Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Book Review : Saving Capitalism From The Capitalists

Raghuram G Rajan & Luigi Gonsales

Image result for saving capitalism from the capitalistsThis is one book with the most inapplicable title; and, yet again, I find myself in wholesale disagreement with western research. Once – just once, I would like to read a Western research that is unbiased and well-thought-out in reference to the east; the east remains, for them, as indecipherable today as it was 300 years ago, despite the modern information age etc. The east remains as much a mystery to the great research houses and brains of the so-called  Great West then, as now.

Harsh words, I know; especially when I am talking about a book co-authored by the redoubtable Raghuram G Rajan. But when I run across such inaccurate beauties as on Pg 289 wrt to India, my take is justified. That said, there is more than enough in other aspects which justifies my low impression of the book, which has completely failed to answer even one question in my mind; a book that is a theoretical tome with little or no real-world applicability in the real world in the East at least. Sorry – blunt, frank and straight.

The book alludes to the India-Pakistan standoff of 2002 after the Parliament attack and Kaluchak massacre {What is this incident doing in a tome on Economics, by the way?}  - and implies that businesses on both sides put pressure on the Governments on both sides; and that both nations were threatening nuclear war! The reality is different – only Pakistan was threatening Nukes, and no one in India was cared about it! The de-escalation was a result of diplomacy, with no known hint of business involvement. In fact, if anything, Indian business has stood by India in times of distress – a prominent Indian business personality even refused to trade with Pakistan; this is on record.

The above paragraph about sums it up; this is a largely theoretical research, a research on the history of the Western economies from the Great Depression and the steps taken since then, and an analysis of the pluses and minuses of those steps. So far, the book is on firm grounds, and is worth 10 stars out of 10 for its analysis and its exemplary approach with real examples from the Western world. It traces a full history exhaustively, but, in my personal opinion, falls short of my previous book review on Economics – The Wisdom of Ants by Shankar Jaganathan, which does an admirable and exhaustive analysis of the rise of economic thought in all schools, prominent or otherwise.

This is where the problem in this book lies – it takes a quasi academic approach; or rather, a theoretical construct and tries to apply it to the real world. Throughout the book, terms like Free Financial Markets, Flow of Capital across Borders, Developed Financial Markets abound; just what, specifically, is implied by these terms by the authors remains unsaid! Just what does a Free Financial Market imply – does it mean no controls, or does it mean basic controls? If you say basic controls, what do you mean? Do you mean convertibility on the current as well as the capital account? Exactly what do you mean?

I am from India – and it is only of academic interest to me what you have done in the USA, beyond a certain point of remaining worldly aware, so to speak. Thus, when you analyse USA, or Italy, or Germany, it is of near-zero relevance to me as an Indian  - not because of the level of – aah – freedom of our financial markets or their development, but due to the structural difference between the economies the book discusses, and my own Indian Economy, and the vast difference in their stages of development.  That said, to those interested in the Western Economies- this is a decent resource, to be  perfectly frank. To those interested in the Indian Economy, Mihir Sharma’s book or even the book by Ruchir Sharma is a far better bet.

The book advocates flow of capital across borders, and the benefits to be had from competition from abroad; while this is actually beyond debate – it isn’t the panacea it is made out to be by some Western Economists, who, it seems to me, speak from their own interest points. What do you mean when you say flow of capital? How is it an aid in development for a developing nation if it is only trading, and does not involve investing in the host nation’s capabilities in terms of state-of-the-art manufacturing abilities? Readers will recall the brouhaha over the 30% local sourcing clause in the retail FDI mash-up.

It is fine for a Westerner to speak of free flow of capital and developed financial markets {please define “developed” – yet to read a definition of this amorphous concept so heavily  bandied about in pink papers, especially from abroad! -  Also, do remember it from these very – aah – developed markets that subprime sunk the global financial world}  ; but remember the West is where there is excess investible surplus, and it is in their interests to open markets in the east. That is pretty much a no-brainer. The question we need to ask is which capital is good for us, in what terms and conditions, and in which focus areas and industries. There is no single rule – there cannot be; for economics isn’t a standalone discipline, regardless of how much the theorists would like it to be. Economics exists in the real world.

This lack of real-world connect becomes doubly apparent when the authors talk of those left behind, or those whose jobs get laid off in the modern world. It becomes even more apparent when they talk of international competition leading to benefits in developing nations. What happens to domestic industry  or old industries when large-scale job losses happen due to so-called international / new competition – and what will be the impact on the internal social structure and the law and order situation of the concerned nation? One can easily recall a series of incidents…  

Frankly, these – and many more -  aren’t questions that can be answered by theoretical economists in rarified top university environs; these are the subject matter of behavioural economists working in tandem with the society and the prevalent political structure; it is upto these real world experts of each country to devise the right, or the optimal approach to economic issues that  each nation faces, One size fits all doesn’t work in the real world, to be completely frank… 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Book Review - Agniputr : When Agni First Spoke


About the Author
IMG_3423Bommadevara Sai Chandravadhan, ‘Vadhan’ is in Transactional law practice, advising Indian MNCs on compliance frameworks for their business in India and ten other countries in North America, China, Asia Pacific and Europe. His company, Sand Legal Services Private Limited, is ranked amongst the top 20 compliance service providers in India and is recipient of two international awards. He writes novels, sometimes with poems in them and can sketch reasonably well. His first published book is Shatru, Kronikles Book-1… {Source : Bommadevara Sai Chandravadhan}

The Book – Agnuiputr
bookThe plot is an intriguing one spanning 6 decades in its entirely, starting with the disappearance of a person from a village in South India… a man who apparently gave up his life to protect the village and the people form a terrible evil force. His sacrifice succeeded only in holding and limiting the evil force to a large mansion, waiting either to be unlocked – or till it became powerful enough to grow out of its controls imposed by the sacrifice.

This sacrifice is known to one or two people – one of whom goes into politics. The owners of the mansion migrate from the village and settle in the cities, where one of them becomes a top lawyer. Complicating matters is a local scientist, on the payroll of one of India’s top research places, who investigates a strage phenomenon – and promptly disappears; but nor before alerting his superiors, who send a team to investigate – a team which walks straight into a massive political and lethal game of power and control, as rival forces fight – one to harness the force for self; the other set to destroy the force, for only he can…

The Review
The book is based on science-fiction plus science plus Indian Literary History plus Fantasy theme plus thriller genre, which is pretty unique, at least in my reading experience. And that is what makes this a fun read; this is from the first page, a riveting read not just because of its other parameters, but due to its newness and freshness. You have to suspend reality in some ways – but that happens automatically, as you are pulled into the intriguing concept right from the first page; this is a hold that lasts, and continues for the entire book.

It is a rapid, fast paced book which manages to hold interest throughout the length, without slipping on its pace anywhere. This is something we expect from a thriller, but the way this has been handled in this book is remarkable. At no point does disbelief come in, you are too engrossed to think  of the real world. And therein lies the real power of the book and the concept; this has been done in the way the plot has been entwined across multiple genres, and quite effortlessly.

The author has successfully married hardcore science, Indian History {I don’t consider it fictional – having read many ancient documents myself, so will not use the term mythology}, fantasy and science fiction is quite a treat, and has been effortlessly done. And the setting, the backdrop of the story being in politics and the Army has added a flavor of thrill to it. The race of the good and the evil has been set in contemporary settings, with plots and counter plots from both as each team tries to best the other.

The characters are sufficiently well-etched, with detailed background development of the principle characters involved, which is in keeping with their actions as the story unfolds. This is another strong point of the story – as the supporting case just has minimal and functional character development, which makes for a very nice and rounded story. Characters and their optimal development are central to writing great fiction – and here we have an author in full control of that faculty, and that is a definite plus.

That is the gel, the holding power : the plots and counter-plots, and the rather unique treatment of the central characters and the way they move from being a part of the evil team to the good, and succeed in fully supporting the family member of the mansion in his quest to stop the evil from overcoming all is frankly breathtakingly done, and very adroitly handled. That makes for not just rapid reading, it also pulls you further into the story as you are glued to the book, not wanting to give up or stop reading until you see what happens to the characters in the book.

This also helps you in continuing to suspend your views and beliefs – which is critical in the enjoyment of the fantasy genre, wherein you have to perforce keep aside all known science almost! Quite simple, you are too absorbed in following the intriguing interplay among characters and the plot twists – which have nothing to do with either science or fantasy or fiction. In simple terms,  this a highly skillfully crafted book that deserves good shelfspace in retail as well as consumer interest both. 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Understanding The Smartphone, And The Market


The market for Smartphones in India is one of the most talked-about in pink papers as well as white sheets alike, with regular articles on top and budget smartphones making headlines all too often; yet, paradoxically, it is the least understood outside the trade, i.e. those of us who are actually in the handset trade. For the pink sheets and white sheets, it is the Apples and the premium phones that matter, or the budget smartphones with a range of online as well as offline offerings being highlighted.

This is a very simplistic look at one of the most complex markets in my experience, which spans telecom services, data, insurance, FMCG/D  - for a number of reasons, some known and some unlisted insofar as my reading goes. The pace of technology development is one of the well-understood reasons; as is the pricing factor. These are just of the factors that make this market such  a fascinating yet complex study. The speed of change means products change every few months; the attendant pricing pressure changes the market dynamics every so often – all this is well understood. Here I attempt to look at some of the nuances not covered in the most articles on this subject.

The smartphone is not just a touchscreen, or a multimedia device; it isn’t a music player with hi-fi; it isn’t a vivid display; and it isn’t an internet access device; it is all  that and much more; this understanding is absolutely critical. And yet, paradoxically, in the Indian context, it is also true that the smartphone in some segments is just that : a touchscreen device, with an attractive interface. India is a market in which feature phones still sell, where smartphone adoption is still on the upswing; this creates two clear markets, which are as alike as Refrigerators and Chwayanprash; we are talking of two completely different markets in just about every marketing parameter you can care to define.

A proper understanding of the smartphone requires viewing as the sum of its parts, and as a solution; a service, not as a product. By itself, it is almost useless. It requires a sim card and an operator connection with Data for its power to be unlocked. And that is why it is absolutely critical to approach this market as a service rather than a product in order to realize its full potential both for consumers as well as for handset manufacturers. The screen you see is a window into a land of infinite options and opportunities, of facilities and methods and of solutions; understanding firstly the need of consumers in various segments, and secondly the capabilities and their combinations is the need of the hour!

Before we move into India-specific analyses, let us try and understand what I mean when I say solution. The smartphone device is a complete package, a combination of the hardware and the software. Amoled displays or Octa-Core processing power by itself is valueless, unless it has the software present to utilize these facilities. And that will be the future of the market; the ultimate winners will be the ones who will place a product solution that meets the consumer’s requirements along these parameters.

The first point of contact for the consumer is the UI – the User Interface; the second is the App Store. The entire layman user experience is around these two only. This being a nascent market, currently there is a lot of fuzziness and experimentation at both company and consumer level; this is par for the course. But, over time, the consumer is bound to settle into a defined choice range in what he or she likes or prefers; at that point, solutions with a better integration and seamless performance of the desired functions are going to be the winners in this race; which is partly why you see companies now beginning to develop their own UIs in their solutions.

These functions can be a vivid display at the software levels – colourful themes & wallpapers, or on-board office capabilities, good music output in terms of clarity and loudness both; the internet experience; overall device performance in terms of heating, durability; integrated apps within the UI like office or Amazon; Guides like maps etc – these uses will increase with increasing requirements and further inroads of the internet. Note that I don’t highlight battery – with increasing computing power, battery is always going to be a tremendous challenge for everyone in this market

I highlight App integration because a well-integrated on-board app will perform better and give a much smoother consumer experience than one that is not native to the device or the solution – think Apple here. This is going to be the battlefield of the future – and once demand further develops and crystallizes into clearly defined segments, this is going to be the be-all and end-all of this market, just as any in any other computing device. An internet resource from more developed markets highlights that 84% of users pitch for a better mobile App performance. { http://www.ymedialabs.com/hybrid-vs-native-mobile-apps-the-answer-is-clear/}

For the Android Ecosystem, it means developing a UI, or indeed an entire OS that is Android based, gives the look and feel of an Android, as well as its features, but is developed internally – this leads to a much superior user experience, which even has the capability of changing demand parameters. The longer term winners will be the companies that can craft an integrated experience based around Apps well integrated with the underlying hardware. But that is bound to take time in the Indian market, which is a different ballgame altogether, being comprised of the two segments I refer to above. In simplified choice, it means integrated the most popular Apps on-board the device, developing a unique selling proposition based not on hardware, but on a solution… while not hindering consumer choice in terms of downloading Apps from the net or the Play Store…

India is a land of wide disparities and low income; this needs to be underscored – for from this arises the learning that there is scope for both segments I refer to above in the Indian Market, but more of that later. With reference to a smartphone, the market in India is nascent, with the fascination for a vivid colourful window into technology in the form of the screen, the experience of internet and its power as another factor, and niche groups like music aficionados. Another factor that needs consideration is that not all consumers give importance to all capabilities, leading to vast unutilized features as well as a fuzzy positioning scenario, which I shall look at a little later. The learning from this is that this is a developing market, with generic demand as of now, which has yet to crystallize further

These two markets, in my terminology, are a need-cum-pricing-based segmentation, basis long experience of watching retailers sell to consumers across various geographies in West India.  These segments are the Computing Power segment / Power-User Segment; and the Basic Usage Segment. I have deliberately avoided replacement market, or any other parameters for a reason : and that reason is the product itself. The Smartphone is essentially a solution, as observed  above, or a service; not a product unto itself. It requires another product : Data Connection to become a usable item for the most part. Hence, we need to segment along usage at the primary level, as shall become apparent in my article.

While the Power Users are beginning to become more discerning, the Economy segment is still way behind in the learning curve due to low income as well as undeveloped demand. I say undeveloped as the requirement for the more esoteric as well as advanced apps has yet to gain a defining momentum due to demographic factors, a full study of which is beyond the scope of a blog article. For the Economy segment, the defining pleasure is still at a nascent and beginners level – although some sub-segments within the Economy Segment are beginning to show the demand nature of the Power segment, but are hampered by income  challenges.

Within each primary segment, you can have a series of segments as per your purposes – replacement market, processing power, sound/audio, battery, pricing and so on and so forth. But at the core level, the profile of the consumers in these two segments are completely different. Sure, there will be some overlapping, as in consumers having one handset from both segments, but even that underscores the segmentation – power usage device for power and data intensive usage, and basic device for basic usage, though that is frankly a rarity. But, in the Indian context – the Economy Market is still paramount in terms of volumes as well as potential, as more and more people upgrade… but that poses challenges on a different scale to the companies-  something we shall look at in the second part…  

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Pink Movie - Asking The Right Questions Of The Man!

Image result for pink movie review

This week saw the epochal movie Pink hitting the movie halls and cineplexes, a movie that stands out as one of the most hard-hitting movies to come out from the Mumbai film industry. This is a movie that looks at deeply ingrained attitudinal problems embedded in our society, problems which have eluded quite a few reviewers on this movie; I attempt to place my viewpoint on these ignored aspects in this review. This is a movie that is, to my mind, more about Men than Women; we need to see the story from this angle and engage with the highlighted problems in a deep introspection


Image result for pink movie review
The plot is simple : three ladies meet 3 or 4 boys at a rock concert, share a drink or maybe two, go to dinner, and end up getting molested. A feisty one responds, and cracks a bottle right slam-bang on the “gentleman’s” head, and the three run. So do the four “gentlemen”, but then the nightmare starts for the ladies, as the threats and the intimidation starts. They are wrongly accused by the “gentlemen”, and one of them gets arrested. In  steps a retired top lawyer to the rescue, and fights the case for the ladies.

The above isn’t about what ladies wear, or indeed what they should wear; it isnt about ladies drinking, about going out with boys, about saying no to the opposite sex, about not equating sharing a drink with an invitation for sex; about smiling and talking being equal to something else; it isn’t about freedom of women, or about how much freedom is too much freedom; it isn’t about the invasion of western mores into our eastern society. This is a hard-hitting expose on the Male Chauvinistic Pig, and the frankly reprehensible male dominance in Human Society in general and Indian Society in particular.

It is a brutal expose on the Gender Equations prevalent in our society, and how lopsided they are. If it is not ok for the Girls and Ladies of your family to drink, then – as a corollary to that, it isn’t ok for the Gents to drink either. If it is not ok for the lady to have multiple partners in her lifetime as casual  or not-so-casual lovers – then it isn’t ok for the Gents either. If it is not ok for the lady to stay out late, then it isn’t ok for the Gent either. Why should things be so different for the two sexes? Why the completely variant value-judgements between males and females of the same Homo Sapiens species?

This is exposed very skillfully in the movie, in a gripping court-room drama in the second half; the first half having set up the climax in a riveting and mind-blowing series of events of shocking & jarring victimization that lay bare the other problems touched in the other reviews. But the second half strips our society bare, strips it stark naked in the blunt court room scenes that take your breath away. You get to see the Male of our Indian  society in all his resplendent nakedness and gory ugliness, and leave you feeling utterly disgusted at the prevalent chauvinistic attitudes that bedevil our society.

Few people, in my limited reading, have touched upon this : I agree with the other points raised; namely saying no is no; that dressing is not a barometer of character and neither is drinking, that ladies should have independence; and the point on morality judgement etc. These are obviously true and spot-on; but my point, my question, goes far deeper – why do women {and men} look for approval from society? Forgot the song – Kuchh To Log Kahenge; Logon Kaa Kaam Hai Kehenaa? By doing so, you are automatically placing the man on a pedestal!

Furthermore, why do we place emphasis on purity of women – just women, and not on men? Why not place the precise same moralistic judgmental attitudes towards men as you do towards the ladies? Why has no one ever thought to ask a man if he is a virgin? Why is no one asking as how can the same attitude be seen modern, forward, rough-and-tough in males but undesirable in females? Why has no one in our entire society ever questioned the sexual need in males and their now-established penchant for prostitutes? Why has no one ever questioned the so-called tough man when he has multiple affairs, or drinks, or dresses in a forward fashion? We have never ever questioned the man – not even in our movies, and that is a fact.


The problem isn’t that we need to stand by our women; that goes without saying. The real problem is that we need to question the Men, and make it unacceptable behavior  - or rather, have the same rules apply for both the sexes. You cant have differentiation. We know we are patriarchal; we know ladies have to suffer a  lot – is that news? That is a known and established fact! High time our movies took the next step and ask some hard questions of the Man. Don’t say we need to support our women – start by saying that I need to look at the boys and men in our family, and have true equality.

It has been cruelly highlighted how Meenal had mulltuple sexual partners in her history; what about the men she slept with? Did they not have multiple sexual partners? Why has no one in our society ever questioned the man? Why is it not an equally big question for the man? Is sex just a conquest for the men, involving no love? Or is drinking a solely male priviledge? It has been forcefully highlighted about the drinking by the ladies. Werent the men also drunk? How is it ok for a man to partake in drinks but not the lady of the house? These are the questions this movie raises – and many many more…

We need to highlight the differential approach towards the two sexes far more than other aspects in my opinion; like in that sad statement “unko aukaar dikhaao” or words to that effect. The difficulty is that we are a male dominated society, and unless we both support the women as well as make it less sexy and more intolerable for the man to misbehave, change will not happen. As it stands, the feeling is that for the man, drinking & flirting and sex is ok – duly supported by our movies in sorry portrayals. If drinking, flirting is ok for the boys, then it is ok for the girls. And if it isn’t ok – then both sexes are in the wrong – and it needs to be highlighted.

Most movies show the women suffering, or fighting against all to make it; this has basis in reality. But we also need to show how the man can suffer and lose everything, how his sick behavior harms him – not just in the end, but in his daily life. Make it less sexy to be patriarchal! Instead, we see the opposite – in our love stories, in our other movies about how the man goes after the girl etc along established moral codes and norms of society.

We are the same society which calls a decent actor a chocolate boy, in another example of the stereotypes that rule our minds. These stereotypes need to be broken down; need to be addressed; the man needs to understand his failings…  and that is where Pink scores, in the Court-room where the defense Lawyer highlights these very aspects in his epochal code-book for conduct, and the six points he raises about how society views these from different parameters for the two sexes…

image source : Google search

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Patanjali - The Feasible Strategic Response

The Feasible Strategic Alternatives

At the outset, let me clarify that I am not an FMCG player; my interest in the Patanjali case study emanates from the unique marketing riddle it presents; and its close similarity in some ways with my Trade Telecom Handsets, wherein two challengers have upstaged the established player/s. Being a keen student of Brand responses to attacks in my trade, I could see ready parallels and deep learnings to be had from the studying the rise of Patanjali, and the current responses of the attacked incumbents i.e. the established players.

As I have gleaned from my FMCG friends, the current responses include launching brands or sub-brands around the health parameter, Ayurved, etc; these are clearly not going to be adequate. I don’t deny the need for such variants in the product lineup, but these cannot be the core response for obvious reasons, as we saw in the previous two parts of this article. We need to go deeper, into individual product lines as well as absolute fundamentals of product usage, need fulfillment & marketing basics to look for answers

As a brand, what do you do when attacked? This is the core question, the first question that needs confronting. In the real word, this is a routine matter which is attended to on a routine basis. But the question is, what do you do when the conventional approaches as mandated by your organisation’s internal structures have been found inadequate? The very last thing to do – a witch hunt. The existing people have both industry as well as organizational knowledge, and are indispensable. They may need support, fresh blood etc; but that they are needed now more than ever is a given.

The next step is the most difficult to do, both  as an individual as well as an organization; accept that you have been beaten, and quite comprehensively. From this base the structure can rise; that, to my mind, is the only way : people, and humility in defeat. These two together open your mind to new thoughts and full realities. Beyond this, you need to understand the attacking product’s strengths, not just from a product or a brand offering, but a complete full picture, something I have termed the 360-degree approach. This should look at all variables : market realities, socio-economic-political changes, individual product lines and their precise usage etc. And one word here – this you cannot do until you yourself have used and experienced the attacking products

You are under attack; what do you do? How do you respond? The first response is always, almost always, tactical in nature; given that most managers do not become aware of the full nature of the threat until much later. These tactical responses are also vital – they buy vital time, defend counters, markets; ensure continued robust cash-flows, and thus cannot be discounted. But the strategic response needs to be properly thought about. What can that be in such  a difficult terrain? The answer – the core attacking army itself. You need to understand and highlight weaknesses in the Patanjali armour that can be attacked.

Let me take myself as an example : I personally do not like at least two products from the Patanjali stable – a bathing soap I have used, and its toothpaste. The reason? In the soap, its lathering is not very efficient, and lacks satisfaction for me; and secondly its perfume isn’t to my liking. In the toothpaste, I lack the freshness quotient that other toothpastes give me for long after brushing, giving a nice tangy fresh aftertaste that lingers for a long time. Note that both these are clear examples of core product benefits. That is what is needed : highlight weaknesses in the core product benefits from the Brand Patanjali.

The Patanjali Brand has used a very emotive and powerful appeal; that is why attacking it on its strength areas is not the answer. Your health or ayurved products will like as not do nothing; for two simple reasons – you lack the perception in the consumers’ minds, and the related associations. And two, there are other brands and products that offer similar benefits, and have done so for long. You have to accept that your Brand is going to lose some space – frankly, you have no option but to take your losses, and try to minimize using tactical measures like line extensions, discounts, trade maneuvers etc.

Identify specific areas to concentrate on – not on emotive or psychographic segmentation etc; but on hard-core product usage and benefits, like lathering of the soap, its perfume, the aftertaste of the toothpaste, effective cleaning of stains, and so and so forth. Consumer dissatisfaction, if and when it emerges, will start from core areas of product benefit. Why is the consumer using the product {not the brand}; what benefits is it giving? Are you able to identify current or future products that can beat the competitor Patanjali?

While you are advertising health, or beauty, or cleanliness, is the customer buying into your Brand communication? It is feasible that most consumers equate all soaps with cleanliness, meaning there is a chance that your pitch is getting fuzzy by the time it reaches the customers / consumers. Maybe they look at perfume, packaging attractiveness, pricing, or indeed lathering and smoothness as key benefits! The quick rise of the competitor is equally an strong indictment of the disconnect of your overall communication {I said communication, not advertising alone – communication is much  wider} with the target market!

Logic is the only answer to a strong emotive appeal and pitch; that, and time. Many people, or rather critics, have stated that quality needs looking at, etc. What will that achieve? In my opinion, focusing too much on alleged poor quality is counterproductive, as the target market is not going to buy into your pitch, seeing it as a vested one – given the emotive appeal in the background. And do remember  that typically quality is  a price-quality trade-off and not an absolute statement in itself.

The precise response can then be formulated on the back of extensive research on consumer usage experience of the competitor products from consumer samples drawn from all geographies and relevant demographic profiles; it may be expensive, but warranted as the choices and perceptions of consumers vary widely. Small samples wont do, regardless of what the statistical theory says regarding effectivity and representativeness of samples. My gut feel is multiple studies across target markets.

Thus, meeting core consumer needs and giving solutions to their needs is the way forward; understanding where Patanjali is not being as good as you can be. Be prepared to lose a little, so that it gives you learning and flexibility to launch a counter-attack at the appropriate occasion.  That, and as I noted above – time. If the attacking product is not meeting market expectations, your continued and steady focus on basics is bound to pay rich dividends, especially if combined with effective tactical responses to arising situations and a strong tactical defense. In short – back to the drawing board, and your first-year  Kotler book and basics in marketing and management… only basics are the answer in an emotionally charged atmosphere as is the current marketing case we are studying!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Corporate India - Systemic Faultlines

This is an article written by Mr Amitabh Sinha - Director - Finance & Investment, SME Chamber of India | Director, Start-Ups Council of India | CEO SMEConfex, reproduced here with his permission. I welcome Mr Sinha to my blog, and hope to see other articles as contribution. My comments on his article are highlighted in shaded green boxes…

The Four Horsemen of the Indian Start Up Ecosystem

Director - Finance & Investment, SME Chamber of India | Director, Start-Ups Council of India | CEO SMEConfex

I was asked recently why Indian Start Ups are unable to capitalize their potential. There is neither an easy answer, nor a short one. But having been a regular and active part of this ecosystem, I feel, there is definitely an answer. I am not planning to come at this from the regular routes of dollars and innovation definitions or that much abused but little understood term called ‘disruption’. I am also not about to wade into LTVs and CACs and a trillion other gauche clich├ęs that the start up space seems to spawn on a weekly basis.

Businesses are socio-cultural organisms and this post will examine the socio-cultural genesis of this existential conundrum for Indian start ups. If digging into and agitating the miasma of socio-cultural constructs is not your thing, I suggest you stop reading now. To my mind there are four main culprits – four hurdles blocking the road to success. For those who choose to read on, let’s get started.

The ‘Shortcut’ Syndrome

This is the greatest possible paradox and best illustrated by the recent offer of the Haryana Chief Minister to reward any Indian Olympian who won a Gold medal at Rio with Rs. 60 Million. So it’s a laughable stratagem yes, but highly symptomatic of the Indian start up ecosystem.

Nobody stops Haryana or any other government in investing in infrastructure to promote sport, to create the right environment for success, but that isn’t done. Developing the capability to win isn’t a priority, winning is. For a people as template addicted as us, this ought to be counter-intuitive, but it’s instinctive. The urge to skip the stepping stones and attempt the Gold has been carefully cultivated in our societal DNA over the last several decades. It doesn’t matter what are the constituents, so long as one succeeds, regardless of the legitimacy or efficacy of the planned short cut.

We have often celebrated how India tends to leapfrog and how we skip developmental steps in our race to stay with the pace of growth the world sees. This leapfrogging however has consequences. We tend to mislay the perspective that intellectual infrastructure must keep pace with the aspiration to leapfrog. We cannot lay pathways with great gaping holes. But we do. Therein lies a huge problem, structures without support beams in the right places tend to be weak and have insufficient load bearing capacity. This dogs what we do both in physical and intellectual terms. Rigor and ethic do not lend themselves to being profitably short changed. We have to learn this.

My view on this : Short-cuts are the bane not just of the start-up scenario, but also the more established companies, as quite often due process and fundamentals of business are abandoned in favour of seemingly more effective  methods. What most people mistake is the treatment of short-cuts as strategic tools; short-cuts can only be tactical maneuvers designed to respond to specific challenges in the business atmosphere. This becomes a problem when the tactical response transposes into an over-arching strategy statement.

Business is never static; it is a flowing river. It changes paradigms every so often; even if the paradigm doesn’t change, there are all-too-frequent disruptions, changes in current etc of the river that warrant a more focused fundamental approach  to business. Each constituent function that is a contributory has clearly defined fundamentals; these need to be identified and worked on. These are individual to each company, and it is a fallacy that each industry has common fundamentals. Within the limits imposed by industry fundamentals, each company has a sub-set of fundamentals that are unique to its own strategic and tactical atmosphere…

Replication – the Success Mantra

Another prime socio-cultural cause is how we condition our generations during their formative years. For us as a people, success is templated. Right from early childhood we are relentlessly taught that the route to success is replication. We follow a laid down path and are encouraged to direct our efforts into reproducing what has been done before.

We engineer endlessly, we doctor growth paths, we administer regimen. We teach children to colour between the lines, slapping down ruthlessly their natural instinct to peep beyond the confines of the line. To confound things further we celebrate successful replication, but openly frown on, condemn and stigmatize mistakes resulting from exploration as ‘failure’. We breed fear of failure.

When we bring up generation after generation believing that independent thought is social anathema and that questioning established regimen is akin to heresy, we cannot in good faith lament that we do not raise a population of solution seekers.

We have conditioned ourselves to seek cues on ‘what to do’ from elsewhere rather than taking lessons on ‘how to or how not to do things’. That Pratap isn’t Peter or that sauce for the gander may not be sauce for the goose is a fact that we tom-tom but unfortunately do not seem to understand. Until Indian entrepreneurs start evolving solutions for the Indian paradigm that can extend to global markets when needed, we will keep seeing significantly lower rates of success.

My view on this : This follows from the first point above, which is on short-cuts. As a necessary corollary to the reality of the ever-changing business atmosphere is the obvious need for encouraging intellectual debate within proscribed limits in an organization, and the attendant independent thought. This is hard to do; carried too far, it leads of loss of control and anarchy; but at the same time, this needs to be done so that, problems are spotted early, internal solutions are identified and talent is developed. A person working on short-cuts will most likely miss the early warning signs of change…

Defensive ‘Smuggism’


Fear of failure when used judiciously, when built into exploratory processes leading to robust examination of consequence can be a constructive tool. But divorce it from laser focus on results and value; it becomes a tool of the devil.

On one hand we do not want to fail, on the other we’re loathe to do the required hard yards. This makes us insecure and the insecurity manifests in the form overt aggressive postures that assure the world, we feel we have nothing left to learn. From anyone.

The other manifestation of this aggressive defensive insecurity is inability to seek collaboration and to treat the world as a crouching beast, ready to rip away our meager gains. We defend where we should seek to co-create, collaborate and combine.

We present this as a smug certainty that not only do we need nothing and no one; we are so far beyond the capabilities of others to contribute that we can only treat them with scorn. The belief that if someone else succeeds, I would have failed, keeps us tethered and hobbled, but what we show the world is supreme if hollow confidence.

Maintaining this posture is a drain, it sucks away creative energy that could otherwise be deployed in value creation. It leaves us short and our aspirations short changed.

My view on this : Success breeds confidence; constant success breeds intolerance as well as overconfidence. Both are, by themselves, innocuous in calm waters, and ensure delivery of targeted achievables; things change when the river changes flow, temperature, current, or obstacles come in like logs. This requires not smugness, but humility to know you have been beaten by the situation, that you need to forget how great you are, and that you need to change so that things can improve, or at the very least, stay the way they currently are…


The fourth big part of the answer is 'Lack of Commitment'. Our contemporary would be business leaders tend to suffer from a marked inability to commit; to vision, to dreams, to staying the distance, to the greater good and most of all to relationships. To those who closely watch the Indian start up space, this is not news; they’ve been seeing it and often despairing.

India is a rich and fertile breeding ground for ‘isms’. Ranging from Gandhism to nationalism to socialism to regionalism, realism, casteism, communalism, federalism, surrealism, fatalism and barbarism, we have literally millions of isms and the resultants schisms and fractures. They all have one thing in common – they are loud.

In the midst of all that noise, one ism crept quietly in over a period of several decades and conquered – ‘Meism’.

For me, ‘Meism’ is the certainty that ‘Me’ the individual is always at risk, always at war against every other claimant – legitimate or otherwise – of every resource ‘Me’ could possibly claim and that a commitment or a relationship is either a convenience deliberately if temporarily worn for profit or a constraint reluctantly accepted and to be exited as soon as possible.

In spite of all the hoopla regarding the traditional richness and compassionate nature of our grounding, the bottom line, at least contemporarily is that we are fast becoming a selfish, short-sighted people. Growing up in an atmosphere that seems competitive even in the most innocuous and inane situations, it’s as we’ve been bred for nothing but grasping at everything, regardless of its value. We seem to have grown up believing that for us to succeed, another must fail.

199 years of the British Raj, followed by almost 70 years of ‘grab as grab can’, of perpetually clawing, of having things snatched away by those who could, of relationships abused at the whim of the stronger partner, we have come to believe deeply that commitment to anything or anyone else must take a back seat to our overriding commitment to securing ourselves.

We therefore tend look at all commitments either as constraints or as vehicles. The tragedy is that this is not a thought through posture – but ‘bred in’ instinct. We are always looking to protect ourselves, to hedge our bets and of course to slide out of giving away more than we absolutely must.

Indian entrepreneurs often fail to see beyond the 'Me', this myopia makes us treat relationships as use and throw consumables rather than the foundation of business. If we can't commit to people without letting our 'Me' get in the way, we're begging to fail.

To my mind this almost congenital inability to commit to almost anything as passionately as we commit to our own short-term gratification is at the root of our malaise.

What goes around comes around. And quite often bites us in the ass because we weren’t careful while sending it around.

My view on this : Meism is, in my opinion, a straight function of the times we live in. This isn’t limited to entrepreneurs, but is a social reality in the changed business atmosphere. There is nothing much that can be done; even for employees, there is a tendency to place self-fulfillment and self-targets above all; at times, this leads to long-term harm as well, as rightly indicated above. There are many parameters to this issue, and in my opinion requires a full dedicated article all to itself. I would like to request to author of this excellent article, Mr Amitabh Sinha, to pen his views in detail…