed offers. Personally, I felt that was pretty cool
  • Promotional pamphlets by Samsung for its Galaxy S4, and by Vodafone for its trial 3G pack of 500MB for just Rs 49. Both being yuppy brands, advertising in CCD is a good idea
  • The usual merchandise of coffee, cups, strainers etc for those inclined to purchase
  • CCD times-an in house publication.
In all, a comfortable place to hang out and apt for the luxuriant ambience of Cyber City. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Some insights on the radio taxi industry

If you have to reach any place in time and/or in style, then taxis far outbeat autos. Besides the comfort(4 wheeler vs 3 wheeler, AC vs ordinary) in cabs, another advantage is their being waterproof, heatproof and having transparent meters and fares vis-a-vis autorickshaws. Having used radio cabs extensively in Bangalore and NCR(less often in Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad), some comments on the same
  1. These fares have an upper regulated limit depending on the city. Many newcomers undercut these tariffs but may not be reliable on timing or availability(may cancel at the last minute)
  2. The industry works on a model where both cab driver and customer pay. The two models are
    1. Drivers drive company owned cabs paying Rs 1000-1500 per shift, and bearing the fuel charges. In turn, they can keep their entire earnings, and get the reservation fee share for the extra distance driven to pickup a fare
    2. Drivers owning their own cabs pay a monthly subscription fee to the cab company, and usually a per pickup success fee. Tying up with one company is not enough, so often a single owner has 2-3 company tieups to ensure greater cab utilization. 
  3. If you are not going for a long distance/airport drop off, then the cab may cancel if they get a better deal elsewhere. Of course, in organized reputed firms like Easy Cabs/Ola Cabs(I will NOT count Meru since it cancelled on me twice, once for an airport trip), drivers are fined if they do not reach 
  4. There are many cab services in NCR which offer headline fares at Rs 10/km. What are the extras are-which make Meru/EasyCabs look cheaper for short distances
    1. Min Billing anywhere from Rs 100-200 per trip
    2. Airconditioning charges extra usually Rs 20-25
    3. Luggage charges extra beyond X  bags
    4. Call Centre reservation charges(since often NO online reservation)
  5. How not to get conned/and save money
    1. Book online where possible, to save on the convenience charge. Create an account to save frequently used destinations. 
    2. Insist on a receipt for toll/tax, often the driver has a monthly pass but will still try and extract charges from you
    3. Use the Google Navigator on to guide the driver in case of confusion on route, else on the per km model, any detours are at YOUR expense
    4. Use the mobile apps where available-they offer discounts(like Ola Cabs 10%) and enable easy tracking of your cabs(i.e Ola Cabs)
    5. Keep adequate change with you for the cab, often the cab will pretend that the credit card machine does not work OR will extract the bill even before you can take out your card. Tell the driver you want to pay by card, and if he plays tactics, complain to the company. It won't help for that trip, but will deter future pranks
  6. How to choose a radio taxi firm
    1. Give patronage to one which services ALL your needs including night time trips/short distances, not just the long trips. That is why Easy Cabs gets my vote vs Meru
    2. Prefer one which allows online tracking of the cab to avoid tension of phoning call centre and tracking the cab progress

Monday, February 4, 2013

My experience at Jaipur Literature Festival 2013

The first time I heard about the Jaipur Lit Fest was during my years on the IIM Ahmedabad campus, when a few friends decided to attend. Due to personal commitments at those times, I could not attend but when the 2013 version came and I was at Gurgaon, I decided to attend it on Republic Day. So when the nation was celebrating(or rather indifferent to!) Republic day, me and many other literature lovers were enjoying the various sessions on offer. So without much ado, I recount my experience and some tips for getting the most out of the fest
  1. The venue(Hotel Diggi Palace) is very close to SMS Hospital(which all autos/buses know). So rather than spend on a cab and pollute the environment/lighten your wallet, consider taking a city bus or a share auto. That should just cost you Rs 10 each way. 
  2. There is no restriction on taking food/drinks inside the venue. Considering that items are slightly on the upper side, consider taking basic snacks/munchies with you, or have a good breakfast(the awesome poha/parathas/dal bhati) outside and then attend
  3. Registration is free(basic version) or paid(this year Rs 2500 where you get hamper from sponsor, free food and attending the music concert). Even valuing the free food at Rs 600, concert at Rs 400, that means you pay Rs 1500 for the hamper and the pleasure of being a patron of the litfest. Considering you get no other privileges like preferred seating, thats your choice. The name tag for paid registrations has your name, which might help for those of you focussed on networking.Make sure to pre register else if crowds too much, they may close the spot registration.
  4. The souvenir booklet(this year Rs 100) containing bios and detailed description of talk outline, is totally worth it. Otherwise, you spend lots of time Googling the authors to guess what they may be speaking about and stuff like that
  5. Its better to go as a group not only due to the carnival atmosphere, but also to ensure you get seating even when return from lunch/snack breaks. Here, like in any other Indian ethos, the concept of blocking seats exists. While I protested and got my way, you may not be thickskinned enough to do it when alone. So keep that in mind
  6. This year, the bookshop sold books by all attending authors. So if you want to make the author happy(but don't want to/have time to, order online), purchase a book at the litfest and Queue up for the post talk signing. 
  7. The sessions are usually 2+ authors(generally 3-4), literary critics, journalists or other renowned literature personalities, with a moderator. The format is a panel discussion like what you see on TV, except that its better moderated, and has (usually) better quality audience questions. So if you are expected deep insights, forget it, but if you are ok with many short insights from various people, you are at the right place. 
Overall, it was not arty/elitist, and a pleasure to attend. But if you don;t like the program topic, better find an alternate else it may get very boring

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Interstate bus travel in India-some hard won lessons tips

Over the past 5 months, I've had some interstate bus travel, by public and private operators, so thought I would summarize my experience below(mainly in terms of time, comfort dependent on class of travel etc)
Time taken(hrs)
Average Speed
Pvt chartered bus
Pvt operator

 Though the Southern states are usually believed to have better roads, the Bangalore-Coorg trip took very long because of winding traffic packed small roads within Coorg, and also because the bus has a speed limiter which stopped it from making up time on National highways! But even otherwise, the roads were quite pathetic on that stretch. Bangalore-Chennai and Bangalore-Hyderabad roads require no introduction, they are very very good. But when it comes to Delhi-Jaipur stretch(mostly on NH-8), then things become strange. There are two main operators, RSRTC(Rajasthan State Road Transport Corporation) and HSRTC(Haryana State Road Transport Corporation). I succumbed to availability bias(RSRTC e-ticketing) while booking the tickets, but was had a bad experience in terms of speed, bus comfort and stops selection(expensive overpriced places). Later, a veteran traveller said that HSRTC buses are not only more frequent, but also reach you faster. Also, unlike in the South, private buses are actually cheaper than public transport, atleast in Rajasthan. Some lessons
  1. Unlike private operators, state transport buses may not have dedicated customer care/contact numbers where English/Hindi is spoken. So if you do not speak the language or are not familiar with the stops, then god save you!
  2. Since public transport buses should easily get full due to (presumably) cheaper rates and reliable timing, unsold seats are a warning of deeper issues(quality, timing etc), which I ignored in RSRTC
  3. For long distance, Volvo is better, not only in terms of comfort, but also it is faster, and since likely to be full from starting, lesser unscheduled delays while conductors try to pack the bus
  4. No substitute for speaking to veteran travellers on the route, who can not only advice the best bus, but also likely issues(blankets/water etc) for you. 
  5. Don't bank on the DVD/seat lights working, not even for good operators-or they may not keep it on 24*7. Hence, do get your earphones etc along. And go for a bus with a charging point, that people vouch for that works! Else kiss your half day good bye
  6. The service can be astonishingly good(conductor stops where you want) depending on the state(Karnataka is the best imo, its Airavat class services), and many speak English/Hindi, so don't shy away from Govt owned transport due to language factor, provided you have asked about it.
  7. On the plus side, nearly all allow e-ticketing/SMS tickets nowadays, along with web based booking and inexpensive cancellation charges.
 In all, considering difficulty in getting train tickets and comparable travel times on the said routes, inter state bus travel should never be ruled out!