Mobile Jewellery Shop – Lalithaa

Disclaimer: Most of what I talk about below – are my observations from Southern parts of India, and might not be applicable to Northern parts, which I am not very familiar with.

Lalithaa Jewellery seems to have introduced a mobile jewellery shop in the form of a modified long chassis bus. I think this is a darned good innovation. There used to be a time when the predominant way of doing jewellery was to go to a jewellers shop, where you discuss patterns, weight, wastage etc, and then the jeweller would custom make it for you.

Some of these jewellers in Tier 1 towns (such as NAC etc), who had access to capital and fast business movement, had ‘some’ ‘readymade’ stuff – things such as small silver tumblers, chains, rings etc – which are mostly impulse buys. In recent times, large box format stores (mostly chains which have large capital) have started making their presence (Malabar, Jos Alukas etc). These stores started off in Tier 1 cities, and now started slowly moving towards Tier 2 towns as well. Accessibility to ‘readymade jewels’ is significantly improved because of this. A ‘trip to the city’ is usually saved.

While accessibility is improved, it is not economical for these large format stores to go to every Tier2 and Tier3 towns. I think this is the market that Lalithaa is targeting. For some context, Lalithaa is one of those hybrid stores, which does some custom jewellery, but has predominantly large inventory of pre-made jewels. This bus looks to be a modified shell with a proper jewellery shop facade, counters, staff etc inside. The bus is now stationed in Theni (a Tier 2 town in the border of TN and Kerala), in a fair ground.

These large box stores do a ton of advertising on main stream cable/satellite TV – whose penetration in India has just exponentially risen in the last decade (next only to telecom). With the brand visibility already present, with the store coming to you, I think it is a novel technique to increase the reach.

Couple of feature-y things that come to mind –

a) Some rough schedule of the bus (perhaps a loop), so that folks in towns know when the next bus would be here next. Maybe even a call center or recorded info about the bus whereabouts.

b) Some form of demand capture – phone perhaps, (and in the long run through learning from data).

If this is successful (or not), I see this as a model that should be tried across other verticals too. Very interesting. #SolveForBharath

Empathy and PMs

I have been thinking about this word for quite a bit of time these days. Whenever I am talking to folks and describing my definition of being a Product Manager – almost every trait distills down to this one word – Empathy.

Now, let me try and recollect and jot them down here –

  1. Stakeholder management – One of the key traits that I believe a PM should have. The cliche’ phrase of PM being the CEO of a product, imho loosely translates to this. Unless you are empathetic to the various parties (product, tech, marketing, operations, leadership, …), you will not be able to get them on to the same page. You need to empathetic to the tech team as to why they are resisting a decision ~ perhaps this would involve tossing out a lot of code that they just wrote; you need to understand how they feel. You need to be empathetic to the operations team ~ perhaps they are short staffed during a certain time and they cannot handle so many escalations. You need to feel this issue. And so on.
  2. Customer empathy – this is a given. A PM should be the biggest voice of the customer within the company. This might be a bit contrary to the first point, but customer empathy trumps empathy within the teams. You do not care if code needs to be rewritten, or more support staff needs to be hired, but if the customer experience is affected, it is unacceptable.
  3. Strategy Roadmapping  – this is empathy at a different plane. A product leader needs to sense the emotions of the founding/executive team and the investors (if any), to see what would deliver the best RoI for these stakeholders. Too aggressive a roadmap might seem awesome to the investors, but not to the leadership team, but too sluggish a roadmap might make the investors lose confidence. This is extremely important. This is in most cases unspoken and very subtle.
  4. Project Management – lets face it. This is a part of a Product Managers job ~ in varying degrees depending on the org. Good PMs exhibit a bias towards action(shipping) and make a dent here. While strategy/road-mapping is part of steering the ship, project management is choreographing the drum-beat of releases. You cannot do either of these without a deep sense of empathy to the executors.

And for those who are wondering if empathy is a key trait only for PMs, nope, check out Rand Fishkin’s blog where he says –

The best skill I’ve developed and the one that’s served me best as a founder, a CEO, and a marketer is empathy.

I offer coaching/training on PM empathy. If interested, please ping me on gcmouli at gmail.


Informational Call for Potential Leadership Hiring

(img src: pixabay)

After a recent (particularly depressing) informational call for a Leadership position, I thought, I would pen down my thoughts on how an ‘optimal’ first conversation should be.

Some disclaimers: They are in no particular order of importance. These are my opinions. Your mileage may vary – but I would love to hear them, if you have one.

  1. If you are the Head HR and if you are going to get one of your junior HR folk to call/schedule/email details, please have a template or review the language. Firstly, don’t call it a HR interview (*gasp* and please don’t let the subject line be “Call Letter for HR Interview”). Secondly, it is not an ‘explanatory’ round. It is ‘exploratory’. I am not blaming the poor junior kid. It is up to leadership to ensure the right template is available.
  2. If this is an informational, please go first and talk about yourself and your company first. Informational does not mean, me going over my bio (while I really don’t have anything against that). I would rather go over some pertinent points if you have any questions (such as – why I left a certain company, or how was the difference in working between company foo1 to foo2 etc).
  3. Please do not ask me, why I am so pumped up and want to work with your company. For starters, I am not, and hence my request for an informational. Truth be told, an acquaintance of mine thought I might fit your requirements and had forwarded my CV to your CEO. So I think, it is more on you to sell your role to me.
  4. Immediately after I have told you how much I made in my previous stint, please do not say – “Oh. We do not believe in paying too much upfront. You have to come in and prove yourself and then we will see.” * Ouch *. Really? For starters, this conversation should ideally be the last thing that I should be speaking. Not in the informational.
  5. If you are evaluation process is — “First we will give you a case study round. If you pass that, then we will get you to speak to our leaders” — sorry, you have already lost me. You do not hire leaders this way. I am all for a case study round. But that is much later (imho).
  6. Make me feel good. Make me want to learn more about the company. How did the founders start this up? Ask me if I know about all this. Share interesting anecdotes. Give me data about how you are doing. About the diversity of people in the company. And the energy. And I can go on.
  7. Tell me about the team. Tell me why you joined the team. How much you enjoy working with this team. (And no, please do not use yourself as an example of how you joined without much of a pay hike, and you had to work hard to prove yourself, and then got really good rewards).
  8. Please be exactly on time. 3-4 minutes late, to me, is not Ok.
  9. If this is a video Skype call, please do not walk around your home/office/home-office. Yes, your wifi will break. Skype will freeze. And no, I do not want to see your home/offi….
  10. Lastly, at least, ask me if I have any questions. I sure did have quite a few. But they remain unanswered, and I probably do not want them answered at this point in time.

Find below a template that I put together, that can be used by HR/Leaders to have a first round informational for a prospective leadership hire.

  1. Say hi, hello. Get to know how the candidate would like to be called. Enquire stability of the internet/phone connection.
  2. Set the agenda.
  3. Talk about the company first. History. Team. Anecdotes. People. Funding.
  4. Talk about the role. Talk about what exists. What you are looking for?
  5. Ask the candidate for what I have enjoyed in my career journey so far, and what excites the candidate. Ask if there is anything special that stands out in the candidates CV.
  6. If the candidate already knows about the role — ask how she thinks she fits in for the role. Else, poise a question to ponder over – to get the candidate to think if she might fit the bill.
  7. Brief the candidate about the interview process and who are the people whom the candidate might be meeting with. Maybe even a bit about the role/position that each of them play.
  8. Give time for asking questions about the company/about the role.
  9. Give an opportunity to the candidate to think about this, and ask if the candidate might want to think about all this/digest and then come back – if she wants one more informational round – perhaps with a senior leader, maybe.
  10. Clearly sign off with a good note. Express that you are looking forward to these series of conversations.


I offer coaching/training on Leadership hiring for Senior leaders and HR. If interested, please ping me on gcmouli at gmail.

Food delivery USP


We occasionally order through Swiggy and Freshmenu. I order more frequently when the wife and kid are not in town. So far, I have been pretty happy with the quality of food, and of course, I order only from restaurants that I know, through Swiggy.

However, there is one consistent issue with the delivery/logistics. For the majority of times, there has been some leakage or seepage of some gravy or stir-fry, making its way on to every other container. Some times, it is a minor issue, and there has been at least once, where I had returned the food, where the cardboard container of my dosa was soaked in sambar.

Let us dissect this.

Factors that influence this mishap (in no particular order):

  • Packaging. I think this is taken care of by most players well enough. Freshmenu (and bowl company by Swiggy, and other major cloud kitchen players) have apt sized plastic boxes for wet stuff and cardboard boxes for dry stuff. The lids are pretty tight too. Have not faced issues there either. The restaurants that I order from, in swiggy, take care of this, as well.
  • Form-factor of the packaging and stackability. I think this is taken care of, as well. Most of these packages are standard sizes and neatly stackable.
  • The big bags of the delivery folks. The bag is a large box-ish bag with fairly solid sides. The guys stack the packages nicely as well. (So, I think, the process is not flawed).
  • The carrying of the bags. I think, this is where the problem begins. The boys sling the bag over their shoulder, rest the bag on the seats of their bikes and hit the road. I think during this time, the nicely stacked packages tilt. And hence seep and leak.

Potential solution:

While I am not an expert in logistics, let me propose a solution – the Dominos Delivery Box. This solution is not an original solution. I think, the Dominos guys solved this to an extent. The boxes are screwed on to the bikes. The pizzas and the other items are placed/stacked inside the box. So, other than the tilt of the bikes, during the traffic, there is no real tilting. I think this can also be reduced significantly by good packaging techniques and/or auto-balancing bases on the boxes.

As for the container of the food, the cloud kitchen guys have an advantage. As for the rest of the food delivery folks, my disclaimer (if you recall) was that, I order only from restaurants that pack well. If the food delivery guys want to nail the experience in the larger scale, Swiggy/Runnr/UberEats need to take packaging into their control. While I agree that it is a hard problem to solve, it would be the best damn experience. If I can order bisi bele bath from the local darshini, and the food still comes in a nice plastic leak proof tray – that is bliss. (For comparison data sakes, currently the darshini just plonks the food into an aluminium cover and heat-seals it.

An added feature that can be slapped on to this box, is a thermostat, and a feedback controlled heater – to maintain the food hot. There can be other IoT stuff instrumented into this box too – weight/temperature/time logging and tracking etc.

Food-tech/delivery guys – you listening? Now that the food delivery war is heating up (Swiggy vs Runnr vs UberEats vs Cloud Kitchen guys), it is all about USP. I think this might just be the two things. Food packed in clean containers (with no leakage/seepage) at the right temperature. Hmm. Yumm.

The need for labs …

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It is becoming increasingly evident that companies should be establishing labs inside their entities, for exploring new deep tech independently.

  • The labs should have the autonomy to go far-out into futuristic new deep tech without having to worry about current limitations.
  • The research function should be independent and should encourage creativity.
  • To a large extent the labs work should not have time pressures.
  • Productising these research ideas would be the key to differentiating the companies offerings in this hyper-competitive space.
  • These labs should not be led by architects or EMs. They should be led by people who have experience in doing research, preferably PhD.
  • Research rigour is important.

Some companies have been doing this for a very long time – Mercedes, Airbus, Sabre etc. Ixigo Kitchen Sink is a classic example from a few years ago. I am hearing of more newer companies starting to do this – Amadeus Labs, Rivigo labs etc.

It would be refreshing to see this happening in all the unicorns. For instance, I would imagine Swiggy would benefit immensely — so much funky stuff can be done on IoT, route planning, kitchen optimization etc. Similarly Go-MMT does a lot of research along with the day-to-day work. I believe that this is not the right approach. You should separate these two out – for best optimality. Else, engineers and PMs are permanently at a conundrum to see which is more important – long term research drivers or short term revenue drivers.

What do you guys think?

Chief Customer Experience Officer

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Follow-up to a mini post on a very pleasant customer experience with Bigbasket. I strongly feel that, any company which is interacting with customers on a regular basis, should have a Chief Customer Experience Officer.

Penning down some thoughts on the same below.

  • I did think for a little while, that this should be a major responsibility of the product leader, but on hind-sight, I do not think so. It is a large responsibility on the product leader to think about the customer and evolve the products/services of the company towards that, but there is much more that the product leader does.
  • I strongly believe that, a role focussed solely on the customer is much more beneficial than, it being part of the role, of another executive. It demands and deserves a separate role.
  • The CCXO (sure, it is a four letter acronym, and overlaps the generic CXO, but this is purely hypothetical) should have far ranging powers that span cross-functional domains.
  • The CCXO should be comfortable with tech, marketing, business, field, operations, and most importantly with the consumer landscape.
  • The CCXO should be the person who knows the most about consumer environment, pain points, and behavior.
  • The out reach of the CCXO evolves over time, because the environment, pain points, and behavior evolve over time.
  • The CCXO should have be the voice of the customer and be emboldened enough to argue against any/every other function in the company and fight for them.
  • The CCXO and Product Head should work very closely in planning out current features and future roadmap.
  • CCXO should have his/her own data sets and inferring mechanisms to make sense of the customer base, and impacts being made.
  • CCXO should also work closely with customer support and ensure delight and redressal happens without fuss. Processes and exception mechanisms, and empowerment of the team are important here.
  • End of the day, the CCXO is charged with creating beautiful customer experiences that are worth remembering.

Big Basket – Morning Cheer

img src: livemint

Is Big Basket doing any form of soft skill training to its delivery staff, or was my today morning delivery an exception?  The delivery person smiled a cheerful smile and said Good Morning.

Came in. Stacked the 9 items that I had ordered neatly on the floor. Read it out. Checked it. Collected the cash. Smiled.

And said, “Thank you. I hope you have a great day Sir.”, again with a very genuine smile. 

Wow. That sealed it. It goes to show how such a simple upgrade to the mundane delivery process, can affect the customer, in a good way.  Good going Big Basket. I hope you are doing this as a process.

How many of you would agree that, this should be the differentiator for such experiences?

What are we shipping today?

Ask any of the PMs who have worked with me, they will say that this is my favourite statement. I ask this statement at least once a day to them.

I was talking about this with one of the PMs who works with me, and I thought I would share some of the conversation highlights here.

  • Shipping is the most important outcome that any PM needs to aspire towards, at any given time. The more you ship, the better you are.
  • The primary reason for existence for a PM (in my humble opinion) is to ship. Sure, programmers code. Designers make the product beautiful and usable. Business folks give their requirements. Marketing folks get out the word. Customer support teams are on standby. But what is the use of all of this, if you do not ship. The PM is the glue that enables all of this to come together and ‘happen’.
  • Example of ‘shipping’ being considered a real (and an important) thing — the famous ship-it awards in Microsoft. Every stakeholder who was part of a release used to get a Ship-it award (a tiny trophy kind of thingie). MS folks proudly display these ship-it awards on their desks.
  • A lot of PMs that I know (including yours truly) come into this field from Engineering, Marketing, and various other fields. In most cases, we have boarded this ship, as a leap of faith. As a matter of fact, the best PMs are the ones who learnt on the go. It is incredibly hard to ‘explain’ to someone, or to ‘teach’ someone about ‘PM-ship’ (no puns intended). In these cases, the only way to ward off self-doubt (which is bound to happen) whether you did the right thing — is to ship. You keep shipping. And the spiral is always upward.
  • Shipping creates tangible outcomes. And it reinforces.
  • Ship incrementally. If this is not an option, get your devs to at least commit incrementally.
  • Lastly, you are known by what you ship.

The original conversation was a very free-wheeling conversation during our 1-1. And so, was this recollection of thoughts. The above is in no particular order.


(Cover image source)


Affiliate Programs in Travel

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This idea just came fleetingly to me today morning. Large ecommerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart have affiliate programs. You become an affiliate, and the platform lets you create a special URL to advertise products on their platform. You make a sale, and based on the product, and current ‘schemes’, you earn a % of the revenue. This is almost like a micro-store-front.

Large OTAs such as goibibo and yatra have b2b platforms, which they open up to travel agents. They also have APIs which third party platforms can consume and create their own booking interfaces. But these are complicated interfaces. Only a serious large player can invest in these. For instance, in the case of goibibo b2b interface, the travel agent would need to create a “wallet” like interface within goibibo, deposit a certain large amount (depends on the client – but mostly a few lakhs to begin with). Transactions that happen through the travel agent interface (or API) would consume money from the wallet (after deducting the % commission due to the travel agent).

The other class of “agent consumers” are of course, the travel agents who pose as individuals (create regular goibibo accounts) and book through these accounts. These are smaller operators, and tend to do all kinds of circus tricks such as referring their own accounts, playing with the go-cash between the accounts etc. And the OTAs hate these guys. Incentives are given, assuming, these are individual accounts, but they are not.

My question is – why haven’t the OTAs yet brought in the affiliate model for selling flight tickets and hotel rooms yet? This would have two major advantages:

  1. Bring in the above latter set of small scale travel agents to formalize on their transactions. Since they are not a separate class of consumers (affiliate partners), incentives to these guys can be controlled and distinguished from the other individual consumers.
  2. Bring in a whole new set of consumers, multiple thousand micro-store-fronts, who are not really booking tickets, but proliferating links to your deals with their affiliate codes on them, so that they can earn their commission.

The OTAs keep talking about how the online travel agent market has just touched the tip of the iceberg, and how there is a significant majority of our populace who have not even been exposed. This might be one of the ways, by which the net can be widened.

Oyo Airport

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It has been a while since I wrote a product feature post. A friend and me were having a conversation about the accommodation industry near airports. The Delhi airport has a neat strip of Airport hotels at the AeroCity area – mostly standard chain hotels such as Ibis, Lemon Tree etc. This is not quite true of all metros. Chennai has a couple, but mostly high end. Mumbai is slightly better, but the others just do not cut it. Bangalore has very few.

When it comes to Tier 1 cities, there are at least options in the city, but when it comes to Tier 2 towns, the need for a standardized hotel near the airport is much more. These are places, where the business traveller needs to fly in, stay, finish his work, and fly out, quickly – sometimes the same day.

So, I envisioned a chain like Oyo starting a vertical called Oyo airport. Let me attempt to list down the specific features that such a property should have.

  1. Proximity to the airport. This should be extremely close to the airport. It should be close enough that, at the end of the day, the traveller, having checked out of the Oyo Airport, should be a few minutes away from the airport.
  2. Shuttles to the airport. This is paramount. It should be a brain dead simple thing that the traveller should not even think about. When booking an airport oyo, the traveller should have an affordance to enter his incoming flight number (and outgoing, if he has already a return ticket). Technology should enable the concierge at the airport hotel to send the details of the cab/shuttle/van to the traveller. The same affordance stands for his return trip back to the airport.
  3. Flexible check-in times. People fly in at all kinds of hours. The check-in policy should be 24 hours.
  4. Flexible stay durations. There should be options to be able to book a room for half a day or other intervals. There are many a time, when the traveller would be arriving at a very late night flight. He needs a few hours shut-eye, and a shower, and he would be off for his work. The traveller might not return to his room at all. So why pay for 24 hours.
  5. International flights. Most international flights have long layovers. So the same point as the previous should hold good. Check-in at 11PM and checkout at 4AM. Why would I have to pay for 24 hours. Technology should also be able to help in allocating ground floor rooms for these travellers, so as to not disturb other guests. Room accessibility should also be taken care of, since these travellers would be travelling with large suit cases and bags.
  6. Food. Considering the uniqueness of timings of this kind of a hotel, there should be available a 24 hour cafe – serving light eats at all times, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner at specific times.
  7. Concierge cab services. Given that, folks are flying in, and mostly for business, these travellers would most likely need cab bookings done. An integration with a service like Ola b2b services, to be able to make cab bookings in advance.
  8. Oyo Airport vertical should ideally be in the premium segment, given the fact that, most people staying here are flying in, which is a higher spend demographic.
  9. Tie-ups could be made with airlines for check-in kiosks in the lobby as well.
  10. Tie-ups with flight+hotel deals with LCCs such as Indigo and Spice, could result in very high intent customers, leading to win-win for the airline and the hotel.