Our inspiration comes from life around us, the people we work with, the schools our children go to, the movies we see, the malls we shop at, the blogs we read and the friends we know. Then of course, there are books that provide a completely fresh point of view. Ideas are everywhere if you know where to look and more importantly, never stop looking.
We think the biggest asset is keeping an open mind and not being judgmental about anything. And across cultures, what drives people is ambition and deriving meaning for what they do. People don't just buy into products or services - they buy into extended dreams about their own existence

Piracy as a marketing tool

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Have you noticed that a flop product or a flop movie is never in the pirates stock pile? The bootlegger selling a pirated DVD is the best indicator of authentic market demand. He immediately discards what doesn't sell - bootlegging what people buy, not what companies arrange to be placed on the shelves. True markets are reflected in small street carts, not in brightly-lit and neatly arranged product aisles. Go through the torrent lists of The Pirate Bay and you'll get a clear picture of which software products and movies are downloaded the most. Walk the streets and burrow into the small shops to see what products are pirated. The smaller the operation, the less the room for error - pirates have to keep a close watch on how the market moves to survive. They walk on the wrong side of the law, so there's no way they'll get protection when they are caught. They are real barometers of mass market taste and current demand.- because they are finely tuned to what the majority is willing to pay for. No one wants to imitate a failure, so pirates and counterfeiters only make copies of what has market value.

Let me be blasphemous here - the pirates' price is actually the fair price for the product. It may not make sense to manufacturers or turn in a profit at all - but it is the perfect indicator of demand with all the fluff in between neatly sliced off.- not the inflated projections that are displayed in Power Point presentations. Its sad that pirates are on the outer fringes of the market and are rarely surveyed to estimate actual market size or acceptable price points. A few years ago, Moser Baer, a company manufacturing compact discs created a sensation when they began to retail 'genuine' or legal DVDs and CDs at a price that competed with the street pirate price. Moser Baer acquired rights of music and movies right across the spectrum in all Indian languages. They did not bother to check if it was on a pirate list. Today, the business is just chugging along - but if price was the only reason for piracy, they should have been a billion dollar company. They probably have some very expensive stocks of low-priced duds!

Microsoft, Adobe and Corel have pirates to thank for the speed at which their markets expanded and grew. Their legal teams have a lot of work figuring out how to get people to pay for the products, but they had to pay nothing for adoption - which is a great way to lock in consumers. Apple bolted their operating system but they got the magic 99 cent price to make people pay for everything from music to software to games - which is what most pirates charge their customers!

There's very clear evidence that piracy increases market size. Unfortunately, there is no distribution system that taps into this very perceptive network . And incumbent market leaders use copyright law all the time to protect their turf. Maybe our demand estimation models need a quick upgrade instead of the scorn with which we view this underbelly

( 1 Vote )

Tags: downloads | marketing | Moser Baer | movies | music | piracy | record labels


The Mosquito Bat

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mosquito bat
In the evenings in India, a lot of 'tennis' players begin their daily routine. They unplug what looks like a tennis racquet from the socket and get ready to wage war on a flying swarm - mosquitoes. They aren't playing the latest version of Kinect or Wii. The bats are real, the mosquitoes are real and the battle continues late into the night. At the end of it, there are dark patches on the racquet, where a thousand mosquitoes have met their match.

The techniques have been perfected over time. Experienced players don't wildly swish the bat in the air like beginners do - scattering the mosquitoes and not killing a single one. It's almost like a Tai-chi movement, gently arcing and placing the bat skilfully in the way to get them trapped. Without too much movement , one has to angle the bat into corners where mosquitoes lurk - under tables and beds, waiting for naked feet and hands. Mosquitoes fly into the charged wires and there is a deeply satisfying ( if you are human) or deeply unsatisfying ( for mosquitoes) sizzle where they are set alight and burned to a crisp.

The smell of burning mosquitoes hangs acridly in the air, like the smell of smoke after the firecrackers during Diwali - and its even more unpleasant. But its short-lived and what's more, it seems to work. So, unlike the old days, where people used to fan themselves, apply creams, burn coils or the husk of the arecanuts to keep the mosquitoes from biting, this is an alternative that works just as well. So, walk into any household with senior citizens and you're quite likely to see these mosquito bats plugged into sockets, waiting for their masters to engage in the evenings.

It's time for the daily game. TV remote in one hand and the mosquito bat in the other, there is grim resolve. And the first salvo is often fired by the mosquitoes who manage to croon seductively in the ear that the game is on. This provokes an instant reaction, with players standing up and slashing at any particle in the air in the hope of swatting the impertinent intruders. But when this fails to achieve results, they change tactics and go where the mosquitoes hide. And the first strike is when they flame and disappear in a small puff of smoke. There are no Federers or Nadals in the making but look into the future and it is possible that a rash of tennis elbows will need treatment with doctors wondering how their patients acquired this condition at such an advanced age. And the explanation that they were playing with mosquitoes is unlikely to amuse the doctor.

The Mosquito bat is just one more in a long line of products aimed attacking the menace. There is the ancient Odomos, a cream with a perfume that is loathed equally by humans and mosquitoes. Then there are the smoky coils that burn slowly and leave a circular trail of ash in the morning along with clogged noses. And the mats and gels that mosquitoes merrily prance around and attack just when the effect wears off. Like the Tom and Jerry episodes, the battle rages on.

( 1 Vote )

Tags: Mosquito battles | Odomos | tennis elbow | tennis racquet


India's Rail Booking Whiz Kids

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While the world's travel portals have grown enormously over the past decade, an Indian one has been very successful for railway passengers to book tickets online. IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) with an unwieldy URL - www.irctc.co.in has gone on to become a major success. This year, it will have revenues of over $ 2 billion. That's over Rs.10,000 crores of business transacted. According to Alexa statistics, it is ranked 21st in India and 424 worldwide. I guess a lot of Indians abroad are booking their tickets for rail travel in India online as well.

Log in to the site and it isn't high on gloss, but extremely functional. Having booked tickets for years on it, I have seen the improvements and modifications. Every single bit of information required for booking - the number of tickets available for the next week or month, the cost, the route, etc., are all on a single screen compared to the time you had to click through and come back each time. I'm not sure that people unfamiliar with India and its cities will be able to find their way through the system, but Indians do not have a problem, since the number of tickets being booked everyday is close to 300,000. That's 3.6 million tickets every month. And IRCTC has an appeal on its home page asking passengers not to print out their tickets but to simply show the ticket checker the text message or the email as a confirmation - along with your photographic proof of identity, of course! The bureaucracy is hard to escape in India

It's just as difficult to escape the hackers. IRCTC has a number of travel agents who have special online access and the system was compromised by them for the Tatkal (or the emergency travel) quota, where tickets could be booked 48 hours in advance. The booking would open at 8 a.m. and just about 5 minutes later, not a single seat would be available for anyone. All gone. So, the system has been completely revamped with access now restricted to passengers and agents at the offline booking counters, with not more than 4 tickets per person, even with proof of identity. Sadly, it means that travelers who have the least time will have to brave the queues and scramble to be the first in line when the counters open to have any chance of getting a ticket.

But the employees who built and maintain this system do not have cover stories devoted to them in glossy technology magazines. They put together one of the most efficient systems on the planet in terms of database efficiency, adaptability and scale and their labour is barely acknowledged, let alone celebrated. When a top official Mr Sanjay Agarwal, was asked about their recruitment policies at a conference and how they managed to retain their people, he said that a large portion came from India's least known engineering colleges. The students were not articulate or polished and simply grateful to have a steady job after graduation. The majority earns around Rs 25,000 per month and they know they can earn a lot more outside - but they stay because they love the challenges and the problems the job brings.

( 1 Vote )

Tags: database hacking | Indian Railways | IRCTC | online booking | travel portal


Traffic Light dodgers

Are you one of those people who tries to sneak past a traffic light just as it's turning from green to amber? Or would you snake through all the side roads, just to avoid one? People reveal more of themselves on the road than they would in ordinary conversation - without saying a single word

There's the guy drumming impatiently on the steering wheel - as if the traffic is the only thing standing between him and global success.There's a Buddha who is at complete peace with himself - waiting patiently for the lights to change.There's the honker - even behind a whole line of cars he honks the moment the lights turn green, to make the cars in front move faster. They don't and it only adds to the cacophony.Somehow, Indian drivers have a real liking for their horns and the louder they sound, the more they like it. There's no such thing as quiet traffic in India - it's as if a school brass band starts up at every signal - the band that has yet to learn a single note.

The auto rickshaws are a species all by themselves. They are the cockroaches of the road, darting into every little gap and getting into position for a launch just as soon as the lights change. For them, and for most other road users, amber is the signal to accelerate, not slow down. Autos are quite happy to race down the opposite side of one way streets, take 'u' turns where none are permitted and lounge under 'No Parking' signs. For them traffic lights are a nuisance, coming in the way of their freedom on the road.

Buses are the other menace. They stop in the middle of the road, a full lane away from the bus stop, backing up all traffic behind them and forcing passengers to dart across and climb in. Not even an auto can squeeze through the gap between the bus and the road divider. Somehow, all drivers have a huge ego issue with anyone overtaking them. Bus drivers are bullies, leaning into their rubber horns to scatter the two wheeler riders and cars in front of them to make way. The occasional brave soul who stands his ground at the traffic light, will have a first hand near death experience, as the massive vehicle stops just centimetres behind him and honks to clear the way.

Indian roads are not for the faint-hearted. They have their own codes and the only way to survive is to be in the thick of things. Like the suburban trains in Mumbai, learning to use them is an art that goes far beyond the conventions of civic road sense and decorum. Drivers maintain eye contact and align their behaviour in split seconds to avoid running into one another. The polite road user, like the pedestrian who waits on the side walk, learns that patience is not a virtue that pays off. A clip of 'normal' road traffic in India has over a million views and no Indian would ever be surprised by the chaos. It's not the right behaviour or the desirable one but something that road users have adapted and learned to live with.
( 0 Votes )

Tags: auto rickshaws | behaviour | road users | signals | Traffic


Finally, an Indian Rockstar

rockstar ranbir kapoor
The movie was eminently watchable. Ranbir Kapoor smouldered as the tormented rock icon searching for the love that could not be. Discovering that material success and a huge fan following did not necessarily mean that everything you desired was within your reach.

But what struck home was that this rockstar was not dressed in Western clothes. Rock-on, another attempt to chronicle the travails of an Indian rock group, released a couple of years ago. The lead characters were dressed in the uniform of rock - the rebellious tees and torn denim. They were simply aping the West, much like the tracks in the film.

There is no real Rock 'n' Roll culture in India. It's a small set of dedicated groups that make the effort and then disband, since it's hard to get crowds, make money or sell records. There have been a few like Parikrama and Indian Ocean, but when they bring out the acid metal and the rolling drums, most people just cup their ears. One band that is trying a different route is Avial (in Malayalam, it means a dish prepared from a mish mash of several vegetables in a coconut milk and yoghurt base) - which goes for the rock genre with lyrics in chaste Malayalam. It is a fringe success, but going mainstream will always be a tough slog.

Rock is tolerated only when it happens far out of the city and for most young people rock concerts are more about 'trips' other than the music. True Indian classical music - Carnatic or Hindustani does not resonate with a majority of the young. So what we have is film music with so many regional and classical influences, it's hard to pin down and confine to a particular genre.

Against this background, creating a distinctive look would have been a huge ask. AR Rahman's music works wonders as he weaves in Indian influences into the rock ballads or the strident 'Sada Haq', which has been brilliantly picturised. It throbs with kinetic energy but having a guy play these tunes in western clothes would have been a let down.

Aki Narula and Manish Malhotra - the dress designers of Rockstar combine Middle Eastern influences with the big brass buttons and lapels of the Indian wedding bandmasters. The harem pants, the embroidered coats and the long hair combine to give Janardhan aka Jordan a look that feels right. If you wanted to know what an Indian rockstar would look like, it fits the bill. The costume evolution of the character, from college wannabe to a troubled success traverses the route through the Kashmiri kaftan and the intermediate jeans and embroidered coat to the finale where he just rips into the crowds and the music.

Nargis Fakri, the heroine has a similar evolution, but her performance never matches the manic intensity that Ranbir brings to his role - so she stays in the realm of the well-designed clothes horse - which is a pity, since the role had enough dramatic depth and if she had got it right, it would have been an amazing launch. But you have to give her marks for trying and failing. Anyway, companies are now rolling out the endorsement deals.

( 0 Votes )

Tags: Avial | costume design | Hindi film | movie | Nargis Fakri | Parikrama | Ranbir Kapoor | rock music | Rockstar


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