Public policy, ripple effects and feedback loops

I have always been intrigued by product design and by extension policy design (& implementation). If the government were to look at itself as a start-up technology venture, the policies, schemes and guidelines issued by the government would possibly be the “products” of this venture.

And like any good product manager, one should study not just the immediate impact of change(s) in product design but also the delayed and maybe stickier changes in consumer behaviour.

And that is what I want to share with you today.

Shift in dietary habits due to Green Revolution

Sometime last month, I was visiting an uncle of mine – someone who is in his mid 70s, reasonably fit, exercises regularly and has borderline diabetes. While we sat at the lunch table, I noticed that he had multiple other grains in his roti as against mine which was from just wheat atta. It seems most physicians recommend adding ragi, chana etc in your atta mix as a healthier alternative.

And that’s how our conversation began.

Wheat Green Revolution

And what came out was quite surprising for me.

It seems in their childhood days in villages of western U.P., wheat was not the staple grain. Infact it was considered a delicacy and wheat-chapattis were made when they had guests over. And he comes from a well-to-do farmer family. This was not because of economic constraints, it was just how things were.

So as the elders started talking about this significant shift in probably the most important component in a typical North-Indian meal – roti – what emerged was that the shift was triggered by the Green Revolution in all probability.

This lunch group which included scientists and government employees, agreed to the following sequence of events:

  • Wheat was one of the chosen candidates for green revolution . Though am very curious to find out why?
  • Government stepped in on the supply side with higher yield varieties, irrigation support etc
  • It also created artificial demand by setting up floor prices thus encouraging farmers to grow wheat. Making wheat a critical component of Public Distribution System also ensured a big buyer for wheat at these prices. This in turn ensured that a higher percentage of land under cultivation now got sowed with wheat
  • This brought the otherwise-considered-premium grain into the middle-class households at a very affordable price. Imagine if suddenly, you find yourself able to afford an item which for years or maybe generations was considered premium, chances are you will buy more of it to feel good (my assumption)
  • And they all started eating wheat more, skewing our diet heavily towards this singular grain in North India.
  • And the subsequent generation(s) like ours has come to believe that our rotis have always been a wheat-only product. Coz wheat rotis is what we ever saw.

Am also very clear that India’s self-reliance on nutrition has been contributed heavily by progress on wheat and rice. So there’s no doubt that this has worked as planned.

The fact that wheat may not be the healthiest grain is probably something new. Gluten intolerance was probably unheard of during the Green Revolution.

But with the new facts before us, should the government re-evaluate its focus on just a handful of grains in its policies.

What if, the support prices on wheat are relaxed a bit? What if other “healthier” grains are encouraged similarly? Will the cost of managing supply chains and warehousing for multiple grains offset the advantages of a wider-spread in our diet?

Many questions and I don’t have any answers.

Low availability of fodder for cattle

Ask any elder who has seen standing wheat crop in the fields now-a-days vs in the old days. One thing they would tell you is that the wheat crop is now stunted. Its much much shorter.

This am told, was probably one of the biggest breakthrough in developing High-Yield-Varieties. The nutrients and water is no longer “wasted” in the growth of the non-grain-yielding parts of the crop.

But on the flip side – this has increased the cost of cattle-management for local farmers. Why?

There just isn’t enough fresh fodder for the cattle. The non-grain part of the wheat crop was used as fresh and dried fodder for the cattle that the farmer had at home. This is gone.

As my friend (who runs a dairy farm) tells me, procuring fodder is now a big challenge in most regions.

I am not an economist or an agriculture scientist and probably have understood just a very small part of the whole picture here.

But I learnt few important lessons from this lunch conversation :

  1. There are usually multiple ripple-effects of any new policy change ( or product change)
  2. While the product may deliver on the core metrics initially identified as measurements of success, we should zoom-out and ask ourselves, what else has changed
  3. I should start eating healthier. Right now  🙂

Digital India – its already here

Today’s the launch of the Digital India initiative and quite a coincidence that I had an experience which makes me believe that Digital India is already here.

Digital India

Here’s what happened.

I was in Mumbai and called for an Uber. I started talking to the cabbie to understand the target market for a specific use case for mTuzo . We are pitching to banks that with mTuzo we can help move their debit card customer from an ATM only to ATM + POS relationship.

So I asked him which bank account he gets his Uber payments in – it was a SBI account and it was his choice. Uber gives him complete freedom to choose the banking partner.

Next I asked him if he had a debit card for that account . Turned out he did.

I asked him if he’s been using that card at ATM or for shopping also. As expected he had been using it only for cash withdrawals.

Probing further I asked him what if he got 15-20% discount if he shopped using his debit card, would he consider switching from cash to card. And his response just stumped me.

He said he’s already used his card for online purchases at SnapDeal. He did his first purchase using COD (cash on delivery) but once he was sure that they delivered just fine, his next transaction was through his debit card,

Let me repeat that – a 30 something male who has been driving a cab in Mumbai for last 10 years, is only schooled till class 10th, who uses his debit card only for cash withdrawal, has used it online at SnapDeal.

And what really really shocked me was his first purchase on SnapDeal. I can bet you will never be able to guess it.



Take a few guesses…..





He bought a selfie stick for Rs 300 (after a 66% discount). A selfie stick !!!!

I rest my case, Digital India is here.

Maybe we need a Digital Bharat initiative.


The curious case of single order and multiple delivery consignments @ Flipkart

This just happened to me again in a short span of time. I ordered 4/5 books from Flipkart and the ordered was split into multiple consignments and the two consignments were delivered within one day of each other.

Initially I thought this was because the books might have been shipped from different warehouses or even merchant-locations. And maybe the second consignment’s availability and delivery- date wasn’t estimated before the first gets shipped out. But then again, both were delivered within 24 hrs of each other.

Flipkart Deliveries

Interestingly, since Flipkart does its own delivery, the same guy comes to deliver all Flikpart stuff at my place. He knows me pretty well by now and I asked him if why the same order was being split into multiple consignments. Even he was finding it funny that he delivers two days in a row to my house. He only knew that he has a certain area allocated to him and all his delivery packets come from one holding warehouse in NCR.

Maybe thats where this is coming from. That Flipkart has a beat allocated to each guy, and the delivery guy has to work that beat each day. Hence it doesnt make much of a difference in splitting the delivery into two parts – he would be around in the neighborhood anyways.

Also, I figured out that many of these deliveries were COD and maybe this was a way to put a cap on how much cash the delivery guy handles. Or maybe the risk of not shipping a big consignment to someone who turns it away or acts funny.

But I still feel, they might find an opporutnity to further trim down their logistics cost and maybe even enhance the customer experience if they could find a way to re-aggregate consignments at the last-mile. Or will that put pressure on the mini-warehouse ? What do you think?

HDFC Life’s Campaign to protect you from the rains

A colleague recounted an amazing experience she had at the Delhi Airport a few days back. She had just flown in and was waiting for her car.

There is this small stretch at the Delhi airport that you need to cross from the covered porch of the terminal, to the waiting-car-lanes.  While the stretch is small, its easy to get soaked if its raining.

There were young boys holding huge family-umbrellas trying to help people save themselves from the rains. The umbrellas were branded with HDFC Life logos and these enthusiastic boys were helping passengers reach their cabs/cars without getting drenched. And while they walked with you to your waiting car, they would very politely hand over a small HDFC Life card (images attached) which promotes their Click2Protect – Online Term Plans.


I was so impressed by the way HDFC Life managed this.Could see so many reasons for them to be proud about this campaign:

  1. Its a very relevant offline activity. Most of us do not carry umbrellas and do get drenched a little bit if its raining.
  2. Insurance industry has been using the umbrella to highlight protection for years now. I can remember seeing way too many things under that umbrella – from house to family. But finally someone has made a meaningful and relevant use of the most recognized prop of the Insurance Sector.
  3. There is no hard-sell and the card is actually very humble in its tone and starts the conversation very meaningfully

    Thank You for letting us protect you

  4. Its probably one of the best Offline-to-Online campaigns that I have seen so far. They have chosen a simple product category to share – Term Plans. A product category that has been witnessing the biggest rush for customer-initiated-online-purchases.

Automobile recalls in Indian Market

May 2013: Updated  with the new Nissan Micra & Sunny recall data.


Aug 2012: The recent and much covered recall of the Ford Figo, sparked a lunch debate  – which is the most re-called brand of car manufacturers?

We did some quick Googling and here’s what we could find out:

Manufacturer Brand Year/Month Issue # of Units
Nissan Micra/Sunny 2013/May Brake System 21,000+
Ford Figo 2012/Aug Steering & Suspension 120,000+
Maruti Swift 2012/May Petrol Leakage 100,000+
Toyota Etios/Liva 2011/Dec Faulty fuel inlet pipe 40,000
Honda City Sedan 2011/Sep Power Windows 71,000
Maruti Swift Dezire Diesel 2011/Apr Connecting Rod Bolt 13,000
Honda City Sedan 2011/Feb Valve Train Component 58,000
Fiat Punto 2010/Nov Faulty AC
Maruti A Star 2010/Feb Fuel Tank 100,000+
Honda City Sedan 2010/Jan Power Window Switch 8,000

Ford Figo. (09/23/09)
Disclaimers from our Googlers:

  • Does not include Global re-calls where Indian market was un-affected
  • Maruti recall numbers are way higher than the true impact on domestic market as some of these were global recalls.

So which is the most recalled brand? Maruti/Honda/Ford 🙂

Exciting future for payments

Had an interesting conversation over the weekend with the office caretaker- a young late 20’s chap who has his wife and kids back home in Nepal. He told me very excitedly how he managed to send across money to them in Nepal through a new option wherein the credit was showing in his Nepalese account the very next day.

Mobile wallet
Mobile Wallets are here

The few interesting things that really stood out were

  • He transferred all of Rs7000/- in one go. He didnt feel like testing the process as he was told about this option by a close friend. Referrals generate high sense of security and comfort
  • He was given a secure PIN and this gave him immense confidence about the process being secure. Though he had to ask his friend to SMS the same to his better half back in Nepal.
  • He was happy to pay a transaction fee of Rs100/- for an almost immediate confirmation of credit in the recipient account. Customers will pay decent amount as fees for specific features/benefits
  • He hasn’t heard about Western Union etc and went straight to this PNB branch in Connaught Place for his remittance.
  • He also talked about an option where money can be credited almost immediately (mobile based process) and was sure that this would be a great option to use during times of emergency. This gave him a lot of comfort knowing that his family would have access to immediate funds even when he is miles apart.

The above in my opinion is a clear indication of the kind of adoption payment instruments would see in the huge currently untapped market. While brand building will be a tough one, the player who invests early in training/educating users how to use this securely would see a huge advantage. I hope my friends in the Mobile Payments industry are listening and are as excited as I am.

German Engineering but definitely Chinese manufacturing

Todays Times of India (TOI) was a pleasant surprise for most readers. The lucky few were the ones to experience a nice innovation in advertising – something that brought together the print and audio media like never before.

A full page Volkswagen ad had a small speaker with a recorded message about the German Engineering excellence etc. The message starts playing once you reach that page only as its activated by a photo-electric impulse.Am sure most people have been playing around with the device since morning and they will remember this for a long time to come.

I for one, was glad to see this simple yet powerful idea give brands much more mileage through a very traditional channel. Am also sure that if this campaign was delivered at a viable price, the electronic device had to be manufactured somewhere in China/Taiwan.

I quickly dismantled the thing to see whats inside & heres the bill of materials

– two batteries

– one photo sensor that completes the circuit

– round speaker

– Mother board for the gadget

To make the thing sturdy the batteries had a back jacket, which ensured that they would not move out place when the gadget is moved around.

Long live innovation & the global collaboration that can make it happen !

Letting Destiny build the Itenary – From Leh to Kargil

I have always been a firm believer that best of the trips happen when you dont really plan them, when you have the freedom and time to take the path that unfolds itself to you.

It was June in 2005 and I was supremely depressed during my 15 day leave, coz I was not able to do the “Chasing the monsoon (CTM)” trip. CTM was supposed to be the highlight of my adventurous life wherein I would drive up the western coast of India from Kerala to Gujarat & then cutting into Rajasthan & finally Delhi. My co-driver had to opt out at the last moment and I was left with 15 days of break and no exciting travel plans. All I managed to do was get myself on a flight to Delhi so that I could spend the break with family.

But my easily-bored self realized that I needed to go out somewhere soon. I was online chatting when my friend Vijay, told me that his friend had just returned from an amazing trip to Leh. It was like I had found my inspiration. I called this friend of his to get a better sense of what options lay ahead and at the end of that 15 minutes call had decided that I would fly into Leh (rather than do the road trip via Manali) and take it from there.

I went to the cyber cafe and was booking my ticket for the very next day. I was so excited, that in this hurry and excitement forgot to note that I had booked myself in the business class :-). By the time I reached home there was news about a blast in Mumbai & in Srinagar and my family was strictly against the trip. It took a lot of convincing and some help of maps(to show how far off Leh was from Srinagar) for them to finally let me go ahead on one condition- I was supposed to call them & update em on a daily basis.

And so the next day found me at the IGI airport, waiting for the early morning trip to Leh.While waiting for my flight I stuck up a conversation with a lama who asked me if this was my first trip to Leh. On hearing my affirmative he advised me to take it easy on the first day and to drink lots of water to avoid any altitude sickness.

The flight into Leh was short & sweet…with some of the most specatular views of the Himalayas I have ever seen , TV included. But alas i had packed my camera in the check-in luggage.

I landed at Leh, took a cab to just take me to the central part of town so that I could have a look around and decide where to stay for the rest of my trip. I called my folks from the bazaar area and told them that in this part of the country my own cellphone would not work (those days no one was allowed to be on roaming in Kashmir Valley). After asking around I realised that there was a guest house quite close to Shanti Stupa – which was away from the hustle bustle of the town center and had a nice family as its hosts.

So off I went to this guest house, which was almost 1 Km away from the nearest restaurant/shop, to have my own spot of peace in this beautiful place.
Over the next couple of days I traveled & hiked in and around Leh and saw the regular tourist spots.But my secret desire was to do a 5-6 day trek across the passes & into the really remote valleys. I spent a lot of time negotiating and discussing options with the tour operators and had almost zeroed on one when it suddenly rained. Yes, it rained in Leh- it was one of those rare moments when you feel that nature’s being evil. Coz this rain meant snow in the passes and that meant no trekking for atleast next 7-10 days. So here I was watching it rain, in a place that sees very little rainfall throughout the year. In fact the land is so barren due to altitude and lack of rain that you hardly see any vegetation.

In the evening, I was having a cup of tea with my host, watching the beautiful mountains gradually fade into the night’s darkness when a walker passed us by.
He suddenly stopped and asked me very abruptly -“How come you are staying at this place”. Not knowing if this was him being rude to my host or genuine curiosity I let the truth prevail and told him its cos this place is the farthest from the market- meaning it was the most quiet & serene place.
I think my answer got him by surprise as he told me that in all of 5 years of him walking this stretch almost every season, he had never seen an Indian staying at this guest house. So while my host went in to get him a cup of tea, we started talking. He told me how he was now with RR (in the army) after being injured and how he was still happy to be posted in this place- which many take as a punishment posting.
I wasnt in such a thankful mood so when it came to me, I just cribbed about how the rain had spoiled my whole trekking plan and blah blah blah……

Between Kargil & Drass
Between Kargil & Drass

The Colonel then told me ” If you find Leh beautiful, wait till you see Kargil“. I told him that I am not sure if its safe to travel that part of the valley esp after the bombing incidents. He replied “If theres been an incident today, nothing will happen for the next 3 months…take my word for it and go!”. He then showed me some snaps on his cell phone taken from a road trip done last week… Looking at the snaps I knew this was where I was headed…. Kargil. And while I ran around figuring out the bus timings, getting a ticket, asking for a cab at midnight and settling the bill with my host….. I was just thinking if it had not rained I would be hiking and Kargil would have been left.

I was no longer cribbing but thanking the stars for this army-man-on-his-evening-walk to help me make the best of my trip. Even my Lonely Planet wouldnt have come up with such a great recommendation.

Will anyone buy Satyam ?

Its been a not so great start to 2009 for India world over. The economic crisis just keeps getting worse.

I had last written about a how the slowdown could be the right time for cherrypicking. But the Satyam story has made me wonder if the same really applies to competitive industries in the service sector also.

SatyamTake the Satyam example: There are way too many options available to Satyam clients. They would get similar (if not better) standards of deliverables at better costs probably (given the slowdown and IT industry’s need to get more paying clients)

– Most big IT clients already have multiple vendors. So they would not have to start afresh but look at re-distributing business amongst the others

– Most clients will not be rewarded (enough) back home for the risk involved in continuing with Satyam- given that it has already earned the title of India’s Enron. So even with the new board and GoI pitching in, my sense is that most of them would want to make a quiet and slow exit.

– Satyam was not into cutting edge IPR generating work- which means that they are replacable with the highly documented processes etc.

– Service sectors like IT do not have much “assets” beyond people IPRs. With the scale of fraud being discovered at Satyam, this asset(people) will be highly undervalued by any suitor. Even if one ignores the Sr Mgmt and looks at the Project Mgr level- the indian job market is full of qualified and experienced techies looking for better avenues.

So why would any one want to pick up Satyam – a Co. without much assests, with huge and increasing liabilities? I tend to agree with Phaneesh’s point of view that window of opportunity to invest in Satyam is now gone- with each passing day it would be tougher to revive an organisation which is losing more than its gaining (since the scam discovery).

Surjeet wants to go solo….

Surjeet Singh is your typical sardarji driving a taxi for yet another typical sardarji- Giani Singh. Gianiji has a fleet of around 40-45 cabs that are doing decent business (if fleet expansion rate is any indicator).This has been largely due to the fact that Giani enjoys access to a captive audience – he is the only “reliable” cab operator in my area.

Indian TaxiNow it so happened that Surjeet paaji came to drop me to the airport yday somewhere during the long ride we started talking about how much he is paid, on what basis etc etc.

So here’s the maths around the taxi business:

Giani pays a salary of Rs 4000/- to Surjeet and all other drivers with an additional incentive of Rs 40/- per round trip. Surjeet manages to do 3 trips daily on an average – making his total monthly income around=Rs7600/-.

Assuming each trip is for an average 20kms- it would give Giani a revenue of Rs 300/- with fuel costs of Rs 75/- , this gives a per trip margin of Rs 150/- (keeping scope for other expenses).So on an average Giani Singh takes home Rs 18000/- per day.

Surjeet wants to be independent start his own taxi operations. I hope Surjeet knows what he is aspiring to do:

– A new Indica or other vehicle will cost a minimum of Rs 350K on road. With little credit history, its tough for Surjeet to finance the vehicle acquisition at a competitive rate

– Giani gets some steady business because we can rely on him. People would not “trust”- a single cab service as the availability will definitely become a constraint. So even if Surjeet gets the car- how will he get customers? Will this mean less than 100% utilization or marketing overheads?

– Delhi doesn’t have a healthy number of Black Yellow cabs plying within the city- which means that most Delhiites are not used to hailing a cab on the road. The only places that you get into a BY cab is at the airport/station etc. So Surjeet can hope to do routes to/from such places. Had he been in Mumbai- he could have gone solo overnight after getting the vehicle.

– Airport pre-paid cabs have to wait for 2 hours typically before getting a customer- here the ticket size is Rs 250/- and they can rarely manage a round trip. They pay-up Rs 10/- per trip to the Pre-Paid manager. At this rate Surjeet will be able to do 2-3 trips in a day earning him revenues of Rs 650/-.His take home after fuel etc would be Rs 450/-. which transaltes to Rs 13.5K per month- almost double of what he currently makes.BUT with the EMI’s that he would have to pay- this could be eroded to less than Rs 7K levels. Also with this – he would earn only on days that he is making trips. If he has no back-up, he doesnt earn the days he is not well or on vacation.

So how does Surjeet let the entrepenur bug bite him in Delhi? How does he get finance at an affordable rate? Should he wait for the “Nano” That will surely change the dynamics in his favor.

My suggestion to Surjeet was to go to Mumbai- but with Raj Thackeray picking up morcha against Northern outsiders, Surjeet declined that option rightaway. He wants to be in the city of Dilwalas i guess 🙂