Personalized Hotel Rooms ?

There were serviced apartments that started popping up in cities like Bangalore a few years back. These were good alternatives to expensive full service hotels. A lot of frequent IT travelers liked these service apartments, because they were really good quality rooms, and they were inexpensive because they were no-frills. No service. Mostly no restaurants attached. This fit their bill perfectly.

But there was a problem. These service apartments were unorganized. You could only book them by calling them by phone. Some of them had a website, but most did not. Discoverability was a problem. This is being solved by a slew of new start-ups like OyoRooms, Ziproom, and stayzilla.

Now, allow me to add one more level of complexity into this problem – which could be a potential area where start-ups can spring up.

personalizedrooms

Personalized rooms. Seasoned business travelers love service apartments because of their no-frills approach, and are the ones who are fueling the reservation of these rooms through the new startups. But that does not mean to say that these travelers would not mind some personalization.Let me list a couple of immediate ideas that come to mind:

  1. Toiletries – For those who follow me on twitter, you would notice that this is a big peeve of mine. I am not a big business traveler, but I get irritated every time I am put through the “you-cannot-carry-toiletries-in-cabin-baggage’. This is the biggest bummer that happened after 9/11 in the US (which naturally percolated internationally). I would love to not carry toiletries at all during international travel. And you might ask – hey most hotels give you soap and some of them give you paste. I would want my brands to be there – cinthol/dettol soap + vicco tooth paste + fresh new brush + gillete mach3 razor+blade (disposable is fine) + nivea after shave gel. Now, if this is an add-on package to any of the room booking start-ups, I would glad plonk money on it.
  2. Travel – What if I can book a day cab or a cab for airport/station pickup or whatever need I have, while booking the room. Would that not be awesome? Sure, again, you might ask me, I could always use Uber/Ola/whatever to get the cabs on demand. But when I am on a business trip, I would like everything to be perfectly planned. I may sound pompous here – but I want my car waiting for me every time I want it. I would not want to be fiddling with my phone and getting a “No cars in your vicinity” message and getting stressed about it. Sure, the hotel could very well book an uber/ola on my behalf – I dont care, but I want it to be waiting for me.
  3. Food – What if the hotel can offer me a fixed simple veg meal when I return back to my room at 8:30PM. A simple Mast Kalandar HP2 would be perfectly fine. But I would not want to be the one ordering it on the way back to my hotel, and giving directions, picking it up, paying, and all of that. It would be so much value for money for me to just get into the hotel, my food is waiting ‘hot’ in the reception, for me to take to my room, and have it in peace. Sure, the hotel can tie up with swiggy, mastkalandar, urbanspoon, whatever. They can even ask me where I want the food from. But again, sounding as pompous as I can, I want the food waiting for me, when I get to my room, after a tiring day. Hey they can get fancy too – they can save my preferences, and just confirm if I would like to order the same as last time. I know a lot of travelers do that. You could get fancier, by enabling the service apartment reception to call you once just to confirm if you would be needing dinner (what if – you suddenly get pulled into a client dinner type situation); or perhaps a push notification on your phone. A lot of stuff can be done in this area.

Well, enough dreaming for now. Got to get to my boring day job. ūüôā

Hyperlocal for daily milk?

The current proliferation of Hyperlocal is awesome. I love it because of at least 2 reasons:

  1. I get stuff from my local area – a lot of times I am used to getting stuff from nearby where I live. These goods may or may not be available elsewhere.
  2. I get it from the local grocers and shopkeepers – so they are not affected by the so-called “e-commerce boom”. In fact hyperlocal enables ecommerce for these local guys who cannot afford to go and sell online.

Now, with that, out of my mind, let me get to a problem that every household faces. The problem of getting milk (and related items) every morning.

Daily home delivery of milk can be categorized into a couple of types:

  1. People who always order the same type of milk (full cream or toned or slim) and the same quantity every day.
  2. People who have coupons given by the milk guy for different quantities and types of milk. They drop these coupons in a bag outside the gate, and the milk guy delivers per the coupon dropped.

Even the first category guys have an on-demand requirement for other dairy and other bakery products such as curd, ghee, and bread (which, ofcourse has varieties – sandwich bread, milk bread, wheat, brown etc).

If you notice, one thing that is uniform across all the requirements is the fact that, in most times, the requirement is remembered only at 10PM the previous night and is required the next day morning. 

This is the official pain-point that is to be addressed.

Mockups courtesy the awesome moqups.com

mock1  mock2  mock3

This is not an extensive mockup, but you get the drift.

Additional features could be:

  • Location could either be the address that you signed up with, or can be configured using the GPS in your app.
  • The Date screen could have a way by which you can add recurrence. This would make it slightly more complicated, but might be useful for those who order the same thing again and again.

For best ease of use, I would recommend an online wallet. The delivery is most likely going to be very early hours in the morning, and hence could be cumbersome for COD.

Need for a new special logistic solution 

The one thing different about the logistics of this delivery problem is that, in most cases, the delivery would need to be drop into a bag/basket tied on the gate and leave. If the delivery is going to be at 5AM, this would probably need to be the case. This goes against the traditional delivery logistics of getting an ack from the customer.

This could be potentially be solved using:

Trust method. The customer trusts the hyper local delivery guy completely that he would delivery what he had asked for. He would just get an SMS or a push notification that the goods have been delivered.

Proof method: The delivery guy has some kind of a proof method that he did deliver the goods at the appropriate time. Perhaps he could place the goods in the appropriate location, click a snap with his logistics app which would imprint date/time on the snap and send it to you as part of push notification. More sophisticated RFID technologies could also perhaps be used Рbut I cannot think of any at the moment.

Well, @grofers, @amazonIN are you listening? Can we see this happening any time soon?

 

Zomato and their way forward

Been wanting to write about this for a while. Today seems to be the blogging day. Not feeling sleepy, and feeling an awesome urge to write, and write, and …

As you probably are aware, as of now, Zomato¬†is a restaurant discovery service. And a damn good one at that. They have taken this and scaled it like no one else’s business internationally. Buying UrbanSpoon in the US completed this strategy. They have the US market covered too.

So, now that, people can figure out where to go eat, or order delivery from, what are two things that they could move forward on.

Home Delivery for food. When you can show them where to order delivery from, why not deliver the food itself. This is what Zomato has been experimenting on, for a while (or so I read somewhere). There are already quite a few players in this industry, like the tiny TinyOwl which got some not-so-tiny-amount of funding, and others too (such as delyvery, swiggy, grofers etc). The modus operandi in most of these services is:to display the menu of the restaurant on their website

  1. Display the menu of the restaurant on their website
  2. Take the order from the customer (app or website or phone)
  3. Call the restaurant and create the order
  4. Send the delivery person to the restaurant to pick up the order
  5. Delivery person delivers the food.

The one hiccup that could happen (and happens a lot) in this strategy is the fact that restaurants can say that they cannot make a certain order item, because of chef-absent, raw-material-over, whatever-nonsensical-yet-plausible-reason. In this case, the middle delivery guy is hosed. He needs to call the delivery company, who then calls up the customer, and asks for an alternative order, and pass it back to delivery guy, to the restaurant, etc, and so on and so forth. You get the drift.

Zomato, from what I read, is planning to solve this problem in a pretty nifty way, by using technology. They are planning to give all participating restaurants a Point of Sale (POS) device – most likely an android tablet-like device. When an order comes into the system from a customer (app/web), it goes directly to the restaurant, which has the control to accept or reject order-items immediately. The one inefficiency, that was the delivery-call-center is gone. Once the order is accepted by the restaurant, the delivery guy is dispatched to the restaurant, who picks up the food and delivers. To me, this sounds like an awesome use of technology – well worth the cost of a cheap tablet – many many times over.

Now, let us step back. There are several more side-advantages of this approach. Zomato now has a foot (well, a technological foot) in the restaurant’s door.

  • Zomato and the restaurant can capture analytics on which food is most ordered.
    • Zomato could potentially even crunch the numbers and figure out how long a certain delivery might take, based on distance of customer from restaurant, timing of the order etc.
  • Zomato can run online specials in collaboration with the restaurant.
  • Zomato can feedback ratings from customers back to restaurants directly.
  • Zomato ratings for restaurants and the ‘price for two’ numbers can become accurate.

Table Booking: Now lets talk about the second direction in which Zomato could potentially expand. If you are a restaurant discovery service, and you have suggested a restaurant to a customer, who has narrowed into this choice, based on a variety of choices, the next easy thing to capture is to help the customer to book a table.

Sure, there are players in this market too –¬†bookyourtable.com, mytable.com etc.

What does Zomato have (or can do) that gives it an edge?

Well, let us go back to the first direction (home delivery) that we discussed in length earlier. We remember that Zomato was giving the restaurants a POS (point of sale) terminal – an android device, which was going to help in getting an order into the restaurant. This same device could very well be used to book a table in the restaurant. In fact, this booking would be so much more reliable and real-time. This would replace the register that the Maitre’D has on his podium at the entrance. So, when half the restaurant has been booked by a large party online, ¬†someone showing up at the door, would know immediately ; and vice versa.

With such a real time interaction between the restaurant and Zomato, one could do several more things as well:

  • Accurately enter the number of regular chair seats vs sofa seating and track the reservations based on this. (Personal problem that I have faced often).
  • Crunch analytics on when a restaurant is most crowded, how long (on an average) a table is occupied, and hence when a next slot can be opened up.

And ofcourse, let us throw in some capitalism for the fun of it:

  • Zomato could have ‘promoted’ hotels –
  • Restaurants could do dip pricing (my invented term – opposite of surge pricing ) for irregular hours
  • When a customer tries booking a table, and is unsuccessful, Zomato could suggest something else nearby. (This could also be the case, when you have booked a table, but the restaurant is so busy, that they cannot guarantee you, and make you wait).

Summary: I have been a big fan of Zomato and what they have been doing. And I see these two directions as promising directions that they are heading (could head towards).

Well, I have to say this. I do have one thing I did not like that Zomato did. This was when they moved from Bangalore to Gurgaon. They tried trash talking Bangalore to lure devs to Gurgaon. While it got them a lot of publicity, I kind-of felt that was in bad taste. Well, to each, their opinion.

Ecommerce kiosks

I had toyed with this idea earlier when I wrote the “Ideas for Bigbasket” post. The idea then was to have these internet enabled kiosks where folks could order stuff from big basket and perhaps even collect stuff from these kiosks/counters. Fundamental premise at that time was this was still for the yuppie crowd, but for those who do not want to sit on a computer and order, and most definitely do not want to wait at home for an order to arrive.

More recently, on reading this article about Flipkart going fully the app way (and most likely closing the flipkart.com route), this idea popped back into my mind. Kiosks as I mention above are probably best served using an android interface, and what better news than an ecommerce provider going fully the app route. (Sure you could do this even if it was not fully the app-route, but this was what caught my attention!).

So, let me try and use my static brain a little here, this fine tuesday morning, to see if I can come with a feature set for a kiosk like this.

1. Kiosks –¬†An ATM like machine with only the ecommerce app loaded on to the screen, where customers can order. There could be one or many depending on the traffic the place sees.¬†This would have to be a secure room such as those found for ATMs. Solid power backup and reliable internet connection would have to be a must.¬†The kiosk must have the capability to be open 24 hours. This gives access for someone to pickup their order even late at night.

2. Positioning of kiosk My thinking has changed since my Bigbasket post. I think this kiosk can be anywhere and everywhere. It just needs to be high traffic. In a place like Bangalore, it could be in the BDA complexes. It could be in the MTC bus depots (like the T.Nagar Depot) in Chennai. It could be in the minimarkets (like Brahmaputra market РSec 29) in Noida. It could be the megamarkets (such as Sarojini nagar Market) in Delhi. Well, these are the places I have lived for significant periods of time, but you get my drift. This is no longer for the yuppie crowd.

3. Manned vs unmanned kiosks: There could be manned kiosks where registrations can be facilitated by a personnel. These manned kiosks could potentially also take cash payments. Unmanned kiosks would have no personnel and could only be used order and take delivery of items using debit/credit cards. Unmanned kiosks could be 24 hours but manner kiosks could be open for a limited time. No special training for personnel would be required, since a current delivery logistics person could very well be reused to man this job- since the job function is exactly the same Рexcept he does not go door to door, but deliver at a single point.

4. Access and payments would have to be through a card facilitated through the ecommerce company and potentially a bank. These cards could be applied for either online or through a help person sitting in the kiosks. These cards could be either preloaded debit cards or credit cards. Bank faciliated cards would take off a liability from the ecommerce company and help greatly on processing payments. Top up on cards can potentially be made easier with top-up cards similar to the pre-paid phone cards that are very popular now.

5. Pickup The access card could be used to unlock a locker, where orders can be picked up. Perishables have a timeline before which one needs to pick the order up. SMS alerts could be set up for locker opening and closing and when the order is available in the locker for pickup. This locker concept has already been tried out in the US by Amazon and is technically feasible. I do not know how successful the experiment was, but cultural significance matter and we cannot rule out it not working here.

6. Ordering would be easy. The card would authenticate them. They browse and choose the product they want to order. If the pickup location is a manned kiosk, COD would be a possibility, else, it would have to be credit/debit card payments.  The existing UX for the app could very well be reused. The delivery location however could have a default location, which is the kiosk location itself. The customer can choose to order here and deliver elsewhere as well.

Advantages to the ecommerce company:

1. Logistics is simplified to a great extent. It can be potentially much faster, since there just needs to be one trip from the motherhub of a city to the kiosk location. Cost reduces because of this simplification as well.

2. Reach is significantly expanded. People who do not have a stable internet connection at home, or a smart phone with an internet connection can easily order stuff off the web now.

Disadvantages to the ecommerce company:

1. There is one more entity that needs to be managed now – the kiosks.

2. There is always a risk of vandalism and pilferage. This needs to be managed carefully.

Advantages to consumer:

1. Biggest advantage to the user would be in the delivery segment. He does not need to be at home to receive the package. He can go to the kiosk on his way home and pick it up on the go. The yuppie consumer would probably still be using this phone or web to order, but would probably use this delivery mechanism for ease of pickup.

2. For a not-so-yuppie consumer, this could mean, he could order something off the web without using up his bandwidth on his phone or broadband. He could also do this at a location which he frequents daily (such as a bus stop).

3. For the masses, the reach would be huge. Now a much larger section of society would have universal access to anything they want to buy. Until now, the restriction for a large section of our society is to buy whatever is available in the store that is closest to where they live. If it is not available there, then it is not available at all. This could change all that.

Disadvantages to consumer:

1. The only disadvantages that I could probably think off here is adding yet another card for access to this kiosk, and potentially a long line that is waiting for pickup. But these could be easily worked around by introducing swift and efficient workflows.

 

 

On adapting successful UX methods

I notice User Experience (UX) differences and how they affect my productivity. I love products who focus on great UX. I love products who continually evolve their UX to become better and better. You know what I love even more – products who recognize good UX behaviors and adapt it to their own. And I recently came across a fine example of the latter – Twitter.

Screenshot_2015-04-16-11-37-48

This is the android twitter app. Do you see the “New Tweets” button at the top. This is very new. Facebook has had this for ages (it is called “New Stories” and it the button has a more oval structure to it). Clicking on the “New Tweets” button lets you know that there are new tweets and that you can click on that to scroll up to the latest tweets. This also saves you a pull down gesture, which is kind-of hard to do if you are holding and operating your phone with one hand (which is a pretty common use case).

My principal point here is that, if you recognize a good UX mechanism, it is my personal believe that, there is nothing wrong in adapting the mechanism to your product (unless it is patented ofcourse). It helps standardize UX across classes of apps. There is also a sense of sharing between the companies. I am sure FB spent quite a bit of UX effort coming up with their equivalent.

Request: As always, I have one request, which I am sure Twitter will not see, but that is fine, I will indulge myself. I would love to see the “New Tweets” button¬†enhanced with the number of new tweets ¬†– example – “132 New Tweets”. Twitter has the underlying algorithms for this, since it is present in their webapp.

Aur Dikhao – Bordering on Linguistic Chauvinism?

I recently noticed something awkward when I was searching for a product in amazon.in. I had searched for USB hubs and when I scrolled down to the bottom of the list, I saw this:

aurdikhao

As much as a nationalist that I am, as much as I am pragmatic to think a common language of communication is a good idea, I feel that this would go against the grain for a significant population of online India.

While the fact that Hindi is India’s national language itself is a contentious issue, I cannot imagine, how an online market place platform such as amazon can generalize and use a non-English phrase in a website which is mostly English otherwise.

Please do not get me wrong. I am not an anti-Hindi person, while most people who have read my name and figured out that I am from South India, have already stereotyped/judged me. I am proud of the fact that there is atleast one incident in a month, where a colleague/acquaintance mistakes me for a “North Indian”. Yes, I speak fairly good colloquial hindi.

Getting back to the issue at hand, I am wondering what the Program Manager, who was handling this campaign was thinking. Hindi is one of several tens of languages in India. Was there an intent to do some data mining and show this Hindi term only for some demographics? Or was it for all? I have worked in an online search entity before, and I know you can do magic like that. In a country like India, linguistic patriotism runs deep in the blood – to the extent, that the first partitioning of the states was done on the basis of language spoken.

In India (as in other areas such as Switzerland), it is not a question of whether a user understands the meaning of “Aur Dikhao”. The user would know the meaning and still pretend not know and judge the portal for being linguistically chauvinistic.

Amazon, please be inclusive and remove this abomination of an anomaly. If you really wish to do this, translate the entire damn page into Hindi. And while you are it, translate it also into Tamizh, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, and the two dozen more ‘predominant’ languages of India.

On Flipkart and Dabbawalas

I read an article today that Flipkart is beginning to work with the famous Dabbawalas of Mumbai for last mile delivery. The efficiency of these tiffin box carriers of Mumbai has been lauded so much that there is even an Harvard Business Review Case Study on them. Much has been written about these men who wear the white cotton kurtas and ensure hot food from homes reach office goers at the perfect time. In other words, it is a classic example of a supply chain model which has been perfected over the years.

So, now on to todays news of Flipkart and their tie-up with the dabbawalas. Apparently at this moment in time, this is in pilot, and a group of dabbawalas are being trained for delivery. Initially they would only be handling orders that are already paid for (would not be handling COD).

This is a pretty innovative thing that Flipkart is getting into. I see several areas where both Flipkart and the dabbawalas can mutually benefit from such a tie-up.

Additional income for the dabbawalas: This is probably the one that bubbles up first. The dabbawalas current schedule mostly works in 2 spikes. One spike to delivery the dabbas from home to offices, and the other to collect the dabbas back from the offices and deliver it back to home. The other times are pretty much open to them to earn additional income.

Additional¬†delivery people for Flipkart: They can choose to be the ‘uber’ of delivery-men. Let me elaborate here. When dabbawalas have their spike time done, and they are free, they can intimate to flipkart, that they are free and for how long. If the logistics and supply chain software is able to allot him a ‘ride’ or a ‘job’ that can be executed within that time, and he is comfortable with it, he can pick it up, and deliver it. This creates an additional pool of delivery people for flipkart. (Another pilot is happening in Bangalore with Flipkart trying a crowd-sourced delivery model).¬†

Processes knowledge sharing: The dabbawalas have perfected the art of sorting, colour-coding, and routing, within a congested city like Mumbai. If they have arrived at this amazing process, which works in a chaotic environment like Mumbai (and mostly using either public transportation or low-key transportation such as bicycles), this model can be replicated in many other cities.

At the end of the day, what the dabbawalas do is to pick up dabba from point X and deliver it to point Y. Isnt this what Flipkart does too, in its last mile delivery Рpick up package from Flipkart distribution center  at location X, and drop off at location Y (customer)?

This may not be only one way. For all you know, Ekart (which is the delivery wing of Flipkart) may have come up with some processes as well, which uses more modern tech and the use of sophisticated algorithms. It is very well possible that some of this might end up being beneficial in automating processes in the dabbawala community. An immediate example that comes me is bar-coding stickers instead of the traditional color coding.

Dabba delivery as a business: Well, who knows. If this proves lucrative and serves multiple purposes such as delivery on the way, flipkart might even get on to it.

Food delivery: If you replace the origin of the dabba from home to a restaurant, you have food delivery. If you replace restaurant to a catering service, you have a subscription based tiffin service.

The possibilities are endless…

 

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 Рwhat 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 Рvendor 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.

4 things I would love to see Mast Kalandar do

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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 ūüôā 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 Рperhaps 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.