Flipkart and its growth …

Flipkart-logo_blue
(img src: flipkart.com)

 

Disclaimer: These are the thoughts of an engineer who is not fully familiar with the ecommerce domain. So there may be holes in this post, which are predominantly because of my ignorance. I urge the readers/commenters to fill these holes if possible, and I will be indebted to them for improving my knowledge, and showing me the light.

This post is a result of several emails from recruiters that I get that promise me the promised land if I join Flipkart or Myntra or Snapdeal. Note that I am not talking about Amazon in this post, and I will try and mention why, somewhere in this post. The above mentioned three companies are, at this point in time, and to the best of my knowledge, are pure ecommerce businesses.

My definition of pure ecommerce businesses: Online portals which serve as a market place for vendors to hawk their goods online. Customers are spared the ignominy of visiting a dozen websites to get the best deal, rather they go to this one large market place, where they get the ‘best deal’.

My definition of best price and how it is achieved: You may ask (as I did, until I recently read an article online) on how can these vendors can offer these special deals. The online market place offers incentive to these vendors/sellers to come and sell in their market places. If the vendor incurs a loss of Rs. X because he is offering a certain special deal, the marketplaces compensates for this loss. And in some cases, even more so that, the vendor continues to operate in this method (of offering continuous special deals).

My understanding of where the money comes from: The principal source for these moneys to offer to the vendors come from the venture capital funding. I see no other source. There are some fees that the vendors/sellers need to pay, but I would only imagine that to take care of the operational costs (servers, bandwidth etc) and perhaps offset a portion of the salaries.

Ok, now that I have exhausted my understanding of how the business works (and yes I know, this is probably an extremely myopic and 50000ft view), let us talk about my understanding of what goes into making all of this happen – on the technical side (because I am an engineer, you see).

Let us talk about the various components that form running a market place such as Flipkart (or similar others).

Web UI: This involves the actual web page front end. There are three kinds of people involved in getting this together:

UI/UX designers: These are design people. They may or may not code. They talk about fonts, mouse click counts, positioning of advertisements, CSS, positional relevance, cognitive dissonance etc. In short, these people design the front end web page, so that the user can use it with most ease. They also design such that users are persuaded to purchase. And not just purchase anything, sometimes, UX designers can design such that, the users are persuaded to buy what the market place wants you to buy.

UI/UX coders: These are folks who translate what the UI/UX designers mean into actual code. These are engineers who specialize in HTML/CSS/Javascript, perhaps the LAMP stack, and let me just say similar visualization technologies (since there are just too many of them now, a few propping up every few months).

Backend engineers:

The backend engineers probably can be broken down into a few specialists:

DBAs: These are folks who specialize in figuring out how the back end database should be structured – what are the tables? what are the table fields? What are the dependencies between the tables, between the fields? How should the tables be indexed? These are all questions, when answered correctly, results in a beautiful database experience, which guarantees the fastest data-access/response time. This means, when the frontend requests for some data from the DB, it gets it in the shortest amount of time.

Engineers who write the controllers: Theoretically, this can potentially be a separate category outside of backend, but most times, I have seen this to be lumped with the backend. These engineers write the piece of code, which take the input from the frontend, translate it into appropriate queries for the DB, and when the results are thrown back, give it in a appropriate way back to the front end. Mostly a conduit code, but performance and encapsulation is very important here.

Theorists/Algorithm Specialists: These are the people, IMHO, who differentiate the market place company from its competitors. They design prediction algorithms, based on data mining (what they now call big data). They probably design algorithms for pricing as well. Other theoretical areas where the theorists work on are algorithms to speed up information retrieval, techniques to cache data, so that performance of the frontend improves, techniques to make the entire marketplace solid/robust, failover techniques for the DB as well as web sessions etc. These are just a sampling, but I would imagine, an application of this size would throw up several ‘researchy’ challenges.

Mobile: By looking at its analytics, Flipkart has figured out that a majority of the traffic is coming in through the mobile space. This would involve specialized UX designers, and app programmers. Considering that there are three different app platforms (Android, iOS, WindowsPhone), there need to be three different teams doing this.

Platform: While I did mention this fleetingly, if flipkart is indeed taking care of their servers/datacenters, then this is a whole set of engineering challenges that need to be solved. I know this is involved deep work. Google has its own global infrastructure team just to keep the platform going.

Supply Chain: While this could be included in Miscellaneous, I saw that there was a renewed intense push in this direction from Flipkart and others. This is the software that tracks inventory in the fulfillment centers. It is also the software that tracks the delivery and procurement of various goods that are being sold in the market place. With Flipkart, getting into selling perishables (cookies etc), this part of the platform becomes tricky.

Advertisement: I got this from a recent YourStory article that I read. With a recent acquisition of adequity, it looks like Flipkart is getting into the advertisement business as well. The motivation for this, is the huge user base that the market place has now acquired. The large the user base, the more eyeballs, an advertiser can gather. This is ripe for classic captive audience type marketing (example of captive audience marketing – ads inside movie theatres).

Miscellaenous: There could be several misc features that one could imagine to improve the overall experience and robustness of the market place. An example that comes to mind is the ‘zippy’ online payment gateway that flipkart wrote on their own. Instead of outsourcing the payment gateway to one of the thirdparty players such as Citrus, they wrote their own. This is definitely a good thing. They improve their robustness (lesser dependency on a third party) and most likely reduces their expenses too (no fees to be paid to a thirdparty payment gateway).

OK, Now the question which leaves me befuddled:

I keep hearing that Flipkart (or one of the others) are expanding and creating new groups. I also know that Flipkart has established groups for all of the above categories that I mentioned (and probably more that I may have left out!). And I am not even talking about their ebooks business. That is a whole different take. Also, I am talking only about engineers. These businesses have a whole different sales side – vendor acquisitions, price point/deal negotiators, etc.

What more is there for them to grow out on? A market place is a market place. There are some building blocks that they can make better. But what more? 

And now, I will mention, why I explicitly said, I am not talking about Amazon. The US/global Amazon company does a whole lot more than just the market place. They are experimenting with fresh grocery/vegetable delivery. They are experimenting with twitter #hashtag based ordering. They experimented with post office box based collection. So many more things. Some of those are also slowly trickling down to their India subsidiary for local applications. Their recent announcement of Amazon Kirana is one of those – last mile connectivity/delivery from local kirana stores.

I have not really seen Flipkart grow in these adjacencies at all. Or perhaps they are not too public about their experiments – that I am not privy to.

This question on what more are they hiring for, brings a lot of doubt and ambiguity in my mind, every time someone reaches out to me.

If someone has some time and energy, and would like to educate me (via comments or email), I would love to get educated.

Update: I added sections on mobile, advertising, supply-chain, and platform, after getting somewhat more educated. Some of the education came from here.

Tab Order in LinkedIn Post Commenting

I just commented on a post on LinkedIn. I found a minor UI nit. This kind of bugged me and in fact, made me lose data once. Let me elaborate.

When I want to comment on a post, I click inside the comment box and start typing. So far so good, and it looks like below.

taborder1

 

Now when you are done typing up the post, if you are a heavy keyboard user like me, on seeing the above order of the buttons, I would tab twice. You would expect one tab to get to the Cancel button and another to get to the Comment button.

But nope, that does not happen.

LinkedIn engineers, in the pursuit of productivity, I guess, have reversed the order. First tab goes to the Comment button and the second tab goes to the Cancel button.

And if you are a heavy (and impatient) keyboard user like me, you would have done a double tab and hit enter too. What does this do? Cancel all that you have typed and clears the comment slate. Woah! Yes, and thats how I lost my text comment. I had to type it all over again.

LinkedIn — please fix this !!

Sutta ….

I got down from the auto at the Trinity Circle. And that is when I saw him. He was walking towards me. His hunch showed his age. The wrinkles on his face spoke about all the hardships he had been through. All the scowls, all the smiles, and the anger that has now dissipated into just crumples of skin near his jaw. His eyes were sunken. It had seen the world through lenses of suffering and joy. He walked slowly towards me. I stood there in the pretext of putting the change that the auto-driver had given me into my wallet. He walked with a slow gait almost like the trundling of an aged elephant. He slowly started lifting his hand as he neared me. I was almost certain that he was going to ask me alms. I still held my wallet in my hand and had not put it back in my jeans pocket. The slowly, almost bionic, bony arm went up, and wait, it did not stop midway. It went all the way towards his now emotionless face.

From within his fingers, jutted out a tiny remnants of a beedi and he took in a long drag and continued walking past me …..

Don’t do their work!

–Rant alert–

I have ranted a little bit about the implementation approach of the Swachh Bharath campaign by some folks earlier, but it looks like the line is being crossed (literally) in some situations.

Spot cleaning: I am OK with spot cleaning. There are some spots which look super super shabby and the municipality/corporation has been ignoring because it has crossed the threshold (not that I am OK with them ignoring). Spot cleaning and get it to square zero is a good way to get them to a fresh start. This has worked in quite a few places. The municipality and the public takes it up from then on and ‘maintains’ this now clean place.

Traffic woes: More recently an upmarket locale in Bangalore (which has their own very active FB group) decided that the traffic has just gone haywire and requested the Bangalore police for some action. They met with the Commissioner and other officials and presented their plight. The Bangalore police from their end analyzed the situation and has made a proposal to fix the traffic problems by introducing/removing some turns on the congested area. I am fine with this too. In fact, this is probably the right approach. You present the problem to the civic agency and they hopefully help you out. The efficacy of the response or the speed at which they respond to your suggestion is a different story, and is dependent on if you have some heavy influencers in your group. But, having said that, this is the right approach.

Showing respect and friendship to the civic workers: Well, this may get a little touchy, but hey, I am fine with this too. A few residents wanted to show how much they appreciate the civic workers that they helped them on one day by sweeping the streets with them (or laying the roads with them) and bought them snacks/food etc. They communicated how much respect they have their service etc. How much, this is scalable, is another question. But, sure, this was a humane gesture.

DIY – Do it yourself: This is where my problems start. A group recently thought a pot hole in an area was never fixed attempted to fix this by getting their concrete and gravel and a pickup truck. A couple of rains later, the pothole was back. Then they attempted to fix it again. I don’t know what the current state is. But hey, this is something best left to the experts. They know how to do it. Whether they do it right or not is a different question, but this is not something each one of us can go and undertake and do it. This is not scalable. We do not have the right equipment, nor technology, nor the know-how. Also, one of my friends pointed out, one plausible outcome of this is the continued negligence of the civic authorities. Why should they do it, when the residents are doing stuff themselves? Why, for all you know, they showed some bills for fixing it, and made some money themselves too.

Urban planning – Dangerous: Last but not the least, today morning, I read an FB post, where some folks just got together and painted a zebra crossing. What the ???? This is dangerous. There is science behind where a zebra crossing needs to be. There is science behind how that can be monitored. Again, how well, these are done is not my question. It is up to the civic authorities to do this. In fact, it is a combination of multiple departments. The traffic police needs to approve this too. And hey, today was a zebra crossing, can I please get a speed bump in front of my house. I don’t like the way folks are driving on my road. By the way, I have some extra money, can I also put up my own signal?

We all need to get together. We all need to take responsibility. We all need to be the change we want. But this is not the way to do it.

Instead let us:

  • Stop ignoring problems and get in touch with the civic authorities and get them to fix it. If it does not get done, escalate it, Or help them fix it.
  • Have empathy to civic authorities first.
  • Keep our surroundings clean from now on. Do not litter, spit etc.
  • Follow traffic rules and avoid road rage.
  • Help and be sensitive to other folks.

Book Review: 13 steps to bloody good luck

13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck

I had read Ashwin Sanghi’s mytho-thrillers before and had been very impressed. While Amish Tripati wove a mythological story at that past time, Ashwins stories blended the present to the past and linked them in a beautiful beautiful way. And I was quite surprised to see him promoting a non-fiction book on twitter the other day.

Anything to do with debunking luck is a high scorer on my buy-the-book-meter. So when I found that the book was indeed released on the kindle and the ebook price was lower than the paperback (yes, I just revealed my kindle ebook buying algorithm), I went ahead and bought it right away.

My review comments below (once an engineer, always an engineer):

  • The book is a very easy read. You can breeze through the book in no time. The one disadvantage of a kindle book (there are very few disadvantages and this is one) is that you really dont know how thick or thin the book really is. Anyways, for me it is a good thing, since sometimes, it can influence your reading speed (oh crap, there is still so much more that I need to get through!).
  • The book is chock full of very interesting short stories and anecdotes related to success and luck
  • The whole premise of this book is that, the quantity of, what is perceived as luck, could very well be controlled, and in this case increased. Can you do stuff to increase your chances of being lucky.
  • The book is written in a very fine nuanced way. If you are one of those who do not believe there is anything called luck, then this book will satisfy you by debunking luck and showing you how to increases success by increasing opportunity and related factors. If you are one of those who believe in luck, the book shows you how to increase luck.
  • The presence of so many stories in the book makes it riveting. As human beings, we are always looking for stories to inspire us. And this book delivers.
  • Ashwin obviously does not believe in superstition or bad luck – since he says he will list down the ’13’ different ways to increase good luck. But then towards the end, he adds one more to it – so it is theoretically 14. So does he believe in superstition?
  • I read it in 2 sittings. Fast read. Good motivator. Excellent points.

Intel quits mobile

intel phone

Paul McLellan writes on Semiwiki about a leaked internal memo inside Intel talking about Intel getting out the mobile race. They would be merging the tablets/phone business back into the PC business.

To me, this sounds like a reasonable move. The mobile market is a very consumer driven market and requires a lot of ground level push. Opinionated users and fan-boys galore. It is a riot down here. We thought it was down to Samsung and Apple, and suddenly there are now a host of Chinese manufacturers who are into the game – like Xiaomi. The Indian mobile manufacturers, who are still satisfying only the local market though, are no less formidable -like Micromax. Taiwan is not far behind with Asus.

Having seen Intel (from the outside though) and knowing it as an EDA customer, they are not the kind of people to roll their sleeves and get into this mud fight.

Not sure when Amazon will take the cue and get their Fire phone out too. This is not their market either, IMHO.

Source article: http://www.semiwiki.com/forum/content/4040-intel-quits-mobile.html

4 things I would love to see Mast Kalandar do

371609-mast-kalandar-old-airport-road

As most of my reader base know, I am die hard fan of Mast Kalandar. From the time, when I ‘converted’ to MK, because it was the only pure veg chain, to now appreciating the various initiatives, and their prompt social media presence.

As I do for most things I am a fan of, I am never satisfied. I always want more. See my wish list for BigBasket here. And MK is not getting excused either :) So here goes:

Mobile App: Well, hellooo ! Are you guys sleeping or what? Why is there not a Mast Kalandar app yet? I want to be able to order my food through the MK app. I want to be able track the delivery through it (yes, I order home delivery quite a bit). What would I like in the app? That is a bigger post for a different day. What is even more irritating is that, their website itself is not even mobile optimized. Sucks to even to take a look at the menu on a mobile. Guys, please — develop a mobile app (android/iphone/winphone). And please mobile optimize your website. I tried reaching out to their twitter handle (@mastk) about a year ago, and they said they were working on it. A year, and it is not yet ready? Oh cmon.

Packaging for Roti/Kulchas: As I said earlier, we do order home deliver often. Have you considered alternative packaging techniques for rotis/kulchas? Rolling and wrapping in aluminium foil is so yesterday. Sure, it retains the heat, but it just spoils the taste. The humidity just makes the rotis/naans become hard. I am not an expert in packaging, nor have I done experiments, but have you tried perhaps some form of a pizza box type packaging. Maybe they would stay warm and also retain freshness? Worth a try na?

Indian salads: Have you guys tried creating Indian salads? The Indian market for healthy food is heating up like anything. Have you tried salads with traditional indian veggies and even more traditional chutneys as dressings? Perhaps a try? And I am sure, with the whole patriotism (Make in India, Eat Indian food, whatever), this will catch on pretty well.

Food for train journeys: Guys, you need to do this. There are so many times, I had wished I had ordered food through MK, and they deliver it to me either in the platform. Also, you should explore a rail menu. Stuff that does not get bad even after a few hours. There was a time, when I had packed something from MK (I dont remember what?), but it got bad after a few hours. I am not blaming MK for it – perhaps the ingredients were such. But I am sure you can come up with a menu with stuff that stays for a few hours. Combine it with the above mentioned ability to order through a mobile app, and good solid pizza box style packaging, this would ensure a hearty comfortable meal to eat, even in a moving train.

Well, thats it for now. I sure wish someone from the product management team in MK reads this.

 

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

Big_Hero_6_Team

Note: No spoilers.

  • Beautiful animation and graphics
  • Coherent story line that children can appreciate
  • A couple of minor sad scenes but it is not a sob-scene. Subtle.
  • Awesome car-chases
  • Lots of stuff for adults to notice too – other than just the comedy.
  • Scene where Baymax runs out of battery is hilarious – and adults would probably enjoy that more.
  • Futuristic movie – city is Sanfrancisokyo – a combination of Sanfrancisco and Tokyo. Just imagine SFO with lots of Japanese stereotypes thrown in.
  • Characters are extremely inclusive and diverse. Asians, African-american, true-blue Californian caucasian, the movie has it all.
  • Lots of fun 3D scenes.
  • Nerds movie – so anyone who is/was/wannabe nerd would totally enjoy.
  • Overall: Excellent movie. Disney does not disappoint.

 

So what, if you work for the Government …

I thoroughly get bugged when I see bumper stickers (or rear windshield stickers) which proclaim what industry you are in.

So what if you work in the government? Do you have the sticker on so that the police should not catch you if you do not heed the traffic rules? If not why?

So what if you work for the government? Do you need preferential treatment? Why? If you need to prove your identity to get ‘things done’, you have already defeated the whole purpose. It means your governance is so bad that, you get things done, only if you have that sticker or the metal plate.

So what if someone you know or even you, are in the army. I have huge respect for folks in uniform. Please don’t ruin it for me. I have had several people actually tell me that, they have the sticker so that the police do not ‘bother’ them. (Remember regular police cannot slap charges on these folks – only military police can).

So what if you are an advocate, are you threatening me that, if I get into an accident or altercation with you, you will drag me to court? Are you trying to tell me that you are a big guy? What is the purpose of that bow tie sticker on your vehicle. I am sure that is not a vehicle pass that lets you into court. You do have some other form of identification. Then what is the need for the neck tie sticker.

I dont even agree with the police sticker. I have seen folks who are software engineers riding bikes with a ‘Police’ sticker. When asked, they would give some vague answer as, their brother, who is an office, occasionally take their bike, but mostly it is so that, police do not ‘bother’ them. Wow. It bothers me though. If a police officer is really rushing to a place where he is urgently required, either he would be riding an official vehicle, run through traffic like Keanu Reaves, or grab some random persons car in the middle of the road like Chris Tucker. He is not riding his brothers bike.

The one profession sticker that I think ‘could’ potentially be useful is the doctor sticker. Even there, I use could the phrase “potentially” because this need not be the case all the time. But then I am willing to take the extreme case in this one. Perhaps, being a doctor, there may be times when you have to rush to a hospital to which you have been summoned.

Maybe I should just adjust maadi and make this sticker for myself:

swengg

But then this would probably ensure that I get flagged by the police more. *Sigh*

 

 

BBMP door-to-door collection

I recently got to know that BBMP has a door-to-door collection philosophy of garbage collection. Apparently, you are not allowed to take your garbage to some location. Well, there is no location. And the BBMP collection people are supposed to take the garbage to a road corner (yes, I said road corner). From here small auto type vehicles showel in the garbage and take it to another road corner (yes, I said road corner again), from where the big garbage trucks haul it to, I dont know where – most likely a landfill.

Now two questions might have popped into your mind. Why road corners? And where is this waste segregation falling in this ‘methodology’?

garbage1
(link courtesy ibnlive)

It is road corners because, these centralized places where garbage is collected and moved into vehicles/bigger vehicles do not have waste bins. They are literally dumped on the road. So see, folks see this. For those places where the BBMP people do not go (yes, this collection does not happen everywhere), folks come and dump their garbage ‘near’ the centralized collection points. This makes these collection points larger and wider, and makes the area ‘very fragrant’ too.

bangalore.citizenmatters.in
bangalore.citizenmatters.in

Regarding waste segregation, there is none. The garbage that I mention above is ‘unified’ garbage. And even if you segregate and give, they take and dump it together in the same place.

(via thealternative.in)
(via thealternative.in)

I agree that, we should not be blaming it on the corporation (BBMP in this case). I also hear that several apartment complexes are doing their bit by trying to compost and segregate recyclable waste. And sure, I encourage as many apartments do it. But, is it not one of the civic responsibilities of the corporation to do this for us. I read somewhere that effective roads, water supply, and garbage management are the three main functions of any city corporation. Roads are written off. Water supply is off and on. And if we are expected to take care of garbage management also, so what IS the corporation doing?

My four year old son made a comment today saying, “Appa, all these cows, and stray dogs, and all other animals are in the middle of the road, only because of all this garbage on the road. When will all this garbage go away?”. If a four year old is distressed seeing this, I can only imagine.

(via deccanchronicle)
(via deccanchronicle)

This last picture is something that strikes my heart. I live less than 250m from this place. This ‘place’ appears right across the road to the Koramangala Regional Passport Office – you can see the building in the backdrop. I see this happening day in and day out. There is a residential layout on this side of the road. BBMP does not go in to collect garbage there. So what alternative do they have. They do not have a garbage bin anywhere. This is also a ‘garbage’ transfer point. So the entire layout dumps their garbage here. And the ‘transfer’ does not happen regularly either. There are cows eating that garbage all the time. That is just plain wrong.

In comparison, let us look at Chennai. It may not be perfect, but the methodology is perfect, in my opinion. There are bins on each roads. Folks are expected to come and drop their house’s garbage into the bins. There is garbage truck that has an automated mechanism to pick up the bin an dump the garbage into the truck. Bin is empty. Road is clean. I have not really seen mounds of garbage on the road anywhere in Chennai – atleast the places I have been to.

(via suhrid.net)
(via suhrid.net)

The same methodology is followed in the NCR region as well – I have seen this in Noida. And oh, this is exactly the system followed in the US too. And hm, I think all over the world too. It provides a balanced civic responsibility. Citizens are expected to put the garbage into the bins. The corporation is expected to clear the bins. You keep your side of the bargain, while I keep mine. Seems fair to me. This may not be perfect everywhere in Chennai. Sure there are overflowing bins. But there are bins. Atleast the methodology is in place.

So who is the brilliant mind who suggested this funda of the Bangalore corporation coming door to door and picking up the garbage. Even to a novice planner, this seems a non-scalable solution.