The flip side of convenience

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)
(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

I had earlier written about how hyperlocal grocery delivery folks were affecting the ‘other folks’ who were actually shopping in the super markets. Some of these ‘delivery’ experts were super aggressive in picking up items before us and were trying to beat the lines etc. So while folks who found it convenient to order through them, there were some inconvenience to the others who actually did shop physically.

While one might think that this is an isolated industry and incident, two similar incidents happened to me recently involving two separate companies/industries.

Food delivery: Last week, I stopped by Taco Bell (Sony world, Koramangala, if you must know), to pick up something on the go. I had ordered from the cashiers. There was hardly any crowd. But I waited for a good 15 minutes, because there were three swiggy orders queued up asynchronously in front of me. Yesterday we went to Anand Sweets (Purani Dilli, Koramangala 5th block, again, if you must know :)). We went to eat in. We had ordered just chaat. The food pick up here is by token. I was token number 52, and the running number was 49. Usually, this would have been about 5 mins, but again, it took me a good 20 minutes. Why? Two swiggy ordes again. And again, because it was delivery, it took time to pack. And to ‘beat’ the minimum order for free delivery threshold, folks typically order more. Boom. Double Whammy.

Radio cabs: Today evening, a radio cab almost ran into me. Why? He was busy trying to talk to a customer on the phone trying to understand where to pick him up, look up the same on his map on the phone app, and steer the dang car. Quite naturally, he was doing all three actions sub-optimally.

So now what? Now I am not being the luddite cribbing against technology advances. All I am saying is, are these companies thinking enough about this problem. Should the companies care only about their direct customer satisfaction? Or should they also look at their impact on society, as a bigger picture.

I am sure there are solutions. For the radio cabs problem, this is a solved problem in the US. The geo- problem is solved beautifully there. You call, and the uber is in front of you. No hailing. No telling landmarks. Nothing. I am sure our guys can improve this too.

As for the food delivery problem, one thing that I noticed was that, the guys started preparing the food only after the guy came to the restaurant, while they actually had gotten the order much earlier. Could they do some form of predictive start? I, as a consumer, know where the delivery guy is and how close he is to reaching the restaurant. Can’t swiggy share this out to the restaurant also?

What does everyone think?

Nandi Hills

Last weekend, my sister, brother-in-law and their kid visited Bangalore, and we used this as an excuse to visit Nandi Hills (which we had never visited so far in the seven years we have lived in Bangalore!).

We started early – around 7:00Am from Koramangala. We took the usual route to the airport that most cabbies take: Viveknagar -> Mother Theresa Road -> Residency Road -> MG Road -> Golf course -> Mekhri circle.

As per plan, we took a slight detour off at RT Nagar and had breakfast at the Vasudev Adigas – at 730AM.

Left Adigas around 830AM and took to Bellary Road. Road is just awesome. Beautifully paved 6 lane road. Pleasure to drive. But do beware of cops who stand with radar speed detectors and can book you (apparently happens very regularly).

After a while, you will see a board to Nandi hills heading left. You will also see a restaurant complex of sorts in that junction. Do take that road even if your GPS does not say so. My MapMyIndia GPS asked me to go straight on and take the next left. The road quality is super bad in the second route.

The Ghat section is a pretty intensive ghat section – not too long, but quite a few hair pin bends. Honk at every turn – because it looks like this ghat section is a favourite for bikers to show off their speed biking skills (especially given that, it is a favourite romantic spot for couples).

Once you reach the top of the hill, there are parking areas. The one at the very top apparently gets filled up very quickly and overflows to the lower level, which is where we parked. This is an area under a larger number of trees and some weird tree house type structures with little or no flooring.

Interesting observation: 5 of the 10 cars that were parked there were zoomcars.

This parking area is just super windy and chill. Do make sure you take a jacket.

You climb up to the actual Nandi hills area via a little walkway and a few steps.

You have a large Shiva temple which looks pretty old. And a Kalyani (temple tank) inside it. This tank is fed by fresh water springs all year long. It is believed that this tank (and its springs) is where three rivers originate – Palaar, Pennaar, and Arkavathi.

There are some neatly maintained gardens and pathways nearby, where you can take a stroll. The two 5 year olds played a bit of football for a while.

There is a Nandini ice cream parlour, where we all had ice creams. There is also a small cafe (small eats like idli, dosa, tea, and coffee are available), where all had tea/coffee.

Warning: There are a large number of monkeys. Even if they see you having something resembling food, they will come and grab from your hand. In fact, if you do even so much as to sit on some of the park benches, they think, you are going to eat, and approach you.

The monkeys scared the living daylights out of us, and we left in about an hour. Over the course of the half hour, we saw monkeys snatching chips packets from small kids, snatching ice-cream bars from older people’s hands, and such.

We left from there around 11am and back in the city by around 1:15pm.

Overall observations:

  • Nice views from the top
  • It is a good picnic spot – but without food.
  • Beware of monkeys
  • We missed an old temple at the base of the hills – with two 5 year olds, this is how much we could cover.
  • It is a place that you can visit once – nothing more to do multiple visits – would be boring.

Pictures:

 
Nandi - @ Nandi Hills
Vista from Nandi Hills
Temple/fort on top of Nandi Hills
Steps - Nandi Hills

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.

Why do I honk?

You ask me, “Why do I honk?”. I will tell you why I honk.

And no, I do not honk incessantly like the cabbies, but you got to be super pretentious to claim that in India, you can drive without honking. Sure, I will reduce and have reduced honking, but if I do not honk, the following classes of living beings would probably get killed, if not seriously injured:

  1. The college kid with the backpack talking on her phone looking at the wrong direction while crossing the road
  2. The old uncle in his smokey scooter who claims that old scooters have the right to drive in the middle most lane
  3. The real estate agent who is talking on the phone which is resting on his shoulders and his head bent at an impossible 90 degrees to keep the phone from falling down.
  4. The style-bhai on his Yamaha FZ-whatever who feels that he is driving faster if he makes more noise and if he challenges the center of gravity of his bike to the maximum.
  5. The auto-wallah who brakes in the middle of the road to enquire where the passenger on the road wants to go, only to shake his head and go on.
  6. The occasional suicidal canine.
  7. The callous bovine whose business it is not, to realize that it is in the middle of the road.
  8. The aunty crossing the road holding a kid in each arm hoping for divine intervention to stop traffic when she crosses the road. (She did not get the memo that, the traffic might seem like a sea, but she is not Moses).
  9. The gush of humanity that drains out of a buses door when the bus stops at a bus-stop – even if the bus stopped in the middle lane.
  10. The IT dude in the car right in front in an intersection, who is checking email on his jazzy smart phone.

If you have more ‘characters’ for whom the ‘horn’ in our cars and bikes still serve an existential purpose, let me know in your comments.

Random Policing and Minor Traffic Offences

(Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eirikref/)
(Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eirikref/)

This is something that I have been talking about for quite a while with friends and family. With the Bangalore Police getting more and more social savvy, I thought, I would try and pen down my thoughts here, and maybe point them to here.

This here, is an experiment based on human psychology, which has been very effective in traffic offense management in other countries. My experience is in the US, but all I have unfortunately, is anecdotal evidence and no formal numbers. Still, it is worth a try.

The principal premise of this experiment is that, if there are random checks and apprehensions of traffic offenders in a certain spot, drivers tend to be a little more careful, fearful of being apprehended in that spot.

Let me explain with an real life example of what I saw in the US.

There are certain areas in the US interstates, where it is known that there are hidden cameras catching traffic offenders. There are also certain pockets where there is ‘mostly’ a cop car hidden in the bushes waiting to nab a speeding vehicle. Over a period of time, drivers tend to know this, by either learning the hard way or through word of mouth, and these areas become very cautionary zones. After a little while, even if the cop car is not there, or if the camera is not there, this zone becomes a relatively safe zone.

I do have to admit that Bangalore police (and other state police) have attempted similar strategies and have had marginal success. I believe it is just that, this needs to be done more consistently and the net spread wider. For example, the Intermediate Ring Road in Bangalore. Drivers know that during non-peak hours, it is best not to over speed, since there is a good possibility that there is an interceptor with a radar speed gun at one of the invisible turns. So a lot of regular drivers in that area, are careful. And let me be honest, I learnt it the hard way too. I have seen similar exercises on the Delhi-Noida-Delhi (DND) express way as well in the NCR region.

What do I mean by widening the net? I recommend installing cameras at obscure junctions where there is very repetitive signal jumping or turning at no-right-turns. Or, in a less tech savvy experiment, have a hidden policeman, noting down numbers and pictures using the cameras given to the traffic police. Challan offenders continuously and consistently for a month. Then move on to the next junction. The same effect as what happens in Intermediate Ring Roads would extend to junction after junction. Drivers would start ‘fearing’ hidden cameras or policemen. You would start people looking around for cameras and hesitantly start following rules. Get news media (social and print) ¬†to cover this.

We would need patience to see large scale effect of this experiment. But then, neither was Rome built in a day, or for that matter, neither did all Americans drive with fear of the law, in a day. The world’s oldest democracy probably took quite a while to get this state. It is just that it is not publicized.

This is, in my humble opinion, a relatively low cost, low effort, experiment to start instilling road sense into drivers. It starts off with “fear of being challened”. But then, when people start seeing the effect, I am sure fear would turn into respect and appreciation, and it would sustain.

Signed,

Eternal Optimist.

 

 

An afternoon with the trains …

The kiddo and me (both Railfans) were at the Bangalore Cantonment station for about 1.5 hours and we caught some nice action – about 7 trains. Pics below for public enjoyment ūüôā (Hover over the pictures for the caption)
 










Big Basket Features that I would love!

testimonialpage_01
image: bigbasket.com

I have been a big fan of BigBasket.com for quite a while now. While I love walking by the supermarket aisles and ‘discovering’ new products, bigbasket has taken away the stress of monthly grocery shopping for the family. To be fair, I should also disclose the fact that, we alternate buying weekly vegetables from bigbasket and our local HOPCOMS vegetable store (walking distance).

I had been thinking of a few things that bigbasket could introduce to make it even better. Having been a program manager (in a previous live at Microsoft), the first thing you do is to write a feature set / requirement spec. Here goes!

Weekly vegetable delivery. This is something similar to Amazon Fresh in select areas of the US. Most of India shops for veggies once a week, for a week. There is usually a preference on vegetables in most households. The vegetables could be a randomized set. (This is a common pain point when you buy veggies Рwhat veggies did you buy last week Рno one wants a repeat, leave alone several repeats). Ofcourse, no one minds repeats of favourite veggies (um, potato?). Send an email on Friday or Saturday listing a proposed selection of vegetables that would be delivered on Sunday. This would let the user to potentially tweak the order set. Guarantee freshness delivered at your door step, every weekend morning. I am sure you will get a bunch of customers asap.

Grocery is something that is fairly predictable too. Pulses, masalas, and other house hold goods are typically purchased at a roughly similar frequency. There is some infra that is already available with bigbasket for this Рin the form of smart basket. I got this idea from looking at my own shopping analytics that is available at bigbasket right now. If I can see it, so can the system, and make a prediction.

Festivals and Diets: You can incorporate all kinds of smarts into this too. Suggest more ghee and sugar during festive seasons like Diwali maybe? Suggest baking accessories during Christmas maybe? How about incorporating your diet plan into this as well? If you get broccoli every week, would you throw it away? Always suggest low sodium salt?

Recipes: Hey ! You are throwing in a bunch of veggies, and you know the other groceries that you have delivered recently, why cant you put together 2 recipes per week using these ingredients. Simple pictorial ones. Easy to understand, and prepare. Even better, add one or two more exotic ingredients (for free), which in conjunction with the veggies delivered and the groceries that you recently delivered, would make a super exotic meal. This is marketing for those two exotic ingredients. If they like this recipe, now, you have a regular customer for 2 more of your offerings.

Secret box: There are a few start-ups in the US that are attempting this now. For a monthly subscription, they will deliver a monthly surprise box containing cosmetics or snacks, or other similar consumable stuff. This is a great marketing tie-up opportunity with partners. Drop in a couple of satchets of the newest flavour of Saffola Oats – carefully concealed in some secret wrapping of course (to enhance the interest) for free with your delivery. Notice the delight in the customers attitude. You can also link this line item with the previous (recipe) for even more customer delight goodness.

Delivery: What if the customer does not really want you to deliver home? Get up early on a sunday morning to a doorbell? Really? I bet the idea of bigbasket kiosks are already running the rounds inside your org now. You should, and yes, I mean, you should, introduce kiosks for ordering and taking delivery of orders. Best place for these kiosks for the yuppie crowd would be malls and IT parks.

Well to paraphrase ‘Sound of Music’, these are a few of my favourite things. I would love Big basket to come up with these features. And I would be the first one to trial these out !! And well, yeah, to be fair, thanks BigBasket for letting me do some PM stuff that I had not done in quite a while.