Archive for the 'Ideas & Companies' Category

Is India ready for Online-only Banks?

WSJ has an interesting article on online banks. In India, there has been rightful emphasis on financial inclusion as a key direction for banking sector. However, there is a segment of current users who could enjoy the efficiency of an online-only bank. Are Indian banks ready to make that transition? Is the regulator ready to make that transition, or will this be a blind-spot forever at the alter of financial inclusion?

MobilePOS – a few questions

One of the primary reasons for this post on mobilePOS – is that we as a company are being inundated with requests from various mobilePOS start-ups from India, Europe and US, who seem to be replicating/inspired by the Square Inc. model and want to leverage , ‘Our network of merchants’.

To explain ‘Our network of Merchants’ a brief background might be in order – I am the founder of a five year old electronic payments company called Paytronic Network. What began in mid-2007 as a two member team has now grown to a team of over 300. We offer merchants/retailers the ability to electronically accept prepaid mobile & DTH payments – quickly and conveniently using their mobile phone with zero transactional cost. We have over 60,000 points across India & some 2,500 points in Panama (Latin America) who use our technology and are part of the Paytronic Network.

With mPOS , the first question that comes to mind is – Who is the target market for mPOS? Is it the traditional users of POS from the banks? – what is their incentive to move to mPOS? Or is it the pizza delivery guys – who will embrace mPOS? May be it will be the e-commerce players who offer cash on delivery – who can now offer card on delivery, using mPOS?

Once the target market is clearly defined the next significant question is, what is the revenue model? Is it taking a fixed monthly fee from the merchants? Or a share of the merchant discount? (Merchant discount – is the money charged to the store for each transaction. It usually ranges from 1.5% to 3% of the transaction value). Or both? Finally , can mPOS be a singular offering from a company to sustain itself ?

To the best of my understanding most of the mPOS solutions out there use smart phones (Android/Apple). How many merchants in India or the developing world use smart phones in their stores? Even, if they own a smart phone.
Some players claim J2ME ready mPOS, but I tend to take that with a pinch of salt. From our past experience of developing J2ME apps for the recharge app, we know the myriad of compatibility issues that we have faced, especially with the cheaper imported phones and their convoluted J2ME implementations.

The next question is – how many mPOS players are PIN & CHIP (EMV – EuropayVisaMasterCard ) ready? As per an RBI notification EMV is here to stay from June 2013.The traditional POS players are EMV ready as their equipment are already in use in Europe where EMV is mandatory. Entire LATAM is also going the EMV way in 2013. Are the mPOS players really prepared for EMV ?

Although I might sound like a doubting Thomas, at the end of the day in my opinion mPOS is really exciting part of the electronic payments space. The traditional POS players with their deep pockets, experience and expertise and definitely the Goliath in the arena. If someone has reviewed the PCI POS PED-3 security standards they will understand how well placed the traditional POS players are in order to play the mPOS game vis-à-vis the start-ups.

In the past many Davids have won against the Goliath of the world – will we see that in the mPOS game? or will it be the case of – When the giants learn to dance? – only time will tell.

Would love your opinions /feedback on mPOS.

P Thomas Abraham

Indian Ecommerce 2013

My views on what to expect from Indian ecommerce sector in 2013 – the profitability challenge, the financing challenge, and the differentiation challenge.

Read here.

HR Ideas for Business : 6-10 : Induction, Probation, Hiring, Grievance, Expectations

Here are the next 5 Ideas for better Business performance in building Human Synergies. In this posting you would find basic information about Induction, Probation, Grievance Redressal, High Requirement Hiring and Setting Expectation of Performance. These are very day-to-day issues and needs to be addressed on the go.  Please do read and add new inputs and perspective to make this blog a repository for simple & practical solutions.

6.Induction for Performance : Induction of a new employee into the system is the first step for building Human Synergies. Induction is a process which would help the new joinees contribute the best by understanding the organisation and its systems. Organisation helps the new joinees to understand the history, policies, procedures, cultural values along with some bit of experiential learning.  This process can be simple to complex based on the person / seniority and/or implication of the decisions by the person (if they are serious more days and more in-depth induction).  Since we bring people into the organisation to perform and deliver the best, Induction would help that process effectively.

Idea: Induction plan can be few hours to few months as per the intensity of the requirement. Create a standard template for a day or two and make sure you execute as soon as you have a new joinee. You can discuss with your senior team members and set expectations of information sharing and experiential learning. Eg : The template can have columns like Date, Function/Department to visit, person to meet, Questions to Ask and time(from-to). Do not forget to ask the Inductee to ask for feedback report at the end of those few hours/days.

7. Probation: Probation is primarily to help the new joinees to get used to the environment and fit into cultural of the organisation. It is noticed that there are different set of probation methods in organisations. Some have a probation for junior level people. Some organisations follow for all the levels.  It is noticed that however the experienced or accomplished in other organisation does not guarantee the same performance in the new organisation.  The duration of the probation can be defined based on the general time frame that a new joinees get adjusted into the new system.  Based on the organisational need and the general time taken for adjustment can be considered as a yardstick in defining the duration.  There is a perceivable notion that Probation confirmation is linked to the increment/revision in salary.  This is totally not true and should not be linked to monetary gains, so that the sanctity of organisational fitment can be managed.

Idea: Set some basic parameters to help assess the involvement of the Individual into the organisation.  An open-ended one page report from the Supervisor would help in confirmation of services to keep it simple in consultation with the team member. Its also important to set the next set of expectations and measurable outputs agreed at this time.

8. One-time High Recruitment Needs: Many times you may have a need to recruit large pool of people at once.  This number would vary from organisational size.  Smaller companies to have 3-10 number of requirement may be high.  For large organisations the number could run in Hundreds. You can segregate the positions in different buckets of experience and expertise and define a different strategy.  Like for all fresh positions you can approach a college for database or for organizing interviews. For experienced you may want to use the position posting and a database access service for a short-term, with a job portal to make sure you reach the target.  Or alternatively your own employees can be of great help with little focus.

Idea: Call any Recruitment Agency and negotiate a different model, where they would work on retainer basis to close all the positions within a specific time period.  This is possible and doable for the Recruitment Company. If you really assure some basic fee for their efforts, they can do a good job than just on success based in such situations.

9. Performance Expectations:  Setting the performance expectations at each level is important. It not only important to set the expectations but also to share what outcome you would like to see as a performance. for example: for a sales person Revenue & Collection %age. Production: Production Output in numbers, Wastage %age to be maintained, For HR person : %age of positions to be filled in days from requisition, employee turnover to be contained at a level.

Idea : For every job/ position / individual define only two key components as output that you would be expecting and communicate in writing. Set a frequency of review to ensure that your single point of agenda is to discuss and see the progress.

10. Employee Grievance : Grievances typically are handled through a process of grievance handling procedure for large teams. However, In case of smaller organisation, Identify the problem related to Work norms  infrastructure, performance,Salary, increments etc., and appropriately respond.  All the policy related framework done by HR need to be interpreted and clarified.  Also see that if you need to resolve with the appropriate documents/ approvals.   If it is related to interpersonal relationships, work related issues you may want to involve the manager to get the right picture and help them to resolve.  This is a quick overview and specific problems can be handled based on the need/situation/background.  One thing for sure, do not jump to resolve issues… identify the core of the problem and involve the appropriate authorities to make sure that grievance is resolved to the best of organisational capabilities/boundaries. Finally, never think that you are going to satisfy all the parties 100%….

Idea: If you really work on a detailed grievance redressal policy  would be great. However, if you do not intend/can’t define, then Identify last one year issues and resolutions. Set some basic guidelines in such cases if repeated and communicate to the teams in common forums/intranet/meetings etc.,.  For any unresolved issues, set an escalation point and also what level it would be final and binding for resolution.

Three Things that One can do to build Second Line at Small & Medium Business (SME / SMB )

Building Second Line is the biggest challenge in SME’s. This may be due to the focus of entrepreneur which is  very internal and personal. Development of Second Line needs a broader outlook and ability to think and create an environment of trust.  Its also to do with the openness of  SME owner to create wealth for their future leaders along with risk taking ability with people.


Identify: Not that every employee who joins you would grow to be a Second Line material. You need to look for the attitude, commitment and passion for your business. Put them through some tough situations of business need and take risk of testing. Identify few potential employees to be able to take the next level of responsibilities with Accountability.

Build & Encourage: After you identified the potential, you can use various occasions to tell them that you are looking at them to grow their career. Here its important that you make it very clear that they need to build that competency and move towards achieving growth. Make it clear that “Its Not Easy Cake Walk“.  Do also make sure that no false promises in terms of position, money etc., at this stage. Be firm on many decisions where you have to be assertive.  Encourage them to take up new and self improvement goals for constant improvement of knowledge and skill.   Also assign some of the futuristic targets and help them to achieve. Take that bit of risk if they fail, plan for backup plan from your end.  Building & Encouraging is all about building the mutual trust and ability to go that extra mile.  

Sustain : Have clear goals for achievement at each stage & review. Set certain higher standards in moving the people to next level. The ideal situation is that the employee can measure and update you on the status of his/her growth as planned. You need to be a mentor and translate your knowledge without being threatened about competition.   Always remember, we out grow our capacity and we need others who have skills to takeover for better growth.

My SME Journey in UK 2012

I landed in London Heathrow at 9 pm on 19th September 2012 along with my Associate. We head straight to tube station which I heard a lot about, while I was in India. We thought that we would reach destination in next 20 minutes. We reached Holborn station and the pilot ! announced that due to technical difficulty we are terminating this train here. That was an experience that after-all we are human beings and dealing with Machines.  We came up asking for a taxi, it took about 10 minutes for Taxi to arrive. As expected a chilly cold wind welcomes to you to UK…. that reminds me of a friend sent a note before “Welcome to cold and Wet UK”. I did not understand the word WET but yes it was pretty cold.  Day One : is so important that every employee who joins an organisation remember.  I am no exception for an Induction into a New country. I remember this for ever.

I spent next few days meeting people in Central London, Harrow on the Hill, Liverpool Street, London Bridge to be able to explore the opportunities.  I had one meeting which was definitely productive at London Bridge on a Friday evening ( I know I was holding the person to get into a weekend mode) to talk about some opportunities. I understood why he was not so keen initially to meet us because of his few of his India Experiences (Nod Head for every thing and forget to fulfill – I guess the sample may be very less to judge), but ultimately client has own opinions to formed based on his/her circumstances.  During the conversation one thing which was repeated that if you can’t do something do let me know now. We did not promise much to move ahead and thought for ourselves that our work should speak volumes.  Here goes the test, we survived the first week, thank to Naresh Deevi for making it possible with his team back in Delhi. In the process we have made sure that we educated the Indian environment in-terms of the Human Resources scenario and the challenges to make him appreciate the other side of the fence, Now, Its in auto pilot and I do hope that we build a value for their company as we did for many in India. Lesson: In an excitement accept business we commit so many thing which we can’t fulfill and it haunts you for ineffectiveness. It is always better to be bitter in the beginning and close to reality than to spoil a long-term relationship with any business partners. I guess they are more than willing to understand if you speak realities, set less expectations and ofcourse, deliver more.  A key lesson for SMEs growth.

SME Market in UK : I looked at the figures of SMEs in UK and there are 16% of organisations less than 10 people. 43% of organisations account for employees more than 10 people and  less than  250. Only 41% of the organizations have more than 250 employees.  A View of economic activities is more at SMEs in UK with more than 60% accounting for SME’s in London Areas.  While the Wales economy is primarily on SME organisations with 95% of them are less than 250 employees.  Of course for me more SMEs means more fresh oxygen.

The Welsh Encounter : Me and my Associate traveled to Cardiff, Wales via Birmingham. It was a heavy rain all through and first time UK experienced floods worst in 10 years.  Now I know the meaning of WET England   First, We arrived at Birmingham International station and a good HR friend from LinkedIn connections picked us up. After meeting and his excitement of information sharing, I was convinced that the journey with SMEs in any country would be a great opportunity.  We had the whole of afternoon spent in understanding the perspectives and what we do back in India. He dropped us at the Birmingham Street Station with a lots of hope and anticipation that we work together.  I am sure the time spent would be of great help in working together in future, we are exchanging notes since then. What I realised that every other HR person I met are aware of the opportunities in SME market (I wish my fellow HR Professionals wake-up to this reality soon in India) .  While some took plunge in their own enterprise, others working currently but eventually be there.

My Visit to Cardiff and Swansea in Wales : My first feeling landing at Cardiff and looking around “Yes – I am in an English Country”. We have encountered every where helpful People with warmth in dealing. I was amazed to see the efforts of the government to promote business is amazing.  They have taken every care to make sure that we get the information that we are looking for. We have been supported by a person during our meeting in both places. While we met the people who are key for establishing business in Wales, we also attended a program organised by Wales Government, Indian High Commission with SME business owners from India on 27th September 2012 at The Park Plaza, Cardiff. It was an exciting meet to know the eagerness to promote the business by the Minister of Industries and the local Business Associations. We have met many Indian SME owners and also the Wales based SME business owners. As in any networking event it was an unwritten theme of “What’s in it for me” every business owner trying to promote his business. We also had the opportunity to share thoughts with the Indians who are based in UK working in multiple disciplines.

We moved to Swansea at Wales an hour train journey from Cardiff. The landscape on the way is awesome and it remains in your memory. We attended a program organised by the South Wales Chamber of Commerce in association with University of Wales at Victoria Stadium @ Swansea. I can feel the excitement in everyone whom I met about a football match that took place at the stadium few days ago. This time the meet was with the members of Chamber members along with Professor Medwin Hughes – VC & team of Wales University. This event was organised by the Business Incubation center of University of Wales and the students a did a tremendous job of organising this wonderful event. We had the opportunity to meet all the 20 SME business owners from Swansea attending this event. The University Incubation center helps the start-ups to locate themselves and provide the Business services like any other Business Center.  They help the startups to grow to 2-3 people and help them settle in their business independently. I felt that was a great Eco-system for development of Business and entrepreneurship. The Camber of commerce created a HR Help line for the members - hearing that was music to my ears.  The awareness about the HR is quite high among the SME owners whom I interacted.  May be because of the stringent administration of employment laws and appreciation of HR Systems support for business growth.  But of-course, the opportunities for employees are less and they stick to the company that they get an opportunity.  That’s one of the challenge for SMEs in UK to upgrade their skill level and Government has a great provision of grants for the businesses to upgrade skills for their workers. This means a great opportunity for HR companies to identify the Skill gap, Training needs and build support for SMEs.

Mobile Payments – where is the use case?

Techcrunch has an interesting article questioning the value proposition of mobile payments, especifically NFC in this case. Read here…

Even in the Indian context, there have been multiple companies trying to push mobile payments over time, and a clear use case has been missing. Cash or swipe cards function fairly well for physical merchants. Some of the more recent attempts are aiming to reduce the cost of POS roll out – a form in which the mobile device may be used as acceptance terminal, rather than as a replacement of swipe card. That seems slightly more interesting – however, the savings on the acquisition terminal is perhaps only a small fraction of the overall cost of acquiring and managing the merchant base. So its not clear if this technology innovation solves the critical path issue.

Other views?

Thoughts on book publishing industry

Note: Posted this on my blog the other day. Wanted to get opinion of a wider audience and hence posting it here.

There has been a recent spurt in the number of writers. 4 out of 10 people I know are either writers or are aspiring to be one. And similarly, the spurt in homw grown publishing companies. After all, all you need to be a publishing company is a couple of certificates and you are ready to issue ISBN numbers.

For a first time writer, the traditional way to go about getting a book published is to finish the manuscript, cold call all the publishers he can and hope to hear back from one or more.

Then, came the middle man – the literary agents. Now the writers wrote their manuscripts, went to a literary agent and slept in peace. The agent would identify the publishing houses that may be interested in the manuscript and approach these publishers. Ofcourse the agent would ask or a cut. A typical number, if I am not wrong is 10%. Could bi higher for a new writer.

So the game is heavily stacked in the favour of agents and the publishers. Publishers take a call on what they want to publish. The kind of books published and thus advertised on the mainstream are thus limited to the understanding of the publisher. Ofcourse publishers are learned men and know what they are doing. They run huge businesses after all. But then, if there was a way the audience, the junta, the aam aadmi could decide the kind of books they want to read, it would be awesome.

So here are the ideas. Three actually.

One. Discovery platform.

What if every first time writer gets to create an account on a portal. They upload the first three chapters (or 10% of the book online) and the platform is open for the audience to read these excerpts. If readers like what they see, they can indicate that they want to read the rest of the book. The books that get “likes” above a minimum threshold (say 5000 likes) are put in print and every one who has liked is notified about the print run. If the “likes” are below the threshold, everyone who indicated a like would have an option of buying the digital copy of the rest of the book.

So essentially, the process of identifying the “winners” is taken away from the publishers and literary agents and is given in the hands of the readers. If such could be the case, I am assuming that there would be lot more writers that would get published and a lot of books that have been published would be sent to raddiwalla.

Classic freemium model at work.

Two. Marketplace for writers and publishers.

What if there could be a service that got writers and publishers together on a platform. So all new authors login, see what kinda things do publishers want to publish and then accordingly submit their manuscripts. On the other hand, publishers see what kind of scripts are being uploaded and see if publishing those would make sense for their business.

Platform does one level of sanity and hygiene check and then lists the manuscripts to publishers. Publishers now decide if they want to publish or not.

This kills the literary agent but at the same time saves so much of headache for writer and publishers.

Three. Self publish on the digital medium

Alternatively (or may be concurrently), the platform that I spoke about in idea # 2 could enable and guide the new writers to publish themselves digitally. The platform could take care of logistics like issuing an ISBN number etc. Since digital reading devices are in vogue, there must be enough people interested in buying these digital books (at least numbers from Amazon tend to indicate this). And suddenly a new writer is no longer at the mercy of the whims of a publisher!

And if a book does well on the digital platform, they can be released in the traditional print run, and get sold on brick and mortar stores and flipkarts of the world! looks like a good place for such an idea but IMHO the execution leaves much to be desired.

Thats it. Its a pity that the business is stacked against the content creators. My estimates and interviews tell me that a new writer gets anywhere between 4% and 12% (if lucky) of the selling price of the book. The major chunk goes to the reatailer (flipkarts and Strands of the world) and the publisher. Isnt it unfair that the content creator actually gets the smallest piece of the pie? Something worth fixing!

Posted originally on sgSandbox.

Export Import Business Online-Business Idea

 Logistics is big business.And freight forwarding (export -import) contributes significantly to logistics business.

Having worked with Air India Ltd at its Cargo SBU, I wonder whether are there any companies in world which facilitates export and import business online.This business can be classified into 2-3 ways.First is via air or sea.Second is big shipments (in tons) v/s small shipments (in kgs).While online model would be useful for small shipments as discounts given by airlines is too good in that.

Hindrance of digitising this business is influence of stakeholders like customs and shipper’s export /import division.

VC’s and entrepreneurs in logistics domain may wish to brainstorm on this idea.Contact .

Don’t let the ecommerce bust fool you

It seems that past 6-9 months have played out a full boom and bust cycle as far as ecommerce in India is concerned. Where as in july-august timeframe, 10 million dollar fundraises were being inflated to 40, and investors seemed to be willing to pay 5-8 times the gross merchandize value as premoney valuations, suddenly the world seemed to turn cold over past three months. What does this mean for entrepreneurs?

  • Customers continue to buy: Not unlike 1999/2000 experience, customers seem unaffected by all the kolaveri around. Keep the focus on customers and deliver great consumer experience – that is the essence of building a great business
  • Build a business, not transactions: The only currency of a good ecommerce business till now has been transaction volume. Now is the opportunity to answer more fundamental questions – why would customers buy from you (apart from getting products below your cost price), what really differentiates your business from the guy next door (no, really!), what will drive profitability in your business, which customers do you want to target and who do you want not to, etc. “Internet is cheaper than retail stores” is not enough anymore.
  • Time for innovation: Premium will shift back on great teams with propensity to innovate, rather than the best search engine marketer. If you do have a customer proposition that goes beyond discounting, can you run the business at 25%+ gross margins (including logistics costs)? How can you build a business without investing $100M in inventory, and still ensure great consumer experience? Whats uniquely Indian about ecommerce?
  • Investment is still available: Ecommerce in India is not a space that investors can ignore (even Mahesh is investing in ecommerce now :)) – they just seem to be correcting themselves to look at the right things.

Lets get back on the roller coster. The party has just begun!