A Decade of Blogging

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10-years-blogging-toprankYes, it’s been 520 weeks since I started blogging at celestri.org. What is more surprising is growing up I HATED to write. Back in grade school if I had to write a book report, I would have rather been cut by 1,000 paper cuts then write one word about My Friend Flicka. Somewhere along the way I got into the groove of writing and here I am 128,000 words and 468 blog posts later. Which averages out to about a blog post every 8 days, over the past 2-3 years I’ve slowed down to a blog post every month…focusing on quality over quantity.

What started out as a way to share my pictures online turned into a online version of dear diary. Most people have two questions for me: 1. Why the hell do you write 2. How many people visit your blog.

I write because it allows me to shape my thoughts more clearly and in the process helps hone my grammatical skillz (haha, just kidding – skills). In the process, I have met many people because of this blog and have been able to share ideas with them. It’s just another way to connect with people.

As far as pageviews, I currently have no idea. About 3 or 4 years ago I deleted Google Analytics which allowed me to track visitors, pageviews and 100′s of other metrics. I decided I didn’t care if people read what I wrote. Deep down I wanted to write about what I wanted to write about. And it’s the best advice I give to people when they say “I want to start a blog”, I tell them write about stuff you really care about and don’t worry about the metrics.

When I started 10 years ago, I had no idea that blogging would take off or that I would be writing 10 years later. Do I have any big plans for the future? No. I plan to continue writing about things that excite me, intrigue me and educate me. If you are interested in starting a blog, I would give you the following pieces of wisdom:

  1. Write about things you really care about
  2. Be consistent – I see people start a blog and write every day then after a month they completely stop
  3. Don’t worry about the metrics
  4. What’s the worst outcome? You will improve your grammar skills

Here’s to another 520 weeks of blogging!

P.S. The 128,000 words I’ve written works out to almost 3 full-length novels.

Dear Financial Advisor

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keep-calm-and-call-a-financial-adviserDear Financial Advisor,

Because of MProfit, I’ve had a chance to interact with 100′s of financial advisors like you over the past 5 years. And frankly, there is a lot of room for improvement. To the outside world you talk about financial planning, long term goals and asset allocation. Yet when you talk to me, everything is short term in nature - commissions reports, daily portfolio updates via SMS, real-time price updates, etc… There is a real disconnect between what you portray and what you actually do.

Over the past 5 years the Indian financial advisory industry has been going through a very painful but needed cleansing. A combination of government policy errors, general economic slowdown and investors fleeing the markets has led to many financial advisors getting flushed out of the system. The policy change in August 2009 to restrict entry loads was to combat bad behavior by many “financial advisors” who were just churning a clients portfolio. But, what ended up happening is that many respectable advisors like yourself got caught in the cross fire and lost a respectable amount of commissions. It’s been tough but I do believe the good advisors have survived and will continue to thrive because you provide value.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear advisors ask for a way to send an SMS on a clients birthday. I just laugh to myself and think this “advisor” will be out of business in no time. Calling people or sending an SMS on their birthday is probably how it used to work when selling insurance. Nowadays people are being bombarded with calls and SMS’s. Here is some advice, clients hire you not to remind them of their birthday, that’s what Facebook is all about. They hire you to provide them with sound financial advice and hopefully outperform the markets by selecting the right mix of investment products. Hell if you outperform the markets, I’ll call you on YOUR birthday.

Many advisors call and ask “how can we increase our business?” then they ask “will starting a blog like JagoInvestor get me business”.  My advice has always been the same, give clients valuable and timely information. Don’t blast them with a daily/weekly/monthly newsletter if it only contains junk. If it’s tax time, provide some specific tax advice to your clients. Having known Manish Chauhan and Nandish Desai of JagoInvestor for quite some time, I know they spend countless hours answering relevant questions and helping investors on a daily basis…that is what you should be doing. They just happen to have a blog to reach out to people, you could have seminars or start a newsletter…the delivery method is irrelevant however the quality of the content matters.

Spare Capacity

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sharing_economyOver the past few years you might have heard the term “sharing economy” being thrown around. Which is a more consumer friendly term for monetizing underutilized fixed assets. This is different from an eBay where you have an old phone which you want to sell and they provide the marketplace to find a buyer for it.  It’s also different from Elance where you are offering your professional services to people looking for those skills. Personally I like the term spare capacity over “sharing economy” because that’s really what it is.

The startup that kicked off the “sharing economy” revolution was Airbnb in 2008 at the height of the financial crisis. Airbnb is a website that provides lodging but not using the traditional method of hotel rooms. Instead it rents out the spare capacity that an individual has such as a room, apartment, condo, house, etc… to people looking for lodging. The timing couldn’t have been better, the financial markets were in a downward spiral and people were looking for a cheaper lodging alternative and the owners of these fixed asset were looking for a way to make some money on the side.

Since then there has been an explosion in services to help people generate cash from what they own. For the taxi/cab sector there is Uber, Getaround and Lyft to name a few. The initial concept for Uber, which started in 2009, was to allow anyone with an iPhone to hail a black sedan (a generic term used to refer to the Lincoln Town Car, Cadillac Escalade, etc…). The idea was that many of these black sedans were just sitting around and waiting for their next scheduled pickup. With Uber the drivers could get connected to a system of people looking for black sedans and monetize their spare time and their car.

What really got me thinking about spare capacity is when I had a chance to listen to Aaron Hirschhorn of DogVacay. DogVacay is like “Airbnb for dogs”, it allows you to find a host family for your dog while you go on vacation for a couple days or couple weeks. That’s a great way for someone to make money on the side that loves dogs and has a house or apartment to host the dog.

The initial title of this blog post was “Boosting the Economy via Spare Capacity” which is correct but I decided to nix the title. But the premise still holds true, you can wait for the economy to turn around or work with what you have. Which explains why so many of these businesses started around the time of the financial crisis, they were ripe for people wanting to do something right now.

India is so ripe for exploiting this spare capacity. I was reading a report about transport trucks and 80% of the owners have less than 5 trucks. Which means the market is highly fragmented and an opportunity to monetize the return leg (backhaul) of the journey. The freight carriers know how to go from point A to point B, but at point B is where the could use a technology enabled spare capacity solution.

The one I always talk about is the spare capacity with my car and driver. I have a driver who takes me to the office and for most of the day he just sits around doing nothing. This is not unique to me, there are many people in the same boat as me. Of course, there are critics who say it will never work because people don’t want to rent out their car. I would argue the same thing could have been said about Airbnb when it started, “people will never give out their homes or apartments for nightly rentals…”. However the stats speak for themselves – Hilton Hotels has around 200,000 room nights in their inventory and Airbnb is already booking more room nights then the largest hotel chain in the world.

Getting Fat and Getting Rich

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weigh-scale-helpThis is one of those blog posts where the overall idea has been floating around my head for the past several years but never could figure out a way to write it down and simplify it.

The short version – there are no short cuts to losing excess body fat.* (Yes, there is an asterisk at the end of that statement because you could opt for plastic surgery or gastric bypass surgery but those involve elective surgery with potential complications or side-effects.)

Obesity threatens the health care systems around the world in countries were obesity rates are rapidly reaching epic proportions. If you love food or are obese I would suggest you read the book Salt Sugar Fat and watch the BBC documentary The Men Who Made Us Fat. People talk about the destruction that drugs and alcohol can cause but we always gloss over food. That is so wrong, because many of the diseases that people have are a direct cause of what they eat.

In the book, Salt Sugar Fat, they talk about Cheetos and its “vanishing calorie density” which means it melts so quickly that your brain thinks it has no calories, at that point in the book you realize you are screwed. What you soon understand is that it’s a losing battle to lose weight with several factors at play such as processed foods, increasing portion sizes, slick marketing and big business.

The formula for getting obese and getting rich are pretty simple in theory:

(eat more) – (decrease physical activity) = obesity (calorie surplus)
(work more) – (decrease spending) = rich (money surplus)

In order to lose weight you need to eat less calories and increase physical activity. Which means you would be running a calorie deficit which leads to weight loss. Studies have shown that 80% of weight loss can be attributed to portion and calorie control and the rest is from an increase in physical activity, just think about that for a minute…a majority of your weight loss can be accomplished by just shutting your mouth.

How many times have you jumped on a treadmill to run 30 minutes and the display says you’ve burned 150 calories. Then you drink a Jamba Juice smoothie in under 60 seconds which has 300+ calories. It happens to me all the time when I train for half-marathons, I’ll have a great 15 kilometer training run and then feel like I deserve an all day pass to eat whatever I want to…#fail. I always gain weight when I train for half-marathons when logically I should be losing weight.

When you start thinking of losing weight in terms of money, you will quickly realize you can work out all you want but if you don’t control the calories going in then it’s just a wasted effort. It’s similar to getting rich, you can save all the money in the world but if you work at McDonald’s you will never be able to get rich.

Everything as a Service (EaaS)

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Dropcam_Lens_Palm-580x414Predictable revenue – those are the sweet words of harmony that every chief financial officer (CFO) of a company wants to hear. The problem is that predictable revenue is sometimes a mirage. Over the past 10 years there has been a trend in the software industry called Software as a Service (SaaS), instead of buying software as one time upfront purchase you instead pay on a monthly or yearly basis. This benefits both sides, the consumer gets to pay a small amount every month and the software company gets consistent revenue month over month.

This model has been historically applied only to software companies but the hardware guys are getting in on the action as well.  The company that everyone talks about is Amazon Web Services (AWS) which is an internet infrastructure provider. They rent webservers on an hourly basis to businesses and you pay for what you use. (I could digress and tell you that in the “olden days” we had to lug Compaq ProLiant servers to a datacenter but I’ll spare you the details.)

Now, a new breed of startups are selling a hardware device and in addition charging a monthly service fee for enhanced services. The one that I love to talk about is Dropcam, they have a video monitoring camera that is so easy to use and makes every other video camera offering look like them came from the paleolithic era. You can throw down $200 for their Dropcam Pro camera and start using it in minutes and you will never have to pay any additional amount if you want live streaming.  However, where they really make their money is from their DVR offering. You can watch the previous 7 days or 30 days worth of camera footage and they charge you for that privilege. Their monthly charges are USD 9.99 for 7 days and USD 29.99 for 30 days. As you would imagine many people opt for these packages, no one is going to sit around and watch the camera all day and hence the DVR offerings are a great way to monetize the Dropcam hardware.

Another example are the hardware devices that are being introduce by Automatic, MetroMile and Zubie for your car, it allows you to track and monitor you car from your smartphone. The device fits snugly into the on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) port of the car and then provides location information, speed, mileage, check engine light status and other metrics. Some of the companies are selling the device as a one time purchase while others are selling it like Dropcam, sell the hardware and also have a monthly service fee. When you do the math, you realise the average new car costs about USD 40,000 in the US and that shelling out an extra USD 10-20 a month is really nothing to monitor such an expensive asset.

As more and more hardware devices are created to replace static devices:
Nest – thermostat
Nest Protect – smoke sector
August - door lock replacement

you will see an explosion in Everything as a Service (EaaS) offerings. It’s actually a great revenue model and more importantly it forces the company to continually up their game and make their product/service that much better in the long run.

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