Monthly Archives: December 2015

Solutions to India’s transportation problems (2015)

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In 2011 I wrote an article that described my solutions to India’s transportation problems. It was very popular, so I wrote a few subsequent articles on the topic.

2011 version
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2011/04/10/solutions-to-indias-transportation-problem/#sthash.MBfEQ7t9.dpuf

2014 version
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2014/08/23/solutions-to-indias-transportation-problems-2014/

The spoke system of transportation for a new Indian city
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2010/09/06/the-spoke-system-of-transportation-for-a-new-indian-city/

India’s main problem is that their level of affluence grew faster than their infrastructure. Roads were designed for bullock carts, not cars and buses. Bus drivers are often rude and drive in a jerky and unfriendly way. If you take the bus, you’ll be squeezed like a sardine, but if you drive a car, you’ll be creating more congestion. There must be a better way.

Downtown Areas
Transportation systems should be created for specific environments. Downtown areas have a very high population density and are ideal for certain types of transportation that wouldn’t be effective in sparely populated areas.

Moving Walkways
Moving walkways are perfect ways for people to get around in busy airports, and downtown areas. There could be enclosed above ground passageways with moving walkways. People could move roughly 8km/hour by walking on these contraptions. At that speed, you could get anywhere in any downtown area in minutes, as well as getting to various railway stations in minute as well.

Tolls For Cars
Instead of creating new systems of transportation, taxing the existing ways make a lot of sense. India has too many cars. Less cars mean that the other vehicles on the road will be able to move more freely. If cars are monopolizing roads, they should pay for that with daily tolls.

A Minibus Network on a Raised Network of Roads
Buses are no fun because they take too long to load, and don’t come frequently enough. However, minibuses are smaller and are fast to load. India is busy building flyovers. However, I believe that the money should be invested in raised roads that travel the length of the city. Minibuses could travel on a web of raised roads around the city traveling at speeds unheard of for cars. The raised roads would have no traffic other than small buses, so 70km/ hour would be possible and your commute might take minutes instead of hours!

Regular Routes for Share Taxis
Share rickshaws are unpleasant to get in an out of not to mention dangerous. But, enlarged golf carts or elongated cars might be very comfortable to travel around the city in. If there were regular stops for share vehicles, that might be a nice way for the middle class to get around.

A New City Built Around Transportation
I like the idea of building completely new cities in India. Tech workers and outsourcing workers might be able to popular these new areas. By creating a new city, you can design the city around the transportation instead of vice versa. You could leave extra space available in case technology changes.

Moving Cubicles?
Imagine a new city where offices are build in such a way that a cubicle could move from someone’s home to the office and be “plugged in.” Yes, this is a crazy idea, but fun. If your cubicle plugged into your home at night, a system could be devised where you could work in your cubicle while the cubicle was moved down the street into a slow cubicle train and to your office where it would get plugged in at exactly the right location. I love crazy ideas, but this is by far the best.

A Live Next to Work System
Let’s say you got a new job downtown. What if a new city in India made it a law that companies had to provide housing for employees within .5 km of work? You could have a flat walking distance from work which means no more traffic. But, what about your spouse and parents. How would they go to work? That is a harder question to answer. And what if companies could set up mini-offices in your neighborhood so you wouldn’t have to go too far. Instead of one huge office, mini-offices. It is an interesting concept.

Industry Specific City Design
Another interesting practical idea for a new city would be laws governing where certain industries could have their offices. If all call centers were in the same area, if you changed jobs, your new job would still be near the old job. If you were a programmer and there was only one IT park, your new job would be nearby.

Parking lots and trains
A new city in India could accommodate many large parking lots near train stations. It is normal for India to always skimp on parking lots and make the parking lot smaller, and more cramped than it needs to be. It should be the opposite if you want people to take the train. Parking lots should be large, easy to maneuver around and pleasant. Fast trains could leave every several minutes from the parking lot going everywhere in the city.

Twin Towers
Imagine a city where there is a huge office building, a beautiful garden, and on the other side a huge residential high rise. If you live in one and work in the other, your commute could be across a bridge going above the park unless you prefer to walk.

Shared Offices
Instead of going halfway across town to work, imagine shared offices. If there were shared offices in all neighborhoods, you could lease a workstation with a computer, desk, phone, and whatever else you needed. Shared offices are becoming a more popular concept in America, Berlin, and even Indonesia these days. They are popular with entrepreneurs, but why shouldn’t they be popular with big businesses? There would be less traffic if people could walk to work.

The Lake City Idea
Imagine a city on a huge lake or by the ocean. You could work on a huge ship. This is a bizarre idea, but a fun one. The ship could move around from port to port in the lake picking up workers while the other workers were busy at work. Cruise ships sort of operate on this principle as you can sleep in them while you move from travel destination to destination.

The Train Office Idea
A similar concept could be created for trains. If your office were on a train that moved very slowly, instead of going to work, you wait for work to come to you, and then jump on. It is a really strange idea, but interesting. Stores could also be on very wide railway tracks and come to you. The office might be on a mag-lev track to avoid friction and might only move two miles per hour. But, you’d never have to commute to work again. I guess during the middle of the day, the office could pick a location to “park” itself while people did their work.

How to start an outsourcing company (2016)

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I wrote an earlier version of how to start an outsourcing company several years ago. I wanted to spruce it up a bit, so here is the new version.

1. Have Extensive Experience
I get emails daily from people who want to start a BPO, or who just got one but lack clients. There is a lot of competition out there and a lot that can go wrong. You need many years of experience in your industry to have a chance at doing well. Additionally, you need to be better at what you do than anyone else, otherwise, why should anyone hire you? I’ve read many articles about entrepreneurships and startups. The point that hit home is that people in their 20’s that want to start businesses have a high failure rate because they lack maturity and experience. A startup might be a new business, but the experience that goes behind it should be old. People tend to do a lot better at entrepreneurship in their 50’s as they are well seasoned, mature, have contacts, and have a ton of experience. I’m not discouraging young people from starting businesses. I started my first business when I was six, and another when I was fourteen. I did okay too and I learned a lot from it. However, I was very immature how I ran many aspects of my business. My businesses had small investments like a lawnmower and a rake. If you are investing in a 20 seat office and salaries, you had better know what you are doing.

2. Get Management Experience
Okay, so you know how to do your job and you worked for the best. There is a lot more to running a business than being a worker. Being a good worker is only one aspect to the endeavor. If you were a good worker, that shows you have the skills and patience to survive in the industry. But, you need to know how to manage expenses, do marketing, hire, fire, train, and assess workers. That requires many years in management to be any good. I recommend that you have at least seven years in management before attempting to create your own BPO.

3. Master your Marketing
As a BPO owner, you won’t survive at all if you don’t have clients. You need to be an expert at marketing. You need to be able to find decision makers at companies around the world to get clients. Some use LinkedIn, others go to networking meetings, while many have agents to help them find clients. You can also subcontract work from other people’s outsourcing operations. Having a great website and promoting it is often the solution while excelling at social media and blogging is a great boone to your business presence.

4. Excel at Customer Retention
If you start an outsourcing company, you will have customers. The difference between a good outsourcing company and a great one is how long you keep your clients. Do you do a good job? Do you keep in touch with clients? Do you help them find new reps quickly if they don’t like the old ones? Are you there for your clients, or do you just use them for money? To do well at outsourcing you need to focus on pleasing clients no matter what. You can’t grow your company if you are always losing your clients.

5. Give Free Samples
I grew my businesses by offering free samples or discounted trials. If you want to attract outsourcing clients, give them a chance to try your work with no contracts and low prices. They will be seven times as likely to give you a chance if you give them something for free or half price. If you do a good job, you might win them over for life. So you get by giving.

6. Offer Liberal Terms
Most outsourcing companies want people to sign rigid contracts that enslave them to stringent terms. Personally, I don’t want to sign a contract with a stranger. The contract ensures that I will pay a certain quantity of dollars each month. However, the contracts never ensure the quality of the service that I am getting. If I get poor service, can I pay with low quality dollars? Dollars are dollars, but no two services are the same. My suggestion is to have easy contracts in the beginning going week to week or month to month with very small deposits. Let the client get comfortable with you before you get demanding.

7. Have Clearly Defined Specialties
There is nothing worse than a call center that is not clear about what they do. Some do telemarketing, others do chat support, while a few do appointment setting. You never really know how good they are at any of their specialties. It is easier when there is a list of specialties in the “services” page of their website. That way you can be sure they do chat support — unless they stopped doing it three years ago and removed it from their site. If you claim to specialize in something, make sure you have multiple workers trained in it so a client can always get someone.

8. Flexible Office Space
Some call centers start with a huge office and then try to get clients. Many of them end up with huge losses from miscalculating how much space they need. It is better to have a flexible system for getting office space. Start small, and don’t get a big office until you have stable clients who are not going to end their relationships with you on a whim. If your workers are divided between two buildings, that is not the best, but it is temporary and you will have to deal with that as your company grows. Some offices offer shared spaces where you can rent space by the day, week, or month. Those would be excellent resources for a startup that doesn’t know how much space it will need.

9. Offer Training To Your Workers
Most BPO companies do not invest enough in training their workers. If you care about success, be like some of the top rate call centers and monitor your workers daily. Train them constantly. Make sure your workers are the best. I am tired of calling outsourcing companies only to hear them say, “hullo” when they answer. This is very unprofessional. If that is how the managers answer the phone, their workers are almost guaranteed to be horrible. If you aren’t professional yourself, how can you possibly train your workers to be?

10. Have Marketing Managers & Floor Managers
To grow your company, you can’t be two places at the same time. You need someone to manage the workers as well as someone to handle marketing and sales. If you hire people who aren’t loyal to you, you might be left high and dry. So, you might have primary managers and a few backups who you are constantly training.

11. Reward Worker Loyalty
You can’t build a good business with disloyal employees. Businesses that do well have a core of people who have been with them for ten or twenty years. You need to make sure you treat your star employees like stars. They deserve more money, better conditions, and appreciation. If you take them for granted you’ll lose them. Mediocre workers are dime a dozen — they are replaceable. But, you can’t build a business with them. Stars are the framework of your future success. Find them and find a way to keep loyal and talented people, otherwise your business will be tiny forever — or worse — it might be a collection of 50 dysfunctional nitwits!

Summary
I wish you good luck in business. But, the worst thing you can do in business is to go too fast. Get your foundation in order before creating a business. If you are not already a marketing genius, you’ll never survive. If you have to ask me how to get clients, you’re in the wrong field altogether. Additionally, I would like to add that the call center business is one that many Indians want to start. This type of business is almost exclusively being done outside of India. Even Indian companies are hiring Filipinos to do their call center work since the manners in India are very unpolished. Try to focus on an outsourcing specialty that caters to the talents of the workforce where you are. Indians are better at accounting and technical support than call center work. Keep that fact in mind as it can make you or ruin you! Good luck!

You might also like:

Six problems that only someone working in a BPO company would understand
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2015/06/15/six-problems-that-only-individuals-working-in-a-bpo-industry-would-understand/

Marketing your BPO firm from A to Z
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2016/05/22/marketing-your-bpo-outsourcing-firm-from-a-to-z/

If you invested in training your BPO workers, what types of skills would you teach them?
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2015/03/28/if-you-invested-in-training-your-bpo-employees-what-types-of-skills-would-you-teach-them/

See our 2011 version of how to start an outsourcing company!
http://bpo.123outsource.net/2011/04/24/how-to-start-an-outsourcing-company/

Why your sitar & tabla lessons are the most important training for business

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We all want to succeed in business. Unfortunately, many people who aspire to create a startup lack the discipline or skills to be able to succeed. Many people want to have a huge success in a short period of time. They want to take a magic pill and have something miraculous happen in their business. In real life business success is built on a foundation. Without that foundation, your business will crumble. But, how can you build that foundation?

Bad English = Bad Work Skills
So many people email me using incorrect grammar saying, “Give me job.” Or they email me without knowing how to spell my name. How can you succeed in doing complicated outsourcing tasks when you can’t even spell English correctly? If you do data entry and there are formatting issues with the email you sent me, why would I believe you could do data entry? If you do programming, but there are syntax errors in your email you sent me, then there will be syntax errors in your programming too. To do well in business you need discipline, refinement, and skill. But, how can you develop these? Children of the upper-middle class typically take music lessons to develop exactly these types of skills which benefits them for the rest of their lives. Those who study music typically do well as doctors, attorneys, business people, and in other professions as well.

Sitar Lessons Teach Discipline
To learn to play the sitar or any other musical instrument requires years of arduous practice. Practicing requires extreme patience and can also be physically taxing. Beginners typically make their musical instrument sound horrible while Yo Yo Ma can make even the most inexpensive cello sound like a million bucks. Learning to play the sitar is a little like learning to grow a business. It takes two decades to become good at the sitar. It can take two decades to learn to become good at business. There are so many factors involved in being a good business person. There is management, marketing, human resources, finance, and more. If you are weak in any one of these aspects, you will lose everything. Basically, if you have the discipline to master the sitar, you’ll have the discipline and sensitivity to master anything.

Listening Skills
The study of any musical instrument including sitar or tabla requires listening. Listening involves paying attention. If you are not trained to pay attention, your business won’t do well. If you don’t return emails because you are lazy or not paying attention, you’ll lose prospective clients. I generally am the one to have to chase people down to get them to finish their work and return emails. It is ironic that people in industries who are begging for work won’t even return an email. If you have a musical background, you will realize right away when your call center agents are talking to loudly, softly, unclearly, or with the wrong tone. Your sitar lessons will make you more sensitive to subtle differences in tone which can help you in any business — except perhaps the concrete laying business or mafia related jobs. Additionally, in business you have to listen to what the client wants. If you only think about what you want, you’ll lose the client. Being sensitive and aware of your clients’ needs is one of the components to your ticket to success in business. Sensitivity can be learned through sitar or tabla lessons.

Timing
If you play music with others, timing is critical. If the pianist plays several notes, and the violinist is supposed to respond with a few other notes, the music will fall apart if the violinist is late. In business, I have programmers and call centers do tasks for me. The problem is that I have to bug them or I never hear from them. If they had a sitar playing background, they would respond right away. You also need to be able to coordinate the timing of small and large projects. You can imagine how difficult it is to coordinate computer projects involving a dozen or more programmers. Their work needs to synchronize with the other programmers or the entire project will be a failure. If one of the programmers drops out, the project will be done late as well.

Sensitivity
Listening skills lead to sensitivity. But, sensitivity can also apply to business analytics. I analyze stats all the time. However, when I really look more deeply, sometimes I’ll discover patterns in the data that I never noticed before. This cannot happen without sensitivity, inquisitiveness and attention. If your employees show signs that they are not interested, if you are not sensitive, you might not pick up on those signs. Knowing when to fire someone, or when to watch someone is a critical skill in business. If you have been in business for a long time, it becomes intuitive and natural. But, you need to develop a sensitivity within you to be able to see people lose interest. Once an employee loses interest, their work will suffer and then they usually quit. Catch this trend before it happens!

Accuracy
Many companies hire employees who don’t get their work done on time, give wrong answer to questions, quit at the critical moment, etc. In music, if there is even one wrong note, the entire performance is ruined. In business, most companies make multiple mistakes all day long. Having a sitar or tabla playing background can help you be a much better business person by helping you to train yourself to be accurate — and rhythmical! If your business is accurate while the others are not, you have a better chance to grow by leaps and bounds.

Classically trained musicians earn more
The average person in the United States makes about $40,000 per year. When you talk to them they just seem average — partly because they are average. People who play classical music as a hobby typically make around $120,000 per year average — and are more “in tune” as well. They are often professors, doctors, attorneys, researchers, and sometimes music teachers as well (the music teachers don’t make that much, but the doctors typically do.) So, one could say that studying classical music as a child can triple your income as an adult. I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison, but there is some truth to it.

The myth that classical music isn’t sexy
Many people think that classical musicians are very prudish and straight. There is some truth to this fallacy. However, many musical instruments have a G-string, and there is nothing as sexy as one of those! On the other hand, if you play the sitar, that involves playing a drone — that is okay just as long as you also don’t talk like a drone (or have one deliver pizza.)

Summary
The moral of this article is that studying classical music helps you to refine, perfect, listen, be sensitive, and be on time. These traits will help you in anything you pursue in life — especially business. So, if your business is doing well, or not doing so well, I’m sure it would do better if you dust off your sitar that’s sitting in the closet and start taking lesson. And if you don’t like the sitar, play the veena.

“I’m Ravi Shankar and I approve of this message!”

Is it fair that American jobs are outsourced to India? (2015)

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In America, the debate over outsourcing has raged on for decades. Americans are outraged that their jobs are outsourced overseas; while companies are outraged that they can’t find suitable labor resources at a sustainable rate in America. So, who is right, who is wrong and why?

What goes up must come down
When America loses jobs, it is normally because there are not enough quality people available to do those jobs. Many manufacturing jobs went to China, Honduras, Vietnam and other countries simply because labor was so expensive, unreliable, and temperamental in the United States. Additionally, labor unions made it cost prohibitive to manufacture automobiles in the United States which nearly put many American car manufacturers out of business. For decades there were endless disputes between labor and management which were very disturbing and costly. Many manufacturers decided it would be easier to relocate somewhere where people actually wanted to work without all the hostility. However, despite tens of millions of American jobs being outsourced overseas, unemployment has been generally 5-10% over the years. Additionally, we are so short of labor, that we rely on a constant influx of Latin Americans and other immigrants to help do all types of jobs. America has a labor shortage, and no matter how many jobs are offshored, there will still be a labor shortage. Additionally, jobs sent overseas gain American currency as payment, and that payment comes back to us in the form of purchases of agricultural exports, toiletries, and other products. If you visit India, everything in their small stores seems to be made in America — you’ll recognize Tide, Head and Shoulders, Snickers and hundreds of other brand names.

If America starts really hurting…
Americans often want manufacturing to come back to the states. What they don’t realize is that for economic conditions to be ripe for manufacturing to come back, our labor rate would have to come down to $3 per hour. America would have to be in a permanent economic depression for labor rates to ever be that low. With the recent mass influx of Latin Americans into the United States, labor rates have been going down. Hispanics have a higher birth rate than Anglos and normally do labor intensive jobs which means that future labor rates in the U.S. will be very low as we will have a huge labor pool of Hispanics. Additionally, with technology and robotics becoming so developed in America, we will be able to compete with China for the first time in recent history. Chinese workers are not as efficient as American workers, and lack the robotics to help them decrease labor costs. It seems clear to me that tech-aided manufacturing is already making a comeback in the United States and could continue to prosper as labor rates in China rise.

What about programming jobs?
It is very difficult to find a programmer in the U.S. Most programmers are overloaded and there is a vast shortage of qualified programmers in America and overseas. It is common for programmers to leave jobs undone as other jobs come onto their plate. You might feel that is irresponsible, and you are correct. But, the work ethic and integrity today is not like it was years ago. This is part of the reason jobs are outsourced to India. Conversely, the level of responsibility or quality of work in India is dismal. There are some good programmers, but nine out of ten are not. Hourly rates and availability are where India can really compete against the U.S. After you factor in how little they get done per hour, and how much of the work is so sloppy that it needs to be completely redone — it no longer looks like a bargain.

Americans need to compete
Americans feel entitled to make a huge salary. Additionally, many Americans have a real attitude problem, ego, and are hard to manage. People in India are happy to work for less. An IT job is their ticket out of slums so miserable, you wouldn’t be able to stand even walking through one. When you see the level of desperation in India, you will see how Americans need to be a little more motivated to compete.

Call center jobs went to India and took a U-turn
Americans are always resentful that so many call center jobs went to India. Then Americans were once again dismayed that the quality of the call center employees in India really horrifying. The Indians got their karmic payback and most of their call center work was redirected to the Philippines. Even companies in India often outsource their call center work to Manila as the quality of the reps and the clarity of their English is so much better. Is it fair that Indian jobs are being outsourced to the Philippines? I don’t hear Indians wailing about this type of thing. They are too busy finding other ingenious ways of taking “our” jobs.

There is no “our”
There is no such thing as an American job. The job belongs to the employer. If an employer hires lousy workers, they will soon lose their business. In real life a company cannot just outsource any job wherever they want. They have to be very particular about the quality of the work being done. If the work is terrible, they lose a very expensive client and their reputation.

Does anyone want to work?
Ironically, I have been trying to outsource some call center work myself. However, nobody is emailing me back. I offered to pay more than their fee, but wanted to interview the workers myself just to make sure they were good. I guess people want me to sign a year long contract and hope for the best when it comes to figuring out which rep I get. Well, I am not going to guess anymore. I’m doing the work myself and automizing the rest. Now, “American” jobs are being done by an auto-caller. I think that my personal story is ironic — foreigners don’t even care if they get “our” jobs, and I don’t see any Americans begging to do my lousy calls either. In reality, it seems that nobody wants to work. No wonder companies outsource overseas. You can get someone who doesn’t want to work at a quarter of the price.

Steve Jobs watched his programmers carefully — so should you (2016)

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I wrote an article with an identical title a few years ago. It was so popular, I thought I’d write another version.

The psychology of the programmer
Most programmers and outsourcers in general do not want to be watched. They don’t want to be trained. They want to lock themselves in a dark room and just “bang out code.” Unfortunately, in real life I have found that the minute you are not in constant communication with a worker, the quality of their work will slide and the timeliness and efficiency will be very bad as well. Additionally, the minute I am not watching, programmers do off on tangents, start doing things that were not assigned, and waste a lot of resources. Then, when you question them about their failure to follow directions, they often throw a temper tantrum. None of this is acceptable. In my experience you have to micromanage programmers to a particular extent.

Steve Jobs watched his programmers too, but…
Steve Jobs has a similar opinion except that he was much more demanding than I was. He demanded amazing things from his programmers and chastised them if they made any mistakes. In real life, he could get fancy programmers because he ran a very prestigious company. If you hire programmers for odd jobs at a small company, you will not get the best. And if you criticize them too much they’ll quit, or get into a serious argument with you. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist and a visionary. He ran a huge organization with a huge programming budget. He could afford to pay high salaries, demand the best people, and stretch them to the limit. He had the luxury of being able to fire people on a whim if they didn’t measure up to his rigid expectations. Unfortunately, the rest of us can’t really get away with what Steve could. Let’s face it, there will only be one Steve Jobs!

Looking over people’s shoulders
Programmers are notorious about missing deadlines and not following directions. They just don’t know how to manage their time, and they just don’t care about the experience of the client. You need to keep on them and make sure they finish work on time. In fact, I would not hire a programmer for anything more than a test project until you are absolutely sure they honor deadlines which is less than 10% of them. Programmers also rarely follow all of the directions, so you have to always be double checking everything that they do. Programmers will typically blame the client for not making directions clear enough, so make sure directions are in writing. It makes sense to hire an outside consultant to check their code for quality and cleanliness as well. If you outsource to India, you are likely to get what is called “spaghetti code” which is a disorganized mess.

Watching programmers closely will help you spot a bad attitude
Are your programmers blaming you for not giving clear enough directions? Is there some excuse why they didn’t check their work? Do they want to avoid you or not have you constantly check their work? These are all signs of a bad attitude. Unfortunately, most programmers who work for anyone less than Facebook, Google, or Steve Jobs have a terrible attitude as they are the bottom of the barrel. By keeping a constant vigilant eye on them, you will spot their bad attitude quickly which could save your project.

The moral of the story
Most companies don’t want you watching what they are doing, and neither do most employees. The collective pressure to not pay attention to where your money is going is so oppressive that you might be tempted to give in. Steve and I say don’t. Watch people carefully and you can bring out their best. If you don’t pay attention it will be like a money drain. Fire people who don’t want to be watched as fast as you can. If that means your business will be smaller, that might be a good thing. The main thing is to be in control of what is going on. The minute you’re not in control — you’re in trouble!

A stand up comedian at a stand up restaurant in India (2015)

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I wrote a blog article on this topic a few years ago. I wanted to do another version of it since it was so popular.

I had a friend in Bangalore who liked to go to this vegetarian place. I noticed that there was no place to sit down. Everyone ate standing up. So, I thought it would be kind of comical if a stand up comedian did his routine at one of these stand up restaurants.

RAMESH: The food is so bad here I can’t stand it — but, I have no choice.

COMEDIAN: You’re right. And you can’t protest either by having a sit in.

RAMESH: If I were a hippy, I could have a be-in or a love-in, while simultaneously having a stand-in.

COMEDIAN: Yeah — you can say, “I won’t sit down until I get what I want — let’s start with a comfy chair.”

RAMESH: Exactly. I heard in Japan, rent is so expensive, that at small eateries, you have to eat standing up just like here. Only in Japan, after exactly six minutes they kick you out — so eat fast.

COMEDIAN: Yeah, those ramen take a while to eat. The broth is so hot, plus those shrimp cakes get stuck in my teeth. I really need to start flossing more.

SUJATA: Once I went to a place where the seats were bolted down so close to each other, I got stuck between two of the chairs. They had to use a rupe to pry me loose — I joked that they were flossing me out.

COMEDIAN: Boy, I hope the chairs didn’t get a cavity from having you there too long.

SUJATA: I was out quick, but if I were in charge I’d give those chairs a root canal. That’s why I eat here. At least I won’t get stuck, plus the rotis are good.

COMEDIAN: I was at a street food restaurant last week. Every day they have a different type of bread. I asked if they were rotating rotis. They didn’t get the joke. They said, “No — today chapati.” I said, “Never mind.”

SUJATA: Also, restaurants like this save money. They don’t need a hostess to seat you.

COMEDIAN: You’re right. Do they have a young lady asking where can she stand you?

RAMESH: Last time I went, the hostess asked HOW she could stand me. I said, “I’m really easy to get along with actually.”

COMEDIAN: Well, I like these stand up restaurants because I’m a stand up kind of guy.

SUJATA: And thank you for not asking stupid questions about our arranged marriage system.

COMEDIAN: I don’t have to — I’ve got it all figure out now. But, do you also have arranged divorces?

RAMESH: Actually, I’ll tell you a funny story about that. My friend Shankar has a housemate who is a young lady who is not very traditional.

COMEDIAN: Maybe he should get a more traditional female housemate

RAMESH: You see, a traditional lady would not be a housemate to begin with as that violates tradition.

COMEDIAN: Oh, got it. Kind of like a pimp with a health plan.

RAMESH: Something like that. So, after ten years Shankar’s friend Vipool said to him, “Isn’t it time to get married?” The irony is that his friend who has been married for ten years lives in separate rooms with his wife and hardly ever talks to her. They are more like designated roommates than married people. Shankar replied that he lives with woman in separate bedrooms who he barely talks to and Vipool does the same — so what’s the difference. Vipool replied — “Gee, I never saw it that way before, you are right, the end result is the same.”

SUJATA: I beg to differ. An arranged marriage is like a designated roommate system, but one in which you have children with the roommate.

COMEDIAN: I may be a comedian, but having children with your roommate is no laughing matter.

SUJATA: You are right, but at least in India, children normally have two biological parents while in the U.S. only 27% of children do.

COMEDIAN: You have a good point. On a final note, I would caution Indians from having too many children with their roommates otherwise there won’t be room in their flat to eat — unless they eat standing up like we do here. You’ve been a great crowd. Good night!

VIPOOL: Hey, I heard you were talking about me. Well, now we have an alternative to an arranged marrige. It is an abridged marriage. If you don’t like the marriage, well, see that bridge over there? I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

What does Warren Buffet look for when he hires people?

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Warren Buffet is a long term thinker and a very practical man. Business advice from the master himself might seem deceptively simple. In a sense it is, but in a sense it is not. Warren likes to hire people who can handle entire projects on their own with minimal intervention. Otherwise, his business cannot grow as he would be busy micromanaging people. I understand his philosophy well as I spend all my time micromanaging people or doing tasks myself. From time to time I find people who will do some of my tasks, but never all of them, so I am always busy catching up on work.

The problem is that most people have limited work skills and are not that loyal. I find that not one person I’ve ever met will just bow down to me and do whatever task I give them no matter what I pay them. I’m not sure it is possible to find someone who will be reliable to me in the long run, but I’ll keep hoping.

Warren has been in business so long, he can probably tell early in the interview if the person seems like they will be reliable in the long run. Over the years he developed an intuition or gut feeling about people. For the rest of us, finding the right people is a lot harder.

Most people cannot function on their own initiative. In most organizations there is a mean guy who is the manager who makes sure the others keep working. If you hire people directly without an intermediary, you need to make sure they keep working. You might have to go through hundreds of people to find one who you can truly rely on.

Since I have very poor intuition, I prefer to see how people do on test jobs. If someone does well and asks for more, that indicates that they want to work. However, it doesn’t indicate how helpful they’ll be when they get busy. You really need to see how people behave during their first four months, and first year. If they do well for twelve consecutive months, it might be time for a promotion.

Finding people who are motivated might cost a lot more than what you are paying now. If you hire people who need to be micromanaged, then micromanage them or they might not function at all. Sometimes the only way to motivate people is to pay them a lot more than they would get paid elsewhere. It is a shame that people can’t just love their work and own their work naturally. But, that is the way the world works. Also, certain industries tend to attract reliable people. Doctors, Attorneys, Accountants and Insurance people tend to be reliable while the people I work with are not. All I can say is good luck!

Judge a book by its cover; Judge a company by its office (2016)

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As children we are taught not to judge a book by its cover. We are taught not to judge people based on appearances. I was watching a TV show about cops in New York who were explaining to their children that just because someone looks scary that they are not necessarily a bad guy. However, experience has taught me that if there is something scary about you, some negative character trait will turn up somewhere. You might not be a criminal, but some other bad tendency will surface. If you associate with bad people, there will be something bad about you. The apple never falls far from the tree, so people — let’s use our common sense here.

You can learn a lot from the salesperson
So, how does this silly discussion apply to the world of business? Doing business is a little like being a cop. You need to judge your instincts. You need to assess situations and offers. You need to know the right companies to hire. You cannot tell much by talking to the salesperson over the phone. They are always pleasant and up beat. However, if the salesperson can’t answer questions and tells you that everything you want is easily possible, they are probably talking nonsense as I have never seen a company cooperate more then 20% with me in the long run — there are always many snags and limitations.

Communication is the indicator you’ve been waiting for.
If a company sends illiterate looking emails to you, it is a sign that their service is not that good. When I get poorly written emails from companies and then call them, the oral communication is always unbelievably bad. I am not perfect myself, but I judge companies on how good their writing skills are. See how clearly they talk to you. Do they like talking to you? If not, then don’t use them. Some people talk too fast, others mumble, while some garble. Try to find someone who communicates clearly. I deal mostly with foreigners, so they will have accents, but that is okay. If their English is educated sounding and clear, that is the main thing. Additionally, a company with a poor phone line that is so bad that they are constantly making you repeat yourself and then blaming you for not using a better phone — is not a company you should use. So, judge a company by their phone lines, conversation, and emails. But, my favorite indication of a company is their office.

The office is the window to a company’s soul
Charlie Munger always used to do walk arounds in people’s offices. He wanted to know if the company would be a good investment. He could tell a lot by how the employees acted. Did they have good body language? Did they look happy? Did they dress well? Did they slouch? I do many walk arounds at companies. When I ask questions, I seldom get good answers. When I ask people to email me back, I always have to wait for weeks only to get a useless answer. I can tell by the energy of the workers that they are mentally dull most of the time and not interested in their work or in their customers. I am more interested in companies that are alive.

Decor means a lot too
Some offices are not very thoughtfully decorated. Others have cheap or incomplete decor. I went to a spa at the Singapore airport that had nice plants, beautiful tile floors, Japanese sliding paper doors, and aroma therapy. I felt immediately relaxed upon entering. I went to another spa in Los Angeles where they had beautiful pictures of the Buddha, fancy pillows, and plants too. I felt relaxed there too, and their spa services were much better than another spa I went to with cheap looking decor. There was one case of an office with a very plain and inexpensive decor. They offered good service to me for years, but then the boss lost his temper and I stopped using their service. Sometimes there is a delayed reaction in business. If you see a bad sign in someone you’ve hired, it is like a ticking time-bomb. You know something will happen, but you’re not sure when, where or how. In this case it was 17 years before something happened.

How do you judge overseas companies
It is harder to judge a company that you can’t visit. My suggestion is to visit it anyway, or don’t use them. Invest in getting to know people personally. It is too risky to do any type of business with people you aren’t sure about. But, if you use companies that you don’t have time to visit, try to do that office walk around without physically seeing the office. You can learn a lot by interviewing a few of their workers. Instead of seeing haggard looking people slouching around, you can hear the slouching over the phone. You can hear the “I’m tired and want to go home” tone in their voice. Many of the signs are there. Blind people can’t see, but compensate by using their other senses more elaborately. If you can’t see a company you want to work with, try to be like a blind person and learn about them using your other senses.

Summary
Remember — Christianity says judge not lest you should be judged. In business you have to judge. So, try to be intelligent about how you judge. Look for the signs, and try to look around in as many ways as you can to see more signs. Additionally, when you compare companies, you might consider comparing hundreds rather than two or three as most companies are not what they are cracked up to be — except for spas in Singapore!

The Startup Lab — simulations in business

Categories: Startups | 1 Comment

There are startup incubators. Unfortunately, I know nothing about them. I bet they help the promising startups with some very senior level business experts. Senior level people might have solid business knowledge, but they can’t think of everything, and can’t predict what idea will take off. But, if they do see an idea do well, they can contribute money and expertise to make it better. Startups might be new, but to make them do well, you need some old-school business talent to fuel their success with the inspiration of younger people. But, what would happen in a startup lab?

I could see that a startup lab could be a business that has all of the tools for a startup to grow. The startup lab could have social media experts, marketers, call centers, and other staff. The lab could work for or host multiple startups and see how each one did. For a startup to succeed they need cash, marketing, and people to get the work done. The lab could arrange for all of this. But, if the lab did all the work, what would be the role of the entrepreneur and why would the lab need the entrepreneur?

Perhaps the lab could give the entrepreneur a salary and a cut of the profits. If the entrepreneur didn’t perform well after all of the financing they gave, they could can the entrepreneur and find someone better to work for them. Venture capitalists often work like this. However, venture capitalists don’t grow the business using their own mechanism.

Another take is that the lab could test how good an entrepreneur’s business decision making skills were. They could put the muscle into executing an entrepreneur’s ideas. But, if the entrepreneur had too high of a rate of bad decisions, that particular entrepreneur would get weeded out. That is an expensive way to weed people out, but would make a great reality show. In a sense they could make a simulator that would show fast results for the entrepreneur’s decisions. Or, entrepreneurs could track decisions made by other entrepreneurs and track the results. Either way, a simulator would be a great learning tool.

Another idea for a startup lab is to wait to see if the startup is doing well. For the more successful ones, they could get an extra boost by having the right team to help them grow. In a sense, that sounds like what an accelerator might be.

Putting aside how fun simulations can be, the important fact in business is what happens in the long run. If your business grows slowly, but stays afloat, that is much better than one that grows fast and then dies. Remember what the rap artists always say:

“The faster you rise — the faster you fall.”

Ann Handley’s writing style and why it works

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If you have ever visited marketingprofs.com, you will quickly realize that they make masterful marketing simple and understandable to the masses. Marketingprofs handles a wide variety of popular marketing and social media topics that concern us all such as: How to write a better title for our sales emails or ways for marketers to be more data driven.

One of the aspects of the writing style which I like the most is that it is easy to digest. The writing is in clear English and no decyphering is necessary. Another thing that is cute is the constant integration of themes about puppies, kitties, snacks, desserts, childhood, or other relatable themes. It is much more pleasant to read an article that has themes you can not only relate to, but that make you feel good.

Additionally, there are many graphics, charts, and other visual aids that make the reading experience more three-dimensional. Right now, I’m reading a chart about how people express laughter online. Haha wins the game with 51.4% of the total laughter while lol only is getting 1.9%? Could this really be true? Of course emoji’s often follow the verbalization of the laughter. Next, the age of the laughers was analyze in yet another chart. As a marketer I find all of this analysis very interesting — and that is no joke — lol-not!

I’m reading another article about how to woo bloggers into long term relationships to promote your brand. What I’m seeing in this article is something I saw a long time ago — subheaders. The subheaders here all have a very simple type of grammar which I have found tends to make it easier for readers to stick on the page mentally. People who spend too much time online get mentally frazzled and have some degree of ADD. Here are some of the subheaders used:

1. Identify your audience
2. Find the right bloggers
3. Create a real relationship
4. Help bloggers to grow
5. Understand what motivates each blogger
6. Show respect
7. Live up to your commitments

As you can see, each subheader starts with a simple verb in the imperative conjugation. Then, a unique continuation of the sentence fragment follows. Not all of the verbs are calls for aggressive action. Some are more introspective like understanding and some are more philosophical or philanthropical like helping others to grow. I particularly like the point about living up to your commitments as many people in social media do not publish links on time (me included although I always do it) and many others are in such a hurry to get their link that they will disrespect you (point 7 on the list) if the link doesn’t go up in lightening speed even if the link wasn’t spelled out clearly in the text of the email.

What I don’t like about marketingprofs is that they password protect their blog. If you don’t login you can only see half of the text of each article — the top half which omits the bottom line (haha.) I have so many passwords for different accounts I had to use the password retrieval feature today just to get in. Also, their focus is very narrow. It is completely focused on marketing while I would prefer a small amount of diversion into the world of business, entrepreneurship, startups, and other types of business articles that I love so much to read.

But, in any case. Marketingprofs can take you to a deeper level of understanding about online marketing and social media and especially content creation. They create content in a fun and relatable way. I hope you visit their blog and enjoy it. Anyway, thanks for reading my article — hehe☺☺

What does Mark Cuban say about startups?

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Startups are a popular topic for discussion. I started a startup fifteen years ago. Most businesses fail in the first year or two mostly because the person in charge just doesn’t have what it takes to compete, or perhaps because there is not enough market for their service. In my opinion, a startup should be done by someone who knows his business inside out. The business might be new, but the business person should be seasoned. What seasoning? Cajun! The problem is that we normally do not have all of the skills we need, nor do most of us have the discipline that we need. Lastly, we normally create our startups in our 20’s or 30’s when we just aren’t seasoned! People who create businesses in their 50’s tend to do better. They have had a lot of experience going through problems at work, dealing with things, mastering people skills, hiring, firing, and seeing the long term effects of decisions. Young people just can’t duplicate that. But, what would Mark say if he were guiding you?

I read an article on Entrepreneur written by Mark Cuban himself where I learned what his “rules” are for entrepreneurship. It makes a lot of sense when you see it from the long run. Here are some of Mark’s points with my commentary below.

1. Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.
Honestly, if you are not obsessed with your work,how can you succeed? You need to take your work home with you, talk about it with your friends. If your friends don’t say, “Is your business the only thing you talk about?” Then you are not in the right space for success if you ask me.

2. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession
Warren Buffet buys stocks that he would keep for life. Of course he buys and sells just like the rest of us. But, he wouldn’t buy the stock if he didn’t have absolute faith in the company. Your business should be the same in my opinion. I have a friend who is always talking about exit strategies. I don’t want an exit strategy. My business is my baby. I agree with Mark on this point as well.

3. Hire people who think will love working there
It is not easy to hire people who will love working for me. My work is nitpicky and grueling. Everyone I hire I have trouble with. Why? Because they don’t love the work. I agree once again with Mark’s point (3), however living up to this standard is tough. I might have to go through one thousand people to find one who loves working for me. It might be easier if my job included photographing bikini models.

4. Sales cure all. Know how your company will make money and how you will actually make sales.
The best business model in the world doesn’t work if you can’t make sales. I started my company with a product that sold — advertising that works and courses that get you in business fast. But, not all business have realistic products to sell. Better see if your idea sells before you invest too much in it.

5. Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them.
I focus on the core competencies of my business. However, over time the competencies changed. Mark says to hire the best in your core areas. But, what if they are hard to find or don’t exist in a niche market? I hired people who understood my products well, used them for themselves with great results and were masters of selling my wares. My business did well as a result. I guess I followed Mark’s advice fifteen years before I read it.

6. An espresso machine? Coffee is for closers.
I disagree with Mark here. Sure, you don’t want a corporate culture of people who gossip all day in the coffee room. But, coffee is a stimulant, and many people need it to get that burst of energy in the beginning of the day. Small amounts of coffee have been proven to be good for your heart as well. I drink my coffee before I “go to work” which for me involves rolling out of bed and commuting five feet to the left where my computer is. I just have a Starbucks dougle shot.

7. No private offices. Open offices…
Mark claims that there is nothing private in a startup. By no offices, I think he means private rooms in an office suite.There is also no room for those who want swanky comforts like personal secretaries or flying first class. In my opinion, if everyone is not on the same page in a startup, you will have a lot of friction, disloyalty, and trouble. Even in a small business that has been around for a long time, users, cheaters, lazy people, and troublemakers can cause a lot of grief even if there is only one of them.

8. As far as technology, go with what you know.
I disagree with Mark here even though he is richer and smarter than I am. You might start off with technology you know. But, technology changes fast, and what is right for your startup may easily be very different than what you are familiar with.

9. Keep the organization flat.
Having managers that report to managers can create all types of complications. I’m not sure what Mark means by keeping it flat. If you are the owner, then everyone needs to either report to you, or you need to devise an internal system of checks and balances where everyone checks everyone else’s balances.

10. Never buy swag.
Having logos on company outfits is not critical in a startup. Perhaps that is the opposite of what a startup needs. Maybe everyone needs to wear atypical outfits. The main point is that people’s hearts need to be uniform in a startup — not their clothing.

11. Never hire a PR firm.
I cannot comment on this point as I have no experience with or without PR.

12. Make the job fun for employees
An engaged employee is much more productive and fun to be with than a disengaged one. Contests, parties, events, and other fun ways to work get people in the right mood. Conversely, not being mean to people is another good way to maintain a neutral mood. If an employee is so much trouble that you have to spoil the mood just to deal with them — perhaps you shouldn’t be dealing with them assuming you can live without them.

If I were Mark, I would include point 13: Have an insatiable desire to learn and master new skills and hire others with that same desire. Thanks for reading my commentary. Hope you liked it!

Outsourcing was first used as a business strategy in 1989

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According to Robert Handfield’s “A brief history of Outsourcing”, outsourcing was not formally used as a business strategy until the year 1989. Outsourcing is the delegation of particular tasks or projects to an outside company or consultant. These days, outsourcing is very popular and standard, especially for large corporations who have global networks of skilled people ready to assist.

In the past, it was considered not advisable for companies to outsource critical tasks or core competencies. However, now many companies are doing exactly that. In my experience, smart companies in the United States do not outsource purely to save money. They divide their workload into segments or components. They find which tasks are the least critical and outsource only those. Saving money on important tasks can get you into trouble and can backfire as a strategy if the provider company doesn’t get the job done correctly and on time as that can cost you a client.

Traditionally, companies outsourced tasks they just couldn’t handle themselves. Publishers outsourced composition, printing, and fulfillment regularly. Outsourcing support services didn’t start appearing until the 1990’s with tasks such as Human Resources, Data Processing, Mail Distribution, Programming, Security, etc.

Outsourcing is a great strategy to deal with the problem of fluctuating demand. If your business is sometimes very busy and other times very slow, you can decrease your permanent employees and hire other companies to handle your overflow. However, the real costs for outsourcing are deceptive. Many companies quote particular rates, but the real price for them to get the job done within particular time constraints are hidden as many companies do not guarantee delivery times.

Outsourcing can also reduce training time. If there are certain tasks you want to focus on, then you can train people for those. You can outsource other tasks which are not worth training your own people to do. Many small businesses engage in multi-tasking and have dozens of tasks to do. New and even old employees typically only want to do two or three of the dozens of tasks, so to get them done it is often easier to find an outside consultant.

Is it better to do everything yourself at varying levels of competency or to hire twenty consultants who are each experts in their niche field? This is a question only you can answer. But, outsourcing to freelancers, overseas BPO’s or domestic companies will give you some insight into the quality of what you are paying for.

In today’s world, outsourcing could be for various reasons. Searching the world to find the best people to give you the best results is one of the reasons for outsourcing. Cost effectiveness is another. Overflow management will continue to be a reason as well. Strategic partnerships are a standard business practice among larger companies and corporations. The problem is that for smaller companies, it is hard to find reliable service providers as the high quality providers tend to be monopolized by larger outfits. So, as a small business owner, blindly mimicking the tactics of the big boys is not an effective strategy. You need to research companies one by one and sample their work to see who is a real strategic asset for you and who is just an unreliable buffoon!