Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pakistan May Want A War With India, But India Has To Avoid It At All Costs

Its been over four weeks since the Mumbai attacks, and news reports indicate that India and Pakistan may be slowly edging towards a war. War is expensive and not something either countries can afford. But while Pakistan may want a war, India must do everything to avoid it and find other ways of addressing its current fight against Islamists.

From India's stand point, the attack on Mumbai's landmark hotels was a signal that the divisive Islamic forces based in Pakistan have gained strength and are now capable of. The electorate has been shocked at the brazen attack and the inability of their government to prevent it from happening. Recent demonstrations on the Indian streets indicates that the Indian public is fed up with the string of attacks in major cities going on over last two years, and the government is under incredible pressure to do something - and do it quickly.

Even highest ranking politicians have voiced their concern that doing nothing sends a bad signal to the terrorists - that India is spineless, weak, soft target that can be attacked at will without impunity. Rahul Gandhi, a politician with clout within the current administration, is reported to have equated the attacks to someone coming into your home, slapping you and getting away with it. For Indian Government, responding to this attack has become an issue of survival. Manmohan Singh, Indias pragmatic Prime Minister knows it in his heart that unless he produces some evidence of action against terrorists responsible for the attack, the government stands to loose all credibility.

On the other hand, not withstanding its own nuclear capabilities, India does not have the political and military will to attack Pakistan. With a war, there is no concrete political objective to be gained. Quite the contrary, a war with Pakistan would be extremely counterproductive to India's long term political goal of reaching a rapprochement with the Pak civilian leadership and de-fanging the Islamists forces that are the cause of much of its trouble in Kashmir and other parts. India knows that take unilateral action against Pakistan would invite world wide criticism, and put its relationship with United States in jeopardy. Starting a war, India would loose the moral high ground it has occupied since the Mumbai attacks. More importantly, a war would scare away foreign investors and negatively impact the economic growth - some thing India cannot afford in the current recessionary environment.

Another reason is, even if India wins the war, a military victory would be counter productive to its political goals. Recent performance of Pakistani military on the eastern front indicates that Pak military morale is low and it is in very bad shape. But to vanquish the Pakistani military would leave a huge power vacuum, a vacuum that would be quickly filled by the ISI and the mullahs of Taleban. Militarily, a war with Pakistan would only serve as another rallying point for the Islamists and Pak military to cause more trouble for India in future, albeit from behind the new Indo-Pak boundary.

On Pakistan's side, the Pakistani military is chafing under the new civilian democratic administration of President Zardari. Under US and Zardari's has pressure, the Pak military has been forced to fight a war against its own protagonists, the Taleban, a war that has gone rather badly for the military and a war that has little popular support in Pakistan. On top of this, to the dismay of Pakistani military, the new civilian government of Zardari has demonstrated enough courage to try to forge a dialog with India. The recent events where Zardari informally offered a no first strike nuclear pact and made statements designed to patch up relationship with India, has Pakistani military up in arms. To have a rapprochement with India is to go against decades of old Islamic doctrine and to acquiesce to the shame of having lost four major wars with India. The military would rather fight an ideological war against India, for which it would have a ground swell of popular support. It would also take the pressure off the Taleban who have been very useful to the military to its objectives of a greater Pakistan including parts of Indian Kashmir, and parts of Afghanistan beyond the Durand line.

Pakistani military, for all the patina of military discipline and institutional history, is run by mid level ideological hotheads who, given the right circumstances, would pounce at the idea of fighting a war with India. A war against India would help them in more than one way. First, it takes the pressure off them to act on the western front against their protagonists in the Taleban. Keeping Taleban alive is important to the military ideology of a greater Pakistan capable of standing up to India and a war with India would serve as the right pretext to go against the dictat of the current Zardari administration and the US administration. Second, because the Pakistani soldier is likely to fight with greater determination against a foreign enemy vs the internal enemy, a war against India would help them restore the luster of military invincibility lost in the current battles against the local insurgents. So Pak generals will slowly but surely edge Pakistan towards a war with India.

You can see this already playing out in Pakistan. A mood of hysteria is being built with dire pronouncements from the military leaders. Rather than trying to work with the Americans and Indians to address their concerns, Pakistan is acting as it war is imminent. Recent troop movements to Rajasthan border, and scrambling of Airforce planes over Pakistani cities indicates that Pakistani military is in complete control of power in Pakistan. Even the political leadership, including President Zardari and foreign minister Quereshi are succumbing to pressure and beginning to sound paranoid.

So, while Pak military is getting ready for a war and the Indian electorate is demanding quick action, Indian leadership must do everything to avoid the war, and be prepared to defend the country should a war be foisted upon them. Indian gain is in rallying US and world opinion against Pakistan so that the real power center in Pakistan - the military - recognizes that it is in its best interest to surrender the perpetrators of Mumbai attack to Indian judicial system.

On the other hand, India cannot afford another Mumbai. India needs to do more to protect its people against such attacks through improved intelligence, strengthening of border security and challenging its military doctrine to include a preemptive strike response to corroborated intelligence even in foreign country which is incapable of or unwilling to take actions against forces targeting India. India needs to develop capabilities to conduct surgical strikes into hostile territory designed to take out specific training camps and other installations where militants are being trained. Pakistan has made Indian Kashmir a front in this war, so its completely fair for India to take the war to them into Pak occupied Kashmir. As long as India restricts its theater of activities to Pak occupied Kashmir, India would face little criticism from its friends in the West. As for Pak military, its important to send a signal that India is not interested in fighting a war with Pakistan on Pakistani soil, except in Kashmir.

Simultaneously, with the help of its US friends, Indian government should continue the diplomatic effort to contain this scourge of terrorism through improved relationship with the new civilian government. To that end, hawks like Chidambaram need to be asked to control their rhetoric.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Strategic insight comes from keen observation

That strategic insight comes from keen observation of the market place is an oft repeated dictum that few follow. However, every once in a while one comes across an example that exemplifies it. Here is a great example courtesy India Today:
While coming back from Dalhousie last year, thanks to a cancelled flight, Deepak Puri, the chairman of Moser Baer, was forced to take a train. At Pathankot, two push carts were selling his CDs. Business was brisk, and they managed to sell quite a few. A few months later, at an upmarket store in Delhi’s Khan Market, Puri discovered that the shopkeeper stacked only two of his titles. The reason: he would make a fatter margin—Rs 150 on a Rs 300 CD compared to Rs 8 on Moser Baer’s Rs 28 CD.“To make the same margin, I’d have to sell 18 of these CDs”, he told Puri.

Back in office, Puri immediately called his marketing executives and decided to restrategise. This involved selling his CDs in push carts in high-cost low-space areas, a model that has become a success. This ability to adapt and innovate in real time makes Moser Baer agile.

If Puri had continued to focus on upmarket distribution channel, its likely that he would have struggled in the market place. On the other hand, selling CDs through push cart probably required some internal discussion, as this channel is hardly considered a legitimate channel. But where another person may have looked at this as too much of a paradigm shift, Puri embarked on developing this distribution channel to his advantage.

Click the headline to read the entire article.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Murdoch says this century belongs to India, China!

In the first of his Boyer Lecture series, Rupert Murdoch, the media maven who now controls the Wall Street Journal said that India and China will emerge from economic back waters to economic powers to reckon with.

Here is the link to download the lecture

Murdoch was one of the pioneers to see the opportunity in India. His company bought STAR TV when no one believed that there was money to be made in India and China. Today STAR TV Asia has more than 300 million viewers and is one of the largest media companies in India!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Useful Links For The Week

Here is a list of useful links that you should check out...

Partnerup: Use your skills to help other startup businesses! In tough times this site could help some of us find other new opportunitities, and others who are looking for help, find new help.

Seeking Alpha: A very active community of those interested in investments. Mostly useful stuff, but be careful though as some posters are quite crazy!

Venture Beat: The place to go for those interested in venture investments

Newser: For those of us who are more visually oriented, important news sorted out visually..

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Cut spending, recession is here...Its gonna be a rough ride"

This is the guidance from Sequoia Capital to the companies they fund. The stuff in this presentation is enough to scare any body, and its not even Haloween! Goes a long way to explain why capital markets have basically completely evaporated.

Here is my summary for businesses...
  • Secure current business - keep current customers happy and don't loose them

  • Cut expenses - all those expensive fu fu events? Can 'em

  • Manage Cash flow - Credit market has evaporated and you'll need cash in bank to make next payroll!

Three key takeaways for personal life...
  • Hang on to your job - job cuts will be plenty and new jobs will be few

  • Cut back expenditure - save that cash! You may need it for survival

  • Reduce personal debt burden - that big SUV? Get rid of it and reduce your lease burden

Good advice in best of times, outstanding advice in today's environment. If what Sequoia says in this presentation is true, we will be suffering through this recession for a while.

Presentation Courtsey Venture Beat

Saturday Night Live Does Governor of Alaska

Thursday, October 09, 2008

When Citi says BUY, it really means SELL!

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then this graph says it all!! Yes, let me spend some more money on buying Citi's "investment advice"!

Or may be, just because Citi says "sell" GM and Ford, I should spend my money on these two stocks!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Huge Win For India And For The US


History may have a lot of awful things to say about Bush administration, but with last night's Senate vote in favor of the Indo-US Nuclear treaty, this treaty will go down as THE one "good" thing Bush administration did for the free world and for the cause of democracy.

The bill, which passed 86 to 13, goes to President Bush for his signature, handing the chief executive a rare victory that both advocates and foes say will reverberate for decades. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who conceived of the deal, have pushed hard for it from the earliest weeks of the president's second term.
President Bush and Condoleezza Rice burned a lot of political capital, but the fact that they were able to pull this off in the last days of the administration is nothing short of amazing!

Likewise in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be commended for staying steadfast on this issue, and even putting his administration's survival on the line to see this through. Manmohan Singh will be accorded the highest place of honor in Indian history as the architect of Indian emergence onto the world stage. The Indian communists on the other hand, for all their anti-growth shenanigans (opposition to Nuclear treaty, tepid support of Tata Motors project in West Bengal) will end up in the dust heap of history as anti-business, anti-growth party.

The US nuclear industry must be ecstatic. But the real winners in this is the Indian society and Indian people - who without the nuclear energy, would have seen their hopes and dreams of growing out of poverty completely shattered.

Congratulations, all the way around. One of the major barriers to India's emergence as a world power has been taken down and the future is bright, as bright as the Sun itself - the ultimate source of limitless energy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Senate Should Ratify The Indo-US Nuclear Treaty

The Indo-US nuclear treaty has many enemies, and now you can include the New York Times in it. In an op-ed piece, today's NY Times declares that the India-US nuclear treaty is a "bad idea" that senate should reject.

On the surface this seems like the logical thing to say. After all, the Indians have not agreed to any of the conditions imposed by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty on nuclear nations. But strategically, this is short sighted and misses a very important detail - India is the last bastion of democracy in a region plagued with violent undemocratic regimes.

Opposition to the Indo-US nuclear treaty comes from many sides, some ideological, some political. But there are very strong strategic arguments for supporting India.
  • The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has more or less outlived its usefulness. The fact that India has gained its nuclear capabilities outside of NPT demonstrates that NPT is no longer a useful instrument. World should acknowledge Indian for what it is, a nuclear nation and should include it as such in the "nuclear club"

  • India is the largest democracy in the world that has demonstrated resilience over the last 60 years in a region full of turmoil. The Indian electorate has time and again shown that it knows how to govern itself. And the Indian Armed Forces have demonstrated maturity and established that it is a very strong institution that knows its roles and responsibilities. This means that unlike other failed states in the region, the State of India can be trusted to fulfill its obligations - including the pledge to use nuclear power for peaceful, energy needs

  • As a rapidly developing nation, India has growing energy needs. If these needs are not met, growth in India would stall resulting in political upheaval. Such political upheaval typically favors nationalistic elements which tends to have jingoistic attitudes (recall that the last nuclear test conducted in India was conducted by a nationalistic Hindu government). The best way to prevent nationalistic fervor in India is to keep the youth busy and provide them growth opportunities. This nuclear treaty will help India maintain and perhaps even accelerate its growth rate creating millions of jobs and increasing prosperity - two main elements of keeping nationalism in check.

  • India is in a very rough neighborhood. Surrounded by two nuclear powers, China in North East and Pakistan in the North West, India needs the nuclear deterrent capabilities to safe guard its strategic interests. On the other hand, the West needs a nuclear India too to keep both China and Pakistan at bay. Taking away India's right to conduct nuclear test essentially would mean de-fanging of the Indian nuclear program and thereby enabling rogue elements within China and Pakistan a free hand in the region. If India is to act as a "check" on hegemonic ambitions of China, or "talibanization" of Pakistan, India needs to have nuclear capability.

  • And last, but not least, is the moral argument. In the past US has paid lip service to promoting and supporting democratic nations. This is the first time that a US administration has put its prestige on line to support what is truly a strategic initiative in favor of a democratic nation. For that alone the Bush administration has to be praised and this Indo-US nuclear treaty ought to be supported.

The consternation and hand wringing by opponents of Indo-US nuclear treaty is understandable. The fact that there is a need to sign this treaty indicates that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the cozy arrangement within the nuclear group has outlived its usefulness. A nuclear non-proliferation treaty that does not acknowledge the nuclear (energy) needs of a growing democratic nation with key strategic needs is worth an overhaul. Signing of the Indo-US nuclear treaty is nothing but a mere acknowledgment of the fact that India has matured as a nuclear nation and deserves to have access to nuclear technology and fission material like the other nations in the nuclear club.

The strategic implications of such an action are huge - mostly on the positive side. Senate should listen to the administration and pass the bill immediately. Should the Senate pass the bill, this event will be recorded by history as a watershed event on the same grand scale as the event of the sixties that led to opening of China.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Focus on Palin will destroy the Democrats chances of winning 2008 elections

David Brooks, the card carrying republican who shows up weekly with Mark Shields to debate the current issues on News Hour with Jim Lehrer, is one of my favorite political pundits. I like Brooks because he makes me think with his shrewd and often cunning arguments, argument which might seem to attract you but like the candle light attracting the moth, could end up hurting you. In this article in New York Times, Brooks quotes why he thinks Sarah Palin is wrong for US. Here is a quote from that article...
What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

He goes on to say...
Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

Democrats, and Libertarians who are afraid of Sarah Palin Vice-Presidency (or some would say Presidency), should read David's op-ed carefully. I agree with Brooks' argument that Palin is indeed less than qualified for the office because she lacks the requisite experience or prudence. The problem is, out of all the outstanding candidates presented to them, the Democrats of United States have selected Obama as their standard bearer, Obama who could just as easily be criticized for lack of prudence born out of experience. If one were to follow Brooks' line of reasoning, one would conclude that Obama is equally unqualified for the office of Presidency. For all its merits, Brooks argument carefully lays a trap for the Democrats that one needs to be wary of.

Despite the emotional urge to castigate Palin, railling against Palin is absolutely the wrong strategy for the democrats, a strategy that will only help Democrats loose the election. This election is not about Palin, but about the sorry state of the US economy, the war that is draining the country of precious resources, our children whose futures are being held to ransom by ideological motivations, the state of US manufacturing which seems to have reached its nadir with the US auto industry on its knees, the state of US competitiveness in service industry where high value added industry is being moved abroad in the name of efficiency. With so many issues, and with an abysmal record of Republican governance of last seven years, to focus on Palin is to take the eye off the ball.

Palin is the Republican choice for VP and she is here to stay. To attack her today is to make her into tomorrow's story. The winning strategy for Democrats is to focus on the economy and the last seven years record of Republicans, and not to focus on Palin and her record as the Mayor of Wasilla.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Blurb Discount Code

As I was posting the earlier post on Suchitra's wedding, I remembered that Blurb was offering a discount on printing books in September. Digging through the mail archives, I found this coupon for $15 off...

Use coupon code: encore

Some rules, use the coupon before Sept 30, 2008, and use it at the time of check out.


Words of wisdom

© Sunil Joshi, 2008. From Blogger Pictures

Overheard in a conversation between Jaya and Priya during a play date....
Jaya: You know, we should practice and practice. Because practice makes perfect.
Priya: Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes gradual improvements.

What??? I am still picking up pieces of my jaw from the floor!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Suchitra and Kapil's Wedding

Kapil filling Suchitra's maang as a part of the wedding ceremony. From From: Suchitra's Wedding, © Sunil Joshi

Our dear friend Suchitra got married to Kapil in a Hindu religious ceremony at Durga Mandir on Sunday September 7th. It was a beautiful autumn day with clear skies and golden sunshine. Being held outdoors, I was able to capture the mood of the event even inside the tent without need for any artificial light, although the "real" pro-photographer hired for the day was using flash extensively. In order to get out of the professional photographer's way I used a 80-200mm telephoto lens on Nikon D70. Tell me if you find these pictures fascinating.

Indian weddings are a family affair with every body jumping into the Mandap from time to time!
From Suchitra's Wedding, © Sunil Joshi

Our congratulations to Kapil and Suchitra, with best wishes for a very happy married life.

The Hindu rites are equall opportunity. For instance, in the phere ceremony, wife leads the husband through a few and the husband leads the wife in a few phere. And then there are other rites that are performed jointly, as seen here. From Suchitra's Wedding, © Sunil Joshi

Wedding photography is a lot of fun as I learned this weekend, but it is also a lot of work. Next step, I want to compile these into an album for the couple using either Apple's system or perhaps Blurb. Blurb has worked well for me in the past. I'll post an update on how it works for this project.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Photographing a birthday party - tips for parents

I have a six year old, so most of my weekends are spent going to birthday parties. Although I have never been formally asked to take pictures, being interested in taking pictures I always lug my camera with me and start shooting as soon as I get there. Lately I have been reviewing some of the old birthday photographs, and going through them brought some ideas to mind which might be useful to you in future. These suggestions are good not only for birthday parties, but for any large events involving a lot of people.
This kind of photograph of Dad and his daughter is not possible if Dad is the main camera man at the birthday party! From Jaya's Birthday 5/24/08 4:37 AM

  • If its your son or daughters birthday, then let some one else take the pictures. Otherwise you will be out of most of the pictures!! I know this because the above photograph is actually an exception. I am in very few of my daughters birthday photographs from last six years as I have been the main photographer for most of them!!

  • Have two cameras ready instead of one. Cameras are extremely cheap and you can get a decent camera around $100. Buy a couple for use at such events. Having two cameras instead of one gives you the opportunity to cover all aspects of the event.

  • If you have a friend who has an expensive digital SLR, ask them to photograph the event. Most amateur photographers would love to use the opportunity to polish their skills, as well as show off their talent.

  • Work with the photographer to have some memorable shots. This means, you need to be patient (and ask the vendor who is organizing the party for you to cooperate) to get some great shots of blowing the candles, cake with the child in the background, a family portrait. These shots take time to set up so don't be in a hurry to get through the event, and prepare to the child before hand to pose for these shots.

Shots like this one from a holi function, require focus of a dedicated photographer which as the organizer of the function you may not be able to do. From Jaya

  • Plan for the event. You are organizing the event so you know who is invited, where the event will be held, what kinds of pictures are possible. So discuss what you would like to see in the pictures with the photographers so that those events are captured. For instance, we don't want both the photographers on one side of the table during the cake cutting ceremony. Discuss such details with the photographers

  • Location: If the birthday is being held indoors, ask the photographers to take some photos outside. This will require some prep on your part - you will need to scout for a out door location close by where the birthday party will be held.

A photograph like this requires advance planning about the position of the child and the candle, available light, appropriate shutter speed and aperture etc, and cannot be rushed through quickly. From Blogger Pictures

  • Other than the birthday party itself, the day presents with many great opportunities to take pictures in which the parent can participate. For instance, I often start taking pictures of my daughter while she is still asleep, when she wakes up, while she is getting ready for the party, and of course, opening of the presents. These are great opportunities to take pictures with other family members - mother-daughter shot, grandparent-grand-child shots etc

  • The night before the event be sure to check that the camera batteries are charged, the camera card is empty and the external flash (if any) has the requisite number of batteries. In my house my flash is often raided for rechargeable batteries for use in my daughters multitude of toys, and if I don't think of this before it takes hours to find the right number of charged batteries! Nothing works better as kindling for a family fight than realizing that the camera and flash cannot be used at the event for lack of batteries!
  • Finally, take a LOT of pictures. If your camera card(s) can support it, take at least 500 pictures during the entire day. Chances are most photographs will be mediocre, but with 500 shots to choose from you will surely get about 40-50 really great shots which can be kept for posterity.

We all know that birthday events can be a chore, but for parents who are trying to juggle so many balls during that day the birthday event becomes a hectic, stressful, and unenjoyable event. But a little planning on your part can ensure that not only will you enjoy the event, but you will also have great photographic memories of the event to be remembered in the future.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Download Free CEO Report

CEOs report that while India, China, Brazil are indeed gaining importance to the companies as future markets, in the near future US will continue to be extremely important.  Following is the level of importance of various markets reported by CEOs in a research commissioned by NYSE Euronext.  You can download the CEO Report here.

Market     Level of Imp. (% crucial)
US 90% (71%)
Western Europe 61% (31%)
China 53% (24%)
Canada 47% (9%)
India 42% (12%)
Brazil 32% (9%)

What is impressive is the level of importance of the BRIC markets to their 2009 business.

What is limiting Michael Phelps ability to earn big dollars?

In today's Chicago Tribune, Mike Hughlett writes about the limitations of Olympians when it comes to turning their Olympic glory into dollars. Interesting article - read it here if you haven't already. Here is my assessment of what is limiting the Olympians economic potential.

The star power of an athlete is only as powerful as the ability of the star to keep his/her name in the news. Olympics are held once every four years which limits the ability of these Olympians to stay in news. This in turn limits the Olympians ability to earn more as once Olympics are over.

This problem is not of Olympics but any sport that has just a few major tournaments. Consider Cycling vs Golf, sports that have produced two greatest athletes, Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. A quick google search on these two names shows following statistic - Lance Armstrong - 4.3 million links, Tiger Woods - 17.2 million links (I know this is only a surrogate to earnings but it makes the point). Is this because of Tiger is a better sportsman?

No, the main reason seems to be Lance participated in a sport that had one major tournament - the Tour de France. This meant that Lance had to work hard all year, but his name only became newsworthy to US audience once a year.

Contrast this with Golf where there are twenty major tournaments each year that serve as a platform for Tiger Woods to keep his name in the limelight.

Still, Lance Armstrong was quite successful commercially because Lance lifted the sport of cycling into the consciousness of millions. If Golf is such a newsworthy sport today its because of Tiger Woods lifted it and made it interesting to millions. There are other examples - Michael Jordan did the same for Basketball and Pete Rose for baseball.

Michael Phelps is no doubt one of the Greatest athletes of this generation. True he is limited by the sport in which he plays, but no more than Lance or Tiger when they arrived on the scene. If Phelps is truly great, he will similarly lift swimming from being a moribund sport to a new level of sexiness, attractiveness or greatness. In return the businesses will reward him with contracts worth millions of dollars.

How trade union destroys industry

I came across this letter in a recent post by Mr. Pandya about the State of Tea Industry in West Bengal - Dooars region. Sadly, "go slow" and "strikes" are still the norm in Indian tea industry. Impact of trade unions has been horrible in India. It has decimated one of the most productive industries - the textile industry - in Mumbai, and it is close to destroying the tea industry.

Trade union is a great idea that gives workers a stake in the work they produce. But when trade unions become a political tool, they strangulate the very source of income that poor workers rely on. Just ask the workers of the US auto industry.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How to find a good use for your old photos

Like any other amateur photographer, I take a lot of pictures which end up in my computer, to be looked at may be once or twice again. This time I decided I would do something with some of my interesting images. So, I was browsing through my old photos and found some pictures of Trimbakeshwar, a little town close to Nasik, India, and decided that I wanted some Ansel Adams like posters. 

A little bit of GIMP magic and viola! Here are the posters! The posters came out looking so beautiful that one of them became a gift to one of Madhu's uncle & aunt on their 50th wedding anniversary, and another set of three posters went to my dear brother in law in Ahmedabad, and brother in Mumbai.

As they say, if you have to hang bad art on your walls, it might as well be your own!

All told, the picture frames and posters ended up costing close to $100. About half of that was for the pictures, the other half for the frames.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Should parents be concerned about baby bottles?

Glass bottles and containers have been more or less been completely supplanted by plastic bottles and containers. However, lately there have been growing concerns that the plastic bottles and containers may be contributing to earlier maturation of our young ones. When my wife learned that plastics may be involved in causing girls to attain premature puberty, the plastic containers in our house were quickly replaced with glass containers.

Today I read that Walmart is pulling plastic baby bottles containing BPA off the shelf because they are implicated in causing many problems including chromosomal abnormalities, developmental disabilities, mental retardation etc.

Photo: Egg on Stilts

Parents tend to be most cautious about their little ones, so I expect parents to start looking feverishly to replace the plastic bottles with something that doesn't contain BPA. Companies like Gerber and Avent are capitalizing on this by introducing BPA free plastic bottles. But how about the good old glass baby bottle? This is a big opportunity for glass container manufacturers and I know there are some companies that make glass bottles. But I am surprised we aren't seeing more company trying to take advantage on this business opportunity.

While the role of BPA itself as a health risk is unclear, removing BPA bottles alone won't do the job.
BPA is everywhere, used to make polycarbonate, a rigid, clear plastic for bottles, bike helmets, DVDs and car headlights. It's also an ingredient in epoxy resins, which coat the inside of food and drink cans. About 93% of Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control had the chemical in their urine.

If you are like me, I would try to eliminate any plastic containers involved at least in the heating of food because the risk of these chemicals entering the food is the most increases when foods are heated in BPA containing containers. But for the cautious, it should be easy to replace the plastic containers with glass and melamine containers.

For parents of young toddlers and babies, start using glass baby bottles such as this ones from Evenflo available from an online baby catalog.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Challenges of Developing and Commercializing New Pharmaceutical Drugs

The pharmaceutical industry is grappeling with a very serious problem - how to get the payers to pay for the drugs they develop. Increasingly, governments and other healthcare payers are refusing to pay for new drugs that took years to develop but add relatively "small" real value to the patients. An example of this is the recent rejection by NICE (the UK body that advices the Government on whether or not to reimburse a medicine) of Tyverb, a GSK developed HER2 inhibitor, on the basis that the drug did not meet their threshold of cost and effectiveness.

GSK is clearly concerned about this. In an interview to the Wall Street Journal Andrew Witty, the Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline PLC said that GSK recently invited a group of health care officials from UK, France, Italy and Spain to comment on the drugs being developed in the GSK labs. While it is not uncommon for pharmaceutical companies to interact with regulatory authorities about a particular drug, it is quite unusual for a company to invite government officials to comment on their entire drug development program.

I don't have a crystal ball to know what transpired, but we can imagine what the government will want to see - greatest benefit in a drug at the lowest possible price. The question is, can the industry deliver against such a tough goal?

Answer is not easy mainly for two reasons. First, today, most of the diseases being tackled by the industry are chronic and difficult to treat diseases like cancer and alzhiemers. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry is employing cutting edge technology to crack these "difficult" diseases, but even with these advanced tools its extremely difficult to develop drugs against these diseases. So, while its easy to "ask" for a large benefit, the fact is, the companies are delivering what is "scientifically possible" today. No company wants to limit the benefit its drugs provide, so its silly to think that the companies are holding themselves back from delivering "greater" benefit.

The second reason is, cost - cost of drug development is extremely high and the rate of success is extremely low. Genentech recently disclosed that Roche, Genentec's partner in development of Avastin, spent close to $2.1 Billion in bringing Avastin to the market. Roche is likely to spend millions more to develop Avastin for other tumors. Yet for every Avastin, there are hundreds of other compounds that get developed but never reach the market. In the end for most of these opportunities there is no guarantee that the effort will pay off.

The only reason investors are willing to fund high risk research at these companies is because they believe that the payoff for "success" will be high. If the investors start to believe that the opportunity to recoup investment is diminishing, there is a likelihood of a pull back on investment in research.

The US and European markets have so far provided a fairly "free" market environment for pharmaceutical industry. However as the cost of drugs keeps rising, it is likely that there will be increasingly larger pressure on the governement to limit the "reimbursement" for these drugs.

Unfortunatly, this can have a chilling effect on science. Science progresses in incremental steps and great leaps happen only over long periods. If pharmaceutical and biotechnology investors percives a lack of "reward" for their investments, they are likely to take their investments elsewhere, which would be bad for not only the industry but also the patients it serves.

Clearly, there is a need to rethink the way drugs are developed and marketed around the world. There are several ways in which this problem can be approached - from "cost sharing" model (where government shares in the cost of developing drugs) to expansion of "patent life" giving companies a larger period within which to recoup the investment, to "open reimbursement" for technological leaps and "limited reimbursement" for smaller incremental improvements. Completely denying reimbursement is no way to encourage drug development.

Currently, the governments around the world and the pharma/biotech industry have a semi-adversorial relationship. The industry tries to develop new drugs on its own and then has to expend even larger amount of resources to "convince" the government authorities to approve and reimburse these drugs. This approach may have worked well in the past, but as cost of drug development continues to rise this sort of relationship will limit the innovation to a handful of drugs that have a lower risk of failure and high likelihood of commercial success.

The problem of cracking difficult diseases require a rethink of the way this relationship works. Perhaps, there is a need for a much greater partnership between government and the industry. In this sense, the GSK invitation to the Government healthcare representatives is a good first step.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Learn how to make an improved stove

Even in this 21st century over a third of the population is dependent on wood and dung to keep the fires burning in their kitchen. This use of biomass is often associated with excessive smoke production which is harmful to health. I remember my summers spent in Malkapur where we had a traditional wood burning stove in the kitchen. My mothers eyes would often turn red from smoke exposure. Its amazing that while the problem of smoke exposure has been in front of India for centuries, no one has done any thing to improve the design of the stove in such a way that it reduces the exposure to carbon monoxide and smoke, while improving the cooking efficiency.

Today while browsing Boing Boing, I learned about this research organization called Aprovecho Research Center that has been conducting research to improve the traditional stove. My kudos to the research scientists at Aprovecho for their new stove design which I am sure will help many a housewives in India. The video below demonstrates how to make a clean burning stove relatively cheaply.

I also learned from the same site that Shell has partnered with some NGOs to make these clean burning stoves available to the general public in India on a commercial scale. I'll look for one when I am in India next.

There is a lively discussion on Boing Boing for those interested, and there is a beautiful story about "Justa" stove if you want to learn more.

Most importantly, this now gives me a way to make a wood fired oven I have been desirous of building in the back yard.
In case you are wondering what Modern Mumbai looks like, check out the photo essay in NY Times by Ruth Fremson.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Indian impasse over civilian nuclear deal

We all know that blaming the "Foreign Hand" for internal ills is a crutch commonly used in India. But Indians can not blame everything wrong in the society on "Foreign Hand" - there are plenty in India to stand in the way of progress. Take the example of the status of the nuclear treaty with US. For energy starved India currently on an incredible growth spurt, this nuclear treaty, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has signed with Bush Administration, is God send, not only because it helps India overcome its energy needs, but also because it allows India to enter into a strategic partnership with the US as a counter-weight to the Chinese ambitions in South Asia.
The nuclear agreement, which would give India access to US nuclear fuel and technology even though it has not signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, is at the heart of a new strategic partnership between India and the US.
The treaty has plenty of enemies on the US side, mostly senators and congressmen sympathetic to Pakistan (which is naturally upset that Pakistan has not been offered a similar deal) and ideological right wingers who have always viewed India suspiciously for its past associations with the non-aligned movement and USSR. But never did I imagine that this treaty which is incredibly beneficial to India would have opposition from Indians! Yes, there is a group of Indians who opposes this treaty!
It is opposed by the Communists who object to close ties with the US on ideological grounds and who argue that it will weaken India's foreign policy and independence.
Foreign policy independence? The Communists, which are a part of the coalition ruling the country, are delusional if they think that in these days of global economy and multinational trade, India exercise its will in isolation of the global opinion or the opinion of its partners. Even the Chinese, who are supposedly very independent in their foreign policy, have to consider what the rest of the world might think - eg. the press coverage of the earthquake in China.

But of course its not about whether something is good for the country or not. Its about ideology! The Communists are using this issue of national security to hold the ruling party hostage and in the process damaging India's future. In the rough and tumble politics of India this is to be expected. But just looking at the benefits this treaty would accrue to India, even the most cynical of us had thought that this treaty would be easily ratified.

India's neighbors must be laughing hard at this spectacle, especially the ones who oppose this treaty as a threat to their own national security.

Read more here...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Creative Logos

Logos are such an important part of brand identity that I am always looking for new ones that stand out. Unfortunately, most logos are rather insipid and lifeless yet they play such a central role that one wonders how the brand survives despite a bad logo. So its nice to see a selection of really outstanding logos. Adelle Charles on "Fuel Your Creativity" has identified 50 kick ass logos, and in my opinion most of them do appear inspirational. Check it out here

My own favorite is...

Reasons: Besides being very attractive, the logo clearly communicates the HIGH END nature of this establishment. The wine glass design, the color (red wine) and the attractive font type all communicate class and exclusivity. In the restaurant business, I am sure this logo helped this Bistro to stand out. I just wish I could see the other elements of the brand identity.

Addendum: A search on the web indicates that the Bistro in question is now Closed!! Goes to show that no amount of good branding can help a business if the business model is fundamentally flawed. Doesn't take away from the creativity of the logo. The logo is still my favorite.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

India, China lead in number of millionares

If growing wealth is a metric of success, then India, China and Brazil are making their mark.
The number of millionaires jumped 22.7 percent in India last year, 20.3 percent in China and 19.1 percent in Brazil. By region, the greatest increase came in the Middle East, 15.6 percent, Eastern Europe, 14.3 percent, and Latin America, 12.2 percent.

As if there was any doubt about this, Merrill Lynch has published a report that indicates that emerging markets will continue to be growth drivers despite the current world wide economic instability.

...But is it worth living there?

Not according to the Mercer Quality of Life survey. According to this survey, no city in Brazil, China or India comes even close to the top 50 most livable cities in the world. In the most livable category, the continent that takes the cake is Europe. Switzerland alone boasts three of the top ten best cities to live in terms of quality of life with Zurich topping the list followed by Geneva in third spot and Bern in the ninth spot. All three tied for second spot in terms of Personal safety.

Where is Sao Paolo? Sao Paolo ranks 119th, behind Rio de Jeniero which stands at 114th. Mexico City moved up one spot to 124, and while Bogota improved its ranking to 138th, Caracas fell to 152nd. The best places to live in Latin America is Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Panama City and Monterrey in Mexico.

In Asia Pacific, Australia boasts some of the most liveable cities with Auckland at 5 boasting the highest quality of living, followed by Sydney at 10 and Wellington at 12. Beijing stood at 116, Bangalore at 140 and Mumbai at 142.

This, to some extent, explains the allure among Americans and other Westerners, of going to a market like Australia. On the other hand, while there is significant growth opportunity in India, Brazil, and China, these countries don't yet offer the best living conditions to attract top talent. However, if you do move to one of the cities in these countries with a large multinational company, a generous hardship allowance should make things a bit easier for you. This clearly gives some hope to an old sop like me!!

And the cities to avoid at any cost? Bagdad, Karachi, Kinshasa and Lagos. No amount of hardship allowance can make these cities livable.

Check out the detailed survey here...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Tamarind of My Memory

JoyThe joys of summer
Playing outside
Still with me,
In my memory
Of the tamarind tree
In Dombivali.

No Tamarinds in New Jersey,
but Maples abound
A swing on the Maple
Serves for now.

This Maple,
Barely big enough to carry
A little person
Swings wildly
With every push

Cries my girl
Giggling, laughing
Like me
On the Tamarind of my memory
Swinging wildly

I guess its not important
The tree of the swing
The memory of careless abandon
Is what matters.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Online Resources For Learning Spanish

These days, if learning a foreign language is your thing, then you are in very good luck! With the advent of online services like podcasts and online course work available from many universities it is easier that ever to learn a foreign language.

I discovered this recently when I felt the need to learn Spanish. Recantly I took on the responsibility of managing sales and marketing for the Latin region of Americas. Its a great job that requires lots of one on one interaction with people from Spanish speaking countries. 

Although most people I work with know and speak English very well, I feel learning Spanish will demonstrate my commitment to the people of this sub continent. So I decided to set myself a goal of learning  Spanish in six months.

Having had some experience using podcasts I knew that podcast was an excellent medium for language teaching. So, the first place I went looking for a Spanish language podcast was iTunes, the Mecca of podcasts. Within a few seconds of searching for key word "spanish" I came across two great podcasts that are helping me learn Spanish on the go.

One is called Cofee Break Spanish with their Scottish hosts Mark and Cara. This podcasts has a very traditional language teaching approach, with Mark being the teacher and Cara the student. After listening to Mark and Cara for six weeks I have to say that its fun to listen to them for 15 minutes in the morning on my drive to work.

The second podcast is called the Spanish Pod  which takes a slightly different approach. This podcast teaches situational Spanish - the hosts Lilly and JP describe a situation and teache you how to interact with people in Spanish in that situation. For example, one recent podcast focused on making a deposit in a bank in Mexico, and besides Spanish I ended up learning a lot about Mexican culture. There are a few things I love about this podcast - first, they analyze the dialog carefully which teaches you a lot more than the actual dialog itsel, and second, I love Lilly's vivacious personality! Together with JP, Lilly makes it real fun to learn Spanish! Spanish pod has quickly emerged a favorite of mine, and I am making a steady progress with the help of Lilly and JP.

The third source that I have found invaluable to my Spanish language quest is the MIT online learning website. Through this site I was able to locate the website for Annenberg foundation's site called

Annenberg foundation has developed video coursework for learning languages and the Spanish one is called "Destinos". The Destinos videos form the core curricullum of the MIT Spanish language course so obviously its excellent. But the important thing is that the videos are free to any one interested in watching them on Annenberg foundation's web site!

Just watching the videos will help you learn rudimentary Spanish but three is a companion book that I think would be even more helpful but for now I am managing without the book.

The "Destinos" series is a very clever way to teach Spanish but clearly the course work has been designed with class room setting in mind. Several things can make this coursework ideal for students of Spanish like me, busy worker bees who are trying to learn Spanish in our spare time. But there are several shortcomings of this site right now. For instance, the book "Destinos" is not available on Annenberg Foundation website for purchase. It would be nice if the foundation would put out PDF files of the main lesson online for download.

Another problem is that the content cannot be played on iPhone or iPod, my main AV device away from the computer.  The resources I have outlined are only the tip of the iceberg. All in all, despite all these problems, the free resources available to the student of foreign languages is large and ever growing.

So, if you are on the market for foreign language learning, there is no better time than tight now! 

About the author: Pavansut is the alter ego of Sunil Joshi who is learning Spanish in Princeton, NJ

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drinking Rohini

Rohini is one of the few organic gardens in Darjeeling region but is also known for producing nice aromatic teas. This tea is FTGFOP grade second flush which produces a lovely sweet smelling golden brew.  There is narry a hint of astringency which is good because it helps settle my stomach. Rohini Estate tea can be ordered online from Jayateas 

Monday, May 19, 2008

An Advertising Agency That Sells

When I was in my Communications class at Xavier Institute of Communications, the creative director from Satchi & Satchi decided to spend a full class showing us some very creative advertisements from around the world to show us the power of the "creative". Several years later, when I was taking a marketing class at Akron U, our marketing professor did the same thing! She decided that the team could benefit from viewing a selection of the most hilarious, and a few poignant advertisements from around the world.

Both Professors no doubt thought that the students would benefit from learning how to communicate a message creatively. And, in fact both of them succeeded in demonstrating to us how complex messages can be communicated creatively.

But the questions that has always nagged me is, how useful are these advertisements in doing the job they were designed to do - sell the product?

In my job as a marketing guy, I have heared a fair share of pitches from agencies. Agency after agency will come in and trumpet the "award" they won or the "Prize" they received for their work. They will often start the pitch with a creative campaign that they recently conducted for some other client, and proceed to tell us about the process they went through to generative the campaign. Once they have reeled you in emotionally, they then make a pitch for why "they" should be the ones working on our product. I can understand the Agency using the "creative" campaign or the "award" as a bait. But to the client the only "prize" that should matter, is the success of the advertising in generating more business business!

Today there is an industry built around celebrating "creative ads" or "creative websites" or "creative campaigns". Agencies are constantly submitting their campaigns for the "Telly" award, or the "Webby" award, with the hopes of winning one of these so that they can make receive the imprimature of an "award winning" agency.

Clients though, should be wary of such "pitches". For such pitches demonstrate only one thing - the agency's ability to harness some creative slob into saying things a bit differently - not necessarily the agencies ability to develop a campaign that will deliver sales. When a client invests money in a campaign, it is with the intent of earning a "return". If the agency is unable to demonstrate a "return", then that agency should not be considered for new business.

Ultimately, in business what matters is "dollars and cents" return on the campaign. And usually the best ads to deliver the "return" are the ones that communicate the product attributes and benefits in the most mundane manner. Take for example the latest Coors campaign. Some time ago Coors, in keeping with the Jones (read Bud Lite and Miller), changed its ad campaign from the traditional "Rocky Mountain" campaign celebrating the freshness of the beer to a "lifestyle" based campaign. And the campaign bombed at the altar of the Sales God. Wiser counsel prevailed at Coors and the company is back with a "back to the basics" campaign. The ad age piece in fact focusses on the "mundane-ness" of the new ads.
Coors' consistent messaging borders on maddening: Every ad harps on cold refreshment, invoking the brand's cold-filtered origins (they call it "sterile filtered") and Rocky Mountain roots.

The fact that this mundane messaging has succeeded in getting Coors businss growing is a proof enough that repeating the same message over and over in the most direct fashion is the best way to do an ad!

The Coors story is a great example of how effective the nuts and bolts of marketing can be in making a brand successful. Some times a "creative" campaign might work to generate "warm and fuzzies" around your brand in the short run. But in the long run, people forget which brand showed them the creative ad unless the value proposition of the brand is tied into the emotional message.

On the other hand an attibute based advertising stays with the customers long after the ad has been run because attribute based advertising is meaningful because it helps the customers make a choice between various products out there. In other words, it is adding value to their decision making. An agency that can deliver that consistently, is worth its weight in gold and should be the one getting your business.

So, next time an agency makes a pitch, don't get pulled into doing a "creative campaign" just because it makes you laugh or makes you cry. Ask, "what will the ad do for business?" "Does the ad communicate the key message?" "Does it remind the customer of the key attributes?" If it does not you should be looking for a different agency, an agency that relies on nuts and bolts of marketing - not the glitz of creative advertising.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Teesta Valley Tea

So, here I am, wide awake at 3.40 AM getting ready for my trip to Mexico City, sipping a cup of Teesta Valley Tea. If you haven't tried this tea, I say you are missing some thing!! This is one of the most floral, most delicious teas I have had the pleasure of drinking. Its just a joy to brew a pot, and then re-brew the same tea again. I love this tea so much that after I finish second brew, I save the leaves for use in my bread making machine!

You can find this lovely tea here.

Happy Birthday, Birthday Girl!

Life is so beautiful around this time of the year. And more so today because its my baby's birthday! Happy Birthday Sweet Pea!

Spring Shadows

Long shadows
of spring remind me
Its time to step out

Walk the dog
Take a hike
Play with kids
Picnic in the park
Swimming lessons.

Chores can wait.

Days will be long now
But time is fleeting
Spring or Summer
It never lasts

And soon it will be gone.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Persuasion—a Powerful Tool

Without the ability to persuade people to agree with your ideas and propositions, your attempts to influence others will be ineffective and your success will be unpredictable. In order to get the end result you desire from a given situation, seek to further your knowledge of the art of persuasion. Whether you want to influence others in business or personal matters, the power to persuade is the most important tool you can add to your arsenal.

In my many years in the sales profession, I have observed human behavior, a subject that fascinates me greatly. I learned that a deep understanding of people’s motivations is the most powerful tool anyone can use to persuade others. My experiences so far have led me to record and document a process that has created repeatable and predictable success for people who desire to get YES.

Take the following example: I recently helped a colleague create some promotional material for a community organization that she runs. In need of funds, she had decided to approach local store owners for donations, so she showed me the first draft of her pamphlet.

She had created an impressive flyer that spoke about the organization, its purpose, its achievements, and its future plans. I could see that a great deal of work had gone into informing prospects of the organization’s background as well as other formal information. It was detailed and well organized, but it was completely ineffective in terms of persuasion power.

My colleague wrote the document from her point of view. She focused on issues that were important to her and paid little attention to the fact that the business owners she planned to approach may not share her interest. In the dangerous fashion of those who do not consider their customer, she had created something that many of them would never even read all the way through.

A mental shift was necessary in order to create a persuasive pamphlet that would inspire local business owners to answer her call to action. As one example, instead of beginning the pamphlet with a call for contribution, she would have been more effective by opening with a paragraph that included a benefit statement.

Evaluate these two opening statements:

1) “Contribute and Help Support the Arts in your Local Community.” 2) “ Become Known in your Community as a Generous Supporter of the Arts.”

The first statement is a plain request for contribution; the second clearly leads with a benefit to potential contributors...esteem, recognition and reputation. One is far more persuasive than the other.

When you consider the first statement, it may seem obvious that contributing to a local community organization will have all of the great effects promised in the second statement. Naturally, everyone knows that when a business sponsors a community organization it will automatically be given a prestigious standing as a local contributor, a good reputation for “giving back,” and a favorable opinion in the minds of local patrons. However, leaving this information to be intuitively figured out by the prospect is a big mistake.

What if your prospect does not figure it out? What if your prospect does not make the connection? Within your proposition, your prospect is looking for benefits; things he or she will get out of performing the action you are proposing.

When your prospect makes a final decision, it will be based mostly on his or her perception of these benefits. The only way you can be certain that all the benefits you feel your proposition offers are taken into consideration is if you clearly explain these benefits instead of hoping that the prospect will simply understand them.

Try this exercise to help you construct a more persuasive proposition.

  • Plan out what you will say as you present your product, service, idea, request etc.
  • Visualize yourself having a conversation with the prospect about your proposition.
  • Every time you make a point, picture your prospect asking the question, “Why would I want that?”

  • Doing this exercise, you should come up with answers that directly reflect what the prospect will gain from agreeing to your proposition.

    Remember, in trying to persuade, your prospects are always wondering how your proposition will serve them. Approach your prospects by clearly communicating what is in it for them; this is more likely to heighten interest in your proposal and improve your chances of getting a “yes”.

    About The Author:
    Alvin Day is a guest writer on Pavansut. After 27 years leading Fortune 500 companies to earn millions of dollars, Alvin Day now simplifies the success principles to help people achieve and prosper in business and job. Get his free eBook, Ask and You Shall Receive -- visit this website:

    Read More Articles from Alvin Day:Alvin Day's Articles on alvinday4free.comArticle Source: thePhantomWriters Article Submission Service

    Umbrella Branding

    Martin Lindstrom has a nice story about Brands and sub brands on Ad Age wite. Check it out here. Moral of his story is that if one is creating a brand family, it benefits the family if there is some link between the mother brand and the baby brands. He gives examples of the iXXXXX brand names adopted by Apple.

    While this can be positive in most cases, there can be a downside to umbrella brandin. For instance, an ill advised product launch with a connected name can end up tainting all the other connected brands.

    Friday, April 11, 2008

    Flood of Ideas - Starbucks

    Whoa! Did you see that? If you haven't its worth the trip to the MyStarbucksIdea website. They have received a flood of great ideas from customers. Most of course are simple requests for improvement of service, but some are great! I especially like the one about a round condiment center with a refrigerated well for cream and milk. Now, this idea is so worth while I am surprised no one came up with it before - I mean, no supplier of furniture to Starbucks came up with it before.

    But thats the thing about tapping into your customer insight. Let the customer tell you what they want, and help them make your service better.

    Kudos to Starbucks for doing this. The flood of ideas is an indication of the power of Starbucks brand. Their customers want them to succeed and don't mind sharing their great ideas with them.

    If you are a company with customers, this should be replicated in your company.

    Thursday, April 10, 2008

    Strategy To Save Starbucks

    Have you noticed a change at Starbucks?

    We already know the story - company looses its focus and expands into categories it has no business being in, and market punishes it by taking away the business. Starbucks board has wisely decided to put their faith once again in their chairman and chief entrepreneur, Howard Schultz who was responsible for the franchise becoming a household name. Well, Mr. Schultz talked to Maria Bartiromo from Business Week, and you can read it here. From marketing perspective, Starbucks is doing a few things right. But a few more need to be done. Here are my suggestions on this matter.

    Problem: Brand dilution: If Starbucks stands for coffee and a community ambiance, get rid of all that crap in the stores. You want to sell music, fine. But lets not have that get in the way of a great coffee experience. You want a community like feel, offer free internet and people will stay longer. You want to sell a few t-shirts? Fine, sell them. But put a limit to it. You are Starbucks, not Walmart.

    Brand dilution is a serious issue for Starbucks and just removing the horrible stench of grease is the first step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

    Problem: Product Innovation: Starbucks was known for coming up with creative product lines. Of course its not possible to come up with an altogether new product like frappucinno, but its possible to keep coming up with good coffee! Lets hope Pike's Peak is just a start of this trend. Starbucks needs to add newer coffees to the menu, and not newer chachkas they are selling at the counter.

    Problem: High Price: When times are going great, no one minds spending a little extra for a good cup of joe. With looming recession critics have complained that Starbucks products are priced way too high for average Joe to afford. And Starbucks has responded with Pike's Peak - a new coffee at a lower price point. Big mistake in my opinion for this is an admission that Starbucks prices are high. And Starbucks is in danger of having Pike's Peak cannibalize the high priced coffee on the menu! After all, no one is going to go for a cup of French Roast, and then add a cup of Pike's peak to their order because its cheap. Rather, they will want to try the new cheaper coffee and stick with it if they like it.

    A better strategy would have been to offer a few specials during certain times of the day to drive business in. Have a breakfast "happy hour" or two. This would have helped in two ways.

    One, at the time when most people are searching for a cup of coffee, this "discounting" of beverages becomes an incentive for them to come into Starbucks - in other words, it increases the traffic.

    And two, it takes away customers from the competitors like MacDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, thus adding new customers to the roster. Mr. Schultz doesn't believe that he is loosing customers to MacDonald’s, and perhaps he is right. But this strategy brings in customers who may have been interested in Starbucks but are no longer coming there because they can get satisfactory coffee at MacDonald’s.

    The breakfast "happy hour" strategy is an easy fix for a recessionary economy because it helps the customer over come this temporary price hurdle. Its good for Starbucks because while its revenue per cup might go down, its overall revenue will stay the same or go up on the shoulders of all those new customers who will come in.

    There, those are my two cents on the matter.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    Learning Spanish - At the bank

    Spanish pod

    Quero haser un deposito > I want to make a deposit
    (sounds like quero aaser un deposito)
    Quero > I want (comes from verb querer)
    Haser > to make
    Un > a
    Deposito > deposit

    Llene esta formulario > Fill out this form
    (sounds like jiene esta forma)
    Liene > To fill (llene el tanke, llene esta forma)
    esta > this
    formulario > form

    Me presta su pluma? > can you loan me a pen?
    Pen > pluma
    Su pluma > Your pen
    you loan > presta (to loan > prestar)
    Loan to me > me presta

    Claro > sure, Of course
    Claro actually means clearly

    Sunday, April 06, 2008

    Woodworking Question On Making A Trellis

    Hi woodworkers, got a novice woodworking question.

    I am planning to build a trellis in the back yard to cover a patio about 22 feet in length and 16 feet in depth (width). Although the patio touches the house, I want to make the trellis free standing. The question I have is this... Can I support 24 foot boards without really needing any more than four posts towards the ends?

    Will the trellis be strong enough to support a swing on one end? A swing that can support two grown ups? If you have any ideas, I would welcome them!

    Update: OK got some feed back from some wood workers, and first, this would not be called a trellis, but a pergola. And their recommendation is that that there would be a need for additional support posts in the middle. But I have decided to attach it to the home just to make it easy and more elegant pergola.

    Happy Gudi Padwa!

    "Gudi Padwa, Neet Bol Gadhawa" to all my Marathi friends! Uday, Medha, Minal, and others will recognize this because this festival is celebrated widely in Maharashtra. The beauty of Hinduism is its flexibility, allowing individuals to adapt the religion to their own interests. So, while Hindus celebrate new year around Diwali, in Maharashtra Gudi Padwa is considered to be start of the new year, the start of the Marathi calendar, and a very important festival. Abhi has written a nice summary of the festival here. As is expected, wikipedia has a very nice entry too!

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    What should India's role be in the Tibet situation?

    I am surprised it took this long, but China has finally reacted to the Tibetan refugee led anti-Chinese demonstrations in India, and summoned India's envoy to read her the riot act. In return, India has cancelled the trip of Mr. Kamal Nath, the minister of Commerce and Industry.

    There are already loud voices within India asking the government to chance its stance towards China, a stance that has historical significance as India gave refuge to Dalai Lama after the uprising of Tibetan monks against the Chinese failed. Now, on one hand India has a lot to gain from friendship with China but on the other, India has the responsibility as the World's largest democracy, of promoting democracy in the region and supporting the Tibetan cause.

    What a dilemma! The world is watching and the way India responds to this situation will say a lot about the maturity of Indian democracy.

    What, do you think, should India's role be in this evolving situation?

    Bhutan Celebrates The Birth of Democracy

    There are rulers, and then there are enlightened rulers. On one hand we have the Kind of Nepal who had to be deposed, and on the other hand we have King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan, an enlightened ruler who decided that in today's modern world his country needs democracy, and abdicated in its favor. And so, yesterday the kingdom had its first democratic election, over seen by the educated son of King Wangchuck.

    This is a huge statement in a region that is rife with people's unrequited desire to define their own government, a region that could aptly be called "rough neighborhood". To the north is Tibet currently in news for the violent crackdown of a repressive and authoritarian Chinese communist regime. Further to the east is Burma, a country ruled by military junta famous for its own excesses, and of course to the west is Nepal, where the people had to throw the Royals out! Only to the south does Burma see any hope - in India, its much larger neighbor.

    The first few years will be tough for this new democracy, mainly because the people have such reverence for their king, they just can't see how they will do without him. The stature of the king in the eyes of his subjects (unlike the British monarchs who are viewed more as a curiosity tarnished by their own excesses, the Royalty in Bhutan is revered as descendants of Gods). Burmese still look to the King for guidance, and so it may be a while before the democracy builds courage to stand on its own feet, and wean itself from the Royal "guidance".

    But India can help! India can help by providing the newest democratic country in the world the moral, economic and institutional support. The biggest need early on would be the support needed to build institutions. The new Bhutanese legislators will need a lot of guidance in building the institutions of governance such as administrative services, judiciary, and a strong executive body, and India, with its strong institutions can certainly help out. Other democracies around the world should also try to help out where help is desired or needed.

    On the other hand, India and other democracies should give the younger sibling the opportunity to learn things on its own. In any new child learning happens when the child makes mistakes, falls and gets hurt every now and then. The tendency of the older sibling would naturally be to pick up the child before he falls. But doing so only robs the child of the learning they have to acquire to be a strong and productive member of the society. India, as the older sibling, should leave sufficient room for the new country to grow and develop on its own terms.

    However, India should ensure that in the early years the fledgeling institutions of Bhutan do not fall prey to nefarious extraneous forces such as the Maoists and the militants supported by China and Burma. This is not only India's duty, but also its responsibility. Its India's "Kartavya"

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    Kailash Flower

    Dear friend Alok sent this image of Kailash flower growing in his back yard in India. Marvel how the filament and the anthers of the Stamen hang over the Stigma, resembling the hood of Cobra snake. Alok wrote in his email that the reason why the flower is called Kailash (another name for Shiva) is that the Stigma looks like Shiva linga, and the Stamen like the cobra with its spread hood over the linga. So true! But I wonder what the botanical name of this flower is!

    Last Day of Santa Semana

    Today is the last day of Santa Semana. Although I have lived in United States for many many years, the Holy week is something new to me. In college I used to have a Catholic roommate, but I never got the sense of how big this event is for some people of religious faith.

    In my new job with the Latin American markets, the realization hit me that this may be a very important event to many of our markets when several colleagues emails auto-responded with reference to the "Holy Week".

    Wikipedia has a nice overview of Santa Semana. But there are regional differences, such as the difference indicated by this blog entry.

    Nevertheless, I am happy that my new job has already made me a better person by introducing me to an aspect of the World religion that I wasn't aware of. Usually this is what travel does to you, expand your mind by exposing one to different cultures. Funny thing is, I haven't even step my foot outside US yet and I am already learning!

    Many good wishes to my Christian friends on the Holy Week.

    Santa Semana, Easter

    Saturday, March 22, 2008

    Happy Holi!

    Holi Festival Celebration
    Holi, the festival of colors was celebrated all over India today, but we celebrated Holi last week in Edison with a large group of Uttrachal people.
    Click For More Holi Festival Celebration Pics

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Innovating a Chisel

    Talk about a tough problem, but guys at Baltimore Toolworks have solved it! Baltimore Tool works, with the help of some Engineering students, have improved upon the age old chisel to make it safer and more effective! Read the story here. Goes to show that regardless of the product age, there is still room for innovation. Now on to solving the other problem - "marketing" a better chisel. Here is how to solve the marketing problem using guerilla tactics.
    • Safety studies: A randomized safety study that demonstrates reduction in number of injuries should create demand from workmen. The insurance company should be interested in funding the study and disseminating the results!

    • Demonstrate cost effectiveness: An outcomes study that shows that the incremental $3 invested leads to improved efficiencies will go a long way convincing construction companies to buy the product.

    • Product demonstrations at workers sites. A couple of attractive gals that take the chisel to the worksites - that would surely attract attention.

    • Use innovative advertising strategy - such as outrages t-shirts that a construction worker could like. eg. "Chisel this baby!" or "Hard Cap Me". I am sure the creative types can come up with better ideas, but the t-shirts would sell themselves and raise awareness. Tie it to the gals in a van visiting worksites, and you've got a homerun.

    • Crazy ideas - challenge the world to come up with uses for the new chisel - call it "cutting the uncuttable". That ought to get the world interested in the product again. People can post Utube videos and best video could win an award

    • Get on a night talk show - I am sure Jay Leno would love to have a hard hat go there and talk about the innovation. It would be a great PR story.

    Point is, a small business like Baltimore Toolworks needs to think innovatively about marketing the product. Without a large budget its important to partner with others to get the word out. But if they can improve a thousand year old product, they should be able to raise awareness too!

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Thrift Store Worker Returns $30,000

    There is still hope for this world!
    Barbarita Nunez was sorting clothes on Tuesday at the Veterans Thrift Store when she found a small box. Inside was an envelope of cash. Nunez said at first she thought the money was fake. But just in case, she gave it to her supervisor.

    This woman needs to be lionized for her actions.

    Pakistani Solution For Internal Turmoil - Stir Trouble In India

    Well, Musharraf is in trouble, Pakistan is in turmoil, so guess what, its time to stir trouble in India.

    "The government and our agencies have credible information of efforts being made by extremist groups to revive militancy in Punjab," his (Mr. Singh, Prime Minister of India's) letter stated. Referring to last year's bomb blasts in two cinema halls in Ludhiana, Punjab, Mr Singh said the two people who planned it were "induced" to carry out the attack on a visit to Pakistan with funding from "extremist elements in the US"

    Its how its always been, its how it will always be, unless we get democratic leaders in Pakistan, who put the interest of the common man before failed nationalistic policies of the past. At least the people of Pakistan know whats best for them, which is why they elected PPP and PML(N) that are getting ready to join hands to throw Musharraf out and bring back the judges thrown out by Musharraf.