Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A short allegory

A wonderful, kind and gentle mother has one son*. A few years later she gives birth to another son. Initially she gives more attention to her second child as he requires more support.  Sometimes, the elder one feels neglected, but the mother counsels him saying, "your brother is but a child, he needs more attention. Come, you also help me look after him".  The elder one understands and joins her in taking care of the little one.

After a few years, the younger one has grown up some, but being used to getting partial treatment, continues to demand more attention from the mother.  When there is a conflict between the two siblings, the mother chides the elder one and asks him to give in graciously.  "After all, he is your younger brother", she says.  The elder one quietly acquiesces.

As they get older, the younger child becomes more and more independent, but since it is a gradual process, the mother does not notice it and continues to favour him.  One day, the older child complains and the mother then realizes that, just maybe, she is being unfair to the elder one by continuing to be partial to the younger one.

She could react in two way. over-Compensate and become partial to the elder one, or become completely impartial and treat both children alike.

How she behaves now will dictate the relationship between the brothers going forward.

For the allegory challenged:
The mother is India,  the elder son is the majority Hindu population and the younger son is the minority population.

At what stage are the minorities in now?  Is India over-compensating? Will India learn to move towards becoming an impartial country with a level playing field for everyone? What do you think?

*N.B. I have not used daughters specifically because daughters are not treated well at all in India.  When will India provide gender equality is a question for another post.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why are you not worried?

Imagine for a moment that your great-great-grandfather died a very rich man. However, (also imagine) he did not directly bequeath all his fortune to his children, but made some peculiar arrangements for the distribution of his wealth.  Instead of dividing his fortune equally among his children, he proceeded to do the following:

1.  He put his entire money into his trusted bank
2.  He ordered the bank to never divulge the exact amount available in his account.
3.  He then instructed the bank to give out money to his descendants as and when they requested for it.
4.  He left a note to his descendants requesting them to dip into his fortunes only to cover for any shortfall, that is, only when they had spent more than they had earned that month/year.

From then on, his children and their children and so forth down to our generation (you, your cousins and second cousins, running into hundreds) have been going to the bank from time to time with requests and the bank has been honouring every request made with nary a peep.

However, lately the bank manager, without divulging any numbers, has been cautioning all of you with phrases like "um... you should not assume there is an endless supply of money, you know" and "Maybe it is time to consider living within your means, no?". This gives you some inkling that may be the inheritance is not infinite, after all.

Now imagine that
1.  You are earning only 60% of your annual expenses [Needing to go the the bank for the remaining 40%]
2.  You are unable to increase your earnings significantly
3.  Your expenses are increasing year on year.

Will you be worried about the future?  What will you do?  Think about this before reading further.

Well, this is exactly the situation we are in.  August 13th of this year (2015) was deemed the Earth overshoot day.  That is the day when we consumed all that the earth can produce in a year.  Which means that for surviving the rest of the year, we have to dip into our inheritance (our forests, our oil reserves, the other fauna and flora that have taken millennia to develop).

In another 15 - 20 years, the overshoot day will be sometime in June, which means by then we will be needing the produce of two earths to live each year. Unfortunately there is only one earth.

Now the question that is begging to be asked is this:

Why are you not worried?

The original can be read here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Living like there is no tomorrow

To all those who believe everything is fine with the world, to those that are constantly goading others to see the positive side of things, and to those that say nature will take care of us, here is some news - I am pissing on your parade.

Your belief that all is fine with the world is delusional.  Your "positivity" is not a strength of character to be proud of but escapism.  Your naive belief that nature will take care is misleadingly true - it will take care of itself, not you.

If only you pause for a moment and let those doubts that you have, but are denying, sink in you will surely realize that the way we are living is unsustainable.

In the eight months this year, we have consumed more than what the earth is capable of producing in an entire year.   The petrol and diesel that we are guzzling took  millions of years to produce.  The trees we cut in a day took decades to grow.  By 2030, we will need the produce of two entire Earths to sustain us for a year.  In case you are wondering, there is no other Earth.

If monsoon fails in India (and studies show that it is getting more erratic each year), the entire agrarian population will lose all its income and food costs around the world will go through the roof.

So stop being smug and start worrying.  Only then can we go on to the next stage.

If you live like there is no tomorrow, there surely won't be one!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Time to say goodbye to organized religion and religious practices.

Let's get straight to the point here.  It is time we did away with organized religion and religious practices.

Undeniably, from the beginning of civilization, the single biggest cause of war and strife has been religion. Though the proponents of religion will site several examples where religion has contributed positively to human existence (art and architecture are justifications often heard), the misery that religion continues to cause us makes such contributions pale in comparison.

While doing away with religion entirely would be ideal, it may not be possible just yet.  After all, the need to believe in the existence of a higher power, and the need to find meaning for our relatively insignificant existence is deeply rooted in the human psyche and one cannot wish it away.

However organized religion is something else altogether.  It is clear that organized religion has evolved and exists today solely to manipulate the masses.  From the shamans and witch doctors of yore to the popes, priests and imams of today, all are guilty of exploiting peoples' need for God for their own nefarious purposes.

Obviously, we cannot get rid of these organized religions by asking them to disband themselves.  They are too rich, powerful and power-hungry to relinquish something they have built over millennia.  However, we are, as individuals, still free to escape from their clutches.

Towards this end, let us together launch the 
Movement to Promote the Abandonment of All Religions and Religions Practices.  
To join this movement, what you have to do is the following:

  1. Keep your religion an internal one.  
  2. Remove all outward symbols that broadcast your religion to others, including but not limited to special attire, markings on your body/face, referring to your God out loud, participating and conducting religions rituals and celebration of religion specific events.
  3. Avoid espousing the benefits/advantages/superiority of your religion.
  4. Stop visiting your temple/mosque/church/synagogue. Importantly stop filling up their coffers with contributions.  If you need to ditch guilt money somewhere, then use it to feed the poor or fund some other meaningful social cause.
  5. Allow your spouse and more importantly, your children to choose their own set of beliefs.
  6. Name your children in such a way that your religion is not discernible from their names.
  7. Changing your name is probably going to be too complicated, so just introduce yourself as EKA followed by your name.  EKA is short for Earlier Known As and pronounced ee-ka.  That way, everyone will know you belong to the movement.
  8. Though this movement will not have any central office, will not collect any monies from people, nor have any logos and symbols associated with it beyond its long and unwieldy name, it is important to ensure that this does not end up becoming another religion.  At the same time, it is important that people who join the movement let others know about its existence.  So, if you belong to and believe in this movement, you will greet others with the word "Peace" instead of hello, hi or any of the common words of greeting.
  9. If somebody wishes to learn about this movement, share with them this note and allow them to decide for themselves.  Do not proselytize.
  10. Sincerely believe that this world and all its resources belongs to not just humans but to every living creature on this precious planet and act responsibly at all times.

In the immortal words of John Lennon: -
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

FlipKart sale - Who ends up paying?

I admit I am a sucker for sales.  I don't buy anything unless it is on sale. Why, I have even bought stuff I did not need because they were on sale.

Still, I decided to let forego the big billion day sale on FlipKart.  Somehow, buying products at 90% discount sounded less like a good deal and more like plundering and pillaging.

Deep down inside, I have always wanted to know why something was being sold at a cheaper price. I know there are many reasons why products are sold at lower than usual price. Some of the most common reasons are:
1.  Stock clearing (liquidating  dead stock)
2.  End of season (before the lean period starts)
3.  Festive season (Diwali, Christmas)
4.  Products going out of style
5.  Newer version is imminent or has arrived
6.  Seconds (products rejected due to quality issues)
7.  Surplus (export units having unexported stock)
8.  closing down sale (shop is closing down)
9.  Smuggled goods
10. Stolen goods

In each case, we know who is covering the discount and why.  Also in most of the legitimate cases, except for the closing down sale, there is usually no loss to the seller, only reduced profits.

In the case of FlipKart sale, there is definitely loss. So, who is paying the difference, who is covering the loss? After all, we all know that at the end of the day, somebody has gotta pay the price.

Ostensibly, Flipkart (under their marketing budget), the actual seller (in case it is a 3rd party selling on Flipkart) and the manufacturer are together making good the deficit.  But this is just on the surface level. Dig a little deeper and you will see that eventually we, the people, will end up paying for it all, and at a premium!

The manufacturer makes good by cutting corners, producing inferior products and using cheap labour working in sub-par conditions that cannot pass even minimum safety norms. Cheap labour is not just about cost of living arbitrage any more ( it is not about labour being cheaper in another country anymore, after all everything is manufactured in China), but about denial of basic necessities to the workers for which they suffer deterioration of health and living standards.

The vendor/seller on flipkart probably goes for a no loss/ no gain model because of the pressure from Flipkart. FlipKart bears the rest of the loss.

They have a lot of investor money in the bank. Profit does not enter into their scheme of things.  They bear the loss and the cost of all the advertising using investors' money.  So are the investors the biggest losers?  No they are not, at least not yet.  They are the biggest risk takers definitely.  They are hoping that when flipkart goes public, they will be able to rake in the moolah!

That's where we come in.  We will believe their stories of grandeur and plonk many times more than the money we saved on deals buying FlipKart shares.  By then, the price of the stock will be far in excess of the true value of the stock and we will end up paying a premium.

Then if FlipKart goes belly up, a lot of people will lose money.  I have used "if" but am tempted to use "when" because I am yet to see a viable business model emerging.

I don't want to be part of this racket.  Be a conscientious citizen.  Buy when the price is right otherwise you are stealing from someone else.  Ignorance is no excuse. Besides, now you know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Social entrepreneurship and ecommerce

Social entrepreneurship is many things to many people.  Some aver that social entrepreneurship entities have to be not-for-profit, while some other are willing to look at profits as just another avenue for fund-raising, and yet others believe that there is no conflict between for-profit and social entrepreneurship goals as long as the eventual goals for social change are clear.  So, that social entrepreneurship is different things for different people is not so strange given that it is still an evolving business form.

Personally, I believe I am in the latter group seeing no conflict in a for-profit enterprise having clear goals, both in terms of profit as well as social change. After all if a country like Bhutan can attempt to measure its success, not just on GDP but also GNH (Gross National Happiness), corporate entities that are so good at coming up with metrics to track should be able to come up with ways to identify, measure and track how they are progressing towards their stated social goals.

One area where I believe the next generation of social entrepreneurship will flourish is in the area of ecommerce.  Already things are underway.  Take a look at Sasa ( - a women run and operated ecommerce platform for the developing world.  They are using the internet and mobile wallets to ensure that women producing handicraft are able to directly reach the buyers without having the go through layers of middle men.  They believe empowering women and ensuring they earn more for their work will result in such profits going directly into the community and help improve education, healthcare and increase the number of small businesses.

If we take India as a target market for social entrepreneurship through ecommerce, there are more options available than you can point a finger at. The number of poorly served, under-valued and neglected sections of our population are many including the physically challenged, the mentally challenged, the AIDS affected, sexual workers, transgenders, senior citizens, the burgeoning nomadic construction workers community, people living inside and on the peripheries of national forests and reserves, and unfortunately even women and children.  Each of these groups can be a target for several social ecommerce ventures.

Idea 1:
To give you some examples, in the last week I have met three different NGOs that have approached me to help raise funds for their organization by way of  buying something made by their members.  SCARF (Schizophrenia Research Foundation) had some tablet boxes and wall hangings to sell, Thozhi, an organization for the upliftment of transgenders wanted me to buy some of their pretty photo frames that they had made and another NGO, the Irula Tribal Womens welfare association (ITWWA) had a wide array of wood craft for sale.   Over the years, I have seen many NGOs try and raise funds by selling such products with limited success.

One immediate idea would be to build an ecommerce platform that allows these NGOs to display and sell their products online and promote the site to all corporate entities so that they can buy from the site the corporate gifts they give to their customers, distributors, guest speakers and visitors as well as gifts they give to their employees during festival seasons (Diwali, Navrathri, Christmas, New Year, etc.,).

Idea 2:
A friend of mine has a son with CP (Cerebral Palsy) and the trouble he has had in sourcing products for his son has to be seen to be believed.  Thankfully he is fairly well off and hence has been able to travel to the US and Singapore for operations, product customization and fitment and further treatment.   An entire population of CP patients in India are unable to get the attention and support products they deserve due to the lack of such facilities here.

Here is another opportunity for a thriving business that could create/source a whole range of products for CP afflicted children and sell that online.  With children outgrowing these products on a regular basis, the site could also be the centre for people to donate used equipment thereby not only reaching and helping people who can afford full prices but also help the people who cannot pay full price for products but will be more than happy to get used products at low cost or even free.

Idea 3:
I am myself currently involved in another organization that is providing products and services for senior citizens in India.  Though the elderly population in India is nearly touching 100 Million in number, this is yet another population segment that is grossly neglected. The enterprise is called Old Is Gold Store ( and currently runs a showroom and an ecommerce site offering a wide range of products aimed at making the lives of our elders safe and comfortable.   I believe that such companies can  make a great deal of difference in terms of improvement of quality of life for the elderly while working hand-in-hand with government agencies and non-government organizations.

Let a thousand for-profit social entrepreneurships bloom!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

India Ecommerce - Finding the sweet spot

So FlipKart has raised another 100 Million! This news is probably spurring entrepreneurs in India to start another rash of ecommerce sites in the hope of making it big!  However, I would advice caution here.

If you are looking to start an ecommerce venture now, think carefully and understand the environment thoroughly before giving up your day job. Some food for thought:

1.  A few biggies have got a lot of funding - FlipKart, Jabong, Infibeam, IndiaPlaza, FashionAndYou, Myntra, HomeShop18,...  In all probability, the VCs who have invested in these companies would continue to pour their money into these companies rather than look at new entrants, so raising funds for new ecommerce ventures is likely to be difficult.

2.  Even these biggies are struggling to get out of the red.  The fresh funds that FlipKart has got, for example, is likely to help them move towards break even. So, the path to glory is anything but easy.

3.  Check out the 100s of ecommerce sites already out there that are languishing or dying each day. Just look at the number of  * sites out there in the market already. How are you going to be different?

4.  Diesel prices have sky-rocketed (by at least Rs. 5/- per litre) and this is going to have a significant impact on cost of delivery, which is going to further eat into the already thin profit margins

5.  Even small retail outlets are getting into the ecommerce space through up and coming market places such as Tradus, Shopclues, SnapDeal and others.

Despite all this, if you still wish to enter the ecommerce space, choose wisely and find something (at least one thing) that gives you a significant advantage.  For example,

1.   Find an product area that is under-served.  Easier said than done, I know.
2.   Find something that does not require physical delivery or at least is light, small and inexpensive to deliver.
3.   Find a new product range that gives you 40%+ profit margins (after accounting for costs relating to packaging, delivering and collecting payment).
4.   Find something people will be willing to subscribe to or buy regularly.
5.   Find a product range whose market is not huge enough to be attractive or appealing to the ecommerce giants and yet large enough to make it viable for you.
6.   Invent a completely different business model.
7.   Find a demographic that is under-served and serve all their needs
8.   Be the sole manufacturer of the product or find a product that is unique.
9.   Provide faster delivery.  Can you say "We will deliver within 1 hr"?  You don't have to cover all of India obviously.  Think local.
10.  Operate in a geographical area that is under-served.  For example, delivery to the north-east of India is the most expensive, so many companies do not cover north-east.
11.  Find a narrow niche (ok, ok. I know a niche is already narrow, now you know what I mean) and be the best in that area.
12.  Crack drop-shipping.

Examples and ideas to follow.  Share your ideas in the comments.