Saturday, July 16, 2011

Re-Imagining Indian Telecom!

Countless strategic theories speak about redefining the market from consumer point view. The blue ocean strategy, the sudden change in the paradigm, the proverbial outside idea that brooms away today’s winners and redefines everything. It’s always seen that the incumbents had the best of everything – but were blinded by love for their own product features than consumer benefits. They fail to see the picture from the consumer’s lenses and become irrelevant.

I have been an Indian Telecom professional since almost a decade now. And since I am a bit of a student of strategy myself I am going to attempt to imagine NEW VALUES that Indian telecom can create by just adding a few cosmetic layers to its foundations.

To me Telecom is the business of connecting different people or points. It’s not about selling minutes alone. Not many know – but top Indian Telcos like Idea, Voda and Airtel own the biggest distribution machineries anywhere in the world delivering a mindboggling 10 billion + units of recharges every month. They are behemoths who have the best of the manpower, infrastructures and deep pockets.

Here’s my list of top 10 outside ideas the telcos can consider to create new values and new businesses– by just unlocking some of the existing asset’s values

1. Direct to Home deliveries – Ask a EBAY.COM or any of the newly launched e commerce portal the value of the distribution that we own. Ability to send anything to any part of country on back of our own (not outsourced 3rd party) distribution is priceless. Also ask them the value of having already enrolled the customer and having a contact centre set up ready at the other end. We already are a biggest catalogue retailer in the country who is yet to open shop!

2. Google On Phone - Just Dial – whose business it? Who should have created it first? Is it not funny that it took a Just Dial to make us realize the value of becoming a GOOGLE on phone? With low literacy rates and internet penetration– there will always be opportunity for a GOOGLE on phone to emerge. Doesn’t matter that some small players have taken a small first movers advantage. Given their sheer size the telcos can do a far better ‘me too’ product and take that market away.

3. A discount catalogue – this is an allied business to the Just Dial model or the Google model. Once you own the searches then you can always own a bit of additional value from each of the business that gets benefited by that platform. Again given that the telcos are already interacting with close to a million shop owners already – and each and every street of India is pounded daily by its sales force - this job of enlisting offers from various establishments should come naturally to the telcos

4. VAS retailer on the phone – The mobile VAS industry today is 10000 Crs. And still each and every VAS buyer is confused about how to buy / understand his favorite VAS service. A VAS retailer on the phone – one single number where the customers can dial and can directly speak to a telecaller is the order of the day. Need I mention that this retailer need not be brand exclusive :-)

5. A desi me too FACEBOOK, Google, You Tube, GetJar and EBAY– Bulk of future internet consumers are yet to log in for the first time. Bulk of the future internet consumption will happen via the mobile phone. What are we waiting for? Didn’t the Chinese create their local version of Google and EBAY? I think there’s serious business case for Indian Telcos to create multiple ‘me toos’ duplicates of popular web products – and peddle it to their own captive customers. Take the vernacular route if you wish. There’s immense value that can be created without much effort on this count.

6. “Radio on the go” – Telcos today are biggest sellers of music and Radio is the medium to sell music. Imagine an exclusive radio station for Airtel or Idea subscribers – somehow preloaded on the SIM card or the bundled handset or even otherwise. We can promote all service updates, new VAS products via the RJs. And all songs that are played are immediately sold as ringtones and CRBTs. Do you think that makes sense?

7. Telco as Banks –Indian telcos today handle over a billion transactions on DAILY basis and settle / tally all of it online – a feat most of the banks can’t boast of even today. Telecom’s reach is over 10 times that of Indian banking. It has reached most of unbanked Indians in a matter of 10 years – something the banking industry failed to do since last 50 years. The fact that millions of Indians store over a 100 billion rupees at point in time in form of mobile balance shows the trust and faith it has amassed. Need I say more? Indian Telcos are already the best banks that are yet to open shop. This particular one I know is held back in regulatory hurdle – nevertheless it’s worth mentioning it here.

8. Money transfers – India is slowly turning out to be a nation of Nomadic Tribes – every Indian is working out of someplace else these days. From migrants to MBA execs. Sending money back home to paying bills on parent’s behalf – money transfers is a big opportunity, and given that the telcos own the two end points – they already have a head start here over others.

9. Boutique MVNOs - There are so many niche ways in which Indians may want to consumer telecom – but marketers are yet to explore those niches. There could be lifestyle cards, airline co-branded points program, shopping cards, premium niches too – like some customers may want a secretary to attend the calls beforehand etc. I think there’s lot that can be done in this space.

10. Telco as media house – Finally an immediate advertising opportunity. Telcos today print billions of recharge coupons. Millions log in at contact centre and are put on hold to hear boring background music. Telcos also sent out millions of bill inserts every month. And there are obvious medias like SMSs and others. There are thousands of mobile towers that telcos own in vantage locations. We are some sort of small media house with a bouquet of assets lying idle on sidelines. This can be a small business of sorts waiting to be explored– and with mobile screens becoming bigger day by day – who know we could start a newspaper of our own on cell phone one day – who knows?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

U R the real Terrorist

And there you have one more blast in Mumbai!

Now that the terrorists are done with terrorism – it’s time for us to engage in the business of “being terrorized”. Ironically “being terrorized” is a far bigger enterprise than the terrorism itself. The “being terrorized” industry includes the reporters, the news anchors, the programming crew, the print media, the advertisers who pay for it and YOU the viewer. On the other hand “the industry of terrorism” itself is a small fly by night operation which involves a obscure unfed, unkempt, underpaid resource trying his hand with exploding a bomb or two in the most unguarded territories with no skill and courage whatsoever !

Its spookey that i wrote about a similar incident 18 months back

Here are some plain facts

  • Terrorism feeds on the fear of the one who is being terrorized

  • It depends greatly on media coverage and the eyeballs who watch it and the advertisers who pay for it

  • It is not even top 10 causes of deaths worldwide

In media they say – it (the story) leads if it bleeds. Media loves the high octane human drama involving blood, pain and the saga of human suffering. They are not in it for the high of dramatic reporting – but for the lure of advertising bucks. Shame shame.

But then it gets murkier – there’s someone who is buying this stuff – glued to the TV screen in comforts of the living room– knowing fully well that the likelihood of this happening to him is close to zero… - face it –You are the porn buyer, YOU are the child molester, YOU ARE THE TERRORIST.

The real face behind this ghastly game is YOU.

Think - who is ultimately paying for the non-stop media reporting of terrorist acts via the advertisers? And what could the terrorist achieve without the media coverage – which YOU are indirectly financing? If YOU switch off the TV and stop overreacting to the terrorist threats (remember its not even in top 10 causes of death) the game stops. Yes your heard it right – THE BLOODY GAME STOPS FOR GOOD! Simple huh!

Now we know why terrorists are appearing to be winning in Kashmir – how the struggle continues for 20 years. Who the invisible hands belong to? We ourselves are feeding it via media, advertisers and by being terrorized. We stop and they stop – its as simple.

It’s time we understand that terrorists are using media (and therefore us) as weapons. A random round of gunshot, in some random town which kills less than 0.00001% (less than 100?) of population is not enough to shake the confidence of one billion people unless we contribute to it. And we are.

We must stop unintentionally aiding the terrorist – NOW.

I propose a few things

  • Complete private channel blackout of terrorism coverage. State media – like DD – is generally responsible, slow and dull enough to take hype out of the equation. And such coverage will also protect our right to information

  • If the above amounts to subversion of media then the private media should be allowed on one condition - no advertiser slots during the terrorist attack coverage. This will force media to avoid giving undue importance to such attacks – and more importantly will avoid reruns of stale images. (Terrorists watching this coverage must be relishing such star status – Additionally such coverage serves as the best recruitment advertisements for terrorist organization. Lets stop that as well.)

  • As responsible citizens let’s switch off the TV sets and SHOW repelling behavior towards media which over covers it. They will automatically smell the coffee.

  • I advocate strong web / internet filtering of terrorist messages.

  • Most importantly public awareness campaign on tv and mass media making citizens aware about how terrorists are using media and mass terror through it to their advantage in this 21st century war.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

4. The Official Ponzy Scheme– Governments and currency notes!

I am a wannabe half economist at heart. It gives me the killer advantage of being able to confidently cook up astonishing concepts, without being bothered about the minor aspects of having sound theory to back it up! Here’s one more such half theories you may thoroughly enjoy – it is shocking, true (at least it sounds true!) and ‘seems’ well founded (to me!).

“I promise to pay the bearer the sum of xx rupees” – the line that’s printed on each and every note got me curious. Why is it that the note is a “promise” and not the real thing? It so easily could have been the real thing – after all there is no such thing as ‘real’ rupee – therefore the note itself could so easily have been the rupee. But alas – it is not! It’s only a promise – I wondered why?

Then there’s this open secret. The total amount of currency printed by any government is significantly lesser than sum total of bank balances held by all of its citizens via numerous bank accounts! If all of us were to simply convert our bank balances into cash at the same time– a perfectly legal thing to do- any government will go bust! They simply didn’t bother printing so much of money. And it is the case with all governments worldwide since hundreds of years.

Let’s take an example to understand this. Say there are only 4 persons in the economy. A,B,C and D. Each one of them decides to buy a house. So they go to a builder – Mr BIG – and pay him money to buy 4 flats – one for each one. But the builder – Mr BIG – instead of handing over the flats – hands over a promissory note to each one of them which reads ““I promise to GIVE the bearer the sum of 1 FLAT”. Now instead of building 4 flats – one each for 4 of them – Mr BIG builds only 2 flats. Each time one of the four buyer comes to Mr BIG with the promise note – Mr BIG can give the buyer his flat – not a unique one but an interchangeable one from total of 2 flats that exist. But should all 4 of them want to have their respective flat at the same time? Oops! The ponzy scheme goes bust! Now imagine that the builder has to pay salaries this month – what does he do? He simply prints more promissory notes and gives more such “flats” to his employees. Is this legal? Is it right? Is it ethical? Think think…

Now replace the BIG Builder with your government and the word flat or house with our national currency “RUPEE” – and see what you get. Yup – a perfectly legal economy! That’s what your govt does day in and day out.

Let me not mislead you – it’s not as if this is some kind of fraud or something. It’s just that this is how the concept of ‘currency’ works which many of us are unaware of. Your money is as safe in the banks as it is anywhere else – and it is being invested in multiple projects in the time you don’t need it in cash form. That’s alright with me.

The point I am making it something else. Your economy – which many of us believe to be based onhard science – is in reality nothing else but a derivative of faith! Think of it – the economy survives till the time everybody continues to together believe that it exists. The minute that faith is shaken – kabhhooommmm …. It will all go up in thin air. And the moment that faith shatters – it creates spiral that doesn’t stop at your bank balance alone – it takes your job, your savings, value of your assets - everything. Similar to what happened in recession 2008. Indeed it has happened to many countries before – and will continue to happen in future as well.

Think of it – all the wealth that exists - is in reality a “collective national imagination”. IT IS therefore IT IS– a self fulfilling prophecy! Because everybody together believes that we all have so much of wealth – therefore we all actually have so much of wealth. It’s a pack of cards - the minute one card is removed – this castle of cards will collapse as if it never existed.

The ‘hard’ cash, the ‘concrete’ real estate and ‘safe’ bank deposit, ‘booming’ stock market – all of it exists because we all together believe it does. Our faith is the source of Mukesh Ambani’s billions, and the neighborhood politician’s millions.

Mull with the logic a bit more and its finer nuances will begin to emerge on you.
The Looser Majority- It will emerge to you that the marginalized poor of this economic hierarchy is not so ‘unimportant’ after all… far from being a looser, he actually is an integral part of the system. The system can’t exist without the loser’s belief that he is poor and he is marginalized – another self fulfilling prophecy! In a strange way the system feeds on the marginalized silent majority which believes that it has been beaten in the game fair and square by the powerful clique of minority. It’s his blood that the system feasts on – and therefore he is indispensible! Strangely enough if the marginalized together start believing in a new system – the renaissance uprising – then they will succeed more often than not. They have a veto power to bring down the status quo - that they are not aware of! More often than not – this sleeping giant never wakes up!
The Winning Minority – <10%>80% of all wealth. They manipulate the system to make the majority believe that the game is fair and square – without acknowledging that their winning is highly dependent on other’s accepting defeat and favorable rules that are turned & twisted.
Sadly - The rules of the game are set in such a manner that there are only a few winners and lots of losers. Mr Ambani’s billions are extremely dependant on the majority continuing to believe that he has those billions – even more than his own hard work or self belief.

The question is why then can’t we tweak our beliefs to give billions to everybody? Is it necessary that the system should have only a few winners and so many losers? Why can’t we all be rich at the same time if it mainly depends on our faith and belief?

Can we create an economic faith / belief system which allows everyone to be rich?

The answer is more shocking than fiction …. In reality – yes we can!

There truly can be a panacea for economy – where all participants are wealthy and well off…. I can imagine it, feel it, but can’t put to theory – not as yet. After all I am only half a economist !!!