Tata Motors – Your marketing department is not so fantastico!

Tata motors have been making good looking cars for quite a while now. I have been their fan since they released the nice little Nano. Unfortunately, the car market never seems to reward them with sales and market share.

I feel one important factor in this is their advertising. Currently, they are running “Its fantastico” ad. Here, watch it –

There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it….except India is not a footballing nation. I am sure 80-90% of the people don’t know who Lionel Messi is!  So, the celebrity endorsement  will not be effective. Instead Tata could easily replace Messi with even a second tier cricketer and get much better bang for the buck.

This is not the first time Tata has bungled in their advertisements. When they launched a brand new car Tata Zest, they chose to highlight its engine rather than the car. See the advertisement yourself –

A few years ago, I was talking to my friends about different engines in small cars. Most of them thought  only size matters in engine. So, when they were comparing different models, they said all of them have the same engine as the size shows as 1.2 litre. I believe my friends would represent 95% of the car-buying market. That is, they are not car-enthusiasts. So, Tata should have spent more time showing the car rather than what its engine can do.This advertisement was particularly galling for me because it showed that Tata has not learnt its lesson.

They had earlier released new version of Tata Indica called Vista. When they promoted it as “Sedan – class”. See the ad –

 

Instead of showing all the new features of the car, it just said “Features of a Sedan” and expect the viewer to know what a Sedan is. Again, I am assuming most of my readers and car-market are not car-enthusiasts and have no idea or vague idea of what a Sedan is.

All these advertisements seem to target the niche or 5-10% of the market and their current market share is in the same range. So, my unsolicited advice to Tata is – please change your marketing department. Make sure advertisements make sense to 80-90% of the people.

Have a look at this advertisement from Jaguar, a Tata’s subsidiary(love to say Jaguar is a subsidiary of Tata) to understand what an advertisement should really aim for –

Then, we can make sure that cars like Tata Nano which are truly innovative and fantastico sell in numbers they deserve to.

What do you think?

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Impulse Art – Making painting a viable profession – conclusion

I haven’t posted since May 2014. Wow…that’s a long time ago. In the meantime, I have had lots of ideas and thoughts, but never got around to writing a post on them. I will try to correct that with a series of posts in the next few days.

The first one I want to address is my Impulse Art experiment. See my initial post on the subject – http://bigfatbooksinapage.com/2013/10/18/impulse-art-making-painting-a-viable-profession/

Experiment 2 – Would artists be interested in allowing us to make copies of their paintings and earn commission? Would they trust us to give them fair share of their profits(as we didn’t have any tracking mechanisms )

We searched on Facebook to find profiles where people had posted their own paintings. We also looked at other pages related to painting and tried to contact their owners. The good news was that most of the people we contacted were very interested in the concept. Very soon we had about 10 artists signed up. We started posting their paintings on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/impulseArtIndia/. We had promised the artists 50% of our profits for the copies we sold. Most of the artists agreed immediately and they trusted us to give them fair share of profits.

This was all very encouraging and the painting we received from them are of high quality & truly awesome. Here, I have posted just three of the paintings from two of the artists who signed up with us – Vijeta Pai & Prerana.

dance guitar moose

 

We started posting these paintings on our Facebook page and started garnering likes and comments. Our intention was to see which paintings get most likes and hence more likely to sell.After about a couple of months, we had a list of about 15 paintings which garnered the highest likes and we got them printed, framed and ready to sell.

Experiment 3 – Are these paintings good enough to sell?

We had to re-conduct experiment 1, but with paintings from real artists who signed up with us. We again set up shop on a street in Nagarbhavi on a weekend. We also had one of the artists join us. This was a huge boost to us as we thought we were getting credibility with the artist actually joining us. Similar to what art galleries do!

This time, the response was far lesser. We sold a total of 5 paintings for revenue of Rs.1520. Even though the response was less, we still sold the paintings. There were also other factors in this experiment. We had very few paintings at Rs.100 price point. We had become greedy and had more of Rs.400-500 size/price range. As the price increased, more people were bargaining with us( that’s why we have an odd figure of 1520!).

We also found out that dragging these paintings damaged some of the paintings( the frames and glass). We had to consider this while pricing.

 

Sustainable loss Concept

Most of the books on startups I read about talk about runway. This is the limited amount of money the founders have to burn before which the startup has to turn profitable. The analogy is that every plane has a limited amount of runway before it has to take-off. If a plane fails to take-off within this runway, it will crash.

I wanted to see if I can have unlimited runway. Can we keep working on this idea while keeping losses at a sustainable level? I started making charts to see what is the least number of paintings we needed to sell to continue working on this idea. Here is an initial chart considering a salary of Rs.5000 per month for a sales man –

SalesChart1

 

As you can see, we had even thought of VAT if we took off and had to go completely legit :-). The numbers seemed pretty good. Even if we sell 1 painting a day, we would make a loss of Rs.3740 per month which comes within our “sustainable loss” limit of Rs.5000.

We started looking for a salesman willing to work for Rs.5000 per month + commission if he sells above a certain limit. We have apps to order groceries, order food, heck, even order drinking water, but we found that there is no easy way to find an unemployed person willing to work for Rs.5000!

We then started interviewing sales person who came to us to sell book and other stuff on the road. We found that they were willing to work for us for far less than Rs.5000, but the catch was we had to give them shelter and food. This was the trick being used by other companies. They get people from villages/small towns, provide them rooms and food and pay them as little as Rs.1500 for their work.We didn’t have the money or time to rent a house and hire a cook for this purpose.

Most of the other people we interviewed were also willing to work at around Rs.5000-Rs.8000 range, but were reluctant to join when we told them that their “shop” is mobile shop on the roads. They considered it to be more prestigious to work brink & mortar shops even if it pays less.

We did think of starting a conventional shop for a while, but the amount involved in setting it up and running it would have been higher than the “sustainable loss” that we were willing to take.

So, for now, we have stopped working on this idea, but I see that there are several new sites like http://paintcollar.com/ which are encouraging artists to try to sell their work. I hope to return to this idea once I have more time & resources at my disposal.

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Design of everyday things in America

A trip to USA 10-15 years ago would mean buying stuff that you couldn’t buy in India. I remember my relatives getting me Nike shoes, TI scientific calculator, wonderful chocolates and awesome toys. However, as India progressed, most of these stuff became available in India. Shopping in USA is no longer an adventure of discovering new and wonderful things to take home.

It is now an exercise in mental math – 75$ means – 75*60 = 4500Rs. How much is it in India? 5000Rs? hmm… maybe I will buy it in India itself…. And I hate the retailers here for not displaying the total amount. Taxes are extra which always destroys my already weak calculations.

However, staying in USA is a different matter. Here, the people are known to pay a premium for convenience and hence, I find lots of products that you would never find in India. One example is this –

lemon

Lemon Juice bottle!

What a brilliant idea! I don’t have to buy lemon, cut it myself and squeeze. It is pre-squeezed and a joy to use.

Ever since I read the book – “Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A Norman, I notice a lot of design & usability aspects of things I use. I had earlier commented on how intuitive design slowly becomes bad design(or convention) due to technology change(http://bigfatbooksinapage.com/2012/03/04/convention-vs-intuitive-design/)

In this regard, I regret to say that I find a lot of things in USA which are absolute nightmare to use. Here are some examples –

IMG_1077

This is the photo of my exhaust system. if you notice closely both the light and fan switches are pressed to the right side, but you know ?  The fan is ON while the light is OFF. To switch off the fan you have to keep the switch in the middle( pressed neither to the left nor to the right).

Another thing I noticed is of minimizing the number of switches or controls to improve the aesthetics of the product. Norman has been very critical of this in his book and I was wondering why. Now, that I face with the issue everyday, I know the frustrations of Norman first hand. Here are two examples below –

Two lamps with one switch

There is a single switch in the middle for two lamps. You have to rotate the switch to the right to turn on the right lamp. Rotate it again and the right one switches off and left one switches on. Rotate it again and both switch on. Rotate it again and both switch off. Whats the problem with that?

Here is exercise for you -Both lights are on.I want to turn off only the right lamp. What do you do? GO. You have 5 seconds to tell me the answer :-)

The second example is my shower. See the photo below –

Shower control

Shower control

There is a single control. Right most is off. As you turn the control, the water becomes hotter. So far so good, but how do I increase or decrease the amount of water?I tried pulling the lever and almost broke it. There doesn’t seem to be any control over it.

From what I have seen, If you want cold water, then water flow is at a certain rate, if you want it little warmer, both the cold water and hot water taps are opened and flow of water is little more and if you keep turning the handle to the left the cold water stops and flow again reduces. I have been in this room for a month and I am pretty sure there is no way to control the flow of water or it is a well hidden control!

Next principle Norman talks about is designing things in such a way that it is hard for the user to bad things that causes harm to the product or injury to himself. One great example is the microwave oven. The moment you open the door, the oven switches off. One bad example is given below –

IMG_1080

The door handles of the two cupboards are pretty close. If i open one, the door almost grazes the handle of the second door. I know what you are thinking, it is fine… whats wrong with that? Well…what do you think made me realize it is a flaw? One fine day, I was closing the left one while simultaneously tried to open the right one… I was jumping about in my room for the next five minutes trying not to scream in pain.

An ideal way to design this would be to somehow make sure that the left door is completely closed before unlocking the right door. I am sure the carpenter did not even realize this issue when he built it.

Finally, I found great examples of what Norman calls – “Putting the information in UI”. Basically, just by shaping the things in a particular way, we can make users intuitively use it.

There are two doors to enter or exit  many stores in USA. Although I don’t know the reasons for this two door system, I am guessing it is to conserve energy( heat in winter & cold in summer) by reducing the amount of outside air coming in.

Anyway, our hotel also has this two-door system and here is the first door. Look at the photo and tell if you have to push or pull the door to open it.

Hotel door 1

Correct answer – Push. The horizontal bar puts the information that you have to push it to open. I would guess that 100% of you got that correctly.That is good design

The second door looks like this. Guess whether you have to push or pull –

Door 2

 

Correct Answer – Push.  If i have to guess, I would say more than 50% of you got it wrong. This is because, the handle looks has if you have to hold it and pull it towards yourself. I am guessing that that is what the designer had designed the door for, but due to some reasons they had to put the door in reverse so that you have to now push with a handle that looks like you have to pull.

I have always found the best designed door handles in toilets. Yes, it has been true in India and it is true in USA also. Here is the door handle of our toilet in Aptean Atlanta office –

pull-door

pull-door

The handle makes it clear that you have to pull the door and the other side is just flat surface so that you automatically push it.

As we design software, we need take care of same principles that applies to the physical world. We need to make sure the user has no problems in guessing what actions need to be taken to accomplish something. This is something that is gaining attention in recent times. However, that is just one aspect. Many of the products that we develop act as a platform for other developers to work on. Hence, this platform APIs must also be designed in such a way that other developers have no confusion as to how to use a particular API or what it does. We should strive to write APIs in such a way that documentation should become redundant even for APIs. I have always found Microsoft to be a leader in this domain always creating APIs that are easy to use.

Finally, I know you didn’t read the last paragraph as your mind was thinking about only one thing. Let me clear your doubt – Yes, I take great risks like taking a camera into the toilet to bring you awesome blog posts. So, if you like it, please share with your friends and do comment!!

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Is Facebook the new Microsoft?

I don’t mean “Facebook is Microsoft” in the good sense. I don’t mean Microsoft of 90’s – the all dominating software giant. I mean Microsoft of last decade, unable to compete in the world of cloud computing, search engine and smart phone.

To counter this, Microsoft invested huge sums of money in companies like Skype( 8.5 billion),  aQuantive ( 6.5 billion) and Yammer( 1.2 billion). All these companies were supposed to provide Microsoft with added technology to keep them competitive in the non-desktop market. However, after these acquisitions also, Microsoft continues to struggle in these markets. They recently wrote down the entire acquisition amount of aQuantive in their financial statements. They seem to have managed to get some value out of Skype though whether it was worth 8.5 billion is still open( For comparison – They paid 7.2 billion for Nokia mobile unit).

Facebook recently purchased a Chat application called WhatsApp by paying a hefty 19 billion dollars. I am purposely calling WhatsApp as a chat application and not a “social networking app” because I believe that these new apps are nothing but a glorified chat apps and does not represent the future of social networking. See my Chat Bubble post for my thoughts.

However, Facebook is fearing the loss of dominance in the social media domain and is desperately trying to buy up mobile based social media companies to keep up. They had offered to buy SnapChat for 3 billion and now have successfully purchased WhatsApp for 19 billion. WhatsApp has 450 million users. That is 44$ per user!!

How does Facebook plan to make up that kind of money? WhatsApp does not lend itself to advertisements the way Facebook does. They had gone with subscription model which would charge 1$ per year. If they continue with the model, Facebook can hope to recover cost in 44 years if all the current user pay. That is a completely absurd valuation for a chat application.

I am now going to wear my great prediction hat and say Facebook will admit that WhatsApp acquisition was a waste of money in 3-5 years. What are your thoughts? Any ideas on how Facebook is going to make use of WhatsApp? Do Comment.

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What changed in the Australian cricket team?

Last march, Australian cricket team was in doldrums. They had been destroyed by an inexperienced Indian team and the news broke out that there was indiscipline in the team. Several players including Shane Watson were sent back home for not completing “homework”. I had written about the problems in my post – http://bigfatbooksinapage.com/2013/03/13/what-is-wrong-with-the-australian-cricket-team/

In December , they swept away England in the ashes series with a convincing whitewash. So, what changed?

I had posted saying that the real problem was the lack of trust between the team and the management. Due to this there were some really stupid processes that were implemented  in the team which further disgruntled the true blue cricketers in the team. Many of them chose to ignore the “homework” and other processes as they really didn’t believe in it.

Australian cricket Board recognized this issue and replaced the coach with a cricketer with pedigree – Darren Lehman. I am pretty sure he would have removed these processes of filling  up “health form” every day. If I have to guess, he would have replaced it with having open and frank discussions. Being  an international cricketer himself, he would understand the psyche of all the players and deal with them individually.  This approach made playing fun again with no apparent process in place. Many of the players including Shane Watson credited the coach for the whitewash. – http://www.espncricinfo.com/the-ashes-2013-14/content/story/707537.html

In fact, if I look back on some of the examples of good coaches, I can recall names like John Wright, Gary Kirsten, Andy Flower . All great international cricketers in their own time. So, my theory is that only international cricketers can understand and gain respect of their team and hence work well.

So, what lessons does this hold for the software world? I have seen many of the companies operate similar to how Mickey Arthur operated the Australian cricket team. Many managers do not understand the nature of work and bring in processes that to a good Engineer seem like stupidity. In case of Australian team, the players had no choice but to protest. In case of engineers, they just leave. Hence, the problem in the software world is not exposed and is treated as an industry wide problem of “Attrition”.

I agree with Paul Graham( of Y – Combinator fame) who had blogged that only a programmer can manage a programmer well. If I look back on my own career, this holds good. A good manager always seemed to be a developer for at least 6-7 years before shifting to management side of things.

What do you think? Have you seen good managers of developers who were not programmers themselves? DO comment!

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