Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The business story from the Indore dosawala

The cool winter breeze has started to blow. Moist is in the air, and up the hummock where IIM Indore sits cozily, the weather is turning out to be cooler as every day passes. I and Jam went out to the city to the beauty parlour (well, euphemism apart, it was a hair dressing shop), had some snacks and, as we entered our campus and started climbing the hill, we clearly felt the chillness in the evening air. I'm told that Indore is known for its extremes, and that it might touch as low as 3 degrees in winter and 45 plus in summers. For a typical South Indian like me - hailing from more temperate places that is - this certainly isn't amusing. But all this is an experience, I'm told. Whatever!

We've also made it a weekly habit to visit a dosa shop some 10 kms from our institute. These days, dosas are really at a premium. Some of us would pay any amount to get a bite on a tasty bit of dosa. The dosa shop we are frequenting isn't a shop really. It's just one of those mobile fast food pushing carts you could spot on any Indian city. But don't underestimate it. What surprises us is the number of customers the shop manages to attract, despite not owning a place on its own. We could see Fords and Esteems waiting in queue for the dosas. One of the owner opted for this business after obtaining a degree.

The unavoidable questions on our minds were: what's making the business so successful? What warrants the owners to leave jobs and travel hundreds of Kms to setup shop? Why don't the store owners upgrade the shop to a bigger one?

There are reasons behind every move made by the dosa shop owners.

What's the income made by the dosa shop wallas? When a group of us went to have dinner there, we spent an approximate 200 Rs and consumed some 20 mins of their time. They open the shop for 7 hours, and the demand is almost full everytime. At times, the demand even overflows. We calculated that the dosa selling at Rs 10 would cost a max of 5 rupees to prepare - considering that the owners were willing to give us a 40% percent discount since we hail from the same place as they were. That means a revenue of approx. 2100 per day - translating to abt 60K per month, evaluating the least possible figures. This would be shared by about 3 to 4 people - a far cry for people who would've otherwise earned much lesser. Additionally, it makes a lot of difference to work for oneself than for others.

Well, what attacts people to the shop? [In business terms, what's their USP/UMP?] I guess the 'Madrasi' tag is definitely a decisive factor. People around here would definitely be interested in eating dosas prepared by people who're from the place dosas originated. Secondly, the taste is good. That's definitely one reason we go there; and as Kotler says, we definitely increase the demand by word of mouth. When we asked why they didn't go for a shop upgrade, one of the shop owner mentioned that small mobile shops are the ones that attract mobile populace. He said that such shops are real 'hits' in North India, and that his relatives alone have covered places like Rajasthan, UP etc with similar dosa shops. True words, considering the fact that an estiblished regular shop nearby attracts hardly any customer even after selling similar tasting dosas at the same price.

The whole episode has been quite a learning for us. Foremost, down to earth people from a remote hamlet in Madurai showing such a lot of business sense has firmly instilled a lot of humility in us. Second, common business can be learned by such experiences in real life. McDonald's and Starbucks alone don't make miraculous success stories!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Economics & our lives till date...

One question that's been bombarded on all of us umpteen times: "What do you want to be?” While answering this question, although we limit our thought process to what each of us want to take as profession, the question in itself covers a much larger domain.

When I was twelve, Ravi Shastri fascinated me. I love rasam (a spicy South Indian dish) till this day (not that I'm old!) just because my Mom used to make me consume it citing the success of Ravi Shastri who's supposedly a big buff of this dish. I wanted to be Ravi Shastri. Atleast then.

When I was fourteen, I started liking tennis. Stefan Edberg was my hero, and I liked his offensive style in particular. I loved the game. And I wanted to be someone like Stefan Edberg. I also wanted to be someone like Sir C.V. Raman. Why? coz my parents said so. Plus, 'scientist' was a far more respectable profession to fancy off! I remember telling this in one of those school classes where teachers constantly inquire what each one of us want to become. I didn't know what studies meant till my tenth standard. There is no way I could have wanted to be Raman myself. But given the family feedings of those days, I answered that I wanted to become a scientist. I might've really wanted to become one. At this age, one never remembers old stuff.

Don't go anywhere! economics is on the way...

By the time I was in higher secondary school, I believe I started thinking about my career. Given the primary 3 choices (Engg, Medical & Commerce) that a normal middle class Indian school kid had, I opted for the Maths and Biology stream. The medical profession continued to fascinate me, till the day my final Biology result came, which sealed my dreams. I studied engineering. I loved computers. I loved Linux and Open Source. I loved all the people who were into Open Source. I wanted to be one of them.

But alas! I got a job in Oracle, and now I've landed here in IIM-I. I still have lot of options before me. These apart, whenever I visited the village side, I loved the peace and the simplicity. I wanted to be one of them. In retrospection, I wanted to be a lot of things. And I guess I'm no different from others. We watch action movies, and we want to be there, to do that. We see rock climbing, and we feel an urge to rappel. Finally we are what we are now. Those options that went off into thin air were not unachievable. But we just didn't opt for those. Why? It probably wasn't the best option to choose.

In effect, we wanted a lot. We had a lot of options. And we chose some, coz we didn't have the time/resource to be 'all in one'. In other terms, we couldn't have bit more than we could've chewed! And that's what economics is all about - the science of choice, given the infinite wants and limited resources! Quite funny, isn't it?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 & the moron

There really is freedom in America. That's what I inferred after watching the movie 'Fahrenheit 9/11'. For starters, it was a Bush-bashing movie released earlier this year. And bashing is something that's very nicely, artfully and professionally done. If you are like me (spammed to glory with all sorts of non-sensical email forwards, that is), you'd have probably come across umpteen missives delving on Bush and his idiocies. This one is class apart, and one that's done with acute craftiness. The best thing about this pseudo-documentary-movie is that Bush does all the damage to himself. There's absolutely no way someone watching the movie (even if it's a birth-to-death Republican) can restrain oneself from being taken aback by the naivety of who's *supposed to be* the world's most powerful man.

As the first news of the September 11 attack came to his ears, he was cruising to a primary school for camera coverage. And even after being informed about the second plane crashing into the WTC, Bush didn't know what to do. He sat for - what I'd say - a record 11 minutes in total silence in front of primary school children reading what looked like a cartoon book that a second grader wouldn't be too interested in! Moore, the collater of all these clips, somehow managed to get hold of the clippings from the primary school teacher who took the video coverage. And the clipping is here for us showing the world's most powerful man sitting absolutely clueless (for the lack of advisers) when his country was on fire. If nothing, it has left on me an indelible imprint that he's a moron, with probably an IQ tilting towards the negative! :)

Rewind to first sentence - the best thing about the movie is the way it portrays the freedom of speech. It proves to the whole world that freedom is something that America provides in letter *and in spirit*. In which other country could you possibly release a whole 2 hour movie taking the president-in-power for an absolutely shocking, shameful and humiliating (for lack of a powerful word!) ride, with total impunity? That perspective, hail America. And throw Bush to dogs. I'd be surprised if Bush scores a single vote next time, even if 99% of what's in the movie is cotton candy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The probability of a quiz

Hey! you know mathematics? This is probably gonna test your knowledge to the hilt! :) (a feeble joke attempt)

A lot is happening in the second term. 12 days of continous classes, without even a holiday on Sundays. As the usual set of assignments, classes etc roll on, one major thing hasn't started yet. You guess it right - quizzes. For every subject consisting of 24 classes, there would be six quizzes on an average. That translates to a probablity of 0.25 quizzes per class. Considering that we have 3 classes every day, there is a probability of 0.75 for a quiz happening. In simple terms, 3 quizzes can be expected in four days. Throw in subjects consisting of 12 classes and still containing 6 quizzes, the probability only looks much worse.

All I can say is, with a probability of 0.75 for a quiz happening any given day, and with 5/6 classes passing by without a quiz, things don't look rosy.

I can't believe we've been so lucky all these days. I still remember the first quiz in the first term where I ended with a zilch and started to think about studying. I've had no such impetus so far, which is real bad. I say its bad coz of the simple reason that so many classes have went past with a cursory preparation. The thought of continous quizzes in the forthcoming days scares the shit out of everyone of us. But I still have this weird sense of feeling - some people call it hope - that we'd get away without a quiz tomorrow. Wonder what's really gonna happen!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The father of all terms :)

The first term was arguably a tough one. The second term looks real real tough. We've just got 2 holidays in the whole of the term including Sundays. There are no 'chilling' out subjects as in the first term where we had some relatively easy subjects like Computing tools. Some wise guy said that work would elongate to fit the available time. Elongation or compression, work just has to fit in the available time!

This weekend is completely free since classes are starting only on Monday. The LAN is reloaded with all sorts of movies - new, old, and in different languages. I'm just chilling out this weekend. As some of my friends say, I guess we carried over the relaxation mood from the vacation. I haven't even cleaned my room. Its like a room in London's East End :) (which I hear is one of the most dirtiest!)

Anyway, let's see what this sem looks like...

And btw, the video of the song "La Isla Bonita". Alizee is the artist. She's extremeeeeely graceful in the song. Simply awesome stuff. Just listen to it if you get hold of it.