Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Power of Scheduling

It was the second week of April 2020. Three weeks into Lockdown 1.0, a broken supply chain, employees and team members dispersed all across and most retail stores closed, it was one of the toughest moments in my professional life. That I had a roof and secure four walls, three meals to eat, a lot of snacks to munch and salaried job – the real luxuries of the Corona-crisis made me feel a lot luckier than the millions who were displaced world over. And that I was staying with my wife and kids – I had come on a work trip to Chennai on 13th March and remained here ever after through the lockdown – was the happiest thing I could enjoy in life. Honestly, we have never spent such a long time together within a single precinct all our lives!


Yet, I was beginning to crack under pressure – workwise as well as managing household chores including mopping the floor intermittently, washing vessels, drying and folding clothes among other things all day. To get a peaceful uninterrupted 7-hour sleep was becoming a challenge. I am usually a reasonably disciplined guy. I cannot fathom that my bed is not done within a few mins of waking up; a small slush on my white car and I get it cleaned as soon as I could; from rotating my shoes, watches and dresses on FIFO basis to booking darshan at Tirupati 4 months in advance, it’s been a usual rigor. After all, when you are the son of a Factory Worker whose salary gets deducted for late attendance and a schoolteacher mother who must arrive before the students come to school every day, this is just a way of life. 


Even as I was struggling to manage things better, was when I recalled I should speak to one of my professional mentors, a former boss of mine whom I’ve admired for his multi-tasking Leadership abilities. Working with a popular Promoter Entrepreneur, managing a team of a dozen high-flying direct reports and handling a Retail business spanning the length & breadth of the country, I couldn’t think of anyone better than him to seek advice and assistance in my Leadership role at Levista Coffee which I began in January this year. I too have a similar professional assignment at the moment although the complexities are quite different and a lot lesser, so a comparison may be inappropriate. 



A scheduled 60-minute call with him helped me sort out my stuff quite easily. 

To begin with, I created scheduled buckets of my time for all my key tasks – regular VCs with direct reports, allocating time for emails, for clearances & providing approvals, Meetings with external stakeholders, Interviews with Candidates & Media interaction and so much so, that I also included “Lunch” on my Calendar. Keeping my EA involved in all my day-today business activities helped immensely so he could follow up on important tasks from others and revert to me as per schedule. And most importantly, absolutely no out of turn calls or VCs unless it’s tearing urgent. All my day's activities get captured in the iWatch which my beloved wife gifted me 5 years back and the device keeps reminding me of my schedules  as well as measures my sleep patterns (through the Sleep++ App) and my daily fitness goal - how many steps I walk inside home. This is such a blessing. 


I also included slots to, don’t exclaim, Read Newspaper & Articles as well as for my Daily dose of Yoga at 6am! In exactly one month’s time, my entire day has been well sorted out and results are showing up. My Blood Sugar is well under control, I sleep and wake up on time with my 5am routine, spend enough time to read 4 Newspapers and a couple of Articles early in the morning and of course, write and share my thoughts regularly on social and other public media. I ended up doing Four Webinars each weekend too. 


And on the work front, not only have I been more efficient, my team has also done a spending job in the month of May and we have set new business standards for ourselves. I cannot thank my former Boss enough for that timely intervention and take this opportunity here to acknowledge the same. I hope this schedule gets better, so I get more efficient in June and beyond. 

How does your time management go about? What's your kind of Scheduling of Tasks? 


Monday, May 11, 2020

Covid Vacations

The weekend that went by, we were on vacation. Virtually though, from the confines and comfort of our homes. Wifey opened the home Laptop and on the giant screen, took us through photos of various vacays that we spent as late as until December 2019. This was was the most adventurous as my younger daughter fell off a Pony she was riding atop Nainital viewpoint with no guide beside her even I was trying to apply brakes on my horse without much luck. That she escaped unhurt was nothing short of a miracle. In a previous one at Longhewala, we saw the War-trucks on grand display when India defeated our friendly neighbour as they attempted a midnight attack on our Forces in vain. We undertake 2 long and 2-3 short vacations annually and these are, in my own view a way of giving back to the society. We book Flights / Trains / Cabs providing revenue opportunities for the carriers. We stay at Hotel chains or at Club Mahindra Resorts for free (well, it’s time-share) but end up spending a fortune on food and snacks. But then, Mahindra Holidays manages over 50 resorts and employs 1,000s.


We avoided taking our kids abroad ever since they were born and their maiden trip was only last year to Singapore. Perhaps, this one would remain etched in their minds for their lifetime. Not because it was a “phoren trip” but because of the professionalism and hospitality displayed by the countrymen; the impeccable cleanliness and hygiene standards across the city; the discipline of cab drivers who maintain eye view of the tyres of the vehicle ahead at traffic signals; and of course the Retail Therapy at Malls, Restaurants and Theme Parks. We are getting there (in India) in many areas, but still have a long way to go. The Covid crisis is an opportunity for Domestic Tourism, something that I have been echoing from the time this started. Here’s how.


I foresee (am no Nostradamus, remember!) a huge dip in International Travel on leisure, save for artists in Cinema and arts; Not just in India but globally. This means, savings garnered by avoiding International travel that could be spent elsewhere. Secondly, this is the opportunity for India and Indians to grow Domestic Tourism. To help rebuild a nation, to build our own ecosystem which is so fragile and dependent on Government subsidies almost all the time for everything.


As a family, we have travelled to all borders of India – Longhewala, Nathula and Rameswaram. With limited savings and crores blown on my Entrepreneurial escapades over the past 5 years, all I can offer my kids is a view of things – inside out and from their own lens. I personally believe that this is among the precious gifts I could give them – to see things themselves and appreciate the rich beauty and culture of India. One such adventure was at Tanjore last Summer where we went to the Palace. My daughter had imagined some kind of a Barbie-like Castle. But we had to pay ₹10/- to enter the “complex” not to even find a decent restroom with stinky museum like rooms. This is managed by ASI, sadly. And the general public give scant respect to the monument, even otherwise.


This is not an exception. I can list many. But that’s not the solution. The riches and the Haves are shunning domestic tourism and boarding planes abroad. Nothing that I should comment upon, it’s their prerogative, their money and wish. But, if we don’t take care our own Tourism opportunities, then who else will? I saw Foreigners were going ga-ga during the 8am foggy morning walk at The Taj last December. But down the road were dirty footpath and unhygienic neighbourhoods for all the brouhaha about the city administration. This coating by the Government is not going to help. It’s with us, the citizens to support Domestic Tourism.


Remember, your few thousands of Vacation money will feed hundreds of families for a long time with Travel and Tourism being a long term Industry. I have nothing against PM Cares or CM Funds, but this money is direct benefit to the economy. And one can see results ourselves without complaining in the future that the previous governments looted the public. It’s action time.

Pledge your resources to support and revive Indian Tourism. Am sure We the tourists would benefit the most in times to come, after all. Let me know if you’d like more information about Gurudongmar Lake or Dhanushkodi. Happy to share details.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

My Nostradamus moments in Retail

The year was 1998. My classmate and I created an online booking option at 123India, a popular website which allowed users to build websites with a personalised domain suffix for free. The Madras based Client was Enhancers, an Event Management Company which organised concerts, Carnatic & Fusion Music involving some of the most reputed artists in India and abroad. We were freelancers cum college students and had the privilege of companionship and brotherhood, sparingly some snacks and coffee on the house. After all, we wanted to put to good use the coding languages that we were learning at NIIT.  One could choose the Concert, click on Number of Tickets required, share their Phone Number and Residential Address and within 3 hours, we would deliver the tickets and collect the money.


That was when I imagined a day when as a Consumer, I would simply click a button on a website, order grocery, food and other items which would get delivered right at my doorstep. Few months later, I heard that a company was already doing something similar to this at California in the US. The firm went by the name Amazon. During my stint at Musicworld, I saw in action the same model put to use where HamaraCD, the Kiosk installed at the store could be used to build a personalised playlist digitally, which would get recorded at the backend and delivered to Customers in a week’s time. That a CD bearing 9-11 songs would cost ₹399/- was a deterrent to potential customers and the project never took off.


In 2015, I tried to go back to my idea of 1998 and tried to put it in to good use. I built a website myself on Zepo (similar to and an Indianised version of Shopify) where Customers could order Grocery and Household items which would be picked up by my team from a neighbourhood area and delivered to Customers. Oyethere was warmly welcomed and embraced by Customers and we made a lot of noise and news for delivering Tender Coconuts during the Summer of 2016 and Kabali Movie Tickets and T-Shirts thereafter. We delivered 100s of Patanjali products across Chennai and 100s of clay Ganesha Idols a day ahead of Pillaiyar Chathurthi 2016 – ones which were available by the roadside but many patrons ordered to simply see how this worked, for we also said we shall take back the Ganesha idols for immersion.


Investors although were not impressed. A noted personality from Mumbai, when I pitched at TiECon 2016 asked why would he order on our platform when he could walk down to buy it. He and many other “Potential Angel Investors” said the venture doesn’t make “Unit Economics” for we had more Opex than Revenues, an unwritten norm and a must-do for StartUps and Founders today. There was no Corona Lockdown back then. I said, our StartUp targeted “Cash Rich Time Poor” shoppers who preferred convenience over cost, because our model was to charge 2% on Retailers of the Order Value and a small fee from Shoppers. With volumes of deliveries, we would eventually break even. Those days, Swiggy and Zomato were not delivering Idlis or Burgers below the Menu Price, there was no concept of Delivery Charges for “parcel food” from Restaurants although MakeMyTrip and BookMyShow were already charging users. I convinced him and many others over the next three years, around 50+ pitches. I went back to a day job early this year.


When the Covid Crisis was taking shape and making headlines in India during the first week of March, I sensed a huge surge in OTT Consumption and switched Levista’s Advertising to News Channels instead of GECs. I also shared my views that Multiplexes would reserve 1 seat unutilised for every 4-6 seats which were blocked. And that Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo would redefine Hyperlocal Retailing. Small joys of life when I see things happening right in front of my eyes.

These are some of those “Nostradamus moments” for me as I look back at my 23 years of being in the Indian Retail Industry. There are many such instances that I could add and share. Like how Consumers would order online and get home-delivered Microwave Ovens, Refridgerators and LED Tvs along with grocery items, although not from the same App. Amazon Prime could be an exception. We’ve just begun. Miles to Go... 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Lockdown Blues!

It’s day 39 of an Official Nationwide lockdown ever since we shut ourselves at home on Tuesday 24 March on Ugadi Day!

The best thing that has happened to most of us is that we spent the last month and a half entirely at our own homes, with our immediate loved ones although many were away from their families.

There’s no bigger joy and happiness that I have had in my entire life that I could spend so many days continuously with my kids and wife. These golden days will be cherished all my life.

I haven’t seen my Sister and Mother for all these days which makes me very sad. Not the longest, since I’ve lived away from them for over 25 years. But this one is rare coz she lives two streets away and I haven’t walked that far.

Though many of us perform household work regularly at home, the lockdown meant No Maids, so we did additional work. Whenever I washed vessels, I felt bad for my elderly maid who washes vessels without a grin. Always. And the mopstick is oh-so bad to handle.


Friends - missed their company the most for I haven’t seen a few for long. Makes me realise how much more important they’re to me. Thanks for being there for me over phone calls!

I ran out of 2 months’ stock of After Shave Lotions so ended up using Savlon. They both do the same job, similar chemicals. But our minds are conditioned to use branded ones than generic ones. Sigh.

We lost choice of many other day today utilities. We used / use what we get. We’ll get used to this.


No outside food. No shopping, visitation to Malls and Cinemas. No hospital / Doc visits. Our body consumed only home cooked food. Bizarre that we could actually survive this.

My Credit Card Bill (mostly official, a bit of household) was the lowest in about 14 years - only FOUR figure bill. Unbelievable. ICICI must be in a state of shock. Also, lost out majorly on my Payback Points.

No new movie releases for 6 weeks, no FDFS. Life moves on. Awaiting OTT releases and FDFS in May 2020.

I never imagined all my life that sales professionals like me can ever work from home. This has been a reckoning of sorts on how we are conditioned to think, act and behave repeatedly on the professional front.


Missed human interactions all along, ironically. Shows why humans are social animals and need socialising. Am quite sure that this too shall also pass and we will come to terms to the new world order, soon.

Indian PM and Tamil Nadu CM have led the Country and the State impeccably all along. Not fair to compare how other countries fared, especially the usual suspects of USA, China, Japan, France & Germany. But our men in Kurta and Veshti have rocked.

We clapped hands on a balcony, lit lamps in the night in solidarity without expecting any miracle. They said, We did. Some didn’t. Many mocked the idea. So be it.


Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor passed away. Many felt bad for them personally. So much of noise on social media for the departed souls. Rishi’s daughter saw the cremation on a Video call. Like how Indian migrant labourers working in Middle East, Africa and South East Asia see the last rites of their departed ones. Just that mostly they don’t have a choice to fly back.

But the same ones who mourned Irrfan and Rishi didn’t condemn on their FB Walls when Dr. Simon’s last rites were disallowed in his preferred Cemetery at Kilpauk, Chennai. The vehicle was vandalised and destroyed with the corpse in it by members of the same community whom he loving served all along. Two men dug the grave for a Doc who saved so many lives all his life.

Priorities. Ignorance. Impatience. Human race, I say.

As always, Bollywood (and Hollywood) comes first. Our own local heroes - Nope.


Of the two drivers who took a corpse to Mizoram in an ambulance from Chennai driving for three straight days, one has tested positive yesterday. Mizo Minister rewarded him ₹2,000 for the trip. No, we will not celebrate this Driver as he was not the original Romantic Hero or a Really emotive actor. Just another labour fellow and driving an Ambulance is his job, after all. Not sure, if he was singing “Hum tum, ek kamre mein bandh ho” along with his co-driver. Very very sad.

Economic Stimulus - Instead of catchups at Cafes and benches at Tea Shops, social media is abuzz on this. From Raghuram Rajan to Raghu Thatha, everyone is advising, Xi, Trump, Modi and Merkel. Nice to see the world has 5 billion Economists. Wow. I should have taken my Class XI and XII Economics Lectures more seriously.

Some people want to urgently open shops, malls, cinemas and salons. But I wonder if Customers are willing to walk outside.

E-Commerce is here to stay. Dot. As I always say, E-Commerce is not a new business, rather it’s just a new channel of distribution.

Lastly, Hyperlocal ECommerce is the way forward. My startup Oyethere did this 5 years back. Potential Investors scoffed and mocked at me then. Today, they are cribbing that Dunzo doesn’t deliver at their Pin code at Bangalore, Bombay or Delhi. The Chennai Investor Mamas still believe it’s best to walk up to the neighbor hood shops than invest on Hyperlocal StartUps. Sigh.


Lastly, I haven’t been to a Temple Precint - longest ever in my life. Missing this aspect the most.

Do share this article if you feel this perspective interests you.