Everest, the tallest.

The mountain is in the news again, for three different reasons, all in the same week. One of human conquest, one of human stupidity, and the third of nature’s unpredictability.

First, the one about human achievement. Indian mountaineer, Anshu Jamsenpa summitted twice, within a week. She has summited twice in 10 days in 2011, and last week was witness to her fourth and fifth successful summits.

Anshu Jamsenpa with HH Dalai Lama

Anshu, with HH Dalai Lama

The 37-year-old mother of two from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh (state in the far east of India), summitted on the 16th May, and then again on the 21st May. Before her second ascent, Anshu said: “My only aim now is to unfurl the national flag once again atop Mt Everest and pay homage to Lord Buddha. I seek blessings and support from my fellow countrymen.” She was blessed by HH Dalai Lama before leaving for the expedition. What a Rockstar!

The second story is about Ravi Kumar, from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh who is untraceable on the mountain after having summitted on the 20th. Kumar and his guide, Lakpa Wongya Sherpa, got separated during the descent near the Balcony and the latter was later found unconscious and suffering from frostbite at Camp IV.

a8e9f2b6fac66d36d1761c9c30b10f5dIn another incident six climbers suffering from altitude sickness had to be rescued and then sent to different hospitals. The human body isn’t made for 25K feet, and the body cells literally start dying at that altitude. If one isn’t a trained and seasoned super hi-alt mountaineer, please stick to doing mid-altitude treks. Everest or other 8-thousanders aren’t really for you stupids.

The other in-fashion thing for some years now is to go up the mountain with a guide. Everest isn’t a tourist spot, you know. In 1996, most of those killed on the mountain weren’t seasoned mountaineers either. And there is no business that a ward should get separated from a guide. The life of the ward is the guide’s responsibility. Lakpa, this might have been your eighth summit, but your license needs to be taken away.

And finally, “…a piece of mountaineering history has disappeared “, said British mountaineer Tim Mosedale after he descended from his sixth successful summit attempt. Considered to be the last obstacle, some 58 metres below the summit, the rocky outcrop known as the Hillary Step has collapsed. Likely because of the 2015 earthquake. Last year, the American Himalayan Foundation did publish images, but it was not clear whether the rock formation had actually collapsed because of the snow cover. Tim Mosedale who summitted last year as well this year, has confirmed, with pictures that he has posted.

The crumbling away of the Hillary Step makes summitting easier and quicker for the inexperienced climbers, but also will expose them to the elements for a longer time because of the potential traffic jam which will ensue with larger number of climbers passing through that spot.

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Deaths on Mt Everest (data, graph courtesy – BBC)

More than 240 people have died on the mountain (above base camp) so far, and three more already added this year, more so since climbing up has become almost a joke. Teams have to be sent up every year to clear rubbish and debris from previous years’ climbs. There are bodies on the mountain, and plenty debris. Most seasoned pioneers regret what happens to the mountain every climbing season.

But, we need to stop for a moment and perhaps listen to Sagarmatha. The mountain, I believe, is telling us that she feels tired and abused and that we should stop climbing her now.

 

India Post – unsung heroes

rural post office  When was the last time you went into a post office? Or when did you meet the postman for your area? Most people would say “umm…can’t remember, long time back, I think” or some such. You would remember the postman when you were expecting your passport to come in, or your income tax refund was due.

Many of us, if not most, have moved over the courier companies and use them to send out letters, packets etc especially if the destination is one of the metros, or tier-1 cities in our country.  Oh, India Post is un-realiable. Maybe, used to be. But, this is the only service which connects the country and its people to every remote corner. Literally.

m0lm7eOhToFprLY6YWGygUAI used to run a retail ecommerce company till last year. There was no way we could send out packages to remote areas in the east, up into Kashmir (Dras, Kargil, or even Pulwama), into Port Blair or to Agatti. Forget these places, it would be difficult to send out cash on delivery into villages in the heart of the country using one of these courier companies. Their reach is limited and their level of reliability is zero beyond a certain range. Take it from me, I have used them and used them all.

There have been cases when I have had to call the post master in a remote area in Arunachal to follow up on a packet and his patient reply to my irritated self was “Sir, the village is far from here with no roads. The postman walks to that village and it takes him about a day. His round trip is about 2.5 days. He goes to this village once every other week, sir! Please be patient, sir”. Now, show me a courier company which can even attempt this.

big_4613_lead11India Post charges the least of all and their speed of service is really about the same as anyone else. In our years of successful operation, India Post has not lost a single article that we have sent through them. Not so with the courier companies.

But, that is all about business and efficiency. Oh, but postal service in other countries is so much better. Agreed, India Post perhaps is not the most efficient. But, consider the yeoman service they provide really for a pittance. Their mail delivery people (postmen, or women) walk; mostly. Some travel on bicycles. Regardless, of the weather they do deliver. Umbrella in hand, when its pouring outside or in blistering heat. And how does the delivery person travel in a developed country? In a truck.

How much does a postman in India earn? You know its a pittance.

Now, what kind of coverage does India Post and its staff provide? Started formally in 1858 (integrating various independent networks), the network has a staggering 154,866 post offices of which ~90% are in rural areas. This is the largest distributed postal network in the world. No exceptions. No courier company (or even all of them put together) could even dream of having a network this dense in the next 100 years.

The highest post office in the world is in Hikkim, in Himachal Pradesh (15,500 ft above sea level).

Not impressed yet? Go use them. No they don’t have pasted smiles, but stuff gets done. Visit them a couple of times and they recognize you. They are our unsung heroes.

Zero Inflation Rate isn’t really that good. There is much more to the data.

I read bunches of people starting to celebrate the zero% inflation rate on the WPI. Same with the newspapers today. But wait up, a zero inflation rate on the WPI really isn’t necessarily that good. Before you want to shoot me down for saying this, lets step back a bit and understand what the zero inflation rate actually means. Here are some points to consider:

  • The previous government pulled out a bunch of items (from the basket) because they were pushing the inflation rate.
  • There has been a significant drop in the price of petroleum based fuel, and a slow down of manufacturing
  • Consumer price index is not directly dependent on the WPI. It is related for sure.Otherwise, you would see a proportional drop in CPI as well.

How does the WPI get formed? Its an index of 676 commodities categorized under the groups of Primary Articles (20.12% weight), Fuel and Power (14.91% weight) and Manufactured products (64.97% weight).

The September 2014 WPI report tells us that:

  • In primary, food articles dropped by 0.4%, non-food articles by 0.7% and minerals by 5.9%. BTW, minerals includes crude and that dropped 12%
  • Fuel and power dropped by 5.4%. This component of index is based completely on petroleum based fuels.
  • Manufactured products dropped by 0.3%.

What does the above mean? There are two clear large components of this drop.

  • Crude and petroleum based fuels have caused a fall.
  • The drop of 0.3% in manufactured products is the biggest mover. 0.3% of 64.97% is a whopping 19.5%. A drop in price of manufactured goods usually means supply is outstripping demand.

Lower inflation rate may sometimes imply a lower lending rate. However, you would appreciate that a lower lending rate isn’t always good for the economy and nor is a super low inflation rate.

Yesterday’s RBI report (data for October) tells us:

  • CPI has fallen a percent from 6.5% to 5.5%
  • In WPI – Primary articles have dropped 0.4% to 1.8%. Fuel and power have dropped to a 0.4% from 1.3% and manufactured goods have dropped from 2.8% to 2.4%. So a 0.4% drop here equals a 26% drop overall in the WPI.

One should also note that our:

  • Imports have dropped from 25.5% rate to a 3.6% rate. Some of that could be because of the falling Rupee as well.
  • and our exports rate has gone to a -5%.

There is much more than the zero % WPI rate than meets the eye as far as our economy numbers go. Just one data point does not show the health of the economy. A 26% drop in WPI due to slow down in manufacturing, a -5% growth in exports does not sound that nice, does it?

30 things that I learned from my startup experience (all parts)

Here is the entire series of seven parts on the “30 things that I learned from my startup experience”. This has been serialized earlier on slideshare and on linked in.

30 things that I learned from my startup experiences

30 things that I learned from my startup experiences

1. Introduction : This deck will introduce you to the structure that I am using to talk through the 30 things; 30 things which run across the various areas of building and running a startup. I am sure you could categorize them in different other ways too; but am using this for ease of reference and explanation.

2. The Idea :This is even before planning. Still in your head, and  perhaps on some sheets of paper. You might have done some basic calculations. 3. The Start : Both these are action oriented and essentially are about putting your ideas on the canvas of reality, rubber meets the road kind of thing.
4. The Execution : This, as the title suggests is about bringing your idea to fruition and making the rubber hit the road. 5. Funding : A rather crucial part of the cycle and something that consumes an entrepreneur from the very beginning. Read about my experiences and learning.
6. Marketing and Sales : These are essentially about selling (or preparing to sell) – to your customer, to your investor etc. Doesn’t matter who you are selling to (or preparing for), it is about how strong your story is and how you narrate it.  7. People, Emotions and Learning : These three are all about the softer side of the business, and to a large extent about what goes on in your head and heart!

Retail 2020 for the Retail CIO

The last some years has been nothing less than a train wreck, and a traffic pile up put together. Things seem to look up for a bit and then go down into the dump. Maybe, its a W-shaped recession after all. But there is a bit of a silver lining.

Retail will have a very different shape in the next decade. How should the CIOs of retail companies prepare? Here are some pointers from my experience interacting with Retail CIOs worldover for about the last seven years.

Proactive alignment with business

IT not always being aligned with the mainline business has always been the bane of many a CIO organization. Right now is the opportunity to make the change. CIOs must choose to drive leadership in IT areas which directly add to the company value propositions, and not wait for business to set direction and strategy for IT.

Act local, think Global

All retailers must think of the world as their consumer base. Thinking global does not necessarily mean proliferation to the scale of Starbucks in which case you could see half a dozen starbucks signs standing any stop lights in downtown AnyCity in the US. The Body shop is a fairly decent example, and so is WHSmiths in gradual global expansion, and reducing overall risk by placing the eggs in different baskets. Of course, this needs the processes and systems to support such geographic diversity and this is where the CIO comes in to play a major part. In some geographies e.g. India, most of this progress will be through JVs, and the CIO plays a part in integration and adapting to local IT needs

Consumer and demand driven

Retailing is slowly becoming, and will completely be Customer driven rather than merchandise driven. The hammer and nail syndrome will have to go away. As shake downs happen, the retail geography changes. New specialty, and information driven retail comes to play very strongly. Here are two examples – Airtel is the largest seller of music in India today. Best Buy’s largest competitor perhaps is Amazon, and not other brick and mortar set ups (now that Circuit City is history). Better understanding the customer behaviour is what will make the difference.

Out of the box

Time to think differently, time to adapt and bring forth disparate step changes in technology. Retailers who are able to harness technology for bringing in innovation will see progress. Technology which brings in quick supply chain squeeze, inventory handling or deliver top-line increase will see being adapted, and CIOs need to be ready to move rapidly.

No return, No exchange?

no exchange, no return policy at Health & Glow
no exchange, no return policy at Health & Glow

Retailing policies, often arbitrarily setup, often amaze me. Here is another one of those. Health & Glow, as many of you know are aware, is a JV between Dairy Farm and Arko International with 65 stores in India operating from four metros. Dairy farm also runs similar health & beauty formats elsewhere in Asia under Guardian and Mannings brand names. It also owns and operates Foodworld in India.

Neatly carved out niche in the Indian market without any other format competitor to really talk about except Dabur’s NewU. But the typical Indian retailing bug has bitten these folk too. As you will see in the cell phone picture above, they don’t allow returns and exchanges. Given the fact that this is a cosmetics type convenient store, I do appreciate that they need to be wary of returns and exchanges especially because if their items get used, they can’t be put back on the shelf at all – as is, or refubrished.

But, there will be occasions where the product is defective, doesn’t work or there is a quality glitch. Completely beats me how can they not return or exchange in those cases. This can’t even be legal. Whatever said and done, customer service and retailing in the country are still distant cousins who have not yet met.