Its sometimes really interesting to see how does search engines behave. No I don’t have any technical knowledge of the functioning of yahoo and google. But below are some of the search terms people used and landed up on my blog..!!!

Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi” – I don’t know what information the person was seeking out about this soap-opera, but the person landed up on my post “Blood on the street” which talks about the May stock market crash/ Here i was trying to convey TV viewers still had the same tastes and the TV channels wud continue to make the same money.

Paid surfing $1/hour” – Most probably this person was looking for a low-cost internet surfing parlor. How does this link to my two posts “Arbitrage Opportunities” and “Benefits of Internet“? In arbitrage opportunities – I was talking about phone calls at $1 and in Benefits of Internet – i was talking about web-surfing habits..!! Needless to say the person would have been highly disgusted at the results of his search engine.

Arbitrage put call ratio” – Probably a finance student wanted to search something for his term paper… but landed on my posts “Arbitrage Opportunities” (name is itself evident of the search result) and “Blood on the street” (i talked about ignoring the technicals in market crash)..!!

Sister Concern of Rolex” – Now this must be really interesting – what the person would be looking for is evident from the search term, but how did the search engine directed him/her to my posts… “placement Seasons” and “Money Money Money”…?? In “Placement seasons” – i was talking about interviews in ‘sister concern’ of an investment bank.. and in “Money Money Money” – i was talking about some guys who earn lots sitting at home and crown their rolex wathces…!!!! Wow search engines are really great..!!!!

ISB essays” – probably an ISB applicant, was doing some search to find ready-made essays, landed up on my posts “The gruellng applciation process” (talks about my experiences in applying for ISB) – not that bad afterall, much closer than the others.

Walkins for call centers in noida” – probably a job-seeker, looking for ongoing walkins in noida to try his luck. and Viola the search engine landed him on my post.. “weird recruitment process” takling about a startup who deceived a client.

There are similar few more instances of search results leading to my blog. So probably search engines spiders – roam around the virtual world and removes all ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’ ‘is’ ‘are’ etc. and cache in all nouns, action verbs, on web pages. Its the high time we need a search engine who gives ‘relevant’ information about what i am searching for. I don’t need a statistics which tells there are 1 million websites have the information that i am looking for..!!!!! A search engine where I can type in a specific question – “Give me a list of all internet parlors which charge $1/hour for net surfing in 5 miles radius of zip code 55369” – and the search engine should not take me to https://alok.wordpress.com/ or “w3.org” or “beauty parlors” or “HLL product – surf” or “zips of Britney Spears trousers” or some CIA agent code-named “code 55369”..!!!!!

Anyone from Yahoo/Google/Alta Vista listening…???

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Posted by: alok | August 3, 2006

Weird Recruitment Processes….

One Saturday evening call it co-incidence or whatever, some of my cousins gathered at one place by chance. One of them is working as a marketing manager in a firm which sells office furnitures. She suddenly asked us if we had insurance… we all were shocked for a moment, coz her work is no where related to insurance products. Then she explained the funda which awed us even more. She had recently attanded the interview in a leading MNC insurance company and as part of the evaluation process, to judge how good marketeer she is, – she was asked to get a list of 30 prospective clients, who would take insurance products.

At first sight it might appear that the firm is very choosy about its employees, and wants to be doubly sure about the candidate’s marketing expertise. But on second thought, we all were wondering what the heck is this – this company might interview 100 applicants, and through this process create a database of 3000 potential customers, and that too without spending a penny…!!!!!! After this thought she decided not to give the list or join the firm. But the thought still lingers, is it a right way to judge a candidate.

Another instance – there is a software company (Tech******) in Bangalore, which has a very stringent recruitment process. When you apply, they give you a business problem, and you have to respond within a week, with a technical solution. If they like your solution, you are invited to work in their premises for a week, wherein they judge your actual hands-on expertise. You have face-to-face itnerviews only after these 2 rounds. Though this company is probably doing its best to recruit the right-talented people, can’t it be (mis)used to develop a complete solution, without paying anything to anyone.

One more incidence of a Gurgaon based start-up — Its sales guys bragged a lot about the company, number of resources, facilities etc. to a prospective US client. The client insisted on visiting the company’s premises to get a true picture. In reality the company didn’t had anything to showcase.

And do you know what the start-up did – a remarkably innovative thing — leased the premises of a call-center which worked during evening, and put an ad in a local newspaper for walk-ins. All the 100-odd ‘candidates’ were asked to give an online-computer test in the call-center’s premises. The day of the ‘interview’ was same as that of the client’s visit. The client was taken round the ‘office premises’ and was definitely impressed to see a state-of-the art facilities and so many employees in a startup…!!!!! Needless to say, not a single ‘candidate’ was recruited on-board.

Posted by: alok | August 1, 2006

Wi-Fi Noida….

I recently, heard (aka read, in a daily – newspapers are full of gossips, so it cud be one of them) that Noida Development Authority (NDA) is planning to make all its highways Wi-Fi enabled. Wondering what’s the motive behind this. Is NDA planning to have some sort of pre-paid cards, which you can use to surf the internet while on road. (Drivers, and traffic police beware… there’s already a ban on using cell-phone while driving). Suppose the Wi-Fi access is free, how can NDA make money out of it. The ‘Hot-Spots’ in Barrista and other ‘hep’ places in metros also provde free internet access, but I think, their presumption is that if you surf for 1 hour, atleast you will drink one-coffee, and probably that’s there revenue model. Secondly, you don’t have to go to Barista with a pretty girl on your side…. you can walk alone with a laptop, ‘stags entry allowed’ :), and increasing their customer base.

Not sure how much investment would NDA have to do for this, but to get a rough idea, it costed my alma-mater (IT-BHU) a hefty $55,000 just to make the campus Wi-Fi enabled, and this does not include the cost of bandwidth usage, and other infrastructures like internet gateway, firewalls, etc. which was in place because of the existing LAN setup. So imagine making all the major-roads in a city wi-fi. So what’s the revenue model of NDA? Can an agency provide free internet access and still make money out of it?

Posted by: alok | July 28, 2006

Mobile Mania

Why is that suddenly everyone is talking about Mobile? Or is it just that my senses have become more receptive to the word – ‘mobile’? Or is it because of the fact that my cellphone doesn’t work 90% of the time, and so friends, colleagues and family members always crib about it.

Whatever be the reason, I am getting more hooked up to the mobile world. Look at the improvement in features available in cellphones in last few years. But are we using the full benefits of the features that the phone provides. Just thinking about the opportunities that exist in this space makes me shiver. The more I explore, the more i find unexplored.

Till few weeks ago, I was the proponent of the belief that a mobile phone shudn’t cost more than a thousand rupees. Coz i seeked the very basic phones, and thought that the best use of a phone was to talk to someone. All the carriers provided SMS, which i rarely used, and found it to be a nuisance. But now looking around, I see the innumerable end-uses of even the basic SMS. Entrepreneurs are crafting innovative ways of using this very basic facility. For instance KoolPool (www.KoolPool.com), http://www.yaari.com and leading all these pack is UnicelTech. Recently met the VP (and founder) of Unicel Vinay Agarrwal (he is the only agarwal with double ‘rr’ in his name). A hyperactive chap who in the half hour discussion I had, talked about atleast 10 different enterprise applications that cud be developed by using just the SMS feature.

Then you have MMS (and I am not talking about the MMS story of teenagers). Mobile phones have now full fledged video streaming capabilities, in built camera, personal computer, and all these in very basic phones. Not to mention what you got in Palm Treo, Blackberry and Motorola Q series.

I think mobile is in the same stages of evolution which internet and PC were a decade ago. And we all know, the volume of business that runs over internet, add to it the number of software and hardware companies. I missed the internet boom, but I shudn’t miss the mobile boom now.

Posted by: alok | July 27, 2006

India – A land of Opportunities..!!!

Imagine a person drowning in sea. Rescue workers trying to save his life. And on the shore people putting bets on the life of the person. Don’t know what to call it.

This is a hypothetical case of a true incidence which was aired on most of the TV channels in India. For the uninformed, here’s what happened – Prince, a 5 year old boy, fell in a boring well (around 60 feet deep, and just 1 and half feet wide). Villagers efforts for 10 hours to rescue the child was to no avail, before the city administration was informed. Police and Army was roped in to ‘fish-out’ the child from the dungeon. As the hole was narrow, noone could get inside to bring out the child, so military personnel dug a tunnel from the nearby well to this borewell, and somehow managed to reach the child. It took around 50 hours before the child was out of the hole, and the entire drama was aired live on most of the TV channels across India. Everyone (I assume) who saw this action, would have prayed/hoped for survival of the child, and saluted the Army for rescuing the child.

But then there are few bookies who were betting on the life of the child. The bets were very high initially against the kid, but seeing military’s actions bet swinged the other way. And do you know the amount of money that was bet on the child– A Staggering Rs 150 Crores..!!!!!

Its rightly said, India is a land of opportunities, You can make money from anything and everything..!!!

Posted by: alok | July 5, 2006

The world of arbitrage opportunities..

Can we leverage postal stamps arbitrage opportunity to make some quick bucks? The scheme relies on the fact that If I have to send a mail (yes the same standard snail mail through post office) to US, it would cost me around Rs. 40 (or say $1), but if I have to send something back from US to India through normal USPS it costs me around $4, a difference of $3, or rather it costs 300% more to send the same amount of materials over same distance, (and in more or less the same time, with roughly the same degree of assurance). So does it qualify as an arbitrage opportunity? Now, the logistics of reaping this arbitrage — I send a mail to US with return postage (will cost me around Rs. 90-100- around $2) in India and my recipient encashes the return Indian stamp for US postage of $4 to India. Then he can sell that postage stamp again to anyone in US for $4 (making a hard cash of $4) or send his packates if any to India. This way me and my US partner can make $2 for every $2 invested in this channel. I assume it will take around 15 days or so to send a normal post to US, and another 15 days for my US partner to encash the return stamp. So we can double our money in 30 days..!! A perfect arbitrage (as per my finance professors) requires zero capital investment, and an assured return within the time frame. So instead of putting in my own money, i can probably take money from an ATM using my credit-card (they will charge me 2-3% per month), and use that money for encashing the postal arbitrage..!!!!

I think such opportunities exist in every logistics company, which involves sending things back and forth across international boundaries. For instance, If I have to make a call to US from India, BSNL charges me Rs. 7/minute (i.e. 1 hour of US call will be Rs. 420 or around $10). However, my friend in US can call me purchase calling cards at $5 for 40-50 minutes talk time. i.e. around $7-8/hour. So can I use his calling cards in US (meant for calling to India) for a return call? Not sure, if calling cards comapnies will let me do so, but atleast I can send an email to my friend in US giving him my phone number in India, and the number of the person whom i want to call in US. My friend can then just call me using the calling card, and my US party using his local service provider and conference the two. This will cost my friend $7-$8/hour (+ nominal charge for call within US), bill me $9/hour, and pocket $1/hour. Which business can give you $1/hour for doing nothing..!!!! I don’t know about the volume of calls being made from India to US, so can’t make an estimate of existing arbitrage, but it must run in several thousand $$/year..!!

My finance course ends here itself, go and mint money. But is it legally/ethically allowed? While browsing at the legal implications of encashing these arbitrage opportunities, I came across the story of a genius named Charles Ponzi. Mr. Ponzi became immortal with his revolutionary idea of ‘postal stamps arbitrage opportunity’, which he did way back in 1912, and was jailed..!!! You can do a google on Charles Ponzi and find what he did. Infact he even found arbitrage in real estate and did somethign similar in Florida, only to be put behind the bars there also.

Posted by: alok | June 8, 2006

‘Death-Traps’ on Indian Roads..!

No I can’t be a silent spectator to the whole ‘Death Trap’ automobiles in the market. Recent incident of a Honda City catching fire and the passengers inside couldn’t find a way out.. courtesy ‘Central Locking System’. Then yesterday we had the same incident for Wagon R, and last year it was suffocated passengers in cars stranded in Mumbai Floods. Should we let the automobile giants scout free? Would the lawmakers or insurance companies or consumer right activists in a ‘Developed’ Country absolve the manufacturers.

I am not an expert on automobile security systems (I don’t possess one, and I am scared to buy one after these incidents). Now, since I don’t know if the central locking system was the real culprit for people being charred to death, or something which media is not reporting, I should not vindicate one party or the other. But I assume, that any sane person’s first reaction in an eventuality like these would be to get out of the vehicle. So the passengers must have tried their best to open the door, slide the window panes, or even break it. It makes me shiver at the thought that there is no emergency exit plan installed in the car. Couldn’t the manufacturers provide manual system which can be used only from inside, in addition to any-other security gadgets they provide?

This has become a common discussion at dining tables. There are ‘experts’ who suggest that the car-locks can just be pulled out and the doors will open, ‘you kick on the edges of the windshield and it will come out’, to the ones like keeping a hammer and fire-extinguishers in the car, etc. Ya hammer and fire-extinguishers make sense, but can’t the manufacturer themselves provide an exit route (and I am not talking about Convertibles, or vehicles with soft canvas roof)

I remember Mitsubishi Eclipse, Pontiacs, Chevrolet Impala, and Civic, Corrolla (ya, these are low-cost budget cars in US) you can bend the rear seat of the car mechanically and access the trunk of the car, even from inside. (We used to have all our food and beverages stuffed there on long-drives, and we didn’t have to stop and get out of the car to reach the stuff). If such a facility is available, can’t we extend it to allow the trunk to be opened from inside. If we have this, then the passengers can atleast crawl-out out in case of emergency, when all the doors are jammed, window-panes are stuck, the windshield can’t be broken.

Or is it that there are escape-routes, which a normal car-buyer is not even aware of like the famed – ‘Undocumented-DOS?

Posted by: alok | May 22, 2006

Blood on the street….

Black Monday, Black Thursday and then Black Friday. Couldn’t comprehend any reason why we had ‘not-so-black tuesday and wednesday’ What drives the market – Fundamentals or human emotions? Leaving the details of the amount of money washed from the capital market, number of declines and advances, put/call ratio for statistical analysts, let me try to conoct a reason for this blood-shed.

Is it a correction, or as some say ‘much-awaited correction’, or manipulations by big players and/or decision makers, or panic selling, or automatic triggering of stop losses, FII’s packing their bags, hysterical shorting by hedge funds, or contagious effect of weakening asian markets and rising Fed interest rates, Chidru’s (Fin. Minister) statements on taxing FIIs, SEBI cracking whips on brokerage firms, Leftist front becoming powerful, or something beyond human comprehencion, or is it just simple random walk theory trying to prove that investors are no better than baboons….!!!!

When you are not sure, point your fingers towards everything. Think about a person who is not directly invested in capital market (you can find 100’s of them around you). What has changed in his daily life.. he still uses the same toileteries, watches same ‘saas bhi kabhi bahut thi’, goes to the same office, takes the same route, eats teh same stuff he used to do earlier, still talks on his cell. So in a nutshell has anything changed radically in his consumption. NO.
Has India’s exports reduced dramatically, has the prices of goods fallen or has there been a sudden surge of inflation. Has anything changed at demand-supply equilibrium. Again NO. aren’t we using the same currency note. On a global front, has China backed-out from
infrastructure dev. for olympics, won’t Delhi host the commonwealth games, have people stopped wearing clothes, have North Korea attacked US. If nothing of that sort has happened then where have the fundamentals changed?

So was the blood bath because of correction…? if we are saying, its a correction, it means we are saying the market was over-valued before. If that was the case, then we shouldn’t be expecting market to regain its losses in a short span (or unless something changes fundamentally).

Was it a standard business cycle…? If Mark Faber is to be believed… bull/bear phase in the commodity market stays around 20-25 years… and not 20-25 days..!!!! So if commodity market has not changed, it means the consumption of the commodities, demand-supply, and all those ‘so called macro-economic indicators’ (why ‘so-called’ will discuss later) should be stable, and so should the stock market.

Is it just a random walk theory…. very likely No. because I fail to imagin market gaining 1000 points in 4 trading sessions. Becasue random walk would say, there is always an equal probability of market gaining and loosing equal points. So I am the proponent of the belief that “baboons can be be better traders, but no better investors than human being”. I leave that for you to decide, are you an investor or a trader, and accordingly will benefit from being a baboon or a human being.

So it leaves me to raise fingers towards other possible reasons.. FII’s packing their bags, but why the heck..? Fin. Min. has clearly said ‘There are no FII’s traders in Indian Market, they are all investors, so no seperate tax for them’.. but what domestic investors/traders…. its a point of concern, because Mr. Chidru. has kept mum on this, so traders are likely to be taxed at business rates (i.e. 33%) and investors at the capital gains tax rate.

Other possiblity, some of us are concerned about Leftist powers, if you consider West bengal as the most communist influenced state, think Buddhadeb and you may reconsider your views. What about Mr. Sitaram Yechury, .. it could be a reason.

Weak Asian market cues… yes it would explain the fall till thursday, but can’t explain the friday..!!

Finally, is our market highly volatile…? I would have taken that arguement, if our economy was as stable as that of Sudan, or if we were in a war. Yes. we are at war… and I think that war is within, to fight greed…!! If you are not an speculator, don’t bet on directional nature of index. Bet on the fundamentals.. as betting on fundamentals is not gambling.

I have been greedy sometime before, and incurred heavy losses recently, but I think its great to face big blood baths in the early phases of our investment journey. It makes you realise the importance of sticking to basics.

Posted by: alok | March 28, 2006

Shift of balance of power

How quickly does time change balance of power and your bargaining power.!! A real experience for me – courtesy placement process at ISB. I got chucked out from few companies, in which I was seriously interest. ISB days were coming to an end, and I had no offer. Attending a party, seeing others having a nice time; and me in jobless state is no good fun. I didn’t find a respite even in couple of pegs. Infact the worst thing to do is — booze when you are not happy, it aggravates the problem..!! Never do that. Booze only when you are happy… it adds to your happiness..!!!

I attended quite a few interviews after that, and it was always that the recruiters had the upper hand. I approached my alumni, friends and all resources that I could muster to forward my resume to their respective companies. It went on well in few of them, and before the final offer from them, I got a good offer – thanks to our placement cell.

The balance of power is now in my favor. Now, I am wondering how and when to say NO to other firms where I had already been at the final stages. It’s even more difficult to say no – when you approached a firm through your acquaintances. Will it in anyway impact their relationship with their bosses.

Should I wait till the firms give the final offer, and I reject them saying the offer is not good, or should I tell them, I have an offer of which I am happy about, and would not like to take up the discussion further…???? Probably common sense and Negotiation profs will advise, to go with the first option; negotiate harder with the other firms, as your BATNA is very high, you may get an even better deal. Somehow I am not convinced with the idea that you should bargain heavily on salary in one firm, if you are happy with the alternative you already have.

When in doubt, follow your instincts – I am choosing the later option.

Disclaimer: Readers please don’t interpret my not getting an offer for long time, as a problem with ISB’s placement. Probably I was not competent for the companies in which I applied, or the other way round – the role and offer was not exciting enough for me.

Posted by: alok | March 27, 2006

Lessons from World Literature – 1

“Who has time for literature anymore? You probably don’t – but you should. Start with Shakespeare and end
with Freud, and watch how your view of life and work changes. I believe that literature does have a fundamental truth to teach in regard to change: change always arises out of unexpected. It may be the unexpectedness of self-knowledge through over hearing yourself or it may be imposed upon you by external events. By reading great imaginative literature, you can prepare yourself for surprise and even get a kind of strength that welcomes and expolits the unexpected” – Harold Bloom.

My first reaction was ‘what crap, its just bullshit’. So I took one course at ISB just for the heck of it, just to hear stories and no assignments :). But now towards the end of the course, my views are slightly different. Courtesy LLWL course here at ISB.

Changing the course title of one of the subjects that I liked a lot. The original name is ‘LLWL’ – Leadership Lessons from World Literature. An interesting subject to study, but I think its not only the leadership lessons that can be learnt from literature but a lot more. And so the title of the post. The first in the sequel.

Disclaimer: Though I am influenced by Prof. Rajeshwar Upadhayaya, but the views here are personal, and in all case the ‘I’ in me will prevail in my writings.

“There’s nothing quixotic about learning leadership from world literature.”

The interesting part to note in the great literary works is the influence that contemporary society has on the author and how ‘hardwired’ the author is. Talking about ‘hardwired’ – most of us are ‘hardwired’ to act in the way we do. If for a moment, I believe Charles Darwin – we have evolved from apes to being a man, and looking at the timeline we the humans (homo-sapiens) have been around for only 10,000 years, and we as apes have lived for more than 100,000 years. So is it not true that 90% of our brain is ape-like and only 10% is humanely…?? And if you extend it further, 99% or more of our behaviour is beast-like..!!! So the first instinct of a man is to behave like an ape.

Even if we look at the society in last 5000 years or so, it has been mostly agrarian till 1850 or so, and then it was industrial, and now we can call ourselves in a state of being ‘pseudo intellect’ – trying to prove that we are better than ‘God’, we can conquer ‘Nature’..!!!! So where’s the world literature part in all this prologue?

In our course, we studied Ramayana, Gita, Odysseus/Ulysses, Abhigyan Shankutalam, Oedipus Rex, Don Quixote, Francis Bacon, Julius Ceaser, Nietzsche – Thus spake Zarathustra, Emerson, Wasteland by Eliot, Camus-The Outsider, Gandhi, India: a wounded civilization – V.S. Naipul. Add to it quotes from Sigmund Freud, Bible and contemporary corporate writers like Steven Covey.

If you look at the selection of literature, it starts with 5000 B.C. covering the entire history to today.

The following sequels will have what i could make out of these works.

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