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Category Archive : Review

Video Of The Week: Fyre- The Greatest Party that Never Happened

This week’s video was recommended by Karishma so a big thank you to her!

Fyre is the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs to learn that scaling before having a miniaturized working model is akin to gambling with the business. It should open the eyes of investors, entrepreneurs, managers and employees that scaling is the easiest part of building a venture. The billion-dollar question that needs to be answered is – can your business deliver consistently and profitability at scale?

Fyre also answers the question of how doing too many things can eventually lead to doing nothing or (in this case) land you and your business in legal hot water. I believe that Fyre’s founder, William “Billy” McFarland may not have intended to defraud his customers (unlike his investors, who he definitely did). It seemed as though he wanted to do everything that his marketing campaigns had promised but just could not control the monster that he built. Eventually, he went against the advice of his key team members and kept up a charade that transformed him from a boy genius to Mr. Evil.

This brilliant, moving and shocking documentary is available on Netflix.

21/2019

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It Took this Infographic to Fully Appreciate 2018!

2018 has had its fair share of highs and lows, and it wasn’t until my team summarized our progress through the year (personally and professionally) that the all-encompassing scale of this year was visible, and what a year it has been!

2018 in a Nutshell

Armed with this data, I’ll be evaluating and sending out the hits and misses for 2018. I will especially keep in mind the misses when planning my goals for 2019. I will be sharing my list of goals for 2019 within the week because I truly believe that unless one announces their goals to the universe, there is very little chance of actually achieving them.

That’s it for this year, see you in the new year!

104/2018

3 Reasons Why I Believe OLA Has Lost Its Mojo

Just last year, I was writing praises of Ola’s product mix that allowed it to have the upper hand over Uber. In fact, I was so happy with Ola’s product strategy that not only did I endorse Ola Select’s benefits to all my friends & colleagues and open a corporate account with them but also swore to use OLA exclusively in India. However, in the past few months I have consistently found myself choosing Uber over Ola and (after much deliberation) I can hone it down to 3 main reasons.

1. Ola Select No Longer Offers a Compelling Value Proposition

For those who don’t know, Ola Select offers 4 main benefits:

  1. Ride without Peak Pricing
  2. Skip Booking queue
  3. Prime at Mini-Fares
  4. Free Wi-Fi during the ride

Initially, Ola used to charge Rs. 499 per month to avail Ola Select. Gradually they started increasing this price until it added up to a whopping Rs. 1999 a couple of months ago.

Since my monthly commute costs less than Rs. 5,000, the steep increase in the subscription cost was economically unfeasible. I felt as though Ola’s management was price gouging me and it broke my trust. I heard similar gripes from many who were regular Ola Select customers.

However, when I opened my app today, I found a discounted monthly subscription price had dropped to Rs. 1299, at the cost of capping the surge protection at Rs 75 per ride. It looks like someone at Ola noticed the drop in the subscriptions and attempted to salvage it with this move.

If I assume that Rs 75 equates to a 25% benefit per ride, then it works out to an average bill of Rs. 375 or a 25-kilometre trip which is rare for someone travelling within Mumbai (or most cities except Delhi & Bangalore). Even if I assume that I took those many trips in a month, it would still take 20 rides before the subscription paid for itself and 40 if I wanted to get any additional value out of it. Therefore, Ola Select would make sense to someone who was regularly spending Rs. 15,000 (40 x Rs. 375) on Ola per month – a rarity in Mumbai.

The biggest guffaw of this pricing strategy is that the normal Ola rides are now directly competing with Ubers prices and often, I end up opening both apps to see availability and pricing before I book my ride. This is something I do not recall doing when I was a Select member.

2. Untrained/Greedy Cab Drivers

The quality of Ola drivers has been steadily dropping over the past 12 months, but it has dived off a cliff over the last 3 months. On multiple occasions, drivers have hesitated to arrive unless they know the drop off location or cancelled the trip if it is short or payment isn’t going to be made in cash. Off-late, I observed the most alarming trend in Hyderabad & Bangalore wherein drivers want me to cancel my trip after they arrive and settle with them in cash for a discounted rate below the original trips pricing quote. Clearly, something is going on at Ola that is causing such drivers to be recruited and retained.

3. Filthy Car Quality

Ola’s fleet is ageing rapidly. Their quality assurance teams seem to have gone on vacation since the tablets have stopped working, in-car Wi-Fi is non-existent, the cars are well dented, have their paint scrapped off in many places and have not had their interiors cleaned in months. If Ola assumes that their riders will take 25-kilometre trips in these vehicles, the least they can do is to ensure that their vehicles are providing a comfortable commute.

The overall Ola experience has left a lot to be desired.

The loyal Ola users are now looking for better options and it isn’t a coincidence that Uber has newly launched its Premier vehicles campaign. It assures the rider that they shall enjoy new vehicles and highly recommended drivers for their trip – at no monthly cost at all!

Time to buck up or it’s going to be hasta la vista, Ola!

72/2018

Are Capsule Hotels the Future of Indian Hospitality?

The horrendous experience travelling to Hyderabad was definitely salvaged by the quality of interactions I had at the Campden Regional Family Summit. The summit was followed by a co-investment workshop where startups pitched their ideas to a group of family offices for investment. While most of the ventures were the kind that would appeal to patient capitalists, one of them stood out to me. This startup has the potential to open up a blue ocean in the space at the cross-section between low budget business hotels, hostels and solo travelling ie capsule hotels.

With the ability to pack in a large number of beds in a small area, community bathrooms to cut costs, and the capsule design providing an air of privacy that one craves in a hostel, the capsule hotel format brings their customer the best of both hospitality verticals and cost.

The venture that was presented yesterday viz UrbanPods has set up a location in Mumbai. I am planning to stay in their hotel for a couple of days to fully immerse myself in the experience because I truly believe that it is a great business idea for value-conscious travellers in a high-cost real estate market like India.

70/2018

4 Reasons Jet Airways Has Been Reduced to Ashes

I have been a loyal Jet Airways customer for the past couple of years. Unfortunately, that role made me a witness to their rapid descent from a premier airline into a confused brand, trying to be everything at the same time i.e. a full-service airline and a low-cost carrier. I believe that the downward spiral that the airline is currently bound in, is due to 4 major reasons. These should be a lesson for all entrepreneurs.

1. Alienating loyal customers

Analysts estimate that airlines’ Frequent Flyer programs generate almost 50% of their profits and keep them from losing customers to their competition.

Jet Airways has tinkered with their JetPrivilege program far too many times by

Many members (like myself) switched to other airlines and the exodus of loyal customers forced Jet Airways to offer deep discounts and increase promotional spends to attract new customers. This significantly inflated customer acquisition costs – something that burns deep holes in any balance sheet.

2. Destroying their USPs

Jet Airways consistently eliminated the USPs that made them the preferable choice over other LCCs and Air India. However, their ill-advised cost-cutting measures battered the benefits they offered over their competition. The meals became smaller, cheaper, and frankly disgusting. The baggage allowance was also reduced to 15 kgs which is the same amount offered by Indigo & Spice with no-frill fares.

Once the comparisons with other LCCs started – Jet Airways’ brand was destroyed.

3. Participation in price wars

Someone in Jet Airways’ boardroom decided that it was a prudent choice for the company to compete with the LCC’s on fares. In my opinion, that person should be the first one fired!

Jet Airways had the opportunity (which Vistara is encroaching now) to provide comfort and luxury for frequent and business travellers whose needs are more than the bare minimum, for which they are willing to pay a premium. Instead of finding that niche and dominating it, Jet Airways pulled a Kingfisher by trying to provide maximum value at a minimum price. While the LCCs were optimizing the balance between price & value, Jet Airways’ value proposition was lopsided in favour of the customer. By reducing the benefits to correct the anomaly, Jet Airways’ led its customers astray.

As history demonstrates, rarely has a brand ever made it out of that death spiral without aggressive structural changes (and an apology.)

4. Concentrating on market share vs share of market profit

In a price conscious and emerging market like India, I expect that the LCCs would command a lion’s share of the market because they make air travel accessible to a new traveller. Jet Airways, however, opens the customer’s eyes to the value-adds of a full-service carrier, therefore introducing them to a whole new class of flying.

Therefore, as a full-service carrier, Jet should have positioned itself as a brand that provides more than just a metal tube from point A to point B.  Their motto should have been:

You will learn to fly with the LCCs but enjoy flying with us.

Despite having some of the highest levels of talent on board, Jet Airways made some glaring mistakes. It is surprising that no one was able to prevent them, leading Jet Airways into this mighty fix.

65/2018

Is this fast food or chemicals acting as food?

My mom sent me the link to this video last night which just happens to flow perfectly with my post on the “importance of ethics in successful start-ups”. These global fast food giants in India are selling junk and chemical compositions in the name of food. While it which may bring them lots of profits, it will lead to long-term health issues for their customers. Most importantly, they smash the trust that their customers have in them to deliver a quality product at par with what they serve abroad. However, as you will see in this video, these giants have failed and failed terribly at that. This is a net negative to society at large.

Industrial food production has taken a terrible turn and the entire industry has become a cesspool of false advertising that promotes harmful food under the pretence that it is nutritious. What is meant to be high-quality food made under international standards is terrible food at throwaway prices that will cause debilitating health issues for its consumers.

So, the next time you find yourself (or even more importantly your children) craving a fast food fix, show them this video, especially the part where the cheese in a cheesy pizza is nothing but emulsified mayonnaise with ZERO cheese. Is this fast food or chemicals acting as food?

46/2018

Magnum Ice-cream Ingredients!

As I pulled open the wrapper for an essential part of my movie-going experience i.e. the Almond Magnum ice-cream, the whiff of chemicals that went up to my nose almost made me vomit. Surprised that my innocuous ice-cream smelt like a chemical lab, I investigated the ingredients that made this marvel – they induced a second vomiting episode.  

Ever since I read The Wild Diet by Abel James I have started an inquisition into the foods I regularly consumed. What I have found out is nothing less than startling. The more I read into I regularly eat, the less I have been eating of them. The “empty calories” consumption has been replaced with nutrient-dense foods and has led to remarkable improvement in my energy, metabolism, attention span and (most importantly) my waistline. However, I did not expect the Magnum bar to disappoint me as it just has 

Here is the list of ingredients in an Almond Magnum Bar from their website: 

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 5.29.37 PM.png

On first look, many of these ingredients look harmless. However, when I started researching each item I realised how creative writing has made the dangerous look harmless.  

Take for example the “permitted natural colour (beta-carotene)”. WebMD explains that Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet. Beta-carotene can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can also be made in a laboratory 

The explanation taken at face value made it appear that beta-carotene was good for health. However, there is a catch. The beta-carotene in this ice-cream bar was used to make the almonds appear redder than they are therefore this beta-carotene was lab produced and did not occur “naturally”. So, what are the side-effects of this lab produced supplement?  

There is growing concern that taking high doses of antioxidant supplements such as beta-carotene might do more harm than good. Some research shows that taking high doses of beta-carotene supplements might increase the chance of death from all causes, increase the risk of certain cancers, and possibly other serious side effects. In addition, there is also concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate beta-carotene supplement increases the chance of developing advanced prostate cancer in men. 

And if you are a smoker you should be reading this:  

In people who smoke, beta-carotene supplements might increase the risk of colon, lung, and prostate cancer. Don’t take beta-carotene supplements if you smoke. 

All this just from the colouring used to make the almonds look better! 

To go through all the other ingredients in detail would take up 3-4 pages so I made this table explaining the ingredients in that single stick of ice-cream. 

Ingredient  What is it made of?  Side effects  Source 
Vanillin  A petrochemical i.e. phenolic aldehyde, which is an organic compound with the molecular formula C8H8O3  Allergic reactions, digestive disorders and migraine headaches  
  1. Melt Organic 
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine  
E322 – Lecithin  Lecithin is a fat that is essential in the cells of the body. It can be found in many foods, including soybeans and egg yolks  Lecithin is LIKELY SAFE for most people. It can cause some side effects including diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain, or fullness. 
  1. WebMD 
  1. CureZone 
E471 – Monoglycerides & Diglycerides   Monoglycerides and diglycerides are food additives commonly used to combine ingredients containing fats with those containing water, two types of ingredients that don’t ordinarily combine well.  They are similar to triglycerides, the predominant fat in food according to the Harvard School of Public Health, except they are classified as emulsifiers rather than lipids 
  1. CureZone 
  1. LiveStrong 
E410 – Locust Bean Gum (Carob Gum)  Locust bean gum is a galactomannan vegetable gum extracted from the seeds of the carob tree, mostly found in the Mediterranean region. 

 

It is a thickening agent and a gelling agent used in food technology 

Carob is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in food amounts or as a medicine. There don’t seem to be any unwanted side effects. 

 

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking carob if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use in greater than food amounts. 

  1. WebMD 
E407 – Carrageenan   Carrageenan is a common food additive that is extracted from a red seaweed, Chondrus crispus, which is popularly known as Irish moss. 
  1. Research has shown that exposure to carrageenan causes inflammation and that when we consume processed foods containing it, we ingest enough to cause inflammation in our bodies 
  1. Drug investigators used carrageenan to cause inflammation in tissues to test the anti-inflammatory properties of new drugs 
  1. CureZone 
  1. Dr Weil 

 

E412 – Guar Gum  Guar gum comes from the seeds of the guar or cluster bean plant. About 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the guar seed consists of galactomannan gum, which forms a thick gel when mixed with water  Guar gum is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth with at least 8 ounces of liquid. The water is important because it reduces the chance of choking or developing a blockage in the intestine. 

 

Side effects include increased gas production, diarrhoea, and loose stools. These side effects usually decrease or disappear after several days of use. High doses of guar gum or not drinking enough fluid with the dose of guar gum can cause blockage of the oesophagus and the intestines. 

  1. CureZone 
  1. LiveStrong 
  1. WebMD 

In a nutshell, my ice-cream included petrochemicals, thickening agents, seaweed extracts and so many things that I shouldn’t be in an ice-cream. I couldn’t bring it upon myself to put that chemical experiment in my mouth, so I threw it away. I suggest you do too.  

28/2018 

Martyrs of Marriage

 

Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood.

– Mahatma Gandhi

The practice of dowry is a serious blotch on the rich cultural traditions in India. With one dowry related death every hour, it is alongside practices like sati and untouchability; heinous crimes against humanity that unfortunately find their origins in India.

Growing up I remember reading horrific stories of newly married women that were ill-treated, raped, beaten and even burnt to death for not being able to pay the expected dowry. Inquisitively, I asked my mother if her parents had been asked to pay dowry when she got married. Proudly, my mother told me how strictly my paternal grandfather was opposed to this practice and refused to take anything from her parents beyond the clothes she wore when she entered her matrimonial home, a nariyal (coconut) and one rupee. I did not have the privilege of meeting my grandfather (he died a couple of months before I was born) but was very proud to hear about his noble actions.

However, the problem across India had become so terrible that the government had been forced to pass the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, prohibiting the giving and taking of dowry. Then in 1983 under the Indian Penal Code 498-A the government criminalised harassing, coercing or causing death and harm for dowry related issues. The government’s intent to ensure the protection of married women was evident as it gave the police autonomy to arrest and impose strict punishments on the accused. Unfortunately, 498-A became a poster boy for the often quoted axiom, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Statistically over 2.7 million people have been arrested under IPC 498-A with over 600,000 of them women. Of the 5,87,107 cases that went to trial, 81.31% ended up in acquittal i.e. 4 out of every 5 cases! To put it into perspective, the conviction rate for cases under the 498-A law was 18.69%, less than half of the 45% conviction rate for all other cases filed under the Indian Penal Code. This was due to the manifold amount of false allegations that were thoughtlessly made.

What is the reason for the low conviction rate?

The government’s intent to frame a law that would serve as a deterrent went against the basic human right provided to us in the constitution viz everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.  Under this stringent 498-A law the burden of proving innocence on the accused became so arduous that it seemed more as if “they are guilty until proven innocent!”

When the police, lawyers and wives colluded to convert a provision for protection into a tool for exploitation even the courts deemed it as “legal terrorism”. The accusers didn’t even spare two-month-old babies that are among the 7,000 minors that have been accused of dowry harassment.

Deepika Narayan Bharadwaj’s documentary Martyrs of Marriage exposes the nexus that has made 498-A one of the most abused laws in India. In her own words Martyrs of Marriage is “a documentary that documents the injustice that has been perpetrated on people because of the misuse of section 498A of Indian Penal Code.

Her passion to fix the filth created by 498-A is visible in her TEDx talks below

and

 

 

I had the privilege of meeting this courageous woman due to a small contribution that I made to her Milaap campaign for raising money to promote this documentary. She reached out offering to screen this movie to exclusively for my friends and family – an offer I eagerly accepted. With my immediate & extended family in attendance, Deepika spoke about her personal experience as the motivation for making this documentary. After the screening there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room.

Here is the trailer for her documentary


The entire documentary is available for $1.99 on this link.

This powerful documentary motivated me to do something for those oppressed by the miscarriage of justice. (what did you do) You may think that it does not concern you but let me leave you with the immortal words of Martin Niemoller:

4 February 2017, West Point Cadets tour the Permanent Exhibition.

3/2018

LinkedIn’s Inmail Credit – An Example for Other Businesses to Follow

I had recently written a post regarding unnecessary meddling in the Indian aviation sector by DGCA. A day after that Captain Gopinath wrote an article for the Economic Times which voiced similar concerns (albeit on a different tangent) on the sector too. Captain is a pioneer in the sector and I have a huge amount of respect and adulation for him (I have read his book, Simply Fly , twice and recommend it to any budding start-up as a book on winning against insurmountable odds in India) I sent him an Inmail to review my post and give his thoughts.

Being a busy man as he is, he may not have found the time to respond to the Inmail (I have my fingers crossed that he read the post J) , LinkedIn sent me an email stating that my Inmail credit that had been used to contact Captain Gopinath was hereby being returned and that I thought was – “Simply” Amazing! From my perspective, I am the one who wanted to reach out to someone I have a not direct connection with (yes Linkedin says I have a 3rd level connection with him, but that is just to flatter me), they gave me that opportunity to atleast have my voice reach him, he chose not to respond/missed my Inmail on account of not logging in, in the 7 days response time frame that LinkedIn has as a policy for InMails – which is absolutely his choice and they felt apologetic enough to refund the credit because the “intention” of using that credit wasn’t completely utilized.. I “simply” want to say – Wow! Kudos! Shabaash!

131112-LinkedInInMail-700x357

In a world where most businesses will hide their inability to complete a service (please don’t ask for a list, I’ll have to send you the yellow pages for the city you reside in) here is a public listed company that is taking the onus for a job that they couldn’t complete and refunding back what they took from me without a class action lawsuit (which would support the lawyer’s annual bonus).  I remember that back in the US when I had an account with Charles Schwab , they would refund my wiring fees because I had to call in to get the wire done as there was some glitch in using their online system to wire money, they would gladly charge and refund the wiring fee for calling in. With such a commitment to service there isn’t a doubt that these two companies hold such a dominant position in their markets.

This is an example for other companies to follow. If you don’t provide the service that you intended to, fess up and give your customers a credit back. If a booking is made for a hotel and the pool or gym is shutdown – refund to the customer (without haggling) a few hundred rupees that would have been input in the costing of his room based on him using the facility. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for those customers that choose to not use the facility even if it is available, but if it is not available – refund that portion (or give a dining credit) at check-in itself so that the customer is already ecstatic at your honesty (it is the best policy J) and is easy to please.

Another example would be that, if I choose to fly Air India (yes.. I “simply” do), a full service airline and they cannot reach on time or they give this food packet to me in the name of breakfast – kindly refund the money it would have cost to have given a real breakfast or refund the money on the extra taken due to your tardiness and for which my company paid a heftier price in booking through your airline.

This is the dinner on Air India.. Fit for the Maharaja of the skies?

This is the dinner on Air India.. Fit for the Maharaja of the skies?

Yes we aren’t in an Utopian world, but in my experience a policy wherein you own up to your mistakes and offer something back to the customer (it doesn’t have to be spectacular but don’t be cheap either) – they will appreciate you for your upfront honesty and they will choose you in the future (even if you were pricier) because they are sold on your commitment to get the job your customer intended (please mark this word – intention and not your own convoluted, contradictory and magnifying-glass-needed-to-read policy). They will appreciate you back and you will have a customer for life.

A start-up that ingrains this into their DNA from the very outset will go a very long way… that is “simply” a given (yes this will be the last time I will say “simply”)

Err.. okay that was the last time, I promise J

(I am requesting your comments on what other types of companies can institute this, how your company is instituting this (please don’t put up any ads advocating for your company – we will remove the comment) and whether you have seen or experienced this in dealing with a particular company. Please keep your comments anti-inflammatory and non-threatening to avoid being censured)