Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why I suspended Oyethere Delivery!

This was an idea that I set out with while studying at NIIT in 1996, that one day I would be able to order pretty much anything on my computer and it would reach my doorstep within minutes or hours. That it took me 20 years to realize that dream is another story. Thus was born Oyethere.com, my hyperlocal ecommerce marketplace which delivered (yes, we are past tense right now) products to customers within 30-300 mins from the time of delivery. We started with Tender Coconut, being the only website in the world where you can order one, and moved on to Patanjali, Grocery, Household, Books, Baby products and more. We delivered special T-Shirts with pics of matinee idol Rajnikanth and his signature dialogues printed on them ahead of the release of Kabali. In Sep. 16, we delivered authentic eco-friendly Ganeshas (Clay Pillaiyar) for the Chathurthi festival. And then we shut down. Meanwhile, we got noticed on media, print, radio and Tv for our unique efforts. But potential investors remained myopic. A few of my friends came forward to support me with small sums of funding when I reached out to them around Aug. 2015. That investment came along for a year. We were not “burning” money; no full page Ads, no high-decibel paid digital campaigns and so on. We did not even hire the so-called elite and erudite Digital Marketing Agencies who sadly learn their business at our cost.


 Meanwhile, Swiggy, by far one of the most funded hyperlocal delivery companies in India reported a 65-fold increase in losses as per a report on Live Mint. Yes, you read that right. Here is a quick analysis of what they did;

Revenue for FY 2016: INR 23,59,00,000 (commission on transactions)
Revenue per day in FY 15-16: INR 6,55,278
Daily Transactions: Approx. 21,843 @ Rs. 30 per transaction as commission
Losses for FY @015-16: INR 131,18,00,000 (INR 131 Crores)
Which means, Swiggy spent Rs. 204 (Edited) to get a transaction!  This is Wow.


In the meanwhile, Oyethere was revenue compliant from day one. We made Rs. 5 per tender coconut from the roadside vendor. And 5-25% margin from our partners such as Patanjali, CDS Supermarket, Odyssey, Brown Tree & so on. We had between 1-4 delivery boys at the max and were delivering between 1-10 orders per day. We broke even our Opex from Day one. Absolutely NO CAPEX. I was spending frugally on Marketing offline & online, while also meticulously building PR & positive visibility all around. Sadly, we didn’t have backers. Those who promised the moon and beyond (on investments) backed out citing market conditions. We didn’t have access to popular and noteworthy Entrepreneurs & Angel Investors who funded startups out of Delhi, Mumbai & Bangalore.


On Nov. 1, 2016, I decided to suspend operations temporarily until we get a decent amount of funding. Talks are on currently with various people, but sadly most Investors neither understand Retail nor Investing. So there is a big gap between what I propose and what they understand. For sure, Oyethere will not make losses like others. No way I shall allow that to happen. But that, only when we get the next round of funding. Till then, I am on a break. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

UDAN - a A Flight for Retailers

If the Modi Government has its way, it will make the real common man to fly. No kidding. With it's ambitious UDAN - Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik (Let the common man fly) which is a rehash of the regional air connectivity proposed by the UPA Governments but with a lot more incentives to Airlines and of course flyers. The fare for a one hour flight is capped at Rs. 2,500 adjusted to inflation. Whether the one hour is block time or flying time is yet to be clarified. And many other things too. If technical details about UDAN interest you, read this column written by The Flying Engineer here.

India has over 450 airstrips/airports that were developed and built during the WW 1 & WW 2 by the British for strategic purposes. How many of you may know, unless you are from surrounding areas that we have airports in most obscure locations that one would have never thought of, such as Vellore and Salem (Tamil Nadu), Kadappa (Andhra), Gubarga (Karnataka), Raxaul & Muzaffarpur (Bihar) and so on. Most of these lay defunct with AAI not having funds to develop them or Airlines ready to ply there for various reasons. Such airports also include the ones at Pondicherry and Mysore, just to name two of them, which are very interesting tourist places but are not really well served. When local politicians announce their charter for upcoming elections, there is a mention of developing a local airport but the idea dies down after the man (or woman) occupies the high seat. Due to this, many thousands of people are forced to undertake alternate routes for travel by road and rail which are cumbersome and times taking as well. 


The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), which represents IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and GoAir, has written to the Union Civil Aviation Ministry terming the proposed regional connectivity levy as “illegal” and “in contravention to the Constitution of India.” It said the government is not empowered to levy a tax on airlines to fund the regional connectivity scheme under the Aircraft Act of 1934, quotes The Hindu. And their grouse is understandable. The Civil Aviation Ministry's guidelines already includes flying to certain far-off destinations across the country including the North East which doesn't attract flight loads and hence dampens the revenue prospects for the airlines. 

Given the scenario, as a former Airport Official and a Retailer, here is my recipe for a resounding success to this ambitious plan. Commercial Revenues can significantly reduce the burden on the Ministry as well as the Airlines, if they were allowed to be rightfully exploited. Worldwide, even the top airports such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai and Frankfurt boast more than a fourth of their revenues coming from non-aero revenues. This has been, mostly a well-planned strategy executed over the past 4 decades by these airports, given the opportunity to derive non-aero incomes, especially from the millions of passengers who fly everyday across the world.

It is common knowledge that the Terminal Building in a small airport such as Salem which would have probably two flights a day will mostly remain unused all day (and night) whilst occupying thousands of acres of land. One of the best ways to put to use the idle areas is by constructing relevant retail areas in these locations. Sounds weird? Let me explain.


Continuing the example of Salem, it is a prosperous city with the Salem Steel Plant employing thousands and also being a business hub due to its native industries in apparel manufacturing and of course agriculture. People here have the money and aspirations to fly, travel the country and the world. But in most cases, they have to visit Chennai to take a flight forward. While Coimbatore is closer, it doesn't operate flights to all parts of the world or even connect important hubs within India. It is also important to note that cities like Salem do not have a so called popular Mall with domestic and international Retailers, although there is quite a bit of shopping and dining that happens all over the city. Therefore, by commercialising the landslide (the city side) areas of this airport and allowing private partners to Build-Operate-Transfer the assets to the Government, it would probably be a double whammy. The biggest issue with airports today worldwide is the safety and security factors. But this would be well taken care because the commercial areas would be located in the landside and visitors (to the Mall) will have no access to the terminal building and beyond. Only passengers with valid boarding documents would be allowed inside the Terminal Building. 

At the same time, the Restaurants at the roof top of these buildings will provide a massive view of the runway and the city as well as the parked aircraft which is always a delight to watch. A part of the vacant land may also be used to build budget hotels, thus ensuring a 365 day use of the asset. 

While the idea sounds cool, the biggest issue here is execution. AAI runs most of the airports in India including Chennai and Kolkata and currently only four airports at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi have been privatised. It is to be noted that these four airports contribute over 75% of the air-traffic in India and also act as hubs for international travel. Much has been written, discussed and debated about the perils of privatisation of Airports over the past decade. And the Government may take the best of what has been done in since 2006 regarding airport privatisation and perhaps move on. Alternately, the airport may continue to build and maintain the Terminal building, the Runway, the ATC Tower and other technical facilities while the other areas are handed over to private operators.


Overall, Retailers have a great opportunity to grab this opportunity. India's largest cafe chain Cafe Coffee Day put up its first cafe at HAL Airport at Bangalore in the late 90's and continues its focus in the airports and has a major presence all over the country. Many other retailers can take a cue out of this and explore other retail opportunities. Chennai Airport is out with its upcoming Retail Tender, details of which can be accessed here.

I hope to see Retailers take advantage of this sky-high (pun intended) opportunity and also be a part of this upcoming growth opportunity. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Chennai Shopping Festival

For the first time, Retailers in Chennai have come together to create a one of its kind Retail Promotion. Titled "Chennai Shopping Festival" (CSF), this is organised by the Retailers and for the Retailers of Chennai. My own start-up Smiling Baby, a baby store that caters to the needs of new born kids upto six years is a member of Retailers Association of India (RAI), an Industry body that represents our needs and requirements to the Government and other bodies. Under the auspices of RAI, members of the organisation have come forward to create a marketing property which is CSF. The idea was rolled over on our WhatsApp group by a member, seconded by a few of us and actioned by all of us in just a week's time from start to finish. We have built a simple website that provides information about the various participating stores and their offers. Take a look here.


Over 30 leading Retailers from Chennai spread over 300 stores in the city including Viveks, Odyssey, Basics Life to name a few have come forward to join in this promotion. The big highlight of this promotion is Uber has come forward to ferry passengers to select Retail Store locations by using the code CSF150 (One Free ride worth Rs. 150 for new users!).

We at Smiling Baby also have a few interesting offers.


Smiling Baby is located at E-135, 6th Avenue, Besant Nagar, Chennai. Ph. 044-43507015 / 9176300015. Open All days from 10am - 9pm. Over 100 brands are available at competitive prices across categories such as Baby Care, nursing & Feeding, Maternity, Cosmetics, Baby Gear, Toys & Games, Apparel and Accessories. The store is the ONLY Destination Store for Medala, world's best mother care brand and houses the entire range of Medela products such as Breast Pumps, Maternity Hygiene, Feeding bottles and so on. One can also find world's other leading brands such as Chicco, Pigeon, Fisher Price, Himalaya, Johnson & Johnson and many others.

Once cam also shop online at www.smilibaby.in where the products will be delivered the same day or the next day with a Cash on Delivery option other than paying by Credit / Debit Cards at the place of delivery using mobile EDC machines.

Do spread the word; visit the website and click the "Get Offer" button so you receive an SMS to your mobile. Happy Festivities. Happy Shopping.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mistakes make you stronger


In what is considered as a head-turning market opportunity, I went about with plans to deliver Eco-Friendly clay Ganeshas to customers at their doorsteps. While a few people have already tried it in the past with limited success, this was perhaps the first time a Hyperlocal Ecommerce Marketplace (my startup Oyethere.com) was trying something very unique such as this. We had four different options – an idol of Clay Ganesha being common in all the four and the additions being different in each one of them. Icing on the cake was that we would pick up the Ganeshas back from customers houses after the five day ritual was over, thereby providing customers a great sense of relief from rushing towards water bodies for immersing the idols, as is the normal practice around the festival that is celebrated all over the world by Hindus with much fervor. Being a strategy guy, I planned meticulously on how this whole exercise should be executed. Firstly, met our product partner well in advance to brief them about the enormity of the opportunity and what gains it would bring to both of us. Later, I planned the marketing campaigns, mostly digital.Finally, I worked on the logistics and last mile delivery which is the key thing in Hyperlocal Ecommerce.  As always, plans on paper looked glossy. I had very few chances of faltering, I thought to myself and didn’t leave enough room for things that could go out of hands. And that nailed me in.


12 hours before we began the distribution and delivery of Ganeshas, I gave a notice to my product partner. While I was sure they were at work, I didn’t follow-up every few hours on what has been the ground scenario. The partner’s staff, being new to this kind of an operation, hadn’t kept check and balances which meant that there were unforeseen delays from their suppliers. We started deliveries 3 hours behind our scheduled time of commencement, thereby putting a lot of stress on our capabilities. While we had adequate manpower to deliver Ganeshas, the last minute pressure hit everyone on their heads, with all of us getting in to a tizzy. I was attending almost every call that was coming to our helpline and patiently explained to customers that the Ganeshas would be delivered on time, only to find myself fooled by my own randomness. We delivered and delighted a majority but had to suspend our operations at one stage, which not only put off the customers but also attracted a lot of negative criticism through calls, messages and social media. At 11.55pm, I put out an apology on our official Facebook Page, requesting customers to forgive us for the lapse. I went underground for a few days, with no interaction with the outside world, just so I could introspect the mistakes and come out stronger. Which I did eventually, doing a favour to myself and my ecosystem.

As always, my wife and a few friends stood by me. Many of them took the effort to call me, message me to keep my spirits high. They quoted examples of how very large companies have committed grave mistakes but came back stronger after correcting themselves. And so here I am, back in action with new plans and new resolves to improve ourselves and offer better services in times to come. Our plans are intact and we believe we will only perform better in times to come. 

Don’t write me off, yet. And watch this space.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Is it Game Over for Malls?


Whose fault is it, I wondered, when I entered this iconic location last weekend. The Mall was nearly empty on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Car Parking area, which is the core identity of any Mall or Shopping centre such as a Retail Store or a Hypermarket was barely full, with a few cars parked intermittently.


The ground floor has a Mercedes Benz Car parked in the atrium, with curious onlookers not even sure if they would like to go closeby. Basics, which has won the hearts of Chennaites being a local brand with an International appeal has shut store. And so have so many stores. Lifestyle Department Store, the Anchor store of the Mall wears a dull look. The security guard at the entrance seems unhappy and bored with almost no visitors for a while. Even some of the food outlets and a café which were doing some basic business seem to be shut. I walked up the Escalator and was surprised to see empty stores all over!



The Foodcourt was the saddest. Half the counters were shut. The one or two who were functioning were neither providing tasty food nor were bothered about customer service. They were just serving a need, of thirst and hunger and nothing beyond. The dining areas was hardly populated, with many tables not even having chairs, forget patrons. Those who were having a meal were merely passersby and I couldn’t notice even a few of them with shopping bags.


McDonalds continues to attract crowds, perhaps the brand pull makes all the difference. The play area did have some crowds, but not sustainable to send them to other parts of the mall.


Inox Multiplex with half a dozen screens was barely empty, with 4 new releases this week. That food prices in the canteen area of Inox is a put off is another blog column by itself! Even then, people should come to watch a movie in the weekend? That was also not to be seen.


Despite being in the centre of the city (and hence its name), why is the mall so empty? What went wrong with the Mall which was once the pride of Chennai? A decade back, rental costs in the mall used to hover around Rs. 180-300 per sft. Now there are hardly any takers. Retailers have shunned the mall. Food Outlets, which would anyway attract crowds and make some decent revenues seem to dislike being in the Mall. Whose fault is it anyway? Is it that the customers walked away from the Mall to bigger and better options such as Express Avenue Mall which is about 5 kms away? Or have they gone farther to the likes of Phoenix Market city or Vijaya Forum Mall?


This Mall has huge potential given its location, a stone’s throw from the Marina Beach and easy access from the rest of South Madras. It has enough parking space for shoppers, enough shopping space, cinema, foodcourt, play areas, what not. With a little bit of effort, this Mall can be turned around. Will the authorities get a good consultant and work in the renovation? Time will tell.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Casenation Bloggers Meet


I was invited to attend a blogger meet a few days back, which was organized by Chennai's leading social Media Agency EchoVME's DInfluencer outfit. The location was none other than Coffee Tales, a neighborhood cafe tucked in the bylanes of Anna Nagar East. We were all seated by 6.30pm and in a few minutes, Sorav Jain of EchoVME gave an introduction about Casenation, a budding startup from Chennai which makes premium back cases for various smartphones. He showcased some unique products of the brand and later invited Amit, the Founder of Casenation to present the brand.


Amit introduced himself as a thoroughbred Madrasi with strong roots with the local culture. The BRand was incubated a few months back by his friends and him and they are currently self-funded. They have a manufacturing facility in the outskirts of the city and have a dedicated design team which creates unique and funky stuff periodically. They have cases for almost all smartphone brands and are increasing the portfolio regularly. On the distribution front, they are currently present online through their dedicated website http://www.casenation.in which seems to have a neat interface although they could add a lot more features such as add to cart from the product icon, compare products, etc. to name a few. 


They also have a physical presence at cafes such as Coffee Tales. Amit insists that this is a product that potential customers should touch and feel and hence they are focussing on offline expansion as well. This hybrid expansion, popularly known as Omni-Channel Retailing is fast catching with the likes of Croma and Ezone promoting a similar experience where customers can order online and collect the products offline.


Amit also proudly says all his products are locally sourced and manufactured giving a fillip to the Make In India Initiative that is promoted by the Narendra Modi Government. Later he showcased some of their unique products among which what caught most of my attention was a wireless charges for iPhones! A small extension needs to be added to the iPhone on the charging point and the phone needs to be just placed on the device - bingo! it gets charged... He also showed some very interesting wooden cases which were, though a tad expensive had a great fit and finish. 


Later, Team EchoVME organised an interesting game - one of us had to start a story with the imagery on the case we had and it goes on like a chain. We started about a girl imagining to visit India, riding on a bike to Ladakh and finally attaining nirvana at a Budhist Monastery and so on. Was a fun and interesting game. The evening ended with a bag full of goodies including a Parker Pen, a Leather Writing Pad and a Gift Voucher from Casenation to buy a case of our choice for ourselves or our loved ones, which was a kind gesture. Overall a very well organized event by Casenation & EchoVME. Look forward to catching up more with fellow bloggers soon!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

FDI in Ecommerce

The Govt. of India has recently affirmed through a circular through DIPP that Foreign Direct Investments in E-Commerce companies is allowed upto 100%. There is cheer among a few although there are clauses and causes for worry for many. The notification says that 100% FDI is allowed only in companies that operate as a Marketplace and not on those who operate with their own Inventory. 

Let me clarify this with some examples;

Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal and PayTM are the big Four Marketplaces in India and so is my own startup Oyethere.com. In these models, the company doesn’t own any inventory and merely facilitates the sale of products between Retailers/Sellers and Customers. Marketplaces bring together the above-mentioned two parties and complete the transaction. There are several variations here too. For instance, some marketplaces merely connect the buyer and seller (OLX) and the money is paid by the buyer to the seller directly. A majority of them including Flipkart and Oyethere.com collect the money from the customer while the Retailer provides a Bill/Invoice to the customer. The Marketplaces then repays the Retailer with its Sales value after deducting commission, if any. However, there is a catch for the big two companies, Flipkart & Amazon. Flipkart has a subsidiary company by the name WS Retail which is the largest seller on its own marketplace. Similarly, Amazon has a 49:51 JV with Cloudtail which is owned by Catamaran ventures, which is in turned owned by the family office of NR Narayanamurthy, Chairman, Infosys. These two companies could face issues because the DIPP Notification on FDI states that no more than 25% of Sales can be derived from one seller in the marketplace. This could be a potential spanner in the scheme of things until these large companies find a legal way out.


The most affected ones would include the likes of ZivaMe (lingerie), Urban Ladder (Furniture), Hopscotch (Baby Care) YepMe (Fashion) which has Shah Rukh Khan as Brand Ambassador and is also an Investor, Myntra (Fashion) owned by Flipkart and many other small and budding Ecommerce players who have already received foreign funding or are in the process of raising one. These companies are legally not allowed to receive FDI more than 49% which would never be possible.

Having said the above, the biggest beneficiaries would be the offline Retailers like Viveks Ltd. (Consumer Durables) who have already been selling online through Marketplaces. Oyethere.com also enables offline retailers like Café Coffee Day, India’s largest café chain with over 1,500 cafes across the country, Brown Tree (Organic Food), CeeDeeYes Supermarket, Smiling Baby (baby shop) and many others to sell their products online through its portal thereby facilitating the sale between the Retailer and consumer. I am personally meeting several Retailers to convince them to come on board our startup Oyethere.com and benefit from the incremental business opportunity without spending a dime on Marketing or Business Development.


There is a deterrent to Marketplaces as well – they are not allowed predatory pricing, meaning they cannot unduly discount the prices of products and ensure that the prices are merely competitive. This brings a lot of trust on marketplaces like Oyethere to Retailers because they are sure that they, and not the marketplaces, have a final say on the final pricing of products.

One of the promises of the Narendra Modi Government in their election mandate was that they would not allow 100% FDI in Multibrand Retail. And they have stuck to their guns. However, Ecommerce is seen by the Government as an enabler of trade and not a threat and hence this move which is expected to benefit very large marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart and newbie startups like Oyethere.com.

Look forward to some interesting days ahead in this space.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Oyethere.com Salutes Women Achievers

Women have played a very important role in my life. My Mom who gave birth to me, my Aunt, who brought me up, My wife who is my pillar of my success and my two little girls who always, always bring a cheer on my face. So on Women's day this year, I wanted to extend gratitude to ordinary women who are doing extraordinary service in the society that we live. As part of an intitiative from my startup OyeThere.com. I identified eight women of yore who are self made, successful and have brought cheer to the society. I prepared the list and reached out to them in the first week of March and all of them agreed to meet me. So, I went to their respective places on Tuesday, 8 the March 2016 and handed over a small momento from our side. 


My first visit was to meet Ms. Kamakshi Subramaniam, She is an Octogenarian and an active social worker. She was responsible for reviving the Schmidt Memorial at the Besant Nagar beach among other things in the city. She is a great inspiration for people like us to take an active part in the society and help the less fortunate ones.


Next I met Ms. Mathangi Srinivasamurthy, one of the ace Entrepreneurs from Chennai who set up and runs the iconic Anokhi Cafe and Retail Store in Chennai (at Alwarpet). The cafe is a popular hangout in the city and is rated among the top 10 must visit retail outlets in Chennai. Her team is doing a commendable job in keeping their customers elated.


Ms. Veena Kumaravel, along with her husband Mr. CK Kumaravel runs the country's largest and most respected salon chain, Naturals. What started as a company owned outlet in Chennai at Khader Nawaz Khan Road more than a decade back is now spread across the country and is mostly run by Franchisees across the age groups and gender. She is credited with empowering home makers turn powerful Entrepreneurs.


Next, I visited Ms. Shoba raman, principal of Vidya Mandir School, Mylapore. She has been with the school for over 20 years and has grown the ranks. She is credited with imparting high quality education with an extremely hardworking and sincere group of teachers who work tirelessly for the welfare of the students.


Ms. Sridevi Raghavan was pursuing her MBA at Harvard Business School and identified "on-site child care" as an extremely useful idea for women to get back to their workplace after delivering their baby. She and her husband Mr. Raghavan run the most respected Amelio Play School which has a dozen centres across Chennai and Bangalore.


Dr. Rekha Sudarshan is a wellness and lactation consultant. She helps new mothers and trains them in the process of breastfeeding their little ones while also imparting the importance of mother's milk to the babies. She is a demi-god to thousands of mothers and their little ones.


Dr. Sharada Srinivas is a Paediatrician who has been saving lives of little kids for over 28 years now. Among the most popular and trusted doctors in Chennai, she is known for her straight forward approach towards treating little kids. She consults at Seethapathy Clinic as well as at Apollo Speciality Clinics at Alwarpet and Kotturpuram


Ms. Shaktisree Gopalan is an Architect from Anna university, Chennai and is a popular singer, who has pelted some very molodious and memorable numbers for various music directors. She was responsible for designing the KM Conservatory, the music shool run by Oscar Winner and Mozart of Madras, AR Rahman.

It was quite humbling to meet these women in a single day and spending a few minutes with them. I wish and pray that these women keep doing their selfless service to the society in times to come. And I also sincerely hope that this Oyethere.com Women's Day felicitation grows in size year after year.

Monday, February 22, 2016

POS Conversion

I bought my first mobile phone, a Samsung R 220 in 2002 when I used to work at Musicworld in Kolkata. Those days, it set me back by over Rs. 9,500. Colour display, trendy looking and all that. Incoming call was Rs. 2 per minute and outgoing was Rs. 5 per minute on Airtel. It was mainly meant for my family in Chennai to reach me whenever they wished to speak with me. I retained it for about three years, and then moved to Nokia for about 4 years. Then came Blackberry and then my iPhones since 2012 although I first used an iPod in 2006 which my friend gifted me. Over the past four years, have got so engrossed and obsessed with the Apple way of communicating. As I always say, Apple is neither a hardware company nor Software one. It is an ecosystem. It is something like Hinduism, a way of living. Once you get used to the Apple way of life, it is very difficult to move out – you are kind of hooked on. Yes, I know and you know many who have moved on, but so be it. After using an iPod for a decade, iPhones for 4 years and an iPad for 3, I decided to buy a Macbook which I did recently. And boy, what a life this is – so well integrated. However, I use the Microsoft Onedrive to store all my data and access it across devices. Photos, of course are on iCloud. So, I have been engrossed in this system, quite well.

Now that I run two startups (OyeThere.com and SmilingBaby.in), I am in the process of releasing their mobile applications. So, being the consumer guy, I want to experience first hand what the user goes through while using the app. And hence started to look for an Android device. Honestly, I have no experience in using an Android OS and hence had neither positive nor negative thoughts about them. I know so many Android fanatics and these are very intellectual people. I know many who swear by a Macbook yet use Android phones. So, am sure they are quite good. As usual, started reading reviews and searched online. Was impressed with the Lenovo K4 Note. I went to the big four sites online but the confused me more than I already was. My budget was sub-Rs. 10,000 and hence the dichotomy was much higher. Since my spare laptop is a Sony Vaio, I thought let me look for a Sony mobile perhaps they may sync well. Walked in to the showroom at Alwarpet and asked the guy for some details. They were so disinterested to even strike a conversation, forget selling the device. One guy was ignorant and the other couldn’t care less. This was the most premium store for Sony in Chennai and among the top ones in India, probably more than a decade old. Shame on the boys and the guy who has franchised it to have such a poor team of Retail sales staff, I thought to myself and walked away.


Next I went to the guys who pioneered Mobile Retailing in Chennai, Univercell. The brand has changed hands recently and the new team has perhaps washed off their hands off their Retail business. The store was stinking of sock’s odour and the boys were generally fooling around. This was the same store which made historic sales at a store level some 7-8 years back. They neither had what I asked for nor were they keen to continue the conversation. I walked in next in to a store called Studio Cell, a small time local retail chain with just a couple of outlets. The “owner” sits at the shop most of the time – I remember visiting the store 6 years back when I bought a phone for my Dad. He was there then too, and every time I went thereafter. He and his team of four listened to my requirements carefully and suggested a brand new model from a company that revolutionized Mobile telephony in India a decade back. The brand was LYF and was from Reliance Telecom. The sales guy was using a handset which we explored. It was 4.5 inches in size, same as my iPhone 6. Apparently, this is the only 4G handset in India at the moment and the call quality was supposed to be superior. Apart from some similar features with the iPhones, it seemed to be quite a sturdy device. And for Rs. 6,700, it seemed to be a steal, well almost. The sale was over in less than 8 minutes and billing done. Screen guard was another Rs. 300. So, for Rs. 7,000 I had a phone with as many features of a smartphone in the Rs. 10,000-15,000 price bracket. The phone weighed quite light and was a great feeling to one a unique piece which no one has around in town.


So, here is the learning. Customers are always looking for products (and services). Brands spend millions of dollars to build themselves and partner with trusted franchisees and companies, only to be let down at the point of sale. Small & Medium Retailers and Store owners on the other hand sweat it out. The phone that I bought could have got him a 15% margin and perhaps also some volume discounts if he sells more. He is not venture funded with dollars from the silicon valley who fund online companies mindlessly who in turn pass on discounts at the drop of a hat and have no clue how to retain customers who are always looking for the best bargain. He is a common man – a Retailer whose bread and butter comes from each Sale that happens at the store. Therefore, the “conversion” of an onlooker to become a customer and a repeat customer is a challenge these guys are addressing very well. He gives a new meaning to the term “Customer Service” which neither E-Commerce nor Organized Retailers have been able to provide consistently to customers.


The above pic was taken around 6.30 pm on a full moon evening from my spare bedroom on my 13th floor house which I use as my makeshift office. You can see the about to be inaugurated Kalaivanar Arangam, a multi purpose hall, the Doordarshan Tv tower, the Chennai Harbour & Port and ofcourse the Bay of Bengal with a full moon... Not bad at all for a 5 MP Camera! Have been using the phone for over 48 hours as I write this post. No major issues found. Ofcourse, it is not anywhere comparable to an iPhone and I don’t expect it either. I have always taken things (including people) as they are and here, I assert that I shall not sulk on this device comparing it to an Apple. As they say, with practice comes perfection and I would probably get used to Android LYF.


After closing the sale and while about to leave, I asked the Store Owner if he sells online to which he said he used to and has stopped because the big boys don’t pay his bills on time. So, I suggested him to take a look at my Hyperlocal Omni-Channel model OyeThere.com We surfed the site for about 10 minutes and seemed to be excited about the way the whole thing works. He has said he will come back with his thoughts to partner with us. He may. He may not. But I am sure, he will remain in business for a long time, coz his fundamentals are strong.