flipkart ad: “Aapko bhi to photo dekhkar pasand kiya tha”

I was watching the latest series of Flipkart tv ads and I could see a remarkable difference in the product positioning by this market leader and pioneer in India’s E-Commerce space.
1. Unless the rest of the folks, the ads don’t talk about discounts. Everybody (esp. Indians) love discounts, buts its never good for business and till 2011 had created a situation where almost all the online retailers were booking losses and burning cash (rather than generating it)
2. Returns/reverse logistics: Flipkart has one of the best infrastructure and policy for the dissatisfied customer to return the products. However still the current series of ads don’t talk about it. Maybe its like one of those features (like credit card payment, Cash on delivery) that almost all the online shoppers expect the website to offer. Hence they have realized that its no point wasting precious media time talking about it.
3. “Aapko bhi to photo dekhkar pasand kiya tha”
I loved this line as it will strike a familiar chord amongst the entire country where arranged marriages are prevalent. Here the wife effectively convinces her husband that there is nothing new is selecting goods (or even your spouse) by just a photograph.
4. Use of kids: I am not sure why they use it, but kids create a natural curiosity and grabs our attention. Also it helps to communicate that the website is so easy to use that even toddlers can shop.

The shift from discounts, cash on delivery, return policies to the fact that its not too risky to shop online is a wonderful change. It addresses the core issue which keeps most shoppers away from websites, while ensuring that e-commerce not mere discount stores.


valuable piss

throughout European history the amount of piss being collected has strong correlation with the prosperity and strength of the society.
In Ancient rome, Piss (usually human) was the only source of ammonia which was used as:
1. Bleach to keep the clothes white
2. Toothpaste to keep the tooth white.
Richer the city, the more piss was collected/transported to the city so that the rich could afford these luxuries. BTW till about a 100 years ago, ammonia was the key active ingredient in almost all the toothpastes.

In the medieval ages, gun powder was the symbol of power and wealth. More the number of guns were shot, the more blackpowder was needed. One of the most important component of blackpowder was saltpeter which was almost exclusively made from Piss (but animal piss this time). http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/saltpeter.html

In the modern era, there were cheaper ways to produce ammonia and nitrous oxides, but that never diminished the importance of these compounds. Ammonia is used even today in Urea and almost all fertilizers, while nitrous oxides are still the most important ingredient of all explosives, bullets and weapons. Its even said that the Allied bombing lead to destruction of several important sites that produced Nitrous oxide. This severely reduced the supply of nitrogen for Hitler and almost all was being diverted to make explosives. This caused a famine which started a chain of events leading to invasion of Russia (for its fertile land and supply of Potato and wheat)


new job vs. new shoe

Switching jobs is sometimes similar to switching shoes.
The old shoe, no matter how expensive, wears off after a few years and after that it only slows one down. It only gives sores, blisters and pains and no longer meets your needs, goals and expectation. A crappy shoe shows its true color months (sometimes only weeks) after you discard your old shoe and change into this one.
No shoe is no blessing either. During the initial adjustment period, you only regret and have remorse which makes one long for the old shoe which we had so carelessly left by the dumpster. Some people even manage to retrieve the old shoe and beg for it to be your best buddy again. However once the initial adjustment period is over, more often then not, one finds the new shoe to be a better fit for your toe. This time the only thing you would be thinking was, why the hell did I wait so long to try this one out. However by the time you are 100% sure that you and your shoe are fit for each other, the shoe starts fraying.

On a serious note:
Employees ofter overestimate their capabilities when they threaten to quit, but one should always remember that the corporation will continue to exist (and hopefully flourish) long after you have parted ways… much in the same way that you will continue to grow and flourish even after you have severed your ties with the current job. The job never defines a person, its just a stepping stone preparing you for bigger and better things (both professionally and personally)

5 elements of wise reasoning

1. Willingness to seek opportunities to resolve conflict;
2. Willingness to search for compromise;
3. Recognition of the limits of personal knowledge;
4. Awareness that more than one perspective on a problem can exist;
5. Appreciation of the fact that things may get worse before they get better.

True Retirement Age

It is not uncommon to witness someone to be employed by the state (government/PSU jobs) till the age of 60 and then would retire with full benefits and pension. However that was not the end of their career, through their experience, contacts and hard-work they continued to work for another 10 years or more as part-time, consultant, board-member, problem solver, or even as a full time employee. I have also known a businessman/entrepreneur who loved this creation so much that all the 3 generation still come to office. The founder of the enterprise intends to pass on the keys of his empire to the kids of his grandson. (By which time he could be as old as 90 years of age)
However I am also seeing people, who are in their late 40s and early 50s. Many of them have been marginalized in their careers and a couple of them are between jobs. What came as a rude shock to them was that when they sit in a job interview:
1. Most likely than not, the potential boss would be younger and might not have as rich an experience as you would have. In a society like India, where the number of grey hair determines your seniority and respect in the society, this could be quite intimidating. After all bosses would never like to create a situation where their authority could be challenged.
2. You might try to project yourself as the intellectual powerhouse, but all along the company might be skeptical of your ability to adapt to the new job, culture and skills that are needed. They would have doubts on your agility, and might prefer a younger candidate.
I am not saying that there are no jobs available, but all I am saying is that the universe of people looking for someone like you might be smaller than what one might have anticipated. Hence it is important to plan for the greyer years.
1. Financial planning: With soaring undergraduate, postgraduate fees and early retirements, ones career has shrunk dramatically. Hence try to save 1/3 to ¼ of your salary every month. Also try to utilize your second income, bonus etc. into asset building investments. This way you always would have enough to sit out a rainy day.
2. Networking: kick your cocoon away and talk to people. Try to broadcast your abilities and make friends with people outside your company and industry. World is a small place and you never know from where does the next opportunity comes.
3. Be in the good books. People switch careers and jobs so often that it is impossible to truly compute the potential downside of one’s actions. The fresher you hired a couple of years ago might be your new boss (and vice versa), the unlikeliest of the person might be asked to provide a character/professional verification.


The cost of governance

History has taught us that the more the lands, resources and trade routes a regime controls the richer the state is. Wars traditionally were a very profitable empire bringing loot and access to resources which could fill the state’s coffers for ages. All this was true till about the early 20th century (First World War to be precise). I wonder what has happened since because today:
1. The richer and more advanced the country is, the more debt laden it is. Poor and developing countries are bailing out the rich, while the rich are unable to muster enough currency to every pay the interest on these debts.
2. It does not matter who wins the war, the participating nations are never able to recover its cost. I might be wrong but the reason why there are so few wars in recent history is because no country thinks they can afford one.

The question is till how long will China & Africa continue to fund the prolerific

Update: Right from the ancient time to Great War (world war 1, 1914), the army was under Ministry of War. People never talked about percentage of GDP that was being spend on army, navy or airforce. Instead each army was like a business enterprise. The loot & plunder or protection taxes always exceeded the expense to train & equip an army. Also after a elongated long conquest, the army general usually paid tribute to the emperor (often as Spanish Steps, Colosseum and glorious building). As mentioned in this post, only in the recent time has the defense being shown as a cost center.

Evolution of food habits

Nature is very tough and punishes species for their inability to adapt and moderate their actions. Then why is it that people don’t realize how much to eat, when to stop eating and what foods are good for health and what are not? What is more interesting is that obesity and malnutrition can occur simultaneously in the same household and in the same individual?
Till about 50-60 years ago, the wages were meager and the food prices were high. Life expectancy was low and sustenance was the key to survival. Hence 25,000 years of man’s evolution taught us to appreciate food that was rich in fats, carbohydrates and salt. Fried, salty, sweet food and meats (esp. red) were rich in them and were keys to man’s ability to stay energized all day along.
One might argue that milk is nutritious, but still kids despise consuming it. Well it’s also evolutionary. Historically milk that was consumed was produced from one’s mother rather than a bovine surrogate. So during the first year, the kid might like to be breast fed every 2 hours, but as it grows up it needs to wean itself away from its mother and find alternative sources of food. This frees the mother’s nutrients which can be stored for the next childbirth and allows the kid to fulfill its dietary needs (which milk alone cannot satisfy)
I had earlier written an article highlighting the importance of salt in all the cultures worldwide. http://enagar.com/2008/11/08/tune-mera-namak-khaya-hai/ . The family size was larger because there were more children and parents/grandparents were also living together. Very few females sought employment outside the household. All this resulted in the words/phrases like “Bread-winner”, “Bringing food to the table” which highlighted the importance of securing food. However today food hardly constitutes 10% of one’s expenses (rent/housing being the largest expense) and its share in the basket of goods and services (CPI/WPI) used to calculate inflation is shrinking with each subsequent revision.
However traditionally due to dependence on local agricultural produce, availability of food was seasonal. Discontinuous employment, wars, famine and floods were nature’s way to force one into a diet plan and shape up. No wonder “Tighten one’s belt” refers to preparing for the hard times that are about to come. Medical diagnostics and cure were rudimentary. Hence one’s chances of survival were proportional to how much fat/energy was stored inside the body. It’s only in the recent few decades that food is plentiful and the external factors that led to temporary curtailment of food supply to the body are non-existent. Hence obesity seen today might be a temporary phase before our body re-adjusts to the new environment or maybe its nature’s way to prepare us for Dec 2012 (which many astrologers believe is the doom’s day)
PS: I thought of explaining “Obesity and malnutrition can occur in the same household and in the same individual.”
As Indians are getting richer, they substitute greens and legumes with sweets and oily food. Due to religious reasons meat is not consumed and this creates a dietary imbalance. The body does not get its required proteins and micronutrients causing mal-nutrition, while excess of carbohydrates, salt and fats causing obesity.
In households that recently escaped poverty (but are still leading marginal existence), the parents and grandparents bodies still have the older metabolic rates (which ensured their survival during their growing up when food was scarce), while the children have normal metabolic rates. As a result a food which is divided equally leads to malnourished and skinny kids but obese parents.


Hope and Social Harmony

A guy from Kerela once told me a story which never stops to amaze me:

A fisherman puts a dozen crabs in a basket and seals its top. Then no matter who strong the basket is, the crabs team up together and break free. Many lose their claws (limbs) in the process, but it’s a price well paid for the freedom they all deserve.
In the second case, the dozen crabs are left in the same basket, but this time the top is left open. The light from the top of this shallow container is perceived as achievable escape route and all the crabs independently quest towards being the first to reach to the top. In the resulting scramble, they pull each other down and hence no crab is ever able to escape.

Life of a citizen is like that crab trapped inside an airtight container. As Karl Marx once said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains”. A bloody revolution soon followed in Russia which led to purging of Czars. A citizen pushed to the edge has no option but to rebel. An accidental hero is born when the action of this lone desperate man is worshipped by thousands of sympathizers and ardent followers.
So how does any government prevent such an explosive situation? Simple like our fisherman friend, give your citizens/crabs hope. Show them a path through which each and everyone can achieve a respectable comfortable life. Then make sure everybody gets busy pursuing this vision. A point to remember is that it’s the journey, not the destination that keeps a person engaged (and hence under control). When a person believes that their much cherished goals are within reach, they forget all planning, strategy, pledges. This disorganized mass then loses its unity and is easy to control.
India has been a functional anarchy for the past 60 years, but it still survives, why? Unlike the governments in Middle East, citizens witnessed socio-economic mobility. People from the villages moved to the city and escaped the clutches of poverty and oppression from the landlords (zamindars). Education led to creation of a new breed of Indian Middle Class who did not inherit wealth but created one. The government/container is saved because everybody is busy and nobody teaming against it.


Women often say that giving birth is more painful than a guy getting kicked in the nuts. But here’s proof they’re wrong: Sometimes, after giving birth, a woman will say, “Maybe it would be nice to have another child.” You’ll never hear a man say, “I’d like another kick in the nuts.” Case closed!


Free debt counseling

I would be providing debt counseling to individuals who are debt ridden or have liquidity crisis. Please respond to this post along with your recommended mode of communication:
1. Email ankur@enagar.com
2. Phone
3. Meeting in person (currently only feasible in Bangalore)

The idea is not to be selling any financial products/ponzi schemes but to help one set realistic financial goals and work towards achieving it. One of the biggest problem I see in India is mis-selling of products by agents who care only about their commissions. As a result the pyramid schemes are sold as entrepreneurial ventures, the saving schemes are sold as insurance and tax saving schemes rob the individuals of their precious little savings.

If this initiative is successful then probably I could rope in a few more friends to provide a similar service in Delhi and Mumbai. Also you could be doing a great service to your friends and colleagues if you could request your HR to permit me hold a seminar in one of the company’s conference halls or maybe even man a temporary booth in your cafeteria. I would be glad to provide my credentials for the same.