Tata Motors Revival?

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Tata_zestTata Motors up until last week had been under flying under the radar while they rebuild their company. For many years, the cars that Tata Motors produced were about as exciting as watching paint dry and hence were mainly sold to taxi fleets. Then in early 2008, Tata Motors revealed to the world what was billed as the cheapest car ever made – Tata Nano. Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata unveiled the car and said instead of riding on a bike with 4 people, consumers could instead ride in a car. Two things derailed their plans which the Nano has never recovered from.

The first thing is people don’t necessarily like others to know they bought “the cheapest thing” not a very aspirational way to show the world you have upgraded from a bike to the cheapest possible car. But, what really hurt sales was when several of the cars would spontaneously turn into an instant barbecue grill. What was more surprising was the response from a Tata group company – nothing. They blamed the consumers and said their cars were fine. Ouch, I’m no PR specialist but that just seems like the dumbest possible way to handle the situation.

After that fiasco, Tata Motors got their act together and hired an outsider to run the show. They found Karl Slym who was previously heading up the Indian operations for General Motors. Karl was supposed to clean up the mess and get Tata Motors back on track. Although he was juggling many balls, in the press he talked at great length about streamlining and optimizing the number of vendors they buy parts from. I dropped an email to Karl and mentioned:

I hope design is a priority as well or you will end up streamlining the process to deliver cars more efficiently that only a mother could love.

His response:

email-karl-slym

 

It appeared Tata Motors was back on track to streamlining the operations, building cars people would actually buy and making sure the dealers were happy again. Then tragedy struck, in early 2014 Karl committed suicide.

However in his absence Tata Motors seems to have moved past that tragedy and starting to see the fruits of Karl’s labor. The first car out of the newly revamped Tata stable is the Zest. It’s a compact sedan that is going after Maruti’s main market. From the looks of it, the Zest could be a massive success that the Tata group is looking for. It’s the first car in this price segment to have an automatic transmission paired with a diesel engine.

So what’s next for Tata? In the coming months they will launch the Tata Bolt which is their new hatchback that will compete squarely with the Maruti Swift and the Hyundai i10/i20.

I’ve never liked the cars from Tata Motors but that view is changing as Tata is improving their product line. If the Zest and Bolt are big commercial successes then I can see Tata Motors moving up the pricing curve and introduce products to complete against the Honda City. I’m sure this time around Tata Motors will not lose sight of the goal and do whatever it take to make consumers happy.

Rebooting the Computer Platform

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whatsappWintel has been dominating desktop computers since the early 80’s. Never heard of Wintel? Wintel = Windows + Intel. The combination of software from Microsoft and the CPU from Intel powered the desktop computer revolution. The saying used to be, what Intel giveth (in increased computing power), Windows taketh (their crappy software would slow down the computer). Here we are in 2014 and people are still using Windows XP and when they download something, they have no clue where the file is. You almost need a PhD in forensic science to find the file.

No matter what Windows does, it just can’t compete with new platforms like iOS and Android that have been built from scratch. Windows has too much legacy attached to it and they have tried several times to make a run at tablets and phones but have never succeeded. I’m really glad to see the Wintel platform being challenged by smartphones and tablets. If you look at the average user of a computer they are mostly consuming content or typing out emails to friends and family. For them a desktop/laptop computer is a bit like having everyone drive an F1 car to get around…it’s overkill. With the advent of the smartphone and tablet it allows most users to consume content in a very easy to use manner.

I got my first personal computer (PC) in 1984 and it was an IBM PC. For the past 30 years I’ve been hearing my mom tell me she’s going to learn the computer and till this day she hasn’t. However, she just got an Android phone and has started to use WhatsApp. Baby steps, but I’m sure within a year she will start to consume news from websites and potentially start using her Gmail account that was created when she got her Android phone.

In India, WhatsApp is like a gateway drug to many other things available on the internet. Once people get hooked, they start looking for more and more things to do on their phone and tablet. Even my driver was asking me what Samsung Android phone he should buy. I asked him what he wants to do with the phone. His response – WhatsApp, what else is there to do.

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.

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