Archive for the 'Services' Category

Teaching is about hope!

Teaching is a very personal job and is all about hope. My close interaction with teachers from a non-student point of view, over the past few years has brought me to this conclusion. Why, you may ask?

A teacher has to overcome their own personal prejudices to teach a student in the way he/she learns best. It is very easy to spot weaknesses but guiding a child along its areas of strength is one of the most critical and crucial part of teaching.

When a child shows negative behavior, being able to separate the child’s behavior from the child and adopt a positive approach to prevent recurrence of the behavior is not easy.

So, lets celebrate the open ended teachers who opened their hearts and minds so that we could learn. Thank you!!!

In the business of “Fix-All”

Chennai is an awesome city and it has the tendency to grow on you. However, it is not an easy city for an outsider, unlike Bangalore. Basic stuff like being able to find a house on rent, a plumber or an electrician require herculean efforts. For some reason, you have to “know” the guy who knows some other “guy” who provides these services. You can’t get them off the shelf, when you need it, the way you need it.

So, when two of my friends (ex-colleagues from Cypress) – Venkatesh and Vaidyanathan decided to start a service that provided home improvement services in an organized and efficient way, I realized they had a gold in their hand. Their business is called fix-all. Do check out their website and services. They have launched in Chennai, so far and are looking to expand all over India soon. Here’s wishing them all the best!

Triple Play – No Thanks.

My friend Sanchayan and I were having a discussion on how triple play kind of services were very far away from take off in India. What? Did I hear you say that IP Set Box people are still struggling? You are right.

For the uninitiated, let me put “triple play” in layman terms – it is being able to get your “TV, Phone and Internet” through a single line (and implicitly single service provider).

While, it is exciting to be able to link all these services up and be able to tap into benefits that the cross functionality gives me in terms of superior services and subsidized prices, I’d be living a pipe dream if I were to believe that it would unfold that way in my (read consumers’) favor. Why, you may ask?

Let me try to explain. Every time, I have to depend on a single source (or service provider in this case) in India to serve too many of my basic needs (and yes, TV, Internet and Phone are basic), I get worried. The chances of a single provider becoming complacent and hence not providing good customer service or trying to extract too much money from me for their services are high enough, notwithstanding the disruption to my day-to-day life that would be caused by them going under temporarily/permanently.

I’ve had an experience of this. This was on the day I was leaving Chennai, I needed to withdraw some cash to make certain payments. I had money only in one bank account and incidentally for the one hour that I ran around from one ATM to another (and not just the bank’s own ATMs, I must have tried 10 different ATMs in about 5Kms radius) I could not withdraw any money. I had to do some “jugaad” and manage the day. But, since then I learnt my lesson on that front.

Actually, I’m saying no thanks to triple play in the near future – the risks outweigh the benefits (if any were presented at all!). What do you think, would you like to adopt such a service/offer if Sun/Hathway/Airtel were to offer it to you?

The clash of hardware, software and content

Most software people will tell you this overtly or covertly, if you listen carefully, over sometime – hardware is a commodity and software is king. Most hardware people will tell you, without bating an eyelid, that most of the software is free and can’t find any successful innovative business model beyond ads to make money in software. However, both Intel and Microsoft continue to be one of the top 3 businesses in the world.

Put the hardware and software guys together in a room and they will convince you that content is “open sourced” and available everywhere and it really doesn’t matter that much. Yet, we know a “good” quality one vs. a “not-so-good” one, the moment we see it. It is staring in our faces and in our understanding – good content is like “art”, it might be everywhere but getting it right and at the right time is not easy.

What set me thinking is in the power of bundling – can you imagine the iPhone in any other hardware package (say, a non-Apple one) or a Wii/X-Box for that matter? The reason something has been commoditized vs. not has a lot to do with the way certain industry dynamics  played out. Hardware has gone into overcapacity mode in China, Taiwan and some other east-Asian countries, leading to cheap manufacturing that doesn’t mean people won’t pay for good design, safety or durability! So, more than ever in hardware, positioning and branding matters.

Now, lets turn our attention to software – many of us might have a very narrow view of software as just what a “regular” consumer uses at a “visible” or “conscious” level. But the truth is it is everywhere we interact with digital world in one for or the other and we pay for the system level usage, for the simplicity, for scalability and much more.

While, software and hardware define the platform, content reigns supreme on the other end. It helps people build extreme network effects, on one hand and deliver tremendous value on the other. Here, the tug of war between pre-created and user-generated is yet to be won. Although most newspapers in the developed world have given up the fight and joined the bandwagon, in India this war is far from getting heated up. And, then there is the kind of content that we get in the form of entertainment and education. Again, there is the context of IPL vs. movies/video albums, ready-made CDs vs. YouTube videos/classroom presentations and so on and so forth.

I don’t see a definitive answer to this situation. There could be a path moving towards user-generated, collaborative content-based platforms that don’t necessarily culminate in commoditization of any of the components. There could also be an alternative path, where people would like to put the components together themselves and customize it. Although, if I would rather think the former scenario would play out. Lets wait and watch. What do you think? Hardware, software or content is king?

Let the conversations begin…@coupl.in

A friend of mine from ISB, Vivek Krishna told me about this time last year that he was mulling on a startup. Our discussion veered towards his passion and it turned out to be about “passions” :). He was looking at making a platform for people to find soul mates based on their interests. And launch, he did. The site is up and running and is called coupl.in.

You might ask, what is new, there are so many matrimonial and dating sites around. Right? Wrong.

Most matrimonial website profiles are maintained and updated by parents in India and do not really give you a chance to meet the person unless it gets to a certain level and dating sites in India have not had too much success so far. At coupl.in, of course, the individual registers and it goes beyond the basics of “what you are” to “who you are” and gives you very interesting vectors to define yourself. For example, some of the things that people use is “aspirations” – “like become a millionaire” or “write blog more often” – I kinda like it, because at a large level aspirations define a person as much as what they are today or what their qualifications are, in fact, even more!

Vivek has a simple philosophy where he doesn’t charge users for login or registration etc. He lets people find and meet other interesting people and if you find a match, you pay. Many of his users are not really teenage kids looking to have fun, they are mature adults, who are lost in the stream of work and don’t have time to go out and explore the dating scene (and even if you do, seriously, what are the odds!). So, if you are single and ready to mingle or your parents are getting ready to post you on the matrimonial boards, I would suggest take coupl.in for a spin. You never know what you might find!

Call taxis should introduce loyalty programs

I have had a chance to use call taxis on too many occasions in India now and day before yesterday as I was reaching Bangalore, I wanted to hire one so that I could get home without having to squabble with the auto fellows and not end up paying through my nose. So, I tried calling all the major ones. I noticed that many of them had introduced IVR (Interactive Voice Response Systems, the kind of ones that greet you when you dial toll-free numbers for customer service). I was aghast! Not only that I was thrown out of the system of a service that I’m a heavy user of, I ended up holding their call for more than 5 minutes before that happened.

I’ve a lot of reasons to be angry and a suggestion for them too…so here you go

The truth is, I loved the fact that when I called a human voice immediately answered with – “XYZ cabs, how can I help you?”, I mean it really showed that my query will get attended to immediately. IVR systems cost money to implement and do you no good if you cannot prioritize your queue with some form of pin code/loyalty number and leaves a spate of angry and dissatisfied customers! (Who will tell the call taxi owners this!)

That brings me to my idea, if the call taxis did want to do something hi-tech and advanced in marketing, they could launch some form of loyalty program that would guarantee stuff like “just 15-minute prior booking time”, “priority/emergency calling”. I’m sure people would even be willing to pay a premium for it. Although, offering it for free will get you the necessary customer sign-up and then you can prioritize your queue according to the value of the card holder. And, by the way, using the loyalty program doesn’t require the costly IVR implementation and will help them segment and serve the market better, while making more profits. What say people? All game for loyalty programs from call taxis?


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