Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

Shoestring

Posted: December 8, 2010 in Innovation, Management
This is typical Mumbaiah (related to Mumbai)… and whoever has ever commuted through local train to work would have noticed it. Whenever one gets out of a local train during morning hours… ‘tak tak tak…’ there is this familiar sound of wood knocks around. It doesn’t take much time to figure out the source of this unusual sound – couple of shoemakers on the platform. Curiosity took me to one of them and what a skill they have… 3 mins flat to get done with a pair. I was delighted with the service and their efficiency. And what they get for it is just Rs.5. This left me wondering about shoemakers’ daily/monthly income.
If we observe we could see that these shoemakers get good footfalls during 3 hours in morning (8 AM – 11 AM), then moderate footfalls for next three hours and minimal footfalls thereafter. Based on a rough calculation we can say that on a good day a shoemaker would make Rs. 450 – 500 (20shoes x 3 hrs x Rs.5 + 5shoes x 3h x Rs5 + 3shoes x 3h x Rs.5). Out of this most of the earnings (60-65%) happen during peak 3 hours. So, 2/3rd of earnings happen in 1/3rd of the working time. This gives us another food for thought… is there a way out in which these shoemakers can use remaining 2/3rd of their time more productively?
Couple of crude alternatives I can think of: (Please feel free to add…)
1. Switching between stations based on time of the day – Shoemakers can render service on stations toward town during peak hours and they can probably shift to stations in suburbs during evenings. (There are more commuters from suburbs towards town during morning hours and opposite movement happens during evening hours). But point to consider here is that a person going to office in morning is more likely to get his shoe polished compared to a person coming back home. So again attractiveness of this alternative during evening hours has to be validated.
2. Alternative work after peak hours – Shoemakers can seek out work in some other areas like mills, factories, etc. after peak hours. Problem here could be their limited skill set and availability of such type of opportunities.
3. A new ecosystem – Another option is to build an ecosystem to productively utilize their skills. Why do we need to have leather tanning / polishing industry limited to some specific areas in town? What if there are leather work related shops close to some of the stations? This could give shoemakers an opportunity to be involved in regular source of income as well. Again, the problem to consider in this case is whether there is really a need/demand for so many shoemakers? Is location (distance to work) really a constraint?
I could think of only above 3 alternatives off the fly. Brainstorming could help us to come up with few more options and further refining the identified alternatives. If at all anything can help to increase productivity and ‘Shoestring’ income of these shoemakers!! 

subtag: Social Innovation, Ideation

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Where is my money?
Figures say that for 1 USD we donate to NGOs, on an average only 70 cents goes to the actual cause.
Rest 30 cents are wasted as fundraising and administration cost.
As per global trend people are increasingly willing to donate today,, but they want each cent of their money to be utilized for the real Purpose. Whereas, in the wake of such facts people end up asking “Where is my money!!?”

This high administration and fund raising cost severely affects NGOs Productivity and Efficiency. 
NGO Productivity   α Total Funds Raised for the cause.

NGO Efficiency (%) = Funds Used for Cause
                     Total Funds Raised
Fund Raising Efficiency = Total Funds Raised
                           Fund Raising Cost
Problem defined:
‘How can NGOs increase their Productivity and Efficiency?’
Reasons explored:
If we assume that all the funds finally available (after deducting fund raising and admin cost) to the NGO are being used completely for the cause then there are two clear factors that affect Productivity and Efficiency of NGOs.
1.  Total Funds Raised
2.  Cost of Fund Raising
So, what are the reasons that are holding back NGOs on these parameters?
1.  Total Funds Raised
a)  Limited Geographical Reach – Fund raising activity is limited to area of operation.
b)  Limited Penetration/Awareness – Even in the area of operation not everyone is aware of the NGOs.
c)  Lack of Credibility – I don’t know if my funds will be completely used for the cause.
d)  Lack of Tangibility/Transparency – I want to see where my funds are being used.
e)  Limited Resources – Limited volunteers and resources.
f)  Poor supporting technology infrastructure – Not using adequate technology and infrastructure because of limited funds.
2.  Cost of Fund Raising
a)  High fund development cost – Capturing new private and corporate donors is costly.
b)  High Marketing Cost – High cost of marketing, road shows, awareness campaigns, etc.
There is a need for an efficient fund raising channel for NGOs.
Solution Proposed:
A web based ecosystem for NGOs
An Internet portal to provide a one stop website solution to connect global donors and various (participating) NGOs.
However, it is not simple as it seems to fill the gaps by simply building a portal.
The portal should be designed to fully exploit the potential of Web 2.0 (Interactive web, social networking, facebook, twitter, etc.) to reach millions of users.
Some of the desirable features of such portal could be:
·         A large user base.
·         Integration with social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc.
·         One Stop Solution for various NGOs.
·         Country, NGO and Project level Transparency.
·         Making donation a fun process.
Potential Benefits:
Contact me at rahulsingh.mail@gmail.com

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I was reading about penetration of social websites and micro blogging and their relevance in today’s business context when one thought suddenly flashed in and left me wondering.

If we trace the Internet presence of companies/businesses over the last decade, there is a surprising trend that emerges. To make things more clear, let’s go back in time and trace some trends in internet space with context to Companies and Businesses.

Time: Early 2000s
Internet Presence: Company Website.
Use/Content: Content Sharing. Mainly used for sharing Company specific content. Products, Solutions, Success stories,etc..
Content Update Frequency: Long intervals. Usually Months or Years.

Time: Mid 2000s
Internet Presence: Websites + Blogs
Use/Content: Experience Sharing + Content Sharing
Content Update Frequency: Shorter Intervals. Weekly or Fortnightly.

Time: Late 2000s
Internet Presence: Websites + Blogs + Web 2.0 (Micro Blogs + Social Network) Presence
Use/Content: News update + Updated Customer + Experience Sharing + Content Sharing
Content Update Frequency: Even Shorter Intervals. Daily or Weekly.

 
So, tracing the internet presence of companies, the trend shows that focus of companies have moved from ‘uploading large content less frequently’ to ‘updating smaller content more frequently’. Strange trend…


Either companies have become more customer centric, OR, it is just another battle for consumer’s mind space where companies are trying to engage customer on a more frequent basis.

The thought just left me wondering, after short and sweet daily updates on Twitter, what could come up next? Is there anything shorter than Tweets being developed somewhere!!?
Watch this space for more such thoughts.
Contact me at rahulsingh.mail@gmail.com

Imagine this. You are flying alone to some place. Domestic or International. You reach airport 2 hours prior to the departure. You check in. You block a window seat. Get your security check done and then you wait for boarding to start. You look at the watch and you still have 1 hour for boarding. Now you spend this 1 hour somehow and then you board the flight. You enter early and take your window seat. You realize journey is 3 hours to 8 hours long. At this point, have you ever wondered how will you be spending next few hours? Who is going to sit right next to you? Have you ever wished a celebrity, a business tycoon or a beautiful girl to take the seat right next to you?

Problem defined:

There is a long transit and travel time when people travel between cities. In most cases, this time goes unproductive.

There are only few choices available for travelers at present.

1.  Read magazines/ books.

2.  Tune into in flight entertainment.

3.  Turn on your laptop.

4.  Catch some sleep.

How can a person traveling utilize this travel time more productively to build social network?

Solution – The thought:

Travelers should be given an option ‘To socialize consciously!’. The person traveling should be facilitated to choose his/her fellow passenger (by mutual consent of course!)!?

This can be achieved through a product (software/application) with integrated features of ‘seat booking management system’ and ‘Social networks’.

Benefits:

Such product can provide multifold benefits for all the stakeholders:

1.  For travelers – Productive utilization of travel time.
2.  For travelers – Opportunity to get along with likeminded / enhance social network.

3.  For airlines – More takers for middle seats in airlines.

This window of 5+ hours (boarding + waiting + flying) is a great opportunity waiting to be tapped. This window can present a good platform to people for socializing, building contacts and cutting business deals on the fly!

Who knows… you might fly with Angelina Jolies of the World, next time!

* I am sure, many more business ideas can be brainstormed to tap into these 5+ hours of unproductive time of a Traveler. Please share.

* I have worked on detailed features and business model of the possible product. Contact me at rahulsingh.mail@gmail.com

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This
was a long settled thought, which resurfaced after reading a blog post ‘It pays
to be unemployed’.
‘To Give
or Not To Give’ (donate money for charity) is the case in point. The thought
first struck when I was discussing the issue of charity with one of my close
friend Prasoon. Both of us started up with entirely opposing stands. Prasoon at
that time was looking out for charities where he could contribute some money
and was a proponent of ‘Giving’. And with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged still fresh
in my mind, I stood as a proponent of ‘Not Giving’ and a non believer in
charity.
This
was a long discussion but briefly the arguments somewhat followed like this:
Arguments
in favor of ‘To Give’
·
We should help (financially) who are under
privileged.
·
We should help (financially) who are not born
lucky.
Arguments
in favor of ‘Not to Give’
·
People should first earn and then eat.
·
People should not be living on alms without producing/contributing
anything.
Arguments
against ‘To Give’
·
Will it not be injustice to people who are born
with under privileged conditions but work hard to earn a living?
·
Will it not be injustice to people (poor,
physically challenged, etc.) who follow their dreams with grit and perseverance
against all odds?
·
Will it not encourage idling and non working
environment?
Arguments
against ‘Not to Give’
·
What is their fault if they are born in a poor
family which cannot provide a decent two time meals to them?
Amidst
all these arguments, agreements and disagreements, we realized that there is a
middle way and which came out to be the best alternative on which both of us
principally agreed.
‘Give
to Facilitate’
We
realized that purpose of ‘Giving’ should be ‘To Facilitate’ under privileged to
produce, earn and then eat. The charity contributions should be towards creating
an environment and ecosystem to help the under privileged learn required skills
and become more productive.
If
an individual decides to contribute for the sake of social responsibility, the
responsibility should not end with giving money alone. As a matter of fact, responsibility
of individual should start with giving money. He should ensure that the money
or effort which he is contributing should be to facilitate people to produce
and earn, and should not encourage spoon feeding.
In
Buddhism alms are not considered as simple charity – “In Theravada
Buddhism, monks (Pāli: bhikkhus)
and nuns go on a daily almsround (or pindacara) to collect food. Alms are given
by lay people to monks and nuns to nurture virtue, merit and blessings and to
ensure monastic continuity”. Alms are given to monks to facilitate them
to continue their spiritual quest. Isn’t it elementary!
So, towards
the end, we concluded that there are two efficient ways of contributing that
would make real difference:
1.
Imparting skills and knowledge to make under privileged
self-sufficient.
2.
Money and Voluntary contributions to those NGOs
which facilitates the under-privileged and not to those who spoon feed them.
Ideally
speaking, even Non-profits and NGOs should work for ‘Facilitating’
under-privileged and not just for ‘Giving’ or ‘Channelizing’ money they arrange
from fund raising. There should be a single definitive purpose for which the
NGOs operate and that purpose should be ‘Facilitation’. What these people
really need out there is no pittance, no mercy… It’s just ‘facilitation’. ‘Facilitation’
to stand on their own… to Earn their own living.
The
irony is that even today individuals, organizations and governments fail to
understand and appreciate the basic principles of ‘Giving’ Vs ‘Facilitating’.
Or, maybe we have not got them right yet!

Read
more on irony of such government policies in article ‘It pays to be
unemployed’ here.

How can small businesses attract good talent?

Small businesses have always struggled to attract good talent.

Thoughts on this started with a writeup by Raj Shankar on his blog. Raj says in his blog that “Small
businesses need to stress on the importance of the role, job, person to the
institution and impress on the best graduates to join them.”  Read Raj’s blog “Small Business and Talent: An Irony!” here
.

Now, to dwelve further and to understand the reasons for this gap, we can borrow some concepts from some management principles. Broadly, I can see four guiding
principles on which most of these decisions about individual salaries and small
businesses are based.
i)                   
Demand and Supply – market
determines which talent to price how much.
ii)                 
Contribution i.e. value addition –
The more a person produce/contribute/value-add more he is rewarded (salaries,
incentives, recognition, etc.). So, it becomes difficult for a person to leave
a high paying job to take more responsibilities with low salary. However, when
other rewards (like recognition, achievement, etc.) are plenty to balance the
salary factor then people are sometimes willing to consider the change.
iii)               
High Risk, High Gain – For a job
with high risk i.e. small business (unpredictable sales, salaries, etc. in
initial phase) a person should get higher rewards. Again these rewards can be
monetary or motivational.
iv)               
Maslow’s hierarchy 🙂 – First
priority of a person is to get a decent income to sustain a decent living
(physiological and safety needs). Once this is achieved, people start thinking
of other things like esteem (achievement, recognition, etc.). However, there
are some rare exceptions.
So, person create/produce/contribute something based on his
talents. This contribution is priced based on demand and supply. The market
sets his price/salary for the contribution he is making. More talented attracts
higher price tag.
Now, he is getting a high market salary in a big established
brand/MNC for his contribution. Then going to small business means higher risk.
So, person will be willing to switch only if rewards (salary + incentives +
motivation) are higher. At this point if the person has already met his
physiological/safety needs then he is ready to switch for motivational purpose
otherwise he works for salary to meet his daily needs.
Also, when a graduate comes out of college he is struggling
to get his daily needs right (physiological/safety need), so they first look
for a job, any job and if options are available then a good salary package.
Once this is achieved, a job is secured, they start thinking of other things
like esteem, achievements, challenges etc.
So, what is the solution? 
Considering all these factors for small business we can
see that if a small business (mostly in growing phase and lesser stable than
stable brands/companies) wants some good talent they can get it by one of the
following:
A.   
Good
(higher) salary and incentives.
B.    
Attractive
opportunities for motivation (challenges, achievements, learning etc.)
Small businesses usually don’t have fat cash reserves. So,
the options to explore this alternative are limited.
Freshers, entry level employees – Still small businesses can manage
decent salaries as the baseline salary for entry level is low.
Mid management and senior management – Companies can offer them lower
fixed salaries + Motivational incentives like equity, ownership, commissions
(e.g. percentage of sales they bring to companies). However, here small
businesses have to also ensure that people they are hiring share similar
passion for the work and vision of the company. If they can find people who
share similar higher purpose (life’s purpose) then that is the best bet.
 For any of this to happen the bottom line is that small businesses need to highlight the opportunities to find
people with similar passion and purpose. They have to ensure that their
customers and employees are the evangelist of their company. 

Using Twitter to sell ice-creams!!?
Recently I have come across many articles about the power of
Web 2.0 (social websites/Facebook/Orkut, microblogging/twitter, etc.).
Popularity and reach of these sites is well known. Many companies (even the
likes of Dell, Dominoes, etc.) are using them to their benefit. Predominantly
companies are using them for promotion and marketing activities to reach out
millions of users. This prompted me to think, in how many different ways can
these websites be used to get a business benefit? What different business and
delivery models exists at present around these websites and what new
possibilities can be explored? 

I am trying to understand the possibilities. I have listed down
couple of things based on my limited presence and knowledge on Twitter,
FaceBook. Please contribute with sharing anything you have come across – any
interesting model, any interesting website, your thoughts, anything.
I will keep adding them to the list, as they come.
To list few areas:
1.      Marketing
and Promotion
a.      
Travel Companies
2.      Brand
Building and Awareness – Companies are using them to update customers and
employees with latest news.
a.      
Mahindra Satyam 🙂
3.      Connect
and Network – Connecting like-minded
a.      
Sprouter.com – Connecting
Entrepreneurs
4.      Crowdsourcing
and Brainstorming – Yes, few companies have started using twitter for
crowdsourcing ideas overnight. Interesting.
a.      
Ideasculture.com
5.      Broadcasting
information
Some interesting websites and specific
ideas I came across:
1.      #Twitter
– Twitter powered icecream trucks/vendors to share there whereabouts
2.      #Twitter
– School lunch menu published via Twitter
3.      #Twitter
– Crowdsourcing ideas overnight through Twitter
4.      #FaceBook
– Gaming applications like Farmville, Restaurant city, some Pictionary type
game, etc.



Cheers.