Goodbye Autorickshaw| Bangalore

Bangalore traditionally has been the Mecca for autorickshaw drivers. Unlike other cities there was no hail-a-taxi, or human-powered vehicles to offer any competition. The public transport a centralized hub and spook design (all busses converging to Majestic) which is good for a small Tier-2 city that does not have enough people for a bus load full of Point-to-point solution. As a result the city center is jammed and dying, while the outskirts are booming. The metro service is a joke with no parking space the commuters near the station, feeder service for multi-modal transport for convenient long distance office commute.

The frequent evening showers, strict policing around bars/pubs, huge female/immigrant/temporary/young population who are averse to investing into assets make it an ideal place for auto drivers. The streets are crowded and parking space is so difficult to have that most residents prefer not drive. The rentals of Rs 13/-per km are highest in the country and the strict licensing policy means that there is a perpetual demand of travellers and high occupancy.

There are 1,40,000 registered autorichshaw plying in the streets everyday generating close to INR 10cr ($2mn)of revenue. Considering that the operating cost is the lowest amongst all mode of travels, most auto-richshaw drivers enjoy handsome profits.

However there is a very thin line between benefiting from a situation and over-exploiting it. Rude behavior, extorting excess fare and tampering the meter is rampant. It is impossible to hire a taxi at less than twice the normal fare during rainy season or peak office hours. My wife lives 2km from her office and there is an auto stand next to the apartment & her office. Yet it was so cumbersome to haggle with the drivers that she chose to buy a car instead (even though there was no space to park the second car)

Recently the radio taxi service is giving them tough competition. TaxiForSure offers 4km ride for as low as 49/- and 14/- per km later obliterating the economic advantage  of the underpowered, noisy, vibrating contraptions named auto. Not only the taxi service is more polite, reliable but they have real doors and windows to protect the riders from the street pollution and vagaries of environment.

However it is not a simple question of economics or newer technology replacing the old. It is a question of better customer service prevailing. There are countless examples where monopolies benefit from favorable market situations. However those who take undue advantage of the situation are dethroned with a quick and merciless death. Good PR and courteous operations is the key for long term survival of business.

Mystery of loaded muskets

This is in continuation of the previous post where it was asserted that although history glorifies the slaughters of a few generals/kings, the common population by large was peace loving. The soldiers (esp. green ones) would prefer to be killed rather than kill. The 24,000 loaded muskets from the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg are often cited as an example. A lot of people relate to unloaded muskets as peaceful nature of common soldier, but they might be misinterpreting the facts and ignorance of the reality of battlefields.

Both sides were using a popular British army rifle Enfield 1853 which had a .577 bore but the standard American ammo was .58 caliber. This might seem like a small difference, but after 2-3 fires with blackpowder fouling, hangfire or barrel injury was almost guaranteed. Springfield m1861 had a design flaw in the barrel which made it prone to misfire. The machining of gun parts in that era was poor and the shortage of weapons was so rampant that a lot of soldiers brought their own hunting rifles. Many makeshift workshops were created to meet the demand and there was hardly any quality control process. Add to it the stress/confusion of being fired upon, wear-N-tear of the battlefield, damp gunpowder and tedious loading mechanism; you create a concoction for failure. Smokeless gunpowder was not invented and guns often used to get jammed and barrels clogged if not maintained properly. With 46,000 casualties on the day of the battle it was easier for a soldier to salvage a new rifle than to repair one. Hence a large number of “defective” loaded guns would appear in the field.

Guns in those times produced a thick smoke cloud which impairs visibility and aim. Hence commanders would order their troops to follow a synchronized loading and discharge ritual. This way the smoke would clear by the time your troops are ready for next round. While smoke cloud from the synchronized discharge would make it harder for enemy to aim and allow you to gain a few inches (or half a mile of Picket’s Charge with a loaded weapon). So the best time to shoot the enemy is to wait till the smoke clears but not too long that the enemy commander gave orders to fire. As a result the incapacitated enemy was invariably holding a loaded gun/rifle with their hands around the trigger.

Fire, Cool, powder, bullet, ram, aim and shoot again was the sequence. Chances are that you could jam your perfectly well maintained weapon by loading the bullet first and the powder later. The muskets balls were replaced with a tighter fitting Minié/Minnie balls and if you rammed it wrongly or the manufacturing defect made bullet was too large to exit properly and there is no easy way to get it out. The only remedy was to dismantle the weapon, clean it and reassemble it. It is possible to do it in a foxhole but not in the open battlefield march of Gettysburg. The commanders insisted on soldiers continuing to load as a show of discipline and training. Everybody noticed if the neighboring comrade whom you are standing shoulder to shoulder was not firing and were inspired that you still continued to be part of the battle by loading and following orders.

The 95% time to load 5% time to shoot is true for somebody practicing in the safety of their backyard. When people get shot at and feel threatened they get into a kind of adrenaline rush frenzy. The time it takes to perform mechanical tasks like reloading which are part of the muscle memory gets shortened drastically while focus, aiming and precision tasks takes much longer. Commanders of that era accused  solders of over-aiming (reduced rate of fire due to spending too much time to aim). Hence there is a higher chance the person was aiming with a loaded rifle when he was shot.

Lastly one should not underestimate the fact that common foot soldier was underfed, did not have good boots/coat to protect against weather, underpaid and under trained. With poor living conditions, poor hygiene in camps, prevalence of disease, blood and suffering reduced the morale considerably. Desertion was prevalent and these poorly trained militia/farm boys (as the commanders used to mock them as) might not have maintained the weapon properly. Every time you fire black powder, the chances of barrel fouling increases. In the confusion of the battlefield, some would not have been trained enough to know that their weapon was not firing and would load it multiple times. Also who had time to fix a hangfire in the middle of the battlefield.

Whatever is the reason, it is only a speculation and there is no way to truly determine what happened that day. However there are several theories that point that loaded weapons were because of the culture and practices of the battlefield of the time. The loaded muskets are not a reflection of the psychological dilemma faced by a piece loving soldier who was ordered to shoot. If they wanted not to harm, they would have fired in the air rather than repeatedly loading their guns.

Peace loving humans

I held a very traditional view of human ethics and values. I believed:

Throughout history human life did not have any value. The armies and neighboring tribes used to raid, pillage and ransack anybody who could be subdued and without any repercussions. Capturing the weak and exploitation of slaves was rampant. Even the church used to glorify it by labeling it with “White Man’s burden” or “Holy Crusade”. Great Saga on conquests and battles were written with gory details on the pain, suffering and carnage these resulted in.

All these indicate the value of a human life that was not a kin was little (if not zero). However today when education has helped people identify & relate to others. Also the macho charm associated with killing has vanished because swords & horseback charges have replaced themselves with much easier to operate guns, ammo and explosives.

However recently I was challenged and presented with a few facts that made me question these beliefs. The consensus was that causing suffering and taking human life was only a means to achieve the ambition of a few generals. The common soldier (irrespective of whether from the winning or the losing side) would prefer not to kill even at the cost of their own death.

Firstly, the famous story of unfired muskets of Gettysburg (American Civil war, 1863). Of the 27,000 muskets that were recovered, 24,000 were loaded. Considering that it took between 30-90 seconds for a trained soldier to load a musket and pull of trigger to fire it, the fact points that many soldiers was reluctant to shoot/kill. To discount the theory that soldiers were incapacitated before he had a chance to discharge, then one should remember that 12,000 were loaded multiple times and amongst them 6,000 were loaded between three to 10 times. There is one famous musket that was loaded 23 times indicating that the soldier had infinite time and no intention what so ever to fire.

Secondly, a famous book “Men against fire” by General S.L.A. Marshall highlights the fact that during world war 2 only 15-20% of the soldiers actually discharged their weapons. Maximum carnage was a result of an artillery fire or long distance shooting where the soldiers could not see their enemy.

Thirdly there has been no historian or military general who has not ridiculed the green soldiers. The civilians (as many would mock them as) were often compared with mannequins and props whose only purpose seem to be to boost the morale of the enemy through getting killed, desertion or fleeing the battlefield. In the Battle of Cannae 216BC, Rome had amazed the largest army it had. Not only they outnumbered Hannibal 2:1 but also was better fed, trained and had the home territory advantage. Yet Hannibal Barca’s battle hardened army managed to surround them and massacred 75,000 of the green Roman Army in a direct hand to hand combat, while taking minimal losses himself.

The point being that history is glorified and often exaggerated accounts of a few men with the intention to inspire the masses; rally the troop and create lasting memories/impression. Like Bollywood movies they need to be larger than life and might not be the true reflection of cruelty in the society at large.

Links of leadership

1. You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwnemwvho

2. What I Know for Sure About Leadership. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIw27fPvxo

3. The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIw49Kmwho

4. Great Leadership Isn’t About You. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwo5Xxxxo

5. The Most Productive People Know Who to Ignore. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwxueRrR8

6.  How To Create The Irresistible Offer. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwkNLayho

7. Put the I back in alliances http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31818&articlexml=Management-Tip-Put-the-I-Back-In-Alliances-02092014012049

8. Most Leadership Advice Is Useless. Here’s What I Really Learned Running 20 Companies. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwsIXptx8

9.  Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwge2YuB8

10. Great CEOs Deal With ‘Elephants’ First. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwnMW8uR8

11. Sir Bob Geldof thinks global leadership is lacking, but what makes a great leader? http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIw7uj0zR8

12. A Military Leader’s Approach to Dealing with Complexity. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwtd6m2Ro

13. What to Do After a Bad Performance Review. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwwuus2xo

14. 7 Tests To Make An Accurate Sales Forecast. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIw__HQyxo

15. Want to Write Better Sales Proposals? Follow These 5 Steps. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIwqOLwrx8

“Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical and expecting more than others think is possible.”

Formula for Change

David Gleicher in 1960 had coined that for a successful Change
D x V x F > R
Dissatisfaction, vision and first step is needed and they together should be greater than the resistance to change. If any of the 3 essential ingredients are missing the movement fails.

One of the reasons why people are so optimistic about the current Modi Government is because the climate feels just right. The leadership has not only a clear vision, but also balls and plan to achieve the same.

In the internet I found an alternative version of the formula. However it seems that this is more apt for individual growth only.

Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resource and action plan

Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resource and action plan

Why Gift card/voucher?

A gift might look like a tangible object but it is much more than that. Price tag is only one of the artifacts of this and very few people rank their gifts solely based on it.

A flower might not have any utility or economic value, yet it shows that the person remembered you.  They consider you worth the pains to plan for its collection/gathering/logistics. Similarly you cherish some of the trinkets because of the words inscribed on them or the memories associated with it.

Sometimes you gift items because they are hard to get otherwise. This could include a favorite childhood candy/toy that is not available today. Essentially it is not the price but the thought and the process that is more important. People go in so many pains to gift wrap and decorate because of this very same reason.

On the other hand, you might gift a dishwasher/roomba to your aunt/mother simply because she has a need for it, but if given a choice she might never buy it for herself. I might never buy an expensive watch/mobile phone for myself, but would be exalted if my spouse bought it for me. It does not matter if I will be the one, who would eventually pay for the purchase. A gift is a comfortable guilt free mode of occasional indulgence.

You might gift someone a deodorant as a prank, but essentially the message is to reinforce the bond by telling them that you understand them. You know what the other person likes, needs and desires. A gift card unlike a greeting card does not even remotely come close in expressing the same feeling.

A typical gift card would have the fine print/terms and conditions like below:

  1. It is valid for <some> months from issue and cannot be extended or exchanged for cash
  2. Cannot be clubbed with promotions/discounts/schemes etc.
  3. Not applicable for a particular category of products (say electronics, gold jewelry etc.)
  4. It has to be redeemed in full and any partial redeemed value would expire automatically
  5. Merchant has right to refuse redeeming it or modify its terms of use

All this makes me wonder why would anybody exchange cash for a gift card? Money is infinitely more flexible and convenient to handle than any gift card. Gift card is not a gift because the piece of paper (sometimes it is delivered virtually) has no other utility/function except for forcing you to go to a particular store/brand to redeem it within the stipulated time.

To me a gift is a small token of appreciation for the other individual, giftee. It is no brainer that an individual would understand their needs better than the giftor yet you don’t normally dole out cash because it is cold and impersonal. Imagine a repercussion of handing your girlfriend a fist full of cash after an evening together. But is gift card a remedy?

Overhype: First mover advantage

“Could you please Xerox this page?”

“Please switch on All-Out”

“Wash it with Surf”

“Stick it with Fevicol”

Many of the first mover brands have become so successful that we associate the product category need with them. Sadly this brand recall often does not translate into product sales and consumers are agnostic about which brand of Photocopying, liquid mosquito repellant, detergent powder, adhesive they use.

Couchsurfing has been in existence for a decade helping travelers to find economical safe accommodation. However it needed a late incumbent like AirBnB to come up with a commercially viable business plan that took care of the issues like billing, security, advertising & taxes.

Most first movers are unsure about how their product is going to be used and spend a lot of time & energy in promoting the technology. The pioneers are sometimes focused on so many use-cases and markets that their vision is clouded. The incumbent free rides on the market research and buyer education and is better poised to make a focused brand targeting the most compelling

The first mover often is saddled with high failure rate due to pricing, communication/promotions, operational jitters, poor commercialization or plain vanilla economic viability. Sometimes they don’t have enough resources to operate long enough to see success. Other times they are not able to scale up fast enough to fully capitalize on the demand. The incumbent not only faces lesser risks of product acceptance, but knows better what will work and where to invest to get quick returns.

It is easy to get an entrepreneur excited by giving him a story about being pioneers and giving them a unique proposition that is 5-10 years ahead of its time. However most people don’t realize that “Success is not achieved through cutting edge technology but by solving real life problems”. Rarely is the market two small for 2 players to thrive and second mover is not a bad strategy for an agile firm.