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Satisfy my Hungry Soul!

November 29, 2012 6 comments

Sehiyon Restaurant – Waiting to be served!

It isn’t much more than a hole in the wall – the interior is Spartan, there are 32 plastic stools arranged around 8 plastic tables and the hygiene standards would just about pass muster. However, between noon and 3 p.m. Cochinites flock to this place like termite flies to an oil lamp – once inside the way people were stuffing themselves would make one wonder whether a food shortage was imminent.

The place is Sehiyon Restaurant, located near Pullepadi Bridge at Cochin. It was recently featured in a leading local vernacular daily – the article said that even the Who’s Who in town liked to order take-aways from this humble restaurant.

I have been to the place 2 – 3 times and found the food excellent. The service isn’t special, it isn’t even good – on my first visit I found a seat only after a 15 minute wait and sat there another 5 minutes hoping to catch the eye of the Wait Staff. No one took notice of my existence or my desperation. So, I walked out and had lunch elsewhere.

The next time I decided to take a seat closer to the epicenter of action and was rewarded with a toothsome meal. I made two more visits to that place and still have not had enough.

It is typical Kerala fare – no Chinese, Mughlai, Chettinad or Continental; the menu consists of traditional Kerala lunch time cuisine made the home-cooked way – a Kerala Thali or Oonu with a range of side orders.

Fish rules! A mouth-watering array of it – Pattichadhu, Pollichathu, Mulagu Ittathu, Varuthathu and Regular Curry, which roughly means roasted, baked, extra spicy, fried and so on. They usually have Prawns, Seer Fish, Squid, Mussel, Pomfret, Sardine, Anchovy, Shark, Mackerel and Crab; all these fishes are made in the different forms I mentioned in the previous sentence – so you have an array of 48 to 60 options depending on the types of seafood available that day. Chicken and Beef, again made Kerala-fashion, are the side-lights here.

Have I whetted your appetite?

Why is the Sales Coach blog featuring a story on this restaurant? Well, I am trying to figure out how my products can be so irresistible. Why aren’t my customers lapping up training the way customers were wolfing down food at this place?

One of my readers had written back in response to a previous article saying she has seen products selling in spite of poor service – and that immediately reminded me of visits to Sehiyon.

The Wait Staff aren’t friendly – they have no time to make friends. The place receives around 500 customers in a 3 hour period – each stool in the restaurant receives 13-15 customers, most of them repeat visitors; and then there are takeaways to deal with. Two guys to deliver just the main meal consisting of rice and veggie accompaniments and then couple of other guys go around taking orders for the Specials! Two others clear the empty dishes left behind by happy and well-fed customers and prepare the table for the next set of hungry mouths.  This eating machine worked with clockwork precision.

And while you eat there would be another person standing next you – No, it isn’t the owner or his Service Executive making sure that you are being served; it’s the next customer waiting to poach your stool the moment you rise. It’s that desperate! In the lunch hour practically every stool has a person standing next to it while one customer is enjoying his meal. Outside the building there are more hungry souls waiting to commune with the delicacy of their choice.

I discovered that it isn’t just the food but also the price point. The basic veggie meal is priced at just Rs.30/- (little more than 1/2 a dollar) and the side orders range from Rs. 40/- to Rs. 150/- (2/3rd of a dollar to 3 dollars) – isn’t that a killer proposition? You can figure out how much the owner rakes in each day.

Therein rests the magic – excellent product delivered at a price that can’t be refused. This man knows his business. He probably gets fish at special low rates each day – the merchants at the fish market, who have been supplying him for many months, may be offering their catch at rates that are way below prevailing market prices for the day. His staff is not the high-cost variety and the outlet isn’t fancy either.

Only the Chef matters here, he would be the treasured resource and probably gets paid handsomely for the magic he creates each day. The food tastes like a home-cooked meal and the portions are generous.

I am told the owner of Sehiyon is a Christian gentleman and he named the restaurant using the Malayalam word for Zion. I Googled and found a link for Sehiyon Pilgrimage Tours. Well, I know for sure that at lunchtime Cochinites religiously make a pilgrimage to this hallowed precinct to satisfy their hungry souls.

Bon appétit!

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Fail!! … The new Mantra!

November 25, 2012 13 comments

Failure, the road to Success!

As kids many of us have heard our parents say, “No matter what you do please make sure that you don’t fail in the exams. Do well at studies. You’ve got to top the class. Only then can you get a good job!”

This October I was at the 2-day TiE Conference in Cochin – cutting cross sectors one speaker after another came up to the microphone to say, “It’s good to fail! You learn from it.”

Hello! I thought we learned from books and from the words of wise folks; and from experience too, I guess?

But here was a bunch of successful people extolling the virtues of failure; failing is the IN thing!

Why all this fuss about failing; are we turning into the bunch of losers?

Far from it! And yes, I mentioned “learning from experience”!

Yesterday a friend called from UK – we’d been out of touch for a while. It’s been well over 2 years since I last heard from him. I asked why he gone off the radar for such a long time.

He said that his business had collapsed and it took him a while to recover from the disaster – he was running a small but successful venture in the Education Sector. I wondered what had caused the collapse.

He said that he had mortgaged his home and borrowed heavily to invest in a second business before the first had achieved steady state and the inability to juggle many balls at one time caused the crash. But right through the conversation he sounded chirpy, upbeat and positive. I told him that he didn’t sound like someone who’d taken such a hard fall.

What he said surprised me – “Jayadev, I am happy it happened. At first it shook me. But I sat down and thought about it, studied the events and realised what had gone wrong. Right now I am taking it easy for a while and doing work that is bringing me money without much risk. But I am going to rebuild my business in a while. The next time I know how to go about it. I feel enriched.”

And this guy isn’t 20 or 25 years of age – he is in the fifties and has kids going to college. I was impressed and said so too.

Wise folks have said “If you have never failed it means you have never done anything new in your life.”

Like I said at the top the Safety Bug is injected into our DNA quite early in life. We are told to abstain from taking any risk. Stick to the tried and tested – become a doctor or an engineer; at least, a lawyer. If that’s not possible find a Government or Public Sector job. The private sector was the last resort and entering business was absolute No-No!

I know that’s changed a bit and more youngsters are going for private sector jobs now thanks to the growth of the Service Sector.

However, the most recent trend has been Entrepreneurship! Many young men and women are launching ventures, shooting movies or offering unique services in previously unexplored and unexploited niches.

Many of them drop out of school or go for these previously untried ideas at the expense of a steady job. It is a brave new world out there.

The lack of safety in regular jobs and the lack of suitable jobs caused this shift in thinking. And availability of an enabling environment permits such risk.

Just to put things in perspective – when my dad told me to study he was talking about Effort. He usually said it when I had gone many days without touching my books – had been gallivanting with friends or just playing. He was trying to point me in the right direction.

I think the FAIL message tells us to try new things; it is not about slacking or doing things sloppily. It’s about doing the previously untested and about taking calculated risk. It’s about questioning the status quo, seeking new ways to do old things and breaking new frontiers.

So many youngsters are trying out “crazy” (which usually means regular folks can’t comprehend it) things – some succeed, but many come a cropper. The successful ones have found their Holy Grail, but the ones who failed need not be disheartened – they put in a huge effort and got invaluable experience. It certainly would have enriched them if they had taken stock!

So, dear friends, the message is as follows:

–          Failing is not about “not doing”, “slacking” or “fooling around”

–          Dare to be different, be unconventional (Not stupid!)

–          Go off the beaten route, break new ground

–          Take calculated risks, don’t be afraid of falling

–          Focus on the experience, learn from it

–          Don’t give up, keep trying

Go ahead! Fail, and then succeed! That’s much better than failing to succeed.

P.S – Entrepreneurship is not the only option available – there are many good jobs out there. But if you have a good idea don’t be afraid to try it out. It’s for you to decide how deep you want to go into it and how much risk you wish to take?

Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained!

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Passing Fad or New Fashion?

November 12, 2012 34 comments

Happy Diwali, Friends!!

There is a new virus in the Kerala air – or is it a pandemic sweeping across India, nay the World? For this article I shall limit the discussion to my recent experiences in Kerala.

The disease is called Entrepreneurship and it’s pretty infectious!

http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4709465137/eorg

On Saturday I was in Trivandrum, attending the 2nd StartUp Coffee meeting, which is conducted for entrepreneurially inclined folks by the “My Next Big Idea” (MNBI) Team. It was a mixed bag of attendees – looked like an assortment of stuff one could expect at a Garage Sale. There were couple of suit-clad guys lending a patina of respectability to the gathering, but otherwise it was jeans and T-shirt affair.

The ball was set rolling by a garrulous young Brit named Alexie who shared his experiences as an entrepreneur – his trousers rolled-up to the knees like he was expecting 2 feet of water in the room at any moment; or was he just taking precautions against the flood of ideas expected from the enthusiasts gathered there.

Alexie went on for so long that another participant (also an expat) quipped – “If anyone is planning a long journey by Indian Railways please take him with you. He can keep you entertained.”

However, bulk of the attendees were Keralites, in the 25-35 age band, working on IT projects. Two ideas were presented during the meeting:

– An electronic device that would help the Police to track and penalise drivers who exceed the speed limit – the device would interact with the car’s electronics and with devices located on the road to make decisions. The idea sounded similar to the Salik system deployed on Dubai roads, but the technology this man intends to use is different.

– A web-based application that helps you decide whether the Samsung S3 is better that iPhone 5 or whether you should stick to your neighbourhood McDonalds instead of heading for the recently opened Sushi Restaurant. The young entrepreneur explained that the software running in the background picked up relevant information from discussions within your peer group on Social Media and then used complex algorithms to arrive at the decision.

Both were quizzed by the audience during and after the presentation and the attendees offered suggestions which they thought would make the offerings more robust and acceptable. I felt that the first presentation lacked depth and conviction and that this wannabe entrepreneur will be doing himself a disfavor by taking it in the current form to the investors. Or was I writing off a movie by just seeing the early rushes?

The 2nd presenter made a slick presentation; his product is online already for people to use. Currently the decisions users could ask for  were focused on popular items such as college-to-study-at, electronic goods and restaurants.

My friends at MNBI are searching for robust investment opportunities. In the first meeting held two weeks back another entrepreneur had presented a next gen Business Networking site which, he avers, would take the fight to LinkedIn’s front-door.

Many times during the meeting, and afterwards, I wondered whether the cynicism I felt was on account of my age – did I belong to a different era? This bunch seemed so gung-ho and upbeat. They were daring enough to jump blindly into the deep-end of the pool without worrying about consequences.

Do they know something that I don’t? I am a Keralite too but these youngsters seemed so differently wired and I am happy for them.

My home state seems to be shaking of its staid and safe ways – the new generation believes that they can step outside tested and risk-free avenues provided by mainstream jobs and are heading for the horizon-less terrain of big dreams.

The Government Agencies and Venture Capitalists too are queuing up with big-bucks and support measures. Petro Dollars, Seafood Exports, Tourism and a little bit of IT have been our contribution so far – but all that is changing.

Are the youngsters aware of the flip side – are they blinded by the valuations of Google, Facebook and Twitter and weird prices at which web-based applications like Instagram were being gobbled up by these giants.

How many will hit pay-dirt and how many will fizzle out unnoticed in the fathomless realm of the worldwide web?

Books like Jugaad seem to fuel this bunch to think “radically” – but don’t many of them end up being mere copycats? The line between poorly hashed-up imitations and customised adaptations of popular products / ideas is pretty hazy.

But this bunch and many of the young set I saw and heard at TiECon Cochin 2012 didn’t seem to think there is a downside. They were riding the crest of a new wave and for them it is just up and up. I wish them all success.

I am not against this new trend among youngsters to start a business instead of seeking a steady job – in fact there are very few steady jobs left in the world. I too quit a regular job five years back and took the plunge. There is much more to Entrepreneurship than recognition and revenues. It’s not a turf meant for everyone and very few actually make it to the big league. Are these youngsters aware of the challenges and the pain involved in the process. Kerala is traditionally risk-averse and middle-of-the-road; this behaviour by youngsters is radically different. It is liberating, but will it go the distance?

All I am asking them to do are the following:

–          Have they confirmed the motives and the key drivers?

–          Is their product differentiated and robust?

–          Will they be able to persist sufficiently long?

–          Have they weighed the financial implications?

–          Has the market been studied thoroughly?

–          Do they have a realistic & professionally prepared  plan?

Many of them are just taking the plunge with half-baked products and poor understanding of the market. Most of them dream of selling their big idea to a industry leader and riding off into the sunset with the megabucks they pocket from the deal. May their stock keep growing!

I see huge opportunities for Business Consultants in this segment in grooming and shaping the paths of these daredevils – right now many of them resemble loose cannons.

I also had some concerns about the success of this StartUp gathering in the format I saw that day and privately offered some inputs on how it can be turned into a meaningful interface between established entrepreneurs, investors and bright-eyed newbies who dreamt of unleashing the next wave.

Is this a case of “Fools dare where Angel Investors don’t fear to tread?”

Is it a new Kerala on the ascendant? Will this virus thrive?

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