My latest email hack to get to / Stay at Inbox Zero

To set context, I am a very heavy email user. I tend to not like unread emails. I like to respond in a timely fashion (often times, very quickly). I am always on the lookout for good hacks. This is for my official email. I 💗 Inbox-Zero.

  1. Emails that I get are either actionable or archived for later reference
  2. Those that are actionable are:
    1. emails that I need to reply to
    2. emails that I need to follow-up on / be on my radar
    3. emails that I need to read later / watch later (meeting recordings etc)

As far as the ‘archive’ part in (1), I just hit Archive button. Exchange email search is pretty good. If the desktop ain’t that good, the Outlook Web Exchange (OWA) is leagues ahead. So you can choose. (I usually go to OWA for searching purposes).

For the ones that are actionable, if I can respond quickly to an email immediately, without having to refer anything or having to write a long-form email (I try as much as possible not to do this) and hence most likely not taking more than 30s, I action immediately.

For those emails that I need to read, refer, respond in detail, it goes into a folder called _Current (the underscore is an old habit to bubble up in text sort). Just adding it as a favourite folder is good enough actually. Other emails that go into the _Current folders are misc to-dos that I need to keep track of or det done.

I usually am following up stuff closely with <5 people. In my current scenario it is 3 – two of my direct reports and my engineering manager peer. All emails that are on the radar for follow-up go into the respective _Current<Person> folder.

Automated system emails from AzureDevops, FinanceReports, HR automated emails go into respective folders using Rules.

I keep scanning my Inbox 2-3 times a day to funnel stuff into the above CurrentFolders. Once or twice every week in my team meeting or 1-1s, I chug through the _Current<person> folders. It remains there if it requires more follow-up, or gets archived when done.

I have been doing this for the last 2-3 weeks, and it has been working like a charm. Let’s see how it works in the long run. One of the things I know I would need to worry about later, if there are more folks that I need to follow-up closely with. But then limiting that list would reflect my management / delegation abilities.

Book Review: Lets Talk Money

Author: Monika Halan

  • Easy read. Talks about familiar concepts but in a very pragmatic manner. Simplifies a lot of concepts.
  • If you want deep details, this is not the book for you. I wanted to read this book and Richest Man in Babylon, before I moved on to my next read – Psychology of Money.
  • Some main points that I recall and stood out to me:
    • Set up your cash flow streams – have separate accounts for spend it and invest it – and set up transfers.
    • Life insurance and health insurance are very important
    • Separate out Life Insurance from investment. Just do term insurance. If you do not reap the payout, it is a good thing (nothing untoward happened). The premium is the money you pay to someone who is backing your risk.
    • Mutual funds are great. The book explains market cap and indices in simple language.
    • Index funds are one of the best investments if you do not want to be tracking your investment too deeply.
    • Physical gold and real estate are still popular mainly because of legacy reasons.
    • Having a roof over your head is great, but that should be it. Don’t go in for investment purposes.

I am glad that both of these books are of the same philosophy as I am (my belief is reaffirmed) that, at the right time of your life, when you can afford it, your own owned roof above your head is a good investment.

I do have a personal caveat for the age-old second property ownership debate – again – at the right time of your life, and if you can afford a second home and the property is at a good location to let it out for a decent rental, I think its a good investment. It earns for you.

Overall this book is a good breezy read. Surprised myself by finishing it off in a day. Concepts are much more lucidly explained with good relatable examples. I think the relatable is what differentiates it from other books. The examples it provides, such as the pushy insurance salesman, and the uncle buying a property because someone told him it would appreciate 3X, are scenes that we see in everyday life in India.

Book Review: The Richest Man in Babylon

  • Author: George S Clason
  • This is a classic from 1926. One of the things that I realize is that – the typical questions that one faces about money and savings have remained pretty much the same. If one were to extrapolate, since the book uses parables from Babylonian times, maybe we could say that the questions have been the same from those times.
  • The concepts in the books are familiar ones.
  • The language – especially dialogues between folks in the stories – is archaic. Will take some time to get used to.
  • If the stories about the clay tablets and the contents mentioned, are true (I did not go and research further), then it is definitely fascinating education about the advanced civilization that seem to have thrived in Babylon.
  • I am summarizing just some of the brief concepts here:
    • Put a minimum of 10% of your earnings as savings. Try to live your life within the 90% as thought that much is your earnings.
    • If you have earlier debt, after you keep aside your 10%, keep 20% of your earnings as debt clearance. Go and renegotiate with everyone you owe money to and establish some a credible new repayment schedule.
    • Gold (money) should multiply and not idle.
    • One should not be miserly either. Keep aside for saving and enjoy within the remaining means.
    • Work hard and increase your ability to learn. I found this interesting – because it explicitly states that strengthening your skills by working hard can increase how much you can earn.
    • Keep money aside for old age and dependents.
    • Lend money to credible folks whom you know will multiply that money for you. (Interest) – the story of the cattle and the ass, told by the money lender, is a pretty interesting one.
    • Wherever you are in the financial strata, you can bounce back, if you put your heart and sole into it. Story of the slave who later became a camel trader

It is a fairly easy to read and a good revision of familiar concepts. I had been wanting to read this book, which has been on my book shelf for long. The first few chapters might seem daunting, mainly because of the archaic language. But once, you chug through them, you will get used to them.

The Travenues Story …

Moving this from my twitter pinned thread to here. It is time that I move on, and this is a logical intentional move to ‘get over it’.

On July 21, 2020, we announced that Spicejet acq-hired Team @travenues. What a fantastic 2 years that has culminated in this outcome today. Brief history thread with some experiences thrown in.

https://www.livemint.com/companies/start-ups/spicejet-acqui-hires-ixigo-subsidiary-travenues-11595312803601.html

Aloke Bajpai (@alokebajpai) and me have known each other since around 2015-ish. And yes – for those curious, the relationship did start with breakfast-and-dosa. I have been doing the #DosaWithMouli ever since I got into the startup ecosystem. No-agenda conversations over breakfast. Just get to know each other and the awesome stuff folks are building. I have met a significant percentage of my network through #DosaWithMouli.

Most of #DosaWithMouli has been in Sukh Sagar, Koramangala.

Back in March of 2018, the idea to start travenues was born. @alokebajpai and @rajnishkumar had always wanted to do a b2b travel play, and we felt that this was the opportunity. I was hired as VP – Special Projects for ixigo. Was still exploratory at that time. I looked around for a co-working space in Bangalore. A cupboard at home was the IT stock cup-board for the macs procured. Printed biz cards, stickers from Printo. You get the drift 😉

First cabin at 91SpringBoard and the laptop stickers we printed

Met and befriended so many folks at 91Springboard – folks like Sanket and his merry band at digio.in ; lalit and his gang at groww. Fun time.

With tons of help from ixigo’s HR/Talent team, we were lucky to onboard a rockstar team (with experience from the likes of swiggy, grofers, amazon, matchmove). HR, Admin, Finance were all remote from Gurgaon (for those wondering, yes, this is definitely possible).

We started off with a small 6 seater at a co-working space. The early days were heady and fun. It is amazing when you are part of the team where the team starts to build from zero (literally create gitlab account and do the first commit).

Fun fun fun ! (Did I mention the amazing Paratha that the 91sb in house check in their terrace cafeteria

We worked hard and partied hard. By partied hard, I mean, we visited every restaurant in Koramangala ….

Yes. Almost every restaurant in the vicinity …
We did an amazing offsite to Saklespura, won TT tournaments, celebrated birthdays, had a most awesome-max potluck. Phew

Meanwhile, I was out at CAPA and aviation festival conferences, getting our next few airline prospects. We won a couple of accolades – the Innovation Award from CAPA and the runner-up at the Amadeus Startup Pitch at WIT.

We won the Innovation Award at CAPA and snagged an exhibition slot.
We came a close runner-up at the Startup Pitch at WIT.

Learnt a bunch of sales, persuasion, partner management and a whole lot of other stuff on the go (did I mention thats the best ever way of learning stuff!).

With my bi-monthly red-eye trips to SG in Delhi, our relationship with our first paying customer (SpiceJet) forged deeply. Travenues engineers worked super closely with the SG counterparts and built this amazing next-gen e-commerce platform, that we were so proud of.

What we had built was something that did not exist, a beautiful B2B E-commerce SaaS platform for the aviation industry – call it a ‘Shopify’ for airlines, if you will. Configurable and extensible to the hilt, and deployable on any airline within months.

And I was out there pitching to new airlines in the South East Asia Region. There was definitely interest and we were moving forward (albeit slowly, but that is normal for the aviation industry, as I was told by Industry veterans).

That is when CoVid-19 struck. Quite understandably, the climate was not right for several of these airlines to invest in new tech. (in fact one of the airlines even liquidated).

SG was bullish about this, and very aligned with the future of the platform, and the wide opportunities that it presented. And culminated in the acqui-hire announcement.

Phew. What a journey. 0->1 at its best. And it would not have been possible without my fantastic team, Aloke Bajpai, Rajnish, and all of the support teams of ixigo. Y’all know who you are.

Image

HoneyCode and Amazon design

Suhas Motwani pointed me to honeycode.aws. This is airtable + zapier + more. Prepare to get disrupted (again). This is the amazing power of platforms. The thing is – AWS probably did this in half the time and effort (or less) that the startups pour into it – because they have the blocks, and it took a small pizza team to put it together.

This is probably the biggest fear of startups – what if one of the big guys created something like this!

The biggest thing that jumped at me was the design –

  1. Neat airy design
  2. Humaans type image
  3. Color icons
  4. Deviation from their usual black-blue-orange scheme
  5. EmberSerif for headings – not seen serifs on amazon pages before.

Very refreshing from the usual drab designs that Amazon typically has. Someone at Amazon really stuck their neck up and did something different. Kudos.

Communication …

Communication (n) – a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.

During this very difficult time of the entire world fighting the CoVid-19 virus, companies have been forced into this new normal – a way of getting things done through entirely remote teams, connected virtually through mediums such as Google Meet/Zoom (meetings), Slack / MS Teams (asynchronous communications), and of course good old Email.

In this blog, I will attempt to condense my decade or so of learning to communicate properly. These are years of communicating with geographically dispersed teams across three continents, with teams that worked on strong waterfall models, with teams that have been extremely agile and dynamic, with cross-functional teams (business vs tech vs product), with teams that were amicable vs hostile ; you get the gist. Disclaimer – This subject is huge, and I am still learning.

Up until now, good/great communication has been seen as a productivity booster ; but now, with this new norm, it is a necessity ; and can potentially do harm if not done properly.

Just to recap, the advantages of good communication remains the same as always:

  1. Unambiguously transmission of information
  2. Get alignment
  3. Take quick decisions
  4. Reduce communication strain (reduce unnecessary back-and-forth flow of information)

And lets dive into the thick of it. These are points that are in no particular order (of importance or otherwise).

Email: 

  1. There is not a more trite advice than writing concise short emails ; but people still do not follow it.
  2. Subject line should always say exactly what the email contains. This is the first level of mind filter. Use it to your advantage. If it is important, use tags such as [Important], [Blocked], [Need Your Approval] etc to identify actionable emails.
  3. Start the email always with a sentence on what this email is about. Most people will choose to read the email or not or park for later depending on this.
  4. In this first sentence, always ensure you are setting the expectation for the reader on what she will get out of this email. Use phrases such as ‘short list’, ‘summary of..’, ‘detailed explanation of ..’.
  5. Use bullet points thereafter. The human brain processes this much better. Seeing three bullets (with explanations if required) gives the user a sense of quantifiable effort required to read/process the email – than three paragraphs (which will 90% get skipped).
  6. Last sentence – always summarize. Highlight or bold or identify with [Summary]. The hurried email reader will be super happy.

Slack:

  1. Use the right channels. Tag the right people appropriately.
  2. Decide when to write on channel and tag someone or DM someone directly. Its important. If the Signal-to-Noice ratio becomes unmanageable, focus workers such as developers and designers will inevitably mute the channel.
  3. Use @channel very sparingly – only for appreciations and announcements
  4. If you are a leader, and you are going to be doing this often, have a separate channel for the same.
  5. Have a separate channel for fun and banter.
  6. Decide early whether you want to have project based channels (#new-design-revamp, #add-apple-wallet, #loyalty) or any other way of identifying channels (#android, #ios, #frontend, #ui, #design)
  7. Use threads to your advantage. Keeps the channel clean.
  8. Use the ‘Sent to Channel’ also option sparingly. It is always confusing to see the same thing in two places. Reserve it for important information that you want to surface to the entire channel.

Zoom / Hangouts / Phone:

  1. Always set context on email / invite. Always repeat context in the first 2 minutes of the call (if you are leading the call).
  2. If there is a decision that needs to be taken in a meeting, there has to be someone who will continuously need to be on the look-out that, the conversation steers in that direction.
  3. If it is a catch-up call, that one person needs to ensure that, there is equal mic-time for everyone.
  4. For detailed discussions, Amazon’s written spec method or a separate presentation-followed-by-discussion is the best. We should all accept reality that not all discussions can be done in a status/catch-up meeting. Relevant folks have to get back together virtually and do it separately.
  5. Short focused meetings help attendees feel that meetings are not a waste of time. A few vague meetings are enough to change this perception. As a leader or yet another meeting attendee, let us do each of our bit to ensure that this does not happen. (This is also called meeting fatigue).
  6. For important meetings. one person should always take down notes.
  7. Brainstorming sessions are a different beast, which I will blog about later, as a separate post.

Hope this free rambling set of communication learnings help. Will try and write more on these in the days to come.


How to choose your co-working space

img src: wikipedia

Context – I had never worked in a co-working space until about a year ago. Made some mistakes, moved, made some mistakes, and moved again. So I guess I want to pass on these learnings to others who might end up in the same scenario.

  • Washrooms. Sounds gross/crude – but take a team member of either sex to go inspect. And inspect once more (another day) towards the evening. Will give you an idea of how frequent they clean.
  • Washrooms are non-negotiable. If they stink one day, do not dismiss it as – perhaps just that day it is stinking (community managers might tell you that). If it stinks even one day, run away. Shows the seriousness of the management.
  • Community Managers. Talk to them. Chat up with them. They are usually friendly. Ask how long they have been there. How much autonomy they get in running the center <– this is very important. Observe how they give a tour. The prouder they show you stuff, the more ownership.
  • Common Area. Ensure you ask for common area. Space for having lunch. Space for just ordering tea and sitting/taking a break. Make sure it will remain. Make sure it is mentioned in the contract. In one of the spaces we were in, common area suddenly was sold off to a client. Ensure that the common area is spread out. Nice to have – common areas / nooks spread out across the floors. Common area is different from play area. If your team is young and fun, look for TT tables/foosball etc. Again, make sure / ask if it will remain and won’t disappear.
  • HVAC (Air-conditioning) – This can really mess up workspaces and your team. If the floor has central AC, check who has access to the thermostat. Make sure it is handled only by the fac team. Walk around and check if temp is uniform. AC draft balancing is a science. Inspect on two separate days at different times – If it is too cold or too hot on either of the days, something is wrong. And if it is wrong on that day, it will be wrong many days. (Same as washrooms). Non-negotiable. At one time, my guys were wearing hoodies and working.
  • Infra – Check for seepage. AC duct drips. Glass cracks etc. If these exist on both days of your visit, then the team isn’t good enough to maintain the facility. We had buckets under the AC ducts in one of our workplaces.
  • Meeting rooms – Check if there are enough for your team. Check if at least some of them have TVs / whiteboards. Check if the TVs have HDMI/Chromecast. Check how to book meeting rooms. If they say whatsapp or physical book/register, run away.
  • Even if one of the meeting rooms has a sign saying – “Reserved for company Foo” on both days, think twice. Long reservations of meeting rooms for companies does not usually bode well for others.
  • Food – Best case scenario if the Coworking space has a wet kitchen on a terrace of a cafe attached. Food brought in from outside and heated doesn’t usually bode well. Do peek in to the pantry/heating room. Check for hygiene.
  • Pantry – Coffee/water dispenser area – bare minimum. Take a close look at the counter where the coffee machine / tea / sugar is kept. How clean is it? Can give you an approx idea as to how effective housekeeping is. Look at the sink. Loaded? Clean?
  • Internet – Look for the wifi routers. Ask about how one signs in. The best guys have location based auto sign-ins. Sub-optimal ones have a user-name/password to sign in. Check the speed. Ask the community manager to show fast.com results on their mobile. Check if they have back-up internet providers, if one provider conks off. Ask about any specific requirements like – we needed port forwarding and a static IP for our biometric machine.
  • Housekeeping staff – In both of your visits, look out for house keeping staff. Are they on the move. Are they even there? Ask for the cleaning schedule. Do they deep-clean on weekends? How many staff they have? And who supervises them? How does one request help from them?
  • Parking facilities – a lot of the co-working spaces do not have enough car parking spaces. Two wheeler spaces are available though, but they are paid for. Check the process for that.
  • Entry / exit formalities – Ask explicitly about security deposit, what it covers. If you are customizing stuff, explicitly check if there are any re-fitting charges. We removed a glass partition and were shocked to hear about a refitting charge !!

Over-all, basically, if you are working out of a co-working space, there are always trade-offs / sub-optimalities. These are proportional to the per-seat rent in most places. The higher you go, the better it is. There might be exceptions of course.

It is up to you to figure out, at which point your company is, how much you can pay, and which of these trade-offs you can live with. Happy co-working folks !!

Badrinath Dehradun Trip – Oct 2018

Flights:

  • Bangalore – Dehradun: Saturday afternoon. Indigo 6E 911. Leaves BLR around 1PM and reaches DED around 4PM.
  • The return flight for the same leg was way too expensive (Close to Dussehra dates). Hence did DED – DEL (Air India (AI 9610) at around 7AM. A 40 minute flight to DEL.
  • Terminal change. And DEL – BLR by Indigo (6E 2423) at around 1PM.
  • Booked these flights pretty early – about a month in advance  – got decent rates.
Beautiful picturesque Dehradun Airport
Dehradun Airport – Two is a crowd 🙂

Ground transport:

  • The best way to do pilgrimage in this part of the world –  is to take the services of a local cab person.
  • I had gotten the contacts of Mr. Prem from Twitter (@mohithkrishna). Mohith had done a couple of trips with him.
  • Mr. Prem is from Rishikesh, has a well maintained Ertiga, and has been doing these trips in around the Char Dham for the last 22 years!. There is no online booking etc. You call him up. He writes down in his diary.
  • You communicate/remind/confirm using Whatsapp. Since he had seen my DP and I his, on Whatsapp, it was super easy for him to locate us. 

Prem-ji can be reached at — 98971 83145 / 94124 09127

Accommodation:

  • All accommodation was booked with Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (GMVNL) – through their online portal – gmvnl.in.  Horrible user interface, but hey – online booking + payment works.
  • Note: If you want to book for one night – say Check-in on Oct 5th noon and check out Oct 6th morning – choose Oct 5th and Oct 5th as From and To dates. 😉
  • You will get email confirmations.
  • GMVN is never fancy. Spacious basic bedrooms and relatively clean bathrooms. Government organisation. Best locations guaranteed though. Be prepared for warm good staff but with extreme Government inefficiencies though.
  • Day1 (Saturday night) – Ganga Resort Rishikesh – Newly opened. Very good rooms. Facing the Ganga. Superb views. 
Room with a view – Ganga Resort – Rishikesh
  • Day2 (Sunday night) – Devlok – Badrinath. Closest feasible to the temple – which is still a good km from the temple, through a pretty steep slopey road. But brilliant locations. 360 degree peak views from outside the rooms. 
Neelkanth peak taken at 5AM from near our room.
GMVN Devlok Badrinath
  • Day3 and Day4 (Monday/Tuesday night) – GMVN Rishilok – They have nice rooms and cottages. Fairly central in Rishikesh city. 
(Not my picture. Google images)

Itinerary:

 Day1 (Saturday): 

  • Dehradun airport is closer to Rishikesh airport than Dehradun city. So plan accordingly. Prem-ji met us at the airport and it is about a 40 minute drive of really good paved road to Rishikesh. Reached Ganga resort within an hour. Checked in comfortably. Freshened up. 
  • Left around 5ish to Paramarth Niketan for Gangaji Aarti. Have seen this before and it is one of the best in Rishikesh (second being at Triveni Ghat). 
Paramarth Niketan seen from the ferry
Ganga-ji in all her glory
Lakshman Jhoola beautifully lit up
  • Dinner was at Chotiwala – right next door. Have eaten here. Lots of hype. The food is normal, but clean/consistent. 
  • Night stay at Ganga Resort, Rishikesh.

Day 2 (Sunday):

  • Prem-ji had made it very clear. 12 hours to Badrinath from Rishikesh. So if we start at 430AM, we reach at 430PM. The later we leave, the later we reach Badrinath, and it would suck if we reach late. 
  • We left at 430AM 🙂
  • Brilliant views of the Garhwal Himalayas from the get go. And horrible roads from the beginning as well. 
And it dawns over the Himalayas.
Most of the road is like this. :-0

Dev Prayag – The first of the 5 Prayags that we would encounter on the way and back. Prayag means the confluence of 2 or more rivers. The Ganga river system gets built in these 5 Prayags. At Dev Prayag, The Alaknanda and Bhagirathi join to form what is formally known as Ganga, henceforth. 

Click to see larger size. You can see the steps to bathe in the Prayag.
  • Lunch was had at Srinagar – a sleepy hamlet past Dev Prayag. Brilliant parathas (or perhaps we were just super hungry). 
Super good food at Srinagar.

As we trudge uphill, the Alaknanda is still a fairly large river, meandering, cutting across the Garhwal Himalayas. As you will see in the full post below, the Alaknanda will follow us for most of the journey uphill.

Alaknanda – somewhere between Srinagar and Rudraprayag
  • We skipped Rudraprayag darshan on the way to Badrinath, because that part of the road is a one-way. Prem-ji promised us that we will get a good darshan on the way back. 
  • Next Prayag up was Karnaprayag – where the Pindari Ganga (from the Pindari Glacier) merges with the Alaknanda
Karna Prayag – Pindari Ganga merges with the Alaknanda
  • Next Prayag was Nand Prayag ,where the Nandakini merges with the Alaknanda. Not that great a viewpoint, but you can see the two different rivers merging. 
Nand Prayag – Nandakini merges with the Alaknanda
  • You can spot Chamoli and Bageshwar on the way. These are district headquarters. You can recognize these names from the time when there was the massive flash floods in 2012 – the one which affected Kedarnath. 
Chamoli and Bageshwar
  • Lunch at Pipalkoti. Decent place. Nothing fancy. Stick to Dal and Roti. Do not go fancy in any of these places.
  • Note: If you are from the South and are used to well cooked mashed rice, do not order rice items. Rice is usually cooked very rare here. Almost undercooked. My son had a bit of a minor stomach upset because of this. 
  • The Alaknanda looks reduced in size hereabouts, but you can see the force and the rapids. 
Rapids on Alaknanda
  • As we rise higher and higher, the mountain views are spectacular. 
Beautiful mountainscapes – nearing Joshimath.
  • Next major stop – Joshimath. This is one of the Sankara Maths that Adi Sankaracharya established (in fact, the first one). We visited the Narasimha temple here. This is one of the 108 Divya Desams as sung by ThirumangaiAlwar (where it is refered to as Tiruppirudi). 
Narasimha temple – Joshimath
  • And the highest of the 5 Prayags – Vishnu Prayag – where the Dhauli Ganga merges with the Alaknanda.
VishnuPrayag – Dhauli Ganga merges with the Alaknanda
  • And as we near Badrinath, we start seeing the first snow peaks. 
First snow peaks as we near Badrinath
  • We reached bang on time at 430PM. New found respect for Prem-ji for his estimation skills. But then 21 years – what can you expect. Checked in to Devlok. And then had a darshan of Badri Narayan-ji. 
  • October is almost the end of the season for Badrinath. The temple closes for winter by Diwali (November first week). There was barely any crowd in the temple. 
  • But then, it was cold. Verrryy cold. It was sub-10 degrees celsius in the evening. Dipped down to -3 deg celsius in the night and early morning. Be very prepared with warm clothes. Gloves. Caps. At least two layers of sweaters. 
  • Dinner was at Devlok. Basic roti + dal stuff.

Day 3 (Monday):  After an eventful Day 2, and a great darshan of Badri Vishal, Day 3 was the trudge back to Rishikesh. 

  • Had toast and tea at Devlok – which is the only thing that was available at 730AM. Yep. The same 12 hour rule applies for the return journey too. But then, you are closer to home (Rishikesh) and descended most of the mountains by the time the sun sets.
  • On the way back, we stopped by the Shankar Mutt at Joshimath. There is a cave temple where Thotakacharya (first disciple of Adi Sankara) had meditated. There is also the Spatika Linga that Adi Sankara had installed for the Mutt. Very calm and serene place. 
Shankara Mutt – Joshimath
  • Lunch again was at Pipalkoti. 
  • Prem-ji stopped at various places on the way for quick snacks (samosa etc) and tea.  
  • As promised, Rudraprayag darshan was had on the way back. This is where the river Mandakini merges with Alaknanda. 
Rudra Prayag – Mandakini merges with Alaknanda
  • Night stay at Rishilok, Rishikesh.

Day 4 (Tuesday): We had done Hardwar Rishikesh a couple of times before (when I used to live in Noida long ago). So, this time, we decided to explore Dehradun and surrounding places. We were in for a treat. 

  • Sahasradhara – Sulphur springs (not hot). A small cable car ride and a park for kids. We went up for the view. Cross the small river, and there is a cave with a Shiva Linga, where Dronacharya is supposed to have meditated. Nothing spectacular – except for the Drona cave.
Sahasradhara – near Dehradun.
  • Lunch was at Anandam. Pure veg restaurant. Chats and combo meals were awesome. 
  • Tapkeswar Mahadev temple – this was a golden find. Beautiful Shiva temple. Couple of cave temples too. One of these caves is where Aswathama (Drona’s son) was supposed to have been born. The small Tamasa river flows by serenely. We took a nice break here. Dipped our feet in the river and just enjoyed the beauty. 
Tapkeswar Mandir – Tamasa River
  • Last stop in the Dehradun sight seeing was the Mindrolling Buddhist Monastery. Another golden find. Wow. Brilliant. If you did not tell anyone, folks might be led to believe you went to Thailand or somewhere in SE Asia. 🙂
Mindrolling Buddhist Monastery
Stupa at the Mindrolling Monastery
Prayer wheel at the Mindrolling Monastery
  • Headed back to Rishikesh by around 7ish. Did a quick trip to the Triveni Ghat for one last Ganga-ji darshan. The great river flowing swiftly into the night is something that needs to be experienced.
  • Then on to Rishilok, Rishikesh, in time for dinner / Night stay.

Day 5:

  • Flight was at 7AM. So rise up early morning. Pack up and head to the Dehradun airport. Bid Good bye to Prem-ji. Settle payment. It is amazing how he operates completely out of trust. No advance payments. I had paid a couple of times for Diesel during the trip, and he reduced that amount, collected the balance amount and done.
  • Brief transit at Delhi airport – where we had some food. And then back to Bangalore in the 1PM flight. 
  • Reached Bangalore by 4ish. End of a brilliant trip. 

History/Context for trip: My mother has been wanting to go to Badrinath for quite a long while. Both my father and mother had (and still have) heart ailments and had been advised not to do any sort of trekking or high altitude gimmickry. Badrinath is the only one of the four Char Dham shrines, which does not require you to do any trekking/walking. You can drive all the way up to Badrinath.

We decided to do it as comfortably as feasible ~ given that the parents are in the later part of their sixties. I tweet stormed most of what is there above, but blogging it here for posterity and for a one-stop-notes place. 

Two Controversial PM objectives

(img src – taken by me – Shotang Demo Day)

There are two slightly controversial topics that I hold dear to me, when I think of PM-ing.

(1) Stake holder management – internal and external. I have written about this extensively in the past. Some folks think that it is a project/program managers job. But I don’t. I think it is an integral part of a product managers job. No one knows the bigger picture and the granular details of the product than a PM. Getting every contributor and decision maker in the same page is super critical. Giving this job to a project manager is suicide. Absolutely lack of credibility will kill everything in sight. (I have nothing against project managers, but they are ninjas at managing the project as an entity, and not quite objectives and people).

(2) Data is everything in this new world. But ever so often, there is either too little data, or there is too much data. In both of these cases, it becomes incredibly hard to extricate inferences out of the data, leave alone insights. During these cases, it is the singular responsibility of the PM to work closely with leadership to suggest a solution based on “gut feel”. The extensive involvement of the PM in the multiple facets of developing the product (no one else puts their fingers into so many facets as the PMs) makes the ‘gut feel’ more credible.

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