Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview Bloopers

Over the last few years that I have been conducting interviews at VN as well as at my earlier jobs, there have been many memorable instances, some of which I’d like to share with you all: 

Mother India

Aniket: “What is your goal in life?”
Candidate (Female,22/23 year old fresher): “To have a baby!”
Aniket: “How can ValueNotes help you in that?” (I was going to say ‘how can I help you with that’ …. But that would have sounded like Ranjeet or Prem Chopda!)

Aniket: “Can you tell me about yourself?”
Candidate: Ignores my question and keeps on following a fly which is flying around the conference room.
Aniket: “Excuse me!”
Candidate: Still can’t get his eyes off the fly!
Aniket: “Ok Spiderman, you can catch the fly first …. I’ll wait!”

The Stalker

Aniket: “So where are you from?”
Candidate: “Sir, I am also from Mumbai.”
Aniket: “Also means?”
Candidate: “Sir, I know you are also from Mumbai!”
Aniket: “Huh?”
Candidate: “I saw you come in the morning at 9.07am in a blue Indica car with a MH02xxx number. You were wearing dark glasses and carrying a black bag. You parked behind the black santro whose number plate was MH12xxx. You removed your dark glasses and kept then in the glove box and wore your spectacles……….”
 Aniket: Nearly jumps out of the window!

The Ata Majhi Satakli girl

Aniket: “So, how are you doing today?”
Candidate (female): Literally jumps out of her chair and says “WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”
Aniket: (Literally quaking in his shoes) – “I just asked how you are.”
Candidate: “Oh like that! I thought …………..”
Aniket: (forgets all the questions he was planning to ask! And is still shaking!!)

Humpty Dumpty

Aniket: “So what did you do after college?” (This is a few minutes into the interview)
Candidate: Just slips from the chair and plops on the ground! Funnily he stays there for some time till I get up from my chair to see where in the seven hells he had disappeared! He is still sitting there crossed legged staring at me!
And then he says “Sir, I want to go home!”

Needless to say none of the candidates were selected!

Why premium bottled mineral water is an attractive opportunity in a price sensitive market like India!

Nowadays whenever you go to a decent restaurant, the first thing you notice on your table is a bottle of Himalayan or Qua or some other premium bottle of natural mineral water! If you pick up the bottle and see the price tag – it’s nearly double the cost of a regular packaged drinking water bottle such as Bisleri and Kinley. The questions that immediately come to your mind are – Why is this water so costly? Why would anyone want to pay double the cost for water? How is this water different from the other affordable water bottles? Does anyone really buy this costly water?
Surprisingly, for a poor country like India, premium natural mineral water currently accounts for nearly 15% of the total packaged drinking water (in value) sold in the country. In fact the natural mineral water market in India, which is currently around INR 10bn, is expected to reach around INR 32bn by FY 2018 according to ValueNotes' recent report titled  Packaged bottled water market in India 2013 – 2018.
Current scenario for the premium natural mineral water segment in India
First let’s see the difference between regular packaged drinking water and natural mineral water. Natural mineral water is drawn from an underground spring, packaged close to its source and meets the quality standards without processing. Packaged drinking water on the other hand is sourced from any source that has been treated and disinfected using a process that could involve filtration, UV / ozone treatment or reverse osmosis before it is fit for human consumption.
Currently nearly 90% of the sales for natural mineral water come from institutions such as hotels, restaurants, fitness clubs and air ports. The majority of the sales happen either in metro cites or tourist destinations such as Jaipur and Goa. Key consumers include mostly the tourists and high profile customers who demand only premium products or Indians who have traveled abroad and have tried natural mineral water.
Presently Bisleri’s Vedica brand and Tata’s Himalyan brand are the biggest players with nearly 60% of the market share, but many other local premium brands such as Aava and Mulshi and various imported brands such as Perrier and Evian are making their presence felt in the Indian market.
Most of the current players in this segment are serving specific regions, with their focus still on urban tier 1 cities. They are still not able to reach distant smaller cities and town with large tourism potential. Only few large players such as TATA and Bisleri are currently in a position to serve Pan India due to their extensive distribution network and brand name.
What is really driving the market?
The biggest drivers for this industry are the growth in foreign tourists and expatriate population, as well as the Increasing consumer awareness and brand consciousness amongst Indians.
The tourism industry in India is the country’s third largest service sector, and has been showing tremendous growth due to India’s vast collection of cultural heritage sites. Due to campaigns like “Incredible India”, the number of foreign tourists in India has increased by a CAGR of ~7.2% over the last 10 years to reach 7mn in 2013. But if you look at global numbers of foreign tourist arrivals, India stands at a poor 39th rank, where in even tiny countries such as Malaysia and Thailand have more than three times the number of tourists than what India has. This shows that India has tremendous potential when it comes to growth in the tourism sector.
Foreign Tourist Arrivals for the Year 2013 (in millions)
The current BJP government is trying to address this, by planning to improve the local infrastructure, including better roads, improved airports, better hotels and better sanitation. In fact the BJP, in its manifesto, has confirmed that tourism plays an important role in socio-economic development through creation of jobs, infrastructure growth and foreign exchange earnings. It is planning to kick off a project to create 50 tourist circuits that are attractive yet affordable. These circuits are expected to promote tourism in the Himalayas, deserts, coastal regions, heritage and archaeological sites of India. They have also announced tourist visa-on-arrival for all except eight countries in the world, as well as the start of the Electronic Travel Authorization (online visa). All these drivers are expected to help the tourism industry in India to grow by more than at least 10% YOY for the next 5 years.
Apart from tourism, India has witnessed growth in its corporate sector leading to an ever increasing expatriate population who are major consumers of packaged drinking water, especially natural spring water. In fact according to a recent HSBC survey, India has become home to the second largest proportion of high-earning expatriates after China and ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Russia and Hong Kong. According to The Economic Times, the hiring of expat workers in India has amplified by about 20% since 2010 and estimates suggest that there are about 50,000 expatriates currently working in India.
Most of the tourists and expats are concerned about the quality of water in India and prefer to use premium quality brands of mineral water during their stay.
I think the increase in the number of tourists and expatriate in the years to come, will be the biggest driver for natural mineral water sales in India for the next few years.
The road ahead
Considering that the market is quite attractive and that the entry barriers are quite low, I think that the competitive rivalry is going to be tough in the premium natural mineral water segment, but the intensity won’t be as much as that of the packaged drinking water segment. The key thing to remember is that this segment needs a superior quality product with excellent distribution network and brand image which makes it a little difficult for a new player to enter and survive in this market. Only the players who are able to work out an optimal distribution system along with an impactful marketing strategy will be able to last in the long run.
Lastly, though tourism is set to fuel the growth of this segment in the short run, I think industry players cannot afford to ignore the larger segment of the market, which is the ever increasing Indian middle class that is striving for a better and healthier life style.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Restaurant Review | Mezza9, Hinjawadi, Pune

We had heard a lot about Mezza9 and it’s been on our go-to-list for quite some time. Last weekend we had family visiting and hence decided to try out Mezza9 as we had heard a lot about the ample sitting places and excellent ambience. So all of us (a group of 13 people including 1 kid and 2 babies) landed up at Mezza9 at around 2 pm on last Sunday. The place was literally empty but the waiters finally gave us a large enough table to accommodate all of us, after a lot of internal discussion! I really don’t know what and why they were discussing so much as the restaurant was literally empty!

Any ways the sitting is quite decent and the place has a lot of greenery around. But frankly the good points stop right there! Everything coming after this is absolutely disappointing.

First of all the place and our table (outside sitting under the canopy) was swarming with flies. We had to eat with one hand and swat the flies with the other!

Secondly, the waiters showed least interest in serving us or taking orders. We had to wait for ages to locate them …. This is really surprising as the place was literally empty!

Then the tables. Well they were big …. But then the waiters could never reach the guests sitting at the ends as they couldn’t reach them. We had to serve ourselves! Guys you need better planning!
Any ways all things aside – lets come to the food! That’s why we went there right! But alas most of the fare they served was quite average.

For soups we had Minestrone (rs 150), manchow (rs 130) and TomYum (rs 140). Well to put it simply, we’v had way better soups in lesser places!

For starters we had Mozzarella sticks with spicy tomato sauce (rs 280) and Paneer banjara kebab (rs 220). The Mozzarella sticks were quite nice though we never got the spicy tomato sauce. The paneer was quite ordinary.

Then we went for sizzlers. We had Harvest Supreme (rs 350), Tikka masala (rs 350), Oriental (rs 330) and Paneer Nawabi (rs 350). Again most of the sizzlers were quite ordinary … nothing outstanding!

Finally I would not recommend this place if you are looking for good food or service. May be if you want to spend long evenings/nights with friends over drinks … you could give this place a try!

Damage: Rs 500-600 per head
Ambiance: Ok (flies can be really irritating)
Taste: Average
Service: Poor
Portions: Could be better

Value for money: No

Restaurant Review | Zikomo, Baner Road, Pune

Zikomo is fast turning out to be our favourite restaurant in the Baner-Aundh area. Whenever we want to take someone out for lunch or dinner, Zikomo has turned out to be the safest option and they have never disappointed us.

So this Saturday when our parents came down from Mumbai, dinner was at zikomo! We generally prefer the lounge type sitting, but this time to make it easy for the senior generation, we opted for the regular table chair sitting.

Now service at Zikomo has always been superb. The waiters know what they are serving, take the orders correctly and the food also comes to your table within acceptable time.

For starters we had dahi kebab (yes yogurt kebabs @ Rs 185) and Jalapeno cheese poppers (Rs 215) and broccoli cooked in Manchurian style (Rs 225). While all the starters were nice, I’d like to make a special mention of the broccoli which was simply superb!

For the main course our parents tried the Indian fare and had Ratan Manjusha (a kofta curry @ 245), Daal tadka (Rs 125) and butter naan. They quite liked the taste as it was not spicy or oily. We went for the Thai curry and Jasmine rice (Rs 265) which was absolutely lip smacking!

For desserts we tried the apple pie with vanilla icecream which was frankly quite ordinary. But in all we really really enjoyed the food and service there.

This place is definitely recommended!

Damage: Rs 600-700 per head
Ambiance: Good
Taste: Fantastic
Service: Excellent
Portions: Decent

Value for money: Yes

Restaurant Review | Chitale Bandhu Mithai wale

Yesterday mom went back to Mumbai and I had to get her a whole bag full of Chitale Bandhu goodies to distribute back home. When I was there I suddenly realised I hadnt reviewed this iconic place as yet. Well Chitale Bandhu is to Pune, probably what Haldiram is to Nagpur! No one goes back from Pune without a visit to this place.

Chitale Bandhu has been as famous for its food as its been for their unique Puneri behaviour (read RUDE)! They used to have only one shop, they used to stay open for very limited time and used to cap customer's orders to preserve exclusivity. There have been enough jokes on them out there. But now well thankfully they seem to have changed.

There are multiple branches, their average working times have increased and now they even have their products packed in special packages which preserves the products for a long time.

Anyways coming to the food. The most famous product from their stable is the world famous 'bakerwadi'. I don't think anyone makes it the way these guys make it! Perfectly spiced and crisp . . . you cant just stop at one! I don't think any one travelling to Pune hasn't tasted and appreciated this delicious snack.

The next best and second most famous product is the mango barfi. Big orange squares of absolute goodness! The best part is it gives you the taste of mango through out the year. This is an absolute must have when you choose from the mithai section.

Other things which are recommended are their jumbo pedhas, shrikhand (there are unending serpentine queues for this sweet yoghurt based delicacy on festivals), sutar-feni (also called buddhi ke baal) and sugar coated dry gulab jamuns.

Chitale also provides other milk products like ghee, paneer, chakka (hung curd), etc of high quality.

In all this iconic place is definitely worth a visit.

As an ending note and a tribute to their Puneri behaviour, I'll share some Chitale Bandhu jokes I know:

1) What happened when RAJNIKANTH went to Chitale Bandhu to buy bakarwadi at 3.00 pm??
Chitale:"RAJNIKANTH hoga apne ghar me....! 4 baje ke baad aaol!"

2) When the shop is on fire, the firebrigade arrives at 12:58 & asks chitale to keep shop open. Chitale says : 12 se 4 tak dukan band rehtay. 4 baje ke baad aao ....

Monday, December 09, 2013

FDI in retail and the food security bill to boost India’s cold chain industry; but role of government will be critical

Even after 50 years of independence, India still displays a unique portrait of overflowing godowns and decaying food on the one hand, while a significant part of the country's population goes hungry. India currently ranks a low 66 among 105 countries in the 2012 Global Hunger Index. It’s absolutely criminal that India still has the biggest populace of hungry people in the world when there is really no scarcity of food within the nation. The biggest problem here is not the non-availability but the wastage of food every year. It’s unimaginable that nearly USD 7bn worth of food is wasted in India annually, mostly due to poor or non-existent storage facilities. Out of this, nearly USD 2.5bn is fresh fruits and vegetables which get wasted due to non-availability of cold storage facilities.
The existing lacuna
Two key reasons for these losses are the lack of quality cold storage facilities at the food manufacturer’s end and the lack of refrigerated transport to get the produce to the point of sales. Unless there is a vast improvement in the cold chain infrastructure - from farm harvest to consumption - food problems in India, which is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, will continue to grow.
In the US, the movement of nearly 80-85% of fruits and vegetables happens through refrigerated transport, in Thailand it’s about 30-40%, while in India it is literally negligible!  In India, out of the nearly 100mn tn of fresh produce, less than 5mn tn is currently transported through refrigerated freight or reefer trucks, out of which 2mn tn is being exported.
Even if you consider surface storage, currently India has very limited integrated cold-chain infrastructure, with only ~5,400 stand-alone cold storages having a total capacity of ~23.6mn MT, according to ValueNotes’s latest industry report - Integrated Cold Chain Industry in India. This is less than half the amount of cold storage facilities that the country actually needs. In order to reach that target, an investment of more than USD 10bn is required by the year 2016 to stay abreast with India’s growing fruit and vegetable production levels.
Role of the Centre
The Indian government is taking steps to improve the cold chain infrastructure, by recognizing the cold chain industry as a sub-sector of infrastructure in the previous union budget, and creating an additional budget to construct new cold storage facilities. In addition, the private sector is being encouraged to develop the cold chain industry further, by implementing the latest and most effective refrigeration technology solutions available today.
The Centre has planned to construct two cold storage units in the state of West Bengal for which work has already started. These greenfield projects at Jangipur and Jalpaiguri are expected to cost USD 22mn and USD 19mn respectively. These units will be under the PPP model (public private partnership) where the centre is expected to provide USD 8mn for each project, while the balance funds would be brought in by private players. More than 50% of the cold storage facilities in India are currently concentrated in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, while other states struggle with investments from the Centre and private operators.
For private players the high level of initial capital required to construct a cold chain unit continues to be the biggest challenge. But if the government pitches in with a clear plan and promotes more PPP initiatives in this filed, we could see a momentum growth in the cold chain industry in India.
The Future
With a large number of global food and retail chains targeting the India markets, I feel that the need for retaining the quality of both fresh and frozen food has increased, and there is a crying need for adoption of superior technology by the storage facilities. FDI in retail is just around the corner and is likely to be implemented soon. The government is also promoting the food safety and security bill which would further demand storage and cold chain facilities in order to reduce the amount of food wastage.
I know that the cold chain industry in India is still in a very nascent stage, but with the expected future development in road and rail infrastructure, along with the changing lifestyle of the Indian consumer, I think there is a huge potential for the cold chain industry in the country.  According to ValueNotes, the cold chain industry in India is expected to see a growth of more than 20% CAGR over the next five years. But for this to happen, the government will have to play a very important catalyst role.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rising spending on health care to drive Saudi Medical Device market

Currently the Saudi medical devices industry stands at around USD 170m and is expected to grow at a CAGR of ~13% for the next 5 years to reach around USD 300m by 2017. The growth is expected to ride on the tremendous growth in the healthcare industry in Saudi Arabia where in a slew of brand new multi-specialty hospitals and health care facilities are expected to come up. The majority of the new demand for medical devices is expected to be for sophisticated devices to equip these new facilities.

To read more about how this industry is expected to grow read the entire article at Rising spending on health care to drive Saudi Medical Device market

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Perils of conducting a ‘Voice of Customer’ Study In-house

Voice of Customer study is a very powerful technique that defines a detailed set of customer wants and needs, organized into a hierarchical structure, and then prioritized in terms of relative significance and satisfaction with existing alternatives. It gives the organization an opportunity to listen, learn, and more significantly to take action. 

Organizations need to decide whether they want to conduct a VOC just for compliance or they want a really unbiased understanding of their customer needs. Many times when organizations do the VOC studies in-house, they face various challenges, such as executives trying to influence the feedback and biasness in the findings. The primary challenge of doing a VOC in-house is the preconceived notions organizations have about their customers which eventually infect the quality of the customer feedback. 

I think to get an unbiased and accurate VOC study done, it’s essential to involve a competent third party agency who can always present a correct and honest picture of the customer feedback. Follow the  link ( http://www.valuenotes.biz/perils-conducting-voice-customer-study-in-house ) to read my new blog on the perils of doing a VOC in house. 

Please feel free to share your experiences if you have conducted a VOC study in-house or through a third party agency. What were the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them? We would love to hear about it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

RIP Indian Hockey?

With yet another failure at the Olympics (India’s worst ever) the Indian hockey team continues to be showered with brickbats. India lost all their matches to finish last, including hammerings from lowly placed teams such as New Zealand and Belgium. So do the players really deserve all this criticism? Did they not try their best? Were they not good enough? A thousand questions are being asked. But very few answers are being offered by the Hockey bosses.

Our national game has been suffering due to the ongoing dispute between rival hockey governing bodies - Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation. The infighting in hockey relates to recognition from the concerned International Federation and the Indian Olympic Association, amalgamation of the two bodies, conducting fair proper elections and holding of regular National tournaments. This decline of Indian hockey, and the inability by India to win a single world class tournament in the last thirty years, has resulted in the loss of a generation of hockey fans, drying player base, shrinking of corporate sponsorship, and other sports like cricket and tennis rising up in popularity to take hockey’s place.

The facilities for hockey in comparison to other sports like cricket are pretty substandard. India has just about 20 astro turf grounds for hockey compared to more than 200 that a small nation like Netherland has. Ministry of Sports had invested about USD 3.25 million in Indian hockey ahead of this year’s Olympics. That’s a miniscule amount compared with the money that flows in Indian cricket. Hockey needs much more investment to raise the standard of coaching in domestic hockey and having quality physiotherapists helping the players. There is also a glaring need to involve the right people, like professional administrators, paid professional marketers and ex-players as they understand the sport well. Unless our politicians get out of sports and there is a concrete positive effort to restructure our national sport, the national players will find themselves being made scapegoats after every debacle!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Electronic ballasts: Master blasters of the Indian control gear industry

With incandescent bulbs dying a slow death, the Indian electronic control gear industry is set for a surge as all other alternate lighting sources like CFLs, HIDs, etc use either integrated or external ballasts. 

Currently the overall control gear market in India is estimated to be ~INR 12bn (excluding integrated ballasts) and is expected to grow at a CAGR of ~16% from 2011 to 2015. Historically magnetic ballasts have been the most popular category of electronic control gear in India and currently account for more than 60% of the overall control gear market. On the other hand, electronic ballast market currently accounts for less than 40% of the market but is expected to account for more than 65% of the market by 2015 (CAGR of more than 20%) with advancement in technology and government support for replacement of all magnetic ballast.

Interview Bloopers

Over the last few years that I have been conducting interviews at VN as well as at my earlier jobs, there have been many memorable inst...