Thursday 29th June 2017

  • Stop killing our countrymen!

    Dictionary.com defines 'to lynch' as 'to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority'. While technically correct, Indian media has done everyone a huge disservice by referring to recent 'cow related' murders as lynching, a term that somehow understates the fact, that such killings are nothing but murder! The #NotInMyName movement is a sign that occasionally people can come together and show the right direction, when both ruling and opposition parties have failed to understand what really matters. Stop killing our countrymen!

  • Technological innovation and the law!

    This widely quoted HBR piece calls Uber illegal and asks that it be shut down. The argument made is that Uber's biggest advantage over incumbents is in using ordinary vehicles with no special licensing or other formalities, which reduces costs, thus making it cheaper for consumers and hence more popular. The entire Uber business model could be based on an illegality, it argues, and this is reflecting in their culture as well. Regular taxis follow the law and are hence subject to additonal costs in commercial insurance, registration, etc. This argument is not entirely true - In countries like India, a commercial license is required for Uber as well. More importantly, it doesn't account for the huge improvement in convenience (cab at the touch of a button), which one could argue is the real reason Uber (and its competitors like Lyft and Ola) are popular. However, it does raise the question - "Would innovative companies like Uber and AirBNB exist, if they had to strictly follow the law?" Perhaps, even Google and Facebook would not exist in their current forms if they had to ask permission before they collected our data. Innovation can often push legal boundaries. When is it ok to ask for forgiveness later and when should one ask for permission upfront?

  • Indian IT companies need to become pro-active problem finders as opposed to reactive problem solvers

    What the business press ignored in their coverage of the recent Infosys AGM was Vishal Sikka's extended talk about an AI-led future. He admitted that 65% of his staff were working in areas that would get commoditized (or automated) in the future. The assumption is that the remaining 35% are working in areas where Infosys would help clients figure out how to use AI (and other 'digital' technologies). The opportunity is huge, but the challenge is that neither client nor technology partner have a clear problem statement in front of them. How does one really take advantage of this AI-led future? As suggested by Narayana Murthy and often quoted by Sikka, the challenge facing Indian IT companies now is 'to become pro-active problem finders as opposed to reactive problem solvers'!

  • Today's troublemakers are tomorrow's entrepreneurs!

    One time in the course of my research on high-tech entrepreneurship, I asked a very successful venture capitalist what it took to be successful at high-tech startups. He stared right back at me and blurted out: "About the same thing it takes to be a successful drug dealer." A new study in The Quarterly Journal of Economics entitled "Smart and Illicit: Who Becomes an Entrepreneur and Do They Make More?" by Ross Levine of the University of California Berkeley and Yona Rubenstein at the London School of Economics takes a detailed look at whether risk-taking young rule-breakers are more likely to grow up to become entrepreneurs. The answer is yes: People who have gone on to found or own their own incorporated businesses were more likely to have engaged in cutting classes, vandalism, shoplifting, gambling, assault, and using alcohol and marijuana. They were also more likely to have higher levels of education, score higher on aptitude tests, and have higher levels of self-esteem. More here.

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  • How Western civilization could collapse!

    The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society - democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more - would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we'd eventually face total societal collapse. Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. More here.

    GST Solution in the spotlight
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  • Innovation for Companies: The Power of Little Ideas

    When most people hear the word innovation, they think about Uber, Airbnb and Amazon - disruptive companies that upended entire industries with a radical new way to do business. But Wharton operations, information and decisions practice professor David Robertson argues that this view is too narrow a definition of innovation, and one that is not useful to most companies. In his book, The Power of Little Ideas: A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation, Robertson talks about a more practical way companies can innovate: by focusing on complementary actions around a key product. The first step is really the step of answering, "Who are we as a company? What are our crown jewels? What are those things that we did yesterday that we're going to do today and that we are going to do tomorrow? The things that made our company great, that our customers still depend on us for? What's our [Lego] brick?" Continued here

  • Merger of online experience with offline shopping experience is the next big thing

     A leading player in the retail real estate across the entire value chain, Pioneer Property Zone has over 10 years of experience in the sector and services across major Indian cities. PPZ is a joint venture between ICS Realty, India and Old Mutual Property, South Africa. Najeeb Kunil, Executive Director, Property Pioneer Zone, PPZ in a chat with Hiren Kumar Bose dwells on the trends in real estate sector and future growth

  • Here's how your chatbot can get a personality!

    When you chat through your bank's website or on your favorite food delivery app, you may be interacting with bots (chatbots or programs that mimic human conversations). Most bots are very basic today, but are quickly "learning on the job" and getting better in handling customer inquiries. Soon, they will be able to sell (and cross-sell/upsell) to you and engage with you in conversation. This sort of engagement requires bots to have a personality, have opinions, a sense of humour - like humans. Ari Zilnik, a New York based user experience designer and co-creator of Emoji Salad - an SMS-based chatbot game - uses 'spectrums' when defining a chatbot's personality. "I find it useful to draw on personalities I am familiar with when I design a chatbot's personality", he says. "What I end up doing is creating a few opposing spectrums of traits - for example I might create a scale with 'dry humor/silly humor', and another that is 'enthusiastic/understated'. I typically have about 6-8 of these spectrums. I then create a list of about ten people - actors, friends, politicians, characters - and try to sort them across these spectrums. Finally, I look at the sorted lists, and I determine which character/person within that spectrum would best serve my user." This approach to personas might leave you with a personality that has "the enthusiasm of Aziz Ansari, paired with Obama's dry sense of humor" Ari describes. This process allows for a more relatable example to refer to when designing dialogue. More here

  • The Amazon-Whole Foods deal is all about the large but treacherous grocery market opportunity!

    Most glowing opinion pieces on the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon (Forbes) don't hold water. There are much cheaper ways to get quick delivery (partnerships with stores, etc) than buying expensive Whole Foods locations. This is not a threat to Wal-mart as there is very little overlap between the customer bases of Whole Foods (high end) and Wal-mart (middle and lower income). However, grocery is a desirable retail category that Amazon has been trying to crack for a while. The market size is more than $600bn in the US alone (everyone needs food) and is fragmented (No grocer has more than 10% market-share other than Wal-mart, which itself controls only a fifth of grocery sales). Also, with its stock price at a low (with 2 years of declining sales), Whole Foods comes cheap (especially when bought with Amazon stock). At best, this is a relatively inexpensive "offline retail" experiment that will enable Amazon to scale its "technology in the physical environment" efforts, while gaining access to a running grocery business with great brand recall. Some downsides in this article titled 'The one glaring problem with the whole Amazon-Whole Foods deal'

  • The art of failing well!

    Amazon's Fire Phone was a failure. It's the kind of thing most managers hope people soon forget about. But Amazon embraced it. Jeff Bezos said in an interview not long after the phone was pulled: "If you think that's a big failure, we're working on much bigger failures right now. I am not kidding. Some of them are going to make the Fire Phone look like a tiny little blip." Netflix just announced the cancellation of several expensive original shows. This is also the kind of thing most media CEOs get mad at and demand a strategy shift. Which is what Reed Hastings did. Except his demand was that more Netflix shows should fail: "Our hit ratio is way too high right now. I'm always pushing the content team. We have to take more risk. You have to try more crazy things, because we should have a higher cancel rate overall." Amazon and Netflix owe a lot of their success to their ability to fail well. More here


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