Month: August 2019

On e-book readers (Amazon Kindle)

Reading on a mobile phone

People who know me well would know that I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to digital media for personal consumption (I know, I am a digital marketer, right!). For a long time, I refused to use digital streaming services (I use them now, but still prefer my CDs for serious music listening). I still read physical newspapers (though spend more time on digital news sites). And for the very longest time, I refused to use a digital book reader, preferring the tactile pleasures of flipping through the pages of a physical book.

Until, that is, a few months back, when I succumbed and started using the Amazon Kindle App on my phone. From a slow start, I now find myself very comfortable using it, and I have started using it regularly. What do I like about it?

  1. Convenience – I like that, once I find a book, I can start reading it almost immediately. No having to search for the book at various book stores, or ordering it online and waiting for it to be delivered.
  2. Any-time consumption – Since it’s not another device and part of my phone (which I carry around almost everywhere), I can pick up from where I left off my reading anytime, anywhere.
  3. Ability to magnify – I am no longer very young, and I appreciate the fact that I can magnify the text and read in pleasure without having to strain my (weakening) eyes or use a magnifying glass.
  4. Minimalistic – I rarely read a book more than once. When I was living abroad, I was a regular member of public library systems where I could borrow books for reading. India does not really have such a system. And where libraries do exist, they typically would have very few books that would interest me. So reading e-books is a great boon for me these days, as I can avoid having to buy books (saving money, paper and lowering carbon footprint).

Having said that, I do miss the following:

  1. The sensory pleasures of reading a book – There still exists a great pleasure in opening a book and getting that unmistakable book smell as well as feeling the quality of the pages and flipping through them that e-book readers (still) cannot deliver.
  2. The joys of wandering through book shops – I used to love walking through book (and music) shops, looking at the titles, browsing a few, and then maybe picking one up to buy and read. I hardly do that any more, except at airports, and I miss the experience. In fact, I wonder if my kids would ever go to a book shop, forget a music shop!

So it looks like e-book readers are here to stay with me. I do wish, though, that they could come up with a much better system for ‘discovering’ or ‘browsing’ through titles. The current system of scrolling through pages and pages of downright useless titles in the hope of finding that one interesting book is getting quite painful. Does anyone have any suggestions on this?

The culture of Deep Discounts within Indian digital consumer businesses


Recently, food-tech apps that do home delivery have been in the news due to their restaurant partners taking issue with the culture of ‘deep discounting’ prevalent across the industry. An excellent article on the impact of this on restaurants was published recently on Telegraph India.

This issue of deep discounting is not restricted to food delivery companies alone. In fact, most of the leading online Business to Consumer (B2C) organisations in India regularly resort to this ‘strategy’. I find this concept very worrying for many reasons:

  • Lack of strong Value Proposition –  Having ‘discounting’ as an always on tool leads to the question – do these businesses not have a strong value proposition for their customers? If customers indeed value the product or services these businesses are offering, then surely they would not need to discount daily? I can understand that discounts might be required when you are in a new market segment or have just recently launched and are looking for some early traction. But many of these businesses have now been operational for many years. Do they have a strategy on how they could continue to grow and become sustainable businesses in the near future?
  • Lack of brand loyalty – As the article I have linked to earlier mention, discounting has led to users using multiple competing brands offering the same product or service. The choice of which brand to use seems to be based on which one is offering the lowest price. This is nothing but a race to the bottom where the deepest pocket will win. Surely, building a brand and business has to be largely based on delivering a unique value proposition to the customer and continuously defending and enhancing that value proposition rather than just relying on brute (investor) financial power?
  • Low focus on customer delight – If the assumption is that customers will only shop with the brand offering the maximum discount, what incentive exists for brands to continuously innovate and provide new features / services to customers? Business slacking because customers are moving to competition? No problem, increase the discounts!
  • Marketplace distortions – In many cases, deep discounts can lead to distortions in the marketplace impacting the various other players in the ecosystem. The app-based personal transportation market provides a recent example of this. The significant ‘incentives’ provided to drivers led to many people taking out loans to purchase vehicles and run them as taxis on these app-based businesses. The discounted fares offered to consumers also led to high demand. Everything was rosy initially, but as the discounts and incentives reduced, many of these drivers found themselves with lower monthly incomes but still saddled with loan repayments. This problem might have been lessened if the dynamics of the marketplace had not been discounted by the artificially high incentives (and low fares).

So why do businesses indulge in this practice? I am no expert, but I strongly believe that pressures to justify investor valuations and demonstrate the type of growth required to provide meaningful exits to investors could be one of the key reasons driving this behaviour.

There is no doubt that the consumer is benefiting from this. One way to look at this is that it’s a form of modern redistribution of wealth with money flowing from the (rich) investors to the (not so rich) consumers. But what about the impact of this artificial distortion on the many other businesses that have not been fortunate to receive investor wealth? This and other questions arising from this practice have to be addressed if we are to see these businesses establish themselves in the long-term.

Organisation culture – some thoughts

Culture and team work
Organisation culture

It just so happened that over the past few weeks, I attended a couple of reunions with ex-colleagues at two of my earliest employers. As always when we meet up, it was as if the intervening years had just melted away and we quickly got back to interacting with everyone as if we were still colleagues. So this got me wondering – what is it about these shared experiences that makes it possible for such a diverse group to still get together and have so much fun?

Organisation culture is a much discussed concept. Clearly, the cultures at these two organisations were so strong that it still retains pleasant memories, even if most people have moved out and worked with multiple other organisations. These are my views on what made the culture at these places so strong:

  • Respect – Everyone at both these organisations had immense respect for their colleagues, irrespective of their educational or professional backgrounds or their current roles. I would rank this as the most important factor that defined the culture of these companies.
  • Ownership – There was a strong sense of ownership, coupled with togetherness, which resulted in a shared feeling of achievement. I genuinely cannot recollect any unhealthy competition between teams at either of these two organisations.
  • Learning – Both these organisations were pioneers in their fields (at least within India). This meant that the work being done was such that had never really been done before or only done at very few other organisations. This contributed to immense learning (and sense of achievement)
  • Lack of hierarchies – I can comfortable say that I have not seen the type of open door culture that existed at these two organisations anywhere else. It did help that most teammates were of a similar age (no major generational gaps). But even when that was not the case, there were no egos anywhere within the senior management teams.
  • Communication – Experts would say that this is one of the most important elements of culture. And I would agree. However, it is not just formal communication that’s important. In fact, I believe that having multiple channels for ‘informal’ communication to happen (and not gossip) plays a strong role in getting people together and feeling part of one team.
  • Have fun – Having opportunities to interact with your colleagues in an informal, relaxed setting to discuss anything other than work is also very important. It helped that most of us were young and early in our careers which meant that it was relatively easy to get together after office hours. But what was also key was that the senior management team were also keen and tried as much as possible to join these post-work catch-ups. Again, another channel for the ‘informal’ communication I mentioned in my previous point.

What are the other important elements of organisation culture? Would love to hear your thoughts!

A Trip to B.R. Hills (Part 3) – Talakadu

The rains had cleared by the morning of the second day of our stay at B.R. Hills, though it continued to be misty. After a leisurely breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and walked to the nearby Biligiri Rangaswamy temple.

The heavy rains of the previous day had made the path slushy. There was also a large crowd of devotees waiting to enter the temple. We decided against joining the queue to enter and restricted ourselves to viewing the temple from the perimeters. One of the interesting sights I observed was of quite a few devotees striking a metal plate with a wooden stick while walking up the steps and within the temple compounds itself. The rhythmic metallic sounds coupled with the misty surroundings made for an interesting, almost surreal, ambience.

I then decided to go for a drive through the BRT Reserve enroute to Talakadu. Again, like the previous day’s drive to reach our hotel, the drive was superb. Along the way, we stopped to have local jackfruit and wild grapefruit (mosambi) sold by the local people. It was delicious.

We reached our next destination of Talakadu around 2 pm. Lunch was an interesting affair. Traditional meals served on banana leaves at a ‘mess’. The food was good and the setting very atmospheric!

We then walked around Talakadu, visiting the few temples located amidst the towering sand dunes for which this place, by the banks of the river Cauvery, is famous. It is indeed interesting to observe these huge sand dunes in an otherwise lush green landscape. And the temples are also worth a visit. However, as a whole, I found the place a little underwhelming. I guess I had got used to visiting places that, for the most part, were very well maintained. Visiting Talakadu with it’s narrow, dirty approach road, no ‘modern’ places to eat or drink tea / coffee, lack of clean toilet facilities was a throwback to the times of 15 – 20 years ago when it could be said that places like these were more the norm than the exception. However, and this is a credit to the authorities, this was the first place I have visited in the past three years of traveling which had these issues. In one sense, I am glad I visited, with my children, to still get that feeling for an India that is fast disappearing. On the other, I find it sad that a place of such importance feels so neglected…

A trip to B.R. Hills (Part 2)

After leaving Barachukki waterfalls, we made our way to B.R. Hills and the Mayura Hotel which was where we were to be staying. The drive through the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary on the narrow, but very well maintained road climbing its way through the lush green cover on both sides was simply superb.

We made good time and reached the hotel around 1 pm. This is a fairly new property maintained by the Karnataka government, providing much needed mid-priced accommodation in this place. Our room was clean and reasonably spacious.

No sooner had we checked in than the heavens opened up, and it continued to rain through the day and into the night. After being cooped up in the room for the afternoon, we decided to brave the rains and go for a small walk. The famous Biligiri Rangaswamy temple was just a couple of hundred metres away from our hotel, but the incessant rain meant that there was hardly a soul around at that time. There is a sunset viewpoint along the way to the temple. With the amount of rain around, there was no chance of spotting a sunset, but the views out across to the plains below were still stunning.

After a delicious and hearty dinner at the hotel restaurant, we called it a day.

In Part 3, I will write about the temple and the drive back to Bangalore via Talakadu.

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