Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Connect the Dots' event in Delhi: Fri May 28

Venue: Oxford Bookstore
Statesman House
Barakhamba Rd
New Delhi
Date: Fri May 28
Time: 6 pm

All are welcome. Look forward to meeting!

Monday, May 17, 2010

'Connect the Dots' event in Mumbai

Thu, 20th of May @ 730 pm
Landmark bkshop, Palladium, Phoenix Mills.

All are welcome.

We're expecting the following entrepreneurs from 'Connect the Dots':

* Sunita Ramnathkar, Fem
* Prem Ganapathy, Dosa Plaza
* Ranjiv Ramchandani, Tantra t-shirts
* Samar Gupta, Trikaya Agriculture
* Hanmant Gaikwad, BVG

It will be an informal, interactive session so do come!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Career Query of the Week

Hi Rashmi,

I am pursuing CA ,and this was my third attempt for CA inter but don’t think will pass this time also. I don’t know what I am lacking in preparation but it's really ruining my precious years.

Also I messed up my graduation 1st year and failed terribly. Presently I am in 2nd year Bcom DU(Correspondence).

I used to be an average student upto high school got 79% in 12th , never dreamt of me failing in any field but now my life is trapped in these fails. My self-confidence has now become very low.

Can you guide me what should I do to avoid more chaos in my life.


dear A G

I understand how difficult it must feel right now but the good news is - putting everything down on paper means you have accepted you have a problem. And now we can start working on it.

Exams are a part of life, more important in my opinion is addressing your low self confidence and how you feel about yourself. I know this may be a hard concept to swallow at first, but the more you focus on how badly you are performing, and visualise the chances of failing in the future - the more likely you are to fail.

This is called the 'Law of Attraction'. What you focus on, what you think about most - is what you attract into your life.

To understand this better please read a book called 'The Secret'.

OK. You might now say "I don't want to feel low, and think negative thoughts but I can't stop myself from doing it." This is a very common problem but again, the good news is, you can choose to think differently.

It won't happen in a day but with time, with practice you will feel the change in yourself.

I suggest you attend either a basic 'Art of Living' or 'Isha Yoga' course. Both teach you certain breathing practices which help to calm your mind and still the chaos in your head. In time, you can learn other yoga and meditation techniques.

You can also learn reiki.

I also find a book by Louise Hays called 'You can heal your life' to be really amazing. If you have to read only ONE self-help book in your entire life, it has to be this one.

What I am suggesting to you will help you tackle the root cause of your problem - not just the symptoms. Once you are confident, energised and radiating with positivity you will be successful at whatever you do. Be it an exam, be it anything else.

All the very best!

Note to readers
What I have told AG works for any problem, in any aspect of your life. The power of your thoughts is what creates your world, your experience.

And this is coming from someone who was once a complete skeptic.

Open your mind to this possibility, put logic and rationality to sleep for a while, and see how different (how much better!) life can be.

Maine khud aazmaaya hai and I highly recommend it. Only thing is, you need faith and you need patience! Both of which are in short supply in this day and age...

'Connect the Dots' event in Bangalore

I am delighted to invite you to the launch of 'Connect the Dots' in Bangalore.

Date: Saturday 15th May
Time: 3 - 4.30 pm
Venue: Strand Book store
1st floor, South Block
Manipal Centre, Dickenson Rd,
Bangalore – 42.

Directions and more info here .

I will also be at the Infosys campus between 5 and 630 pm on Friday May. Having a CTD event there as well but that's open only to Infy employees :)

See you Saturday!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Age no bar

"Bete, har cheez ki ek umar hoti hai", parents used to say.

There is a time to focus on studies.

A time to build your career.

A time to shoulder responsibilities.

But in the Indian scheme of things you are never 'old enough' to really live your life the way you want to.

Until ultimately you are old and telling other - "Bete, har cheez ki ek umar hoti hai..."

Philosophy aside, there is a very real dilemma facing parents today. My ten year old daughter (if you ask her she'll say, "11 in 3 months time!") wants to join Facebook.

Now officially you have to be over 13 to be on Facebook but you know how simple it is to circumvent that rule. Her point is, lots of kids in class have Facebook accounts.

I have no way to verify that - and neither should be the basis of my decision. So what do I do?

This is but one example. There is the 'when can I get a cellphone' question.

When can I go to the mall with my friends - and no adult escort?

Recently I was stumped by when can I get a manicure (just want to try it once).

My standard response is:"When you are in class 10". But I doubt I will actually be able to hold out for another five years.

So what are my concerns, why stop her from 'having it all' as soon as possible?

Well, like all parents, I want to protect her. From the big bad world out there. And yet, I do not want to spy. And I do not want to worry when I don't spy (and therefore don't know what company she is keeping).

The hope is, the older you get, the wiser you get. But is there any such guarantee in this world?

At best, you are postponing the inevitable.

I've let her read the 'Twilight' series (it's supposed to be teen fiction but hey.. it's a rage among kids her age).

I switch off 'Desperate Housewives' when she is around but she's just discovered 'Friends' and funny as it is, the storylines are definitely 'adult'.

I've handed down my ipod to her (but strictly forbidden taking it out of home).

Yes, kids are growing up faster - physically and mentally. But you know they're still kids when they ask you - can we do this or that?

The day they 'just do it' is the day they have grown up.

Har cheez ki ek umar hoti hai. The question for parents is, when will be old and wise enough to let go?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Customer service ha ha ha

The ads depict bank executives who care so much for you that they bring out a laddoo for you, Coz it's your birthday.

Well, if they spent a little less on laddoos and on advertisements, they just might be able to provide what customers really want - like working ATMs.

This afternoon 3 out of 4 ATMs in a large branch in Vashi were not working. The 4th was disbursing cash in dribbles (40 notes).

One or more of these machines is usually not working - every other time you go there.

The executive sitting under the 'complaints' desk is non-responsive. I fill out a receipt book kind of form (carbon copied) - and she non-chalantly mentions that "We don't maintain the ATMs, some other company does it..."

Ah, kitna karti hai company 'khayaal aapka'.

Ultimately, the gent in the 'wealth management' section was kind enough to agree there is a problem. Not just with ICICI but all ATMs in the Thane-Vashi belt. And he will definitely tell the Branch Manager to look into it.

Well, another shining example of customer service is the Reliance Big Flix store. Three days ago - it was functioning as usual, inside Reliance Webworld. Today, all shelves are empty.

Apparently customers were informed by sms that the store will be shutting down. Why? Because the entire Webworld is shutting down, in a month.


But couldn't the boy at the counter tell customers who were visiting the shop to pick up or return DVDs (yes, they have home delivery but some of us are just old fashioned).

At the very least, could someone have put up a print out announcing the same?

No, sir.

And while I am at it, let me rant a bit about Kishore Biyani's Food Bazaar chain of stores. I know it's a little desi, but I've always had a soft spot for this store. Despite the arrival of HyperCity I would still drop in at times - but not any more.

First of all, there is a new rule under which ladies purses must be zipped and sealed into a transparent plastic bag. Before you enter the store.

I find it cheap and silly - agreed shoplifting may be a problem, but how much can one shoplift in a purse that too in a store atta, dal and phal-subzi? What was the magnitude of the problem - can someone from Future Group kindly share?

To me, it is a sign that all izz not well at Food Bazaar - and possibly most other modern retailers. That's when you look for where to cut corners, save a little here and there - at the expense of the brand. And loyalty of the customer.

Apart from the purse issue, there are others. Many niche brands which Food Bazaar once stocked - which I liked to buy - are no longer there. I bet some consultant did a study recommending the 'long tail' of products which sell slowly and therefore are less profitable, can be axed.

Well then what is the difference between a supermarket and a kirane ka dukaan? Sure, the price conscious customers who want to save Rs 73 on a bill of Rs 1100, and get a plastic mug free - they will still come.

But if someone else like Reliance Fresh offers them Rs 83 off on the same basket of goods, they would happily go there.

All you get is a price war that no one can win. People like me go back to our local slightly exotic foods rakhne wala kirana(takes far less time at the cash register!)

And oh, there are three Food Bazaars within a 1 km radius of my home - all of which are mostly empty. Why not close two of them and have one, smooth-as-silk managed store?

Well, bolne se dil halka hota hai. So bol diya. Ab halke kadmon se ja rahi hoon... park mein sair karne.

Jai Maharashtra, Jai Hind.

iSay, you say, we all say, to Nokia

I used to think I would never use a phone other than Nokia.

The love affair began with the Nokia 3310. My first cellphone back in what, 2001 or 2002.

The little grey number was easy to use, felt great in the hand and featured the original version of snake with the long pixels chasing the single-pixel.

Three years later I graduated to the Nokia 6670 - the main attraction was its one megapixel camera. Using the Symbian OS was quite a pain (and prompted me to write an article titled 'Too dumb for a smartphone' at the time).

But eventually, used-to ho gaye, and the silver brick became part of me.

Three and a half years later, in the summer of 2008, I finally retired the 6670 due to extreme old-age issues. I bought another Nokia - this time an N82.

I wasn't happy about it for multiple reasons: it was too bulky, too ugly, had no choice of colour (there was silver - which would look exactly like the one I had used for 3 years and black, which I opted for though it wasn't much of an option).

This phone, sadly, served me for just about 18 months before the keypad conked out. After two cycles of repair I decided it was too much of a bother - kya karein ab?

Well, God heard my prayers as suddenly I received a gift.

"You tell me: iPhone or Blackberry?"

Well, it was a no-brainer for me and today I am the proud owner of an iPhone 3GS.

I'm sorry, but I simply do not see myself using a Nokia - again.

Life has changed after the iPhone in many small ways. The first two weeks I was paranoid about losing it, dropping it or scratching it. Now the iPhone's grown on me and feels safe in my hands.

For the first time in years I actually play games. The iPhone games are way cooler than anything I ever saw on Nokia. My current favourites include Paper Toss, Monkey and Fall Down. All absolutely free, on iStore.

And oh, Bubble Wrap - there is a special childish pleasure in popping the bubbles on the screen with your finger, as opposed to using up and down keys, to do the same.

The second great thing is I purged my mailbox of at least 2 dozen mailers I barely ever read. The reason I did this is data plans on iPhone are expensive and I don't want to pay for mbs and gbs of PR mail and random news from here and there.

In the process, I've reduced email stress on myself - considerably.

Using iPhone as a wireless device is also simply great. Esp now that wireless is available in more and more places (home, office, some public places). That should only get better.

Typing messages on the iPhone - took a little getting used to, but easy enough.

My one grouse is the camera. I think the N82 took far better pictures and in 5 megapixels. So I keep the N82 in my purse - and use it as a camera :)

Poor Nokia, things are not looking too good for them. Businessweek magazine reports: lacking a hit handset in the smartphone category, its profit margins are falling.

And in India, there are too few Apple users to even blame (thanks to the pricing). Go to any shop selling phones and people are walking in and asking for handsets like LG Icecream and Samsung Corby by name.

Nokia's number series has become so very confusing - it's perhaps time they gave some of those phones a naamkaran. And made it easier for us all.

Nokia is still a market leader in the lower end handsets. But there too companies like Micromax are coming in aggressively with high end features at very competitive rates.

It's time for Nokia to go back into the laboratory and come up with something that make you want to chuck what you have and buy a new one. Imagine a stunningly good-looking girl with an IQ of 180 - but in the form of a phone.

I don't know what it could be. Maybe a jellyphone which takes the shape of your hand. Maybe the slimmest phone in the world. Maybe an indestructible phone, a handset which will not break - no matter what.

Just a few crazy ideas. I am sure there are designers and engineers out there can come up with much better.

Because product lifecycles are getting shorter and shorter. If you're not dreaming 'what next', 'what more', your brand is one step closer to the grave.

Nokia still enjoys tremendous goodwill, and marketshare. But it needs some stardust to sprinkle on consumers. To work its magic spell, to mesmerise us into saying "lena to Nokia hi hai, question is 'which model'!"

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Tinker, tailor, plumber, carpenter

I get many emails from founders of startups seeking advice. Many of them just ask for a bit of publicity. So here it is - a bit of advice, and some free publicity to a few entrepreneurs taking their baby steps.

1) www.fix-all.biz

Vaidyanathan Ramachandran from IIM Ahmedabad's PGP X program has founded this biz which aims at providing 'clean, reliable and hassle-free home improvement services'.

Although the name is 'fix-all', as of now they focus only on electrical services in the city of Chennai. This needs to be communicated more clearly, right next to the number given on the homepage.

Is there a need?: Yes, certainly. There should be a lot of people willing to try such a service.

What could be better: The website is basic, pictures could be better. Some information on who are the people behind this venture would inspire more confidence.

The pricing for chhota mota jobs is Rs 90 for labour only. Which my mom thinks is high (the local electrician charges Rs 30). But for complex jobs - like an entire home's electrical fitting, I may be willing to pay a premium for reliable and knowledgeable service.

Pitfalls: What if the electricians under contract with Fix-it start doing freelance on the side. Once I have the cell no of a workman, I can bypass Fix-it and pay him Rs 50 and get my work done. Not saying it will happen, but it's a distinct possibility.

Parting advice: Training and motivation of workmen is key to the success of this venture. Polite, punctual fellows who do their job with sincerity are what you need. Uniforms and smiles would add to the attractiveness of the package.

The website name is a little tough to remember but I guess you can't have everything!

Well, great minds think alike and more so in the competitive world of business.

2) A similar service - but with its own USPs - is Liveazee.

The site is broader in scope than Fix-it. Right now they offer two services:

1) Electronics repair: TV repairs are done at your home, audio systems and DVD players are picked up and repaired at the service centre.

There is a 30 day guarantee in case the same problem recurs. Charges range from Rs 100-500 + parts.

2) Bill Pay: In a world where ECS and online payment mechanisms have reduced this hassle, there is apparently a large enough market to merit a home pick up service for your utility payments. It costs Rs 150 a month for 10 such pick-ups.

A killer app - in my opinion - is the EazeeBox where a box is installed in your society for this purpose. That makes the service far more economical. (I live in a building full of senior citizens and that makes a big difference!)

But the most unique service this site offers is a 'Home Staff Register'. The idea is to register the personal information of all your home staff - cook, maid, driver, nanny etc.

Now this is something we all know we should, but rarely do. So let's say I download the 3 page form and fill up all the details. I am not clear what is the benefit of putting the info online... May as well go to your local police station and register the domestic with them, no?

Other services like plumbing, electrical, carpentry etc will be offered on the site soon.

Is there a need?:
Probably - different takers for different services.

What could be better: The website could use some user testimonials and information about who is behind the venture. Another thing - in the Home Staff Register that I downloaded I did not see any space for a photo.

Pitfalls: Same as above. Finding and retaining reliable workmen, and making sure they are working only on company payroll will be a challenge.

And again, the name. I'm sorry but it did not make much sense until I saw the website. It's Live + Eazee -LIVeazee. (Maybe, it's just me).

Parting advice: Cities where the service is available should be clearly mentioned. Since the target audience would include a lot of working couples and bachelors weekend and late evening services (upto 11 pm!) could be offered. If I am saved the trouble of taking a half day from work to get my flush fixed, I would be willing to pay a premium.

I'm sure there might be a few more young entrepreneurs in this space (like there are in juices!) . Well, the good news is the market is big enough for all. It's a completely chaotic and unorganised sector which makes it a huge opportunity, as well as a huge challenge.

In response to my last post Dhruv Kakar left this comment: "Don't these ideas look like copy cats...what is their USP....How they are different....I think something is missing... something like different...why everyone wants to be CCD or Barista....is entrepreneurship is just a fad."

Well, some years ago I would have reacted like Dhruv. Ki bhai kuch karna hai to unique karo, nahin to mat karo. But I realised there are many routes you can take in entrepreneurship.

If you have a unique idea and faith in it - go ahead. eg Give India (ref. Stay Hungry Stay Foolish).

But if you don't have such an idea.. well, you still gotta start somewhere. Sanjeev Bikhchandani started a small company producing reports - naukri.com came later. In his case, he had the idea of a job directory in 1991 but only with the arrival of the internet could he make that dream a reality.

Because he was already an entrepreneur, he could grab the opportunity and run with it.

Similarly, these juicewallahs and electrical contractors are learning what it is to do business in India. With time, they will get very good at what they do - maybe spot another opportunity before anyone else. Or simply scale up their own operations to a level where it becomes a force to reckon with.

I am reminded of Ganesh Ram of Veta (chapter 3 in my new book 'Connect the Dots'). He started by giving maths tuitions himself. Then set up an all-subject tutorial center. In time, he decided to focus only on English and set up a distance learning program. Today his company runs India's largest chain of spoken English training centres.

So, kuch kariye - as Sukhwinder Singh would say. And karnewaale are welcome to drop me a mail at rashmi_b at yahoo.com. Will try and feature as many as possible in this space.

You can also post your stories at www.connectthedots.in/forums/

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