Friday, February 13, 2015

Why I like Olacabs and where they can improve?

In the past 3-4 months, I have become a regular user of Olacabs. Though I work from home, I do need to travel to meet customers in Bangalore as well as my colleagues in Pune. In the past, if I had to travel on my own, I would choose BMTC buses if I know the exact location where I'm supposed to go and there were well-connected bus stops. Or I would end up haggling with a reluctant auto-driver who never agrees to go anywhere (Seriously, how do these guys make money if they don't want to move at all?). Sorry, no self-driving for me - neither skilled in that department nor motivated to learn either.

Ever since I started to take Olacabs, I'm not too worried about traveling to different parts of the city. I usually travel during day time and I also ensure I share the SMS of the driver details with my husband. Glad they have also implemented a SOS feature to alert your emergency contact in case of any issue.

I recharge my Ola Money now and then, so there's no need to deal with cash while you are traveling. The invoices are sent by email and so you don't have to worry about paper bills.

The rates are reasonable (compared to auto-rickshaws) and they also run promotional offers where you get some good discounts.

I haven't faced any issues with availability of cabs (except once), which many in my social circle feel, is a big problem with Olacabs.

Yes, Olacabs has made my life a lot easier.  "Thank you all! Keep up the good work!"

The experience of a "tech product powered service" doesn't start and end with the mobile app alone. There are multiple important factors beyond the app that can hinder the overall user experience. That's where I believe Olacabs can improve further.

There's an inherent assumption by the cab drivers that the passenger knows the EXACT location and the EXACT route to take. I might know the location to a certain extent, thanks to living in the city for many years and Google maps. But assuming that I would also know the route is incorrect. There are many who may not have a data plan on their phones. Even if they do, there are frequent disconnections from 3G. 

A weird incident happened when I asked the cab driver to take a certain route. This road was full of potholes, which I was aware of. After some time, he turned to me and said "22 bumps so far". And then I realized he is counting them one by one, shaking his head and showing frustration on drivers who were driving slowly in front of our cab. I don't know what is worse - knowing the route or not? :-)

Recently, I had booked a cab to pick me up from Electronic City. I had given the exact address while making the booking ("Ride Later" option). For nearly 30 minutes, the cab driver was trying to reach my pick-up point. Multiple calls were made, couple of landmarks given but he couldn't figure out my exact location. After finally boarding the cab, the driver cribs that I need to provide him more landmarks and he had wasted nearly 16 km roaming around. What if a person new to the city wants to take a cab? Are they expected to know the location and landmarks in detail? The driver also mentioned that he doesn't get the pick-up address in his mobile app. This should be easy to fix.

If the driver cannot check Maps when he is not aware of the route, there should be a way to key in the destination and the app can narrate the route, in the language the driver understands.

The other area that Ola can do better is share the languages that the driver is comfortable with. In a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, this info would be very helpful, especially if we need to communicate our exact location and landmark. We can even choose Language as an optional parameter while booking a cab.

The important feedback which I have also raised to Ola separately in an email is that of unnecessary talking and questioning by the cab driver. This is even more uncomfortable, if you are a woman traveling alone. Why does the cab driver need to know where I'm going, where I'm working and when I'm planning to return? I usually don't respond if such questions come up. But I seriously believe Ola should educate drivers not to ask such questions.

Hoping to see these nagging issues being fixed and we get an excellent overall experience.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Baking Basics for Beginners

It's been a year since I got into baking and it has become one of my hobbies that I look forward to every weekend. I bake something atleast once a week, which my family really appreciates and enjoys the end results. Some say baking is therapeutic and brings joy. I totally agree!

This post is an attempt to help others who want to get into baking but don't know how. What's the first step? Buying an oven, ofcourse? Not really, some use pressure cooker to bake cakes but I haven't tried that method yet. I have a LG 28 litres convection microwave oven. There have been many debates on OTG v/s convection but for a small scale home requirement, I find convection oven to be perfect. It occupies less space and cakes/muffins come out good. The only regret is that I could have purchased a slightly bigger one, to make a bigger batch of cookies/muffins. For a family of 3 (2 adults + 1 child), 28 litres is adequate but for a bigger family, I would recommend you invest in a 30 ltrs+ model.

Next comes the accessories. Most MW ovens come with a baking pan/tava that you could use for baking pizza, cookies etc. For baking cakes, I have 3 pans - a 4" square pan, a 8" round pan and a medium loaf pan. I also have a muffin tin that can hold upto 6 muffins. All are made of aluminum and you can get them easily from any supermarket.

Apart from these, you need a mixing bowl, a hand whisk, a sifting plate and measuring cups. Any broad steel vessel/frying pan would be perfect as a mixing bowl. You don't have to invest in a delicate glass bowl. Measuring cups and spoons are a must and they are easily available too.

Now comes the basic baking ingredients to stock in the pantry - flour, sweetener and fat.

Before I ventured into baking, all-purpose flour (maida) never found a place in my grocery list. But it has become a regular now. I usually try to tweak the flour proportion with 50:50 wholewheat flour : maida so it's relatively healthier.

For sweetener, I usually substitute either sulphur-free brown sugar or organic powdered jaggery in place of white sugar. But I would suggest you to start off with regular sugar and once you try out a few recipes, then experiment with these substitutions ;-)

For the fat, I use either sunflower oil or rice bran oil for cakes and unsalted butter for cookies.

Buy good quality baking powder and baking soda. Store them in air-tight containers.
Buy good quality unsweetened cocoa powder. I use Cadbury. I have heard Hersheys is good too.
Also have vanilla extract handy. I usually buy a small bottle of Bush vanilla essence.
I prefer to bake eggless recipes. But if you don't mind eggs in your cakes, make sure you have some fresh eggs stocked up in your pantry.

Now, you are all set to bake.

There are loads of recipes available but figuring out which one to bake when you have the urge to bake something is the tricky part. Many days, I would happily browse one recipe after another, without realizing 30 minutes has whizzed past by then :-)

Here are some of the recipes (eggless) which I have tried many times and have worked out very well.

Banana muffins
Apple cinnamon muffins
Chocolate muffins
Lemon cupcakes

Carrot cake
Chocolate cake
Gingerbread spiced cake
Strawberry yoghurt cake
Chocolate nuts cake

Oatmeal raisin cookies
Ragi cookies
Cumin cookies
Chocochip oatmeal cookies

Other minor aspects to keep in mind:
  • Ensure you have undistracted time of atleast 20 minutes before you get into baking. I usually bake when my little one takes her nap in the afternoons.
  • Baking requires multiple dishes/pans/cups/spoons etc. So if your maid/househelp has informed you of leave the next day, postpone the baking plan :-)
  • I usually don't ice or frost my cakes. The amount of oil and sugar that goes into the base of the cake in itself makes me feel a little worried on the health factor. But do try out icing your cake once in a while. It looks pretty and tastes yummy too.
  • Plan for power fluctuations if they occur in your home in a predictable manner. I have heard eggless cakes are unforgiving if power goes off in the middle of baking. So far, I have faced this problem only once (touchwood!) and the power came back in 10 minutes.
  • You can easily substitute with other flours and sugar substitutes to make healthier cakes. In any case, Home-baked ones are way better as compared to the ones available in the bakery.
Do share your comments if you have any questions. I'll continue to write about how my baking adventure is progressing!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The growling hunger pangs

I'm a stickler for timings when it comes to my meals. I prefer to eat on time (mostly!). If someone takes up my time while my stomach is growling, I get extremely irritated. The Sneakers ad must have been based on my reactions, I suppose. Due to a certain miscommunication, I had to wait at my daughter's pediatrician clinic today for nearly an hour during lunch time. My temper was at its peak and D was her "naughtiest" self during the wait time. Though I ensured she ate her lunch, it didn't occur to me that I should have atleast grabbed a banana before stepping out. Thankfully, I kept my temper under control and it wasn't lashed out on anyone close (*hubby* dear!).

While eating my lunch at 3 PM today, I couldn't help but remember one of my ex-bosses who had this habit of scheduling meetings between 12 and 2 PM. He is one of the best bosses, mind you. But I didn't have the guts to tell him that the timings weren't working for me. Those were the days when eating healthy wasn't one of my priorities. After the meeting, I would rush to the nearest Darshini and gobble up rawa idlis or a South Indian thali.

Last week, I had a customer meeting at 2 PM. I happily ate an early lunch at home and reached on time. My colleague who traveled from a different city with back-to-back meetings came rushing for this meeting. I asked him "Did you have lunch?". He replied "No, I haven't had my breakfast too. Just ate a few biscuits". I was shocked and saddened. Felt a little guilty too, thinking I should have brought something.

People who are in business development or sales had to travel so much that their eating habits go for a toss. 1 or 2 days is somewhat okay but regularly skipping meals or eating very late is unhealthy and can cause serious health issues like acidity, heart burn, ulcer etc.

It's the responsibility of the individual as well as the organization to ensure *eating on time* is given a priority. There is no point in having fancy cafeterias, exotic menus and salad counters, unless the employee gets enough time to sit down and eat.

Been a while since I ranted anything in my blog. Purpose achieved :-) Do share if you have been in similar situations. Does your hunger bring out the best or worst in you?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Book Review: Delivering Happiness

I'm starting off 2015 reading list with this interesting book on organization culture and customer service - "Delivering Happiness". When we talk about best work culture, there are few firms that come to our mind instantly - Google, Hubspot, Buffer and the pioneer of them all, Zappos. This book is a first-person account of how Tony Hsieh grew Zappos from ground-up, the challenges faced and the foundations laid towards the best customer service and inspiring work culture.

There are multiple lessons for people building startups as well as for those who are looking to focus on customer experience/service as their core strategy. What I really like about in this book is that it doesn't jump into the HOWs of customer service. Rather, Tony has taken the time to talk about his entrepreneurship journey and the lessons learned along the way since childhood. It gives the reader good insights into the thought process of WHYs of customer service and organization culture.  His adventures into various ways of earning money during childhood days provide some interesting and fun moments in the initial few chapters.

The tough calls Tony and his team had to make in the initial years of Zappos, the downturn, pivoting towards warehousing instead of drop-shipping, convincing vendors towards the e-commerce model, taking control of running the warehouse instead of outsourcing to a third-party - there were multiple take-aways in these chapters for anyone in the e-commerce business.

Great customer service and providing a high quality customer experience eventually became their larger vision and a greater purpose. Some of the ways by which they managed to accomplish this goal are running a 24/7 warehouse, surprise shipping upgrades, no-script call procedures where the reps are empowered to use their best judgment etc.

As they embarked on this journey, they also realized that having a strong organization culture is a powerful trigger to provide a superior customer service. They invested efforts towards creating a "Culture book" with inputs from employees and vendors. Culture was formally defined by means of 10 core values. I loved the way the author has taken time to elaborate each core value through examples and case studies.

He had also shared an interesting anecdote around how he improved his public speaking skills. He has shared 3 rules for delivering a great speech:
1. Be passionate
2. Tell personal stories
3. Be real

Towards the end, the chapter on happiness and various frameworks around the factors that contribute to happiness are insightful. I plan to spend some time learning these frameworks in depth, as these are very relevant for both individual and organization purpose. 

Some of the quotes from the book that I loved
"Envision, create and believe in your own universe"

"Never outsource your core competency"

"Telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer's undivided attention for 5-10 minutes and if you get the interaction right, the customer remembers the experience for a very long time"

"Your culture is your brand"

"For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny"
My most favorite of them all
"If you just focus on making sure that your product or service continually WOWs people, eventually the press will find out about it. You don't need to put a lot of effort into reaching out to the press if your company naturally creates interesting stories as a by-product of delivering a great product or experience"

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in review

Coughs and sneezes
pepper rasam and kichdi
Calpol and cough syrup
honey and turmeric milk
messed up sleep and rest

The story of my last few days of 2014, with D falling sick. Before the recency effect takes over and paints a gloomy picture, I felt it's time for me to look back at some of the best moments of this year. I began this year by writing about "small wins" and it was indeed a year of multiple small wins that I collected on the way.

One of the goals I had set for myself was to venture into baking. My new microwave convection oven followed by 3 useful baking classes from LG paved the way to get a head start. Cakes, cookies, muffins and breads were baked multiple times, with different recipes and varied results. Whoever spoke about the joy of baking is indeed true. This is one hobby I look forward to invest more time in 2015, albeit in a healthy way by reducing plain flour, sugar and butter.

Talking about healthy ways of cooking, I also invested in learning the art of salad making from Nandita Iyer early this year. I wasn't too fond of salads/raw veggies earlier but now I consciously make modifications to my diet to incorporate them on a regular basis. I have also started including millets into my meals often, in place of rice/wheat.

Apart from focusing on food, I have also managed to get back into exercise much more frequently than before. The last couple of months have been a struggle though (blame it on the cold weather!) but overall, the number of days I exercised in 2014 is significantly greater than 2013 :-) Hubby dear is a big motivation in bringing about this change. Seeing him exercise everyday diligently has pushed me to a great extent.

In my 2013 review, I had stated that I want to focus more on improving my overall health. I'm glad that I have taken the necessary steps towards this direction in 2014.

The other aspect that I wanted to improve in 2014 was to incorporate reading as a regular habit. Thanks to a conscious decision of shutting down TV, I was able to grab more time in the evenings towards this habit. Yes, I have stopped watching TV since May and I can't believe how much precious time got unearthed !! Here's the list of books from my 2014 reading list.

Finished reading:
The secret letters by Robin Sharma
Hooked by Nir Eyal
Don't lose out, work out by Rujuta Diwekar
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Eat, Delete by Pooja Makhija
The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann
The art of procrastination by John Perry
Playing it my way by Sachin Tendulkar
God's own country by James Joseph
Aaraam thinai Part I by Dr.K.Sivaraman
Aaraam thinai Part II by Dr.K.Sivaraman
Ezhaam suvai by Dr.K.Sivaraman

Half-way through:
Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez
Delivering happiness by Tony Hsieh
Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
Influence by Robert Cialdini

Apart from reading, I also focused on getting back to writing this year. Managed to write 17 posts in my personal blog and 25 posts in my work-related blog. Better than previous few years but want to keep at it more.

The last time I spoke at a public event was in 2011 at IIMB for a guest lecture on "Consumer Decision Making". Early this year, I set a target to speak in atleast one public forum. I stumbled upon "Product Camp" event by chance and added a topic "Influence of consumer motivations and behaviors on product usage". The speakers are decided by public voting and thankfully, my topic was voted the 2nd in the list. I invested significant amount of time in preparations - from structure, content, presentation layout and rehearsals before the event. The session went well and it was a great experience to speak in front of an audience after a gap of 3 years.

Motherhood and remote working can make a mom feel isolated and lonely unless she takes conscious steps towards her social life. I didn't take much effort in the previous years but in 2014, I managed to meet up with ex-colleagues from work, friends from school and college with whom I had lost touch and now reconnected, new friends with similar as well as varied interests. The efforts I have taken are still minuscule and I need to get out more often and connect with more people in real life.

One of the mini-adventures I undertook this year was to watch a movie by myself in a cinema theater. Yep, I have never done this before in my life. Swimming lessons is yet another scary adventure that I tried again this year. But dropped out after 5 classes this time (hey, it's better than 3 classes of 2009) :-( When I rejoin next year, I wouldn't be surprised if the instructor says "Oh, no! not you again". I also tried my hand at violin for a few classes but couldn't continue as I was getting severe back-aches and the timings weren't working out as well.

On the professional front, I took the independent consultant route for 6 months when I had limited bandwidth. The closer I have come to entrepreneurship so far, if I may say so. Recently, I joined MindTickle, the same startup that I consulted with, on a full time basis. It's early days in a new role, given that I have decided to take up product marketing which is a relatively new area for me. There is a lot to learn, experiment and engage in depth. I do see significant intersection between product management and product marketing and should be able to leverage my previous experiences. Hoping to learn and assimilate new ideas, make a significant impact in my role and share key take-aways/insights in my blog.

As a family, we decided that we want to take our daughter D to new places this year. "Enough of mall hopping and get started with park hopping" was our motto. We took D to various parks in Bangalore during the weekend evenings. She enjoyed playing in the play-areas while we enjoyed the fresh air. We also did picnics at Cubbon Park a couple of times and D has understood that picnic translates to us carrying lemon rice for lunch :-)

Outside Bangalore, we did a 4 day trip to Ooty and a weekend trip to Mysore and Melkote. We also did a couple of day trips - to Ghati Subramanya temple and Mekadatu. It's been 12 years since we shifted to Bangalore and we finally took the time this year to visit the Bull temple and Dodda Ganesha temple in Basavangudi. Exploring the traditional parts of the city is there in our agenda next year.

One of my friends shared with me this amazing quote on parenting -
"what you ARE speaks so loud that the kids cannot hear what you SAY". 
Healthy eating, regular exercise, working hard, connecting with people, respect towards others, caring for the environment etc - I want to set an example for my daughter in these various areas through my actions. The key realization for me in 2014 is to live a conscious life and be aware and mindful of what I do and how I spend my resources - time, energy, money and more importantly, thoughts.

Here's wishing you a very happy and meaningful new year. May your dreams, wishes, hopes and aspirations come true! Lead a conscious life!