Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Coffee anyone?

I hear that Starbucks is coming to India. Apparently, they have been discussing this for over 5 years now. Howard Schultz was in India a couple of years ago to check out the competition. But they have not yet opened any stores. I just figured out why this is such a challenge for this coffee giant that has over 10,000 stores all over the world.

It is not the supply of coffee beans or acquisition of real estate. In order to compete with Barista and Cafe Coffee Day or the local street vendor, Starbucks will have to change it's service delivery model. Having a couple of polite and pleasant staff members behind a counter is not going to cut it. Self-service? Not a chance. They will need to have an army of people in the stores ready to create a highly customized concoction for you, add the right amount of sugar, stir your coffee and serve it to you just the way you like it and deliver it to you in your office!

This is not fantasy. Trust me. I just had my cup of Cappucino served to me in my office as I was sitting here and thinking about my next blog post.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Toughest job in town

After a month in town, I have figured out what the most difficult job in corporate Bangalore is. If you enjoy high stress, long work hours, constant rejection, intense competition and sustained pressure, you don’t have to aim for that CEO or Operations VP or Global Delivery Center head job. Simply join the Human Resources department as a recruiter.

Recruiting and retaining talented employees is the biggest challenge faced by companies in town. Young talented professionals (even fresh out of college) have several opportunities ahead of them and can take their pick. People are continuously job shopping and the good ones are being offered twice their current compensation to lure them away from their jobs.

Compensation is the leading driver for young professionals in the early career stage (less than 3 years). These folks will select a job or change a job for a 20% difference in offered salary. Besides compensation, the other critical drivers (in order of importance) are company brand/recognition, being part of a global workforce, the job profile and location. As these professionals gain more experience (greater than 5 years), compensation becomes a little less of a differentiator and job profile and professional growth take on a greater importance in job selection.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Bangalore

I celebrated my first Thanksgiving in Bangalore and had an authentic North Karnataka meal at Kamat in Jayanagar. This was quite a meal! Served on a banana leaf (no utensils), the meal consisted primarily of hot jowar roti and yangai (egg plant curry). It came with two other vegetable curries, lentil, fresh yoghurt, two varieties of chutneys, spring onion and papads. Once you are done with the rotis (unlimited in supply), you are served with a mound of hot white rice and sambar. You finish the meal with a banana and a paan.

The menu in this place is fixed and your only choice is between “regular” and “special”. All of us opted for the “regular” so I could not find out what the “special” meal consisted of. The waiters were dressed in traditional rural attire with a brown kurta, white dhoti and a cap. The restaurant was on the terrace which had a tiled roof and a large patio.

This one will definitely go on the “A” list! Next time you are in Bangalore, put this on your “must-visit” list.

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The world is really flat!

22 days after I landed in Bangalore, I got myself a new mobile phone (8700g). My "connectedness" has now doubled! I am just blown away at the technological advances that have made communications across the globe easy and pain-free.

I am talking to Mona and the kids everyday (sometimes twice in a day) via Skype. A few dropped calls and poor video quality aside, we can see each other across continents as I discuss homework with Aanish or piano lessons with Ayaana. In the past week or so, I have spoken to members of my family in the US, UK and Middle East via Skype!

Instant Messaging (IM) and E-Mail (access anytime, anywhere) allows me to be connected and communicate with friends and family while I am sitting here in my guest house on MG Road in Bangalore! This blog has given me the opportunity to share my experiences with all and I look forward to your comments on my posts.

With my new phone, I will now have access to most of these tools and some more (SMS, MMS) on the go.

The world is indeed flat and is getting flatter by the minute.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Job Hunting - any time, any place

The global outsourcing boom has clearly improved the employability of the average Indian but it seems like there still aren't enough jobs for everyone. This point hit home with me yesterday when I was travelling back to Bangalore after a short visit to Hyderabad.

I was passing through security at the airport when I was stopped by the security guard in charge. He asked me a host of questions about where I was coming from, where I was going and why. Then he started inquiring about my company and the nature of it's business. I found this to be quite strange but decided that I was not going to mess around with a guy carrying a machine gun.

After his inquiry was complete and he was satisfied with my responses, the guard asked me if I could assist in securing employment for his brother. Apparently, this chap works in the IT field and has been unemployed for about 3 months! I politely informed him that I am new to Bangalore myself and it is unlikely that I would be able to provide any assistance. His response? "It's ok, saar! Maybe in a few months."

If there hadn't been about twenty impatient travellers waiting to pass through security, I am sure that I would have been handed a copy of a resume and would likely be conducting an interview sitting in the waiting lounge.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Service Oriented Culture!

India has a strong service oriented culture. So no surprise that it is becoming a destination for service oriented industries for companies worldwide. Indians aim to please and you will never hear "no" for an answer. But even I did not fully understand the extent of the service orientation of folks here until the a small incident last week.

We ordered some sandwiches for lunch at work. For some, this conjures up an image of a tray full of an assortment of sandwiches and bags of chips along with some soda cans. My sandwich came piping hot, served individually in a plate by a staff member at the office. To top it all, the little packet of ketchup was neatly cut so that I would not have to struggle to tear the top of!

Top this, Subway!!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Space .... the final frontier

There is simply not enough of it in Bangalore! This became evident to me very quickly during my morning and evening commute to/from work. Rush hour in Bangalore is from 9AM to 8PM. The distance between my guest house and the office is about 2km (1.2 miles for all my "we hate the metric system" friends in the US). On a good day (about once in a year), I can do this commute in 15 minutes. On a bad day (about 364 days in a year), this can take upto 40 minutes.

Being in traffic is an exhilarating experience and really gets your juices going in the morning. Cars drive within an inch of each other and within half an inch of pedestrians! Nobody has the right of way. The city has grown faster than it ever anticipated and the infrastructure is definitely playing catch up. On a positive note, there is a ton of road construction underway, a new metro is supposed to be coming up soon and there is planned expansion in the works. Another 20 years, and you will not be able to recognize the city!!!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

At the movies

My roommate at the guesthouse and I decided to go see a movie on Tuesday. We settled on the new Martin Scorcese film “Departed” playing at the INOX. There are a few things that are different about going to a movie here.

First, we went for the 9:55PM showing of the movie …. ON A TUESDAY NIGHT! Even more shocking than that, we discovered that the movie was actually SOLD OUT. This tells us a couple of things. Indians love movies and late nights. We ended up buying tickets for the same show on Wednesday and returned to the guest house.

The theater was inside a mall (Garuda Mall). This was my second visit to a mall in three days. Those who know me well, know that shopping malls are not high on my list of favorite destinations. But I must admit, these malls were different and fun to hang out at. I might get tired of them after a couple of dozen visits, but for now they are a good place to spend a couple of hours. The theater was very nice. The concession stand had an interesting selection. You could order anything from nachos & cheese to hot vegetable samosas! The place looks no different than an AMC or Mann. Tickets are pricy by Indian standards (Rs. 130/- a pop).

But I have heard about another theater chain (PVR Cinema) that appears to offer a unique experience. I will make it a point to blog my PVR experience when I am able to make it out to that theater.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is it lunch time yet?

Lunch time has become my favorite time of the day very quickly. You have the usual options of eating in a cafeteria or stepping out for a sandwich etc. But another option is to order in! And the choices range from Masala Dosas and Idlies to Biriyani and Thaali. It's all piping hot and delivered fresh to your desk.

How can this be beat?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Failure to communicate … again!

This time it was the auto rickshaw driver. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, an auto rickshaw is a small, light weight vehicle that is used as a taxi in India. It is a 3-wheeler that is an extremely convenient mode of transportation. Most of these vehicles are being converted to use CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and hence are eco-friendly. Here’s what one of them looks like this:

If you are interested in learning more about these lovable machines, you can read more about them here.

I set out for work yesterday morning and decided to take an auto rickshaw to work. The driver misunderstood the destination (I said “Lavelle Road” and he heard …. Actually I am not sure what he heard). He took a different route than the one I was used to taking every day. The traffic on MG Road (my usual route) is terrible between 9AM and 10AM. So I assumed that this driver had a better alternate route to the office. Plus the driver was busy listening to music on his MP3 player and seemed to know where he was going. After about 30 minutes, I realized that we were not heading anywhere close to the office and stopped him for clarification. This is when we discovered the little misunderstanding regarding my destination. He literally had to make a U-turn, navigate his way through heavy traffic and return to the original route. It took an hour for us to get back close to the office!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

First haircut in town

Today is the first day that I have had a moment to relax and catch-up. My highest priority was to get a haircut. I was given directions to a place on Brigade Road where I can get a haircut and I set out this morning. After wandering around for half hour, I was convinced that I would not be able to locate this place. Just as I was ready to turn back, I found a small barber shop for men which I promptly walked into.

The place was about 150 sq. ft. and had five chairs. I was summoned by a small, thin and balding man in a spotless white shirt. Within minutes I was seated in a chair with a crisp white linen cloth wrapped tightly around my neck. The barber’s tools were a small rusty scissor and a black comb (not its original color). I started explaining my haircut preferences to him and realized very quickly that we had a failure to communicate between us. At that point, I sighed and gave myself up to his mercy.

Then the master went to work! For the next 45 minutes, he worked on my hair, cutting what seemed like one hair at a time. He worked like an artist creating his final masterpiece. He would snip a few hair here and a few hair there, gently brush some hair away and use his comb to rearrange my hair. After repeating this process about a few hundred times, he appeared satisfied by the results. Then he started massaging my head and scalp. He worked on it like a sculpture for a few minutes and switched to drumming my head with his fingers like a musician.

The experience cost me a grand total of Rs. 25/- ($0.50USD). The results? Well, this was more about the process and the experience. The wonderful thing about hair is that it does grow back!

Bangalore Calling ...

It has finally happened! The idea germinated over a year ago. Mona and I started talking about the possibility of spending some time in India in late 2005. I visited India a few times on business in late 2005 and early 2006 and was overwhelmed at the growth and development taking place in the country. The pace of change was overwhelming. The country has transformed in the last decade. I wanted to be part of this excitement. We were also ready for a lifestyle change. Living in India at this stage of our lives would be very different from living in Los Angeles. We could use this opportunity to reconnect with the place and travel to other places within the region. This adventure would also provide Aanish and Ayaana with a unique experience of living in and experiencing a foreign culture in a deep and meaningful way. Finally, this also enables us to get in touch with a lot of family and friends who live in the country.

It’s been a long journey to get here but it has finally happened. A good opportunity came along to setup a company that would offer creative services to media companies and publishers out of Bangalore. I arrived in the city on October 30th. The first week has been quite hectic with work as well as adjusting to my new home. But I intend to start blogging about this more regularly. So stay tuned.