Monday, 30 June 2014

Going nuts over bread...Mumbai Style!

Till I came to live in Mumbai 15 years ago, bread was Britannia’s sliced loaves meant to be had toasted for breakfast every morning along with eggs. With a slice of ham or a dash of jam, it was the perfect school lunch for kids of working moms. In the land of aloo/mooli/ gobi paratha where I spent my formative years, bread was a marker of hurried meals, not a soul satisfying sumptuous repast. Bread was consumed at home. Never an option available outside. The only bread-based street food one ate was the oily (and rather yucky) bread pakora, available in every school canteen, palatable only by hungry teenagers with monstrous appetite and under developed taste buds.

Mumbai is where I discovered the baked delicacy in all its glory! I began to see bread or Pao as its called here, for what it is… a gastronome’s delight, a culinary surprise and an everyday celebration of life! Mumbai is a city of migrants. People come here to reach somewhere. It is a city that is always in a hurry. Nothing matches the no-nonsense-ness of bread : non messy, no fuss food which fills your stomach while you are on the go – qualities which has overtime made it an integral part of this fast paced city. 

While there are millions of ways, Mumbai consumes its Pao, here are a few which has become a part of my life since I moved to the city:  

1. Brun Pao

Brun is a lovely golden crusty round shaped bread with a very soft spongy centre. The ideal way to devour it is to slice it horizontally and spread a generous amount of Amul butter in the centre. Then cut it into 2 halves and dip it in hot milky masala chai before biting off a mouthful. Available at Irani cafes, most street corners of Bandra and now at Seagull Cafe, this is The breakfast Mumbaikars love to wake up to.

2. Kheema Pao

The grainy texture of mutton kheema compliments the smoothness of soft pao and makes it one of the most delectable non-veg meals, to be had any time of the day or night. The first time I had it was outside Dadar station at 5 AM after a crazy dancing and drinking session fifteen years ago. Since then it has been my all time favourite.  I know enough crazy people in the city who will drive 20 km just for a bite of their favourite Kheema pao and some who will drive 40 km looking for an yet 'undiscovered' little restaurant with an even better recipe. 

3. Vada pao

This is Mumbai’s answer to the America’s hamburger.  This 5 bucks delicacy keeps the city’s hunger at bay at all times from morning to night. The best on the go meal is nothing but a deep fried potato patties (vada) tucked neatly inside a soft bun (pao) laced with green (pudina), red (garlic) chutney and fried green chillies. There is nothing like a vada pao when you are hungry but don't have a minute to pause and grab a bite. 

4. Masala Sandwich     

A heavenly concoction of vegetables, potato, onions and cheese with a generous sprinkling of masala, stuffed inside 2 slices of bread and grilled Indian style.  Even if you hate bread as much as I did, trust me, just one bite is enough to make you fall in love with it. I think it’s the greatest 5 PM snack – best had before a long and tedious meeting.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

What if Apple bought Yahoo!?

This morning I had a crazy thought. What if Apple bought Yahoo!? Well, they can and if you ask me, they should. Why? 

I will come to the why, but firstly can Apple afford to buy Yahoo? With $159 billion in cash reserve, they can afford to buy anything on earth they want. Going by their current standing, Yahoo definitely is not worth much, specially if you remove Alibaba and Yahoo Japan, its two key assets. 

Now coming to the why. Apple does a phenomenal job of integrating hardware and software and selling every device at a mind boggling price. But with evolution of the human species, there will come a time when people will no longer want to buy these high margin products. We are already seeing that trend setting in in the smartphone segment. So how should the Apple story continue if and when that happens? Apple should focus now on stuff that people love to do with the devices they buy and look at monetising that.   

What do people love to do with the devices they buy? Apart from walking around like they own the world, most Apple users use their devices to take shit loads of photographs, watch videos and spend inordinate amount of time on social networks. Hand on heart, can you think of anything else? I certainly can’t. 

Here in lies the opportunity. Yahoo owns damn neat products such as Flickr and Tumblr. Can you imagine what would happen if they were to be integrated with Apple's existing offerings? All photos / videos shot on iPhone could get saved in Flickr as a default option. As an amateur photographer I could kill for the combination : world’s best smartphone camera + one of the best photo sharing sites as a combined package! Imagine Yahoo’s search content (which is not bad by the way) accessible via an interface such as Siri. Will such a service be unique? No. Siri already pulls its content from Bling and Yahoo. One can access whatever service they want via their Apple device. But will it still be a winner? Yes, purely on the basis of the world beating user experience that only Apple can provide. Bingo! Integrating Yahoo’s services with Apple’s user experience capability could just be the next best thing for Apple to do! 

Above all, if Merissa hangs around after the merger, she and Tim will make a great pair. Her passionate enthusiasm combined with his methodical no nonsense leadership style, might just help to keep Apple where it belongs…always on top! 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Getting Real

It was a Facebook post by a friend that got me thinking about careers, passions and doing things which one loves. The article said that it is an overrated concept. Is it?

Not sure. Honestly in my mind, it’s a toss up between staying awake at night strategizing to make your dreams come true and sleeping well knowing you have a world which is safe, secure and comfortable.

Doing the thing you love involves inordinately high levels of risk in terms of the bacon you bring home. You work 20 hours a day to ensure you bring home enough to cover  rents, EMIs and other necessary expenses. Putting away anything for a rainy day is a luxury and as far as luxuries go, they find a new definition in your lexicon.

But on the other hand, if you believe in your idea, no matter what the price you pay, it is a different kick to live each day hoping to get a step closer to that dream.

So, here ‘s where the question kicks in. When do you throw in the towel and get real? When do you tell yourself you are reading the signs right and when do you remind yourself, perhaps everything is alright only in your mind’s eye?

Would love to hear your opinion about dealing with start up pangs. Leave me a comment if you too are faced with a similar dilemma or have an answer for certain. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Digital Marketing 1.1

I am writing this blogpost to provide a basic overview of the process involved in digital marketing, brand messaging and its delivery. Word of caution: I have kept it extremely simple by choice. If you want a detailed understanding, please feel free to reach out to me.  

Oftentimes I am approached by friends to help them with the 'digital marketing' for their start up. The rationale put forth is that digital marketing is 'free' or at best cheap and can help generate results almost immediately. Sorry, the premise is incorrect from every angle. Digital Marketing is still marketing with a slightly different set of tools at its disposal. It is not a magic wand and certainly not one which is 'free'.

Extremely simplistically put, digital marketing makes use of electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones to transmit brand messages electronically to a brand's target audience via social networks, emails, apps and other web based platforms.

To successfully market wares, marketers still need to identify who is most likely to buy the product, what is its purpose, why will consumers buy it over others in the market, what should you tell your consumers to make them think and feel a certain way about your product. This is the strategy part of the exercise and regardless of your choice of media, an inevitable part of the process.  

Secondly, consumers are continuously bombarded with brand messages. Why will they listen to, like, share or recommend yours? For the makers of a toilet roll, it is the most important thing in their life but not for its consumers. To make them remotely interested in what you have to say, the message has to be compelling, emotionally appealing and delivered creatively. This is what we call generation of a creative idea and execution. Irrespective of your medium of choice, your marketing message needs an idea. Unfortunately, we cannot skip this stage too when we are looking at marketing anything - toilet roll or automobiles - digitally or otherwise.

Finally comes the delivery part. Here's where the difference lies. If you choose to go digital instead of using traditional channels such as television, radio, print and billboards, you will select a channel which is web or mobile based. Digital medium is cheaper than traditional channels  in relative terms, but their roles also differ to a great extent. You should not supplement one for the other. They drive different objectives and should be selected basis your marketing need.

To cut a long story short, no, digital marketing is neither free nor one that can deliver immediate result. One has to go through the rigour if you want success, irrespective of your medium of choice.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

There is indeed no place for the Maharaja

Should the Maharaja stay or be replaced in favour of a new logo which symbolizes the aam aadmi?

The Brouhaha about the logo reminds me of an exchange between Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins in Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Eliza tells the Professor that Colonel Pickering treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess. To which Higgins replies, "And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl."

While every airline worth their logo bends backwards trying to treat their 'guest' as a duchess, our national carrier does a fantastic job of treating the duchess as a common flower girl! We are all about the aam aadmi. We have no place for the Maharaja. He must be replaced by a far more real symbol, one that symbolises the service the airline provides. Oh come on if you truly believe that flying is about an experience. It is about getting from one place to another. Albeit late, but they do their job. So what's the fuss about wanting to be treated as a Maharaja?

But that's not even the real issue. The real issue lies in taking a decision regarding the fate of the terminally ill flag carrier. It bleeds Rs. 50 billion a year! Rs. 50 billion of your and my hard earned money! What is the point of keeping it alive? Neither does it do anything to our image as a nation (thanks to its pathetic service) nor does it add to the country's bottomline.

Sentimental reasons? No, I am not buying into that one. We don't respect our heritage. Some of our greatest historical monuments are in shambles. Let's get real. With an estimated 148 million people (source: World Bank, 2014) under the poverty line, can we really afford to be sentimental about an Airline?

Let's leave the logo aside Mr. Minister. Lets address the real issue. By sacrificing the maharaja, you might just be able to send every aam aadmi's child to school, arrange for two square meals a day and provide shelter to the homeless. Please for once, let's really vote in favour of the aam aadmi.

Monday, 23 June 2014

3 simple Twitter engagement strategies

I often hear people say that they do not like to use Twitter because it seems like a chaotic cacophony of too many people saying too many things. Moreover it is difficult to get people to follow one or have a meaningful relationship with anyone on Twitter.  

Yes it is a bit of a madness specially when you compare it to the organized chaos of Facebook but I believe there is a method in the madness. I am a big fan of Twitter and have lived and learnt a few things about how the platform works. Read on if you want to know.  

I think, to be able to use Twitter wisely, there are simply three things one must do. These are: 

1. Log in at least 3 times a day

Scan through the updates, read the relevant stuff, retweet, tweet, favourite. Let the world know you exist. Make it a habit to post something new everyday. It’s a great way to get followed and be known to people for your interests and expertise. 

2.  Reach out to your followers everyday

Make a list of your followers you want to have a meaningful dialogue with.  Everyday, initiate discussions with a couple of them, regarding anything of mutual interest. I reach out to photographers and seek their advice on techniques of better photography, complement creative people on their work and sometimes, randomly reach out to bloggers and have a discussion around their latest blogpost. There is no formula. It is just an amazing new way of connecting with people. Once you have established a personal connect, your followers will not unfollow you.  

3. Reach out to three new people everyday 

Social media, especially Twitter, is an amazing platform to get to know people you want to know. I am sure there are a 100 people you want to get to know. Reach out to them. Invite them to participate in a discussion. Reaching out to people who do not follow you is a great way to introduce yourself and expanding your network. 

Yup, it does seem like a bit of a hard work but you will be surprised how effective good twitter habits can prove to be specially if you are just starting out in life or starting a business of your own.