Work

Mentoring Startups @ Microsoft Ventures’ Accelerator Program

When I come to think of it, my sales/brand jobs have all been on startup mode, though the organisations themselves were quite established – Dishnet DSL in 2002, WorldSpace in 2003, MidDay Bangalore in 2006, Bangalore Mirror in 2007. Myntra was still a startup when I joined in 2011. I really can’t remember when I first became interested in startups – perhaps Bangalore’s culture of entrepreneurship affected me soon as a landed here – in 2003. But it really started manifesting itself only during my stint at The Times Group. Muziboo was probably among the first I actually interacted with (in 2008) and I still remember sending feedback to Deap for Burrp’s mobile site in 2009.

It was in 2010, when I started writing the startup column for Bangalore Mirror that I understood why I probably had such a fondness for startups - in them I see individuals who have in some way connected to their purpose in life. That gives them a passion and energy that is amazingly infectious. After the column’s run ended in 2013 (at 97 Bangalore based startups!) I had no official reason to associate with them any longer, though the connections I’d made early on – Zomato, for example – gave me an occasional opportunity to indulge my interest.

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All of this would explain my immense happiness when I was invited to be one of the mentors at the Accelerator Program of Microsoft Ventures last year. The Accelerator is part of a global establishment and helps entrepreneurs launch/scale their startup through a 4 month intense program that begins in January and July every year. At the accelerator, the entrepreneurs get access to quite a few things – a pool of mentors with expertise across various domains, (design, brand, technology, to name a few) office space to work from, and a ton of connections to help them gain funding and scaling opportunities. (FAQ) The other crucial factor they get, and I’ve seen it not getting the attention it deserves, is the Accelerator team itself. I have seen their diligence and their interactions, and they add an enormous amount of value in shaping ideas into executable plans.

I’ve now been part of the last two batches, mentoring a couple of startups in each batch – TommyJams and Tookitaki in the previous batch, and Imly and Voonik in the current. Respectively operating in the domains of entertainment, advertising, food and fashion, these four by themselves are enough to give you an idea of the diverse kind of startups that make up each batch. Though I’ve worked closely with these, I’ve also had multiple conversations with other startups and have been impressed by the sheer quality of ideas behind many of them, their willingness to learn and reinvent if necessary, and the tenacity with which they execute their plans.

My role may be that of a mentor, but I’ve learned quite a bit too. My learning has been in many forms – watching the startups in action, understanding at least a part of the intricacies of the domain they operate in, their approach to the challenges they solve, and most importantly, conversations with other mentors. Many of the mentors belong to the investor community and bring with them fantastic perspectives on a wide variety of things.

It has been an exciting experience for me thus far, and I’ve been planning to write about it for a while now. The immediate trigger came last week  in the form of an invite for the Demo Day of the current batch. I also learned that the Accelerator had started taking applications for the next batch. In my own selfish interest, I’d like to play a role in the life of some entrepreneur out there. If you think you are ‘D’ in the figure below, apply away!

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Disclosure: In case you’re wondering, mentors don’t get paid, not even to write this! :)

An Internet of Things narrative

Towards the end of last year, I’d written a post on the ‘social product‘. Its premise was that given social’s conversion to media, the opportunity for fulfilling social’s initial promise would fall on ‘product’ – using data, network effects, and relationships to connect consumers along a shared purpose. In the last few weeks, I have seen rapid acceleration happening on this front. I can see at least two narratives working in tandem, and I’m sure that at some point they will begin to augment each other really well. In this excellent post on technologies that are shaping the future of design, sensors occupy the top slot, and they are at the basis of both the narratives – one on humans, and one on things. The official classification, roughly, translates into Wearables and Internet Of Things respectively for the scope of discussions here.

This post is about the second. So, what is the Internet of things? The wiki definition is simple, but effective –  ”The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.” The best primer I have come across would be this infographic, which has everything from a quick technology explanation, applications and challenges to market size, statistics, and interesting use cases. For a really solid perspective, look no further than this deck titled ‘The Internet of Everything‘.

How does it affect us? For now, it is about convenience. If you’re familiar with Android launchers, imagine an IoT version – it’s almost there, using iBeacon! There’s more - Piper, which works as an IFTTT for your home, the smart fridge that can order groceries from the online store, the smart TV that can learn preferences and help us discover content, the washing machine that can help order detergent, the egg tray that will let you know about the number of eggs it holds and their ‘state’, the automated coffee machine, Philips’ connected retail lighting system, Pixie Scientific’s Smart Diapers, the GE a/c that learns your preferences, the smart bulb that doubles up as a bluetooth speaker, (!) and so on. Some of the products are really useful and solve a need, while some others are more fads and probably not adding the value that reflects the potential of IoT. But that’s just the learning curve in progress, as the market starts separating needs and wants.

All of this also means that consumption patterns will begin to change, as more purchases become automated, and more importantly data-driven. In my post on the driving forces of 2014, I had brought up technology as the biggest disruption that marketing has seen. This is most definitely one of the manifestations.

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What can brands do? For starters, get interested. Think about the tangible benefits that can be offered to consumers. What are the kind of data patterns that devices (or products) can surface to help the consumer make better consumption decisions? What kind of contexts can be relevant? Instead of force feeding advertising on traditional channels and fracking social platforms, can communication to consumers be made seamless using data, contexts and easy processes? While ‘device’ brands might have an initial advantage, ‘product’ brands need not be left behind at all. As the washing machine post (linked earlier) suggests, a Unilever or P&G might subsidise a machine, because it’s pre-sold with 500 washes worth of their detergent. It could even be real time, with SDK, API systems telling a partner brand to push a contextually relevant communication to a consumer. As things start storing and communicating data, privacy will be a major factor that decides whom consumers will share what with. Unlike media, trust cannot be ‘fracked’, it needs to be earned over a time frame.

Where does it go from here? A common language/protocol/registry is a good start, as is a white label platform – both are trying to connect an assortment of devices and gadgets. While there is value in data at an individual level (more on that in the next narrative) one of the critical factors in the success of this phenomenon is the devices talking to each other – humans acting as middle men to pass on data may not be a smart way ahead!  Digital Tonto has an excellent nuanced perspective that differentiates IoT from the web of things. (WoT sounds cooler!) The difference is in connection and interoperability.

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Equally important is this phenomenon’s ability to solve human needs. (Internet of Caring Things)

Collaborative consumption is fast becoming a consumer reality. As always, brands (generalising) are bound to be a few years behind, but the hope is that the web of things will force them to start collaborative creation and distribution and more importantly, focus on consumer needs.

until next time, #WoTever

P.S. In a corruption of Scott Adams’  idea, I think #WoT is paving the way for robot domination. ;)

P.P.S. If the subject interests you, check out my Internet of Things Pinterest board.

A new medium

I haven’t taken you outside of the blog in a while, but here goes.

LinkedIn recently opened up its publishing platform, and since it’s a contextually relevant platform to publish my ‘work’ posts, I was immediately interested. Thanks to Gautam, I discovered this link, applied, and soon got publishing rights. It was a harder task to write something though! I have finally managed something that is a differently framed version of concepts that I have written on the blog already. Do take a look here.

The overhaul of currency

Back in 2012, in my first post on institutional realignment, I’d written this – “…my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money – will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better.” In the two years since, this movement has not only begun, but is also figuring out its own dynamics. I had expected, or wanted, a disruption of money, but it will most likely be a transition. At this stage, I see at least three broad areas to frame this movement -the democratisation of finance, alternate currencies and marketplaces for value exchange.

Democratisation of finance: This is probably where it began, because the internet has a reputation for removing intermediaries who do not add value in this case, financial institutions. From projects in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe to social investments like RangDe and Milaap, there are now many ways to mobilise funds for me and you from people like me and you, according to personal passions, interests and belief systems. I’ll add more to this in the ‘marketplace’ section.

Alternate currencies: Arguably, money as an institution has built a network involving processes, dependencies and establishments keeping in mind the dynamics of an earlier era. A civilisation connected by the www may find these tedious and irrelevant, and thus it’s only natural that it builds its own institutions. Bitcoin (a good introductory guide) is the one that made this phenomenon (relatively) mainstream, to the point that it even has ATMs. Bitcoin may or may not survive, it is probably the Napster in its domain, it has changed the game irretrievably. While on the subject, do read this fantastic tongue-in-cheek take on how it’d be if the roles were reversed – a cash based mechanism replacing digital currency. Meanwhile, there are other currencies similar to Bitcoin, and then there are completely different thoughts – for example, Pay With a Tweet. Which leads us to the various payment mechanisms that are being built.

Marketplaces & Value Exchange: While the other two are the dynamics, this is where the mechanics play a part as well. In the ‘democratisation’ section, I had referred to several platforms that aid both discovery and action. There are many more stories in this line – from AgreeIt, an app that allows crowdfunding from friends on Facebook to crowdsourcing for emotional advice, ideas and so on to selling one’s reservation at a restaurant/spot in a line through Shout to  a ‘new media company’ Ideapod that wants to “amplify the ideas that shape our world, create genuine and enduring dialogue around ideas and spread ideas that matter through new and traditional media channels.” to ordering food from neighbours, (Eatro in London and Imli – a startup I mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator- closer to home) there are various models of value exchange that are shaping themselves. In fact, the entire ‘social commerce via collaborative consumption‘ route is based on these marketplaces. (a few good perspectives and stats on its drivers here)

But, irrespective of the currency, every transaction requires (another) key element – trust. The social web is also building its own mechanics for this – from relatively generic clout mechanisms (Klout, Kred and the likes) to more context specific ones like LinkedIn or GitHub or even Wiki and review mechanisms. (from Amazon to TripAdvisor to Foursquare to GoodReads to Zomato) We earn trust through our knowledge and actions in these mechanisms. We earn social currency. That brings me to the final portion – how does all of this impact brands and what would be their role?

Brands & the trust economy: Across the ages, corporations have been built on competitive advantages pertinent to the economies they operated in. I found a fantastic illustration in this context here

Economies and competitive advantages

I think relationships are indeed going to be the major competitive advantage in the future, and if so, the currency that would play a bigger role than money would be trust. As in many other developments prior to this, there are opportunities here for brands to weave themselves into the consumer’s narratives and go beyond transactional relationships, and to earn social currency. Many of them are already on it, finding ways to earn consumer trust and helping him/her develop and change perspectives about various currencies and relationships between them. Since we’re talking of finance, let’s use an example in that domain. Fidor bank helps its consumers discover crowd sourcing options, staying true a bank’s generic commitment of excellent wealth management. Yes, it’s still money, but it understands that it can be deployed beyond traditional options. In the process, it also helps the consumer to belong to a community.

Brands actually have an option to join in wherever there is consumer spending. Nike+, as usual, did something back in 2012 – they allowed runners to trade in (running) mileage for Nike goods (I had shared the video in the institutional realignment post too) While this ties in beautifully with Nike’s business purpose, maybe some brands would have to lean a little more towards the consumer side and get into relatively unrelated narratives, and a relationship, before connecting it back to the business purpose. For example, airBaltic’s loyalty program Baltic Miles rewards frequent fliers who jog enough to burn off the same number of calories as miles they’ve flown. One of the aspects of agile marketing would be to enable identification of opportunities early. For example, imagine Coke getting into the act in Beijing’s first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

In what might seem like a ‘changing of goalposts’, just as brands are beginning to vaguely realise that their currencies of engagement with consumers need to change, the consumer’s relationship with the common currency of transaction – money – is also changing. The two are very related, and brands need to tackle both to have meaning and relevance in a consumer’s life, because if (as Godin says) “money is a story“, we’re probably nearing a plot twist.

until next time, the end of money’s monopoly

P.S. For another detailed look at the subject, you’d want to read Gauravonomics’ post on ’The Future of Money‘.

The Mirage

First appeared in Bangalore Mirror

I came upon The Mirage quite by chance on the web, and for a few moments, when I was hunting for its precise location in Koramangala, I did wonder about the name of the restaurant and whether it was literally that! Situated on the fourth floor of a building, it’s pretty easy to miss unless you’re specifically looking for it. At an eye level, look for the new Corner House. (map – though it has shifted to the other side of the same road) Parking on the street. When we visited, the place was relatively unknown because it’d been less than a month since it opened, and they hadn’t done much in terms of publicity. That probably explains why we were the only group there. Thankfully, the cliché of the service staff attacking as a swarm did not happen. In fact they actually seemed a little intimidated, especially when we ordered wine – they had difficulty finding it, and seemed confused on how to serve it! For now they are serving only wines, (though they plan to make it a full fledged alcohol menu soon) so it might be a good idea to train the staff on it. But once the initial fear of strangers passed, they turned out to be quite helpful and attentive! The décor is functional aiming towards lounge and there’s lots of ‘greenery’ – in the form of lighting, graphics and cushion covers. Marilyn Monroe seems to be quite an influence, appearing in various avatars, the most interesting of which is her quote “I don’t want to make money. I just want to be wonderful.

The menu is a mix of many cuisines – Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and even a smattering of Vietnamese. From the more than a dozen options available, we began with a Sesame Potato Bites in Chili Sauce. On hindsight, we needn’t have ordered this since everything else came with potatoes anyway! There was something funny about the oil in this dish, and it wasn’t the kind that would make you look forward to the rest of the meal. The Fried Calamari served with Garlic Aioli and chips was up next. The squid was well cooked, the dip complemented it well and if you can ignore the general greasiness, it’s not a bad dish. The Highnoons Special Fried Chicken was the last to arrive, and was served with the mandatory chips and a ‘Mayo-Tard’ sauce. The chicken itself was decent, except for a couple of undercooked bits, but the sauce, which was already a cause of much mirth thanks to our juvenile vowel movement jokes, actually had a funny taste, most likely thanks to a mustard overdose.

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In addition to the standard menu, there’s also a ‘daily specials’ display. Since the idea was to pig out, we decided to try the BBQ Pork from this set. It came with.. Ok, this is getting boring, so imagine potatoes as bodyguards and that no dish arrives on the table without them accompanying it in some form! But the pork dish actually turned out to be the first of the fantastic dishes – a superb mix of spice, tang and splendidly cooked meat. To even out things a bit, we then tried the Veg Dumplings in Hot & Sour Gravy which was served with Butter Rice. This was not in the league of the earlier dish, but the hot and sour flavours were complemented well by the mildly flavoured rice. The Cajun Spiced Grilled Fish with Dill Butter Sauce was up next. The fish was cooked well enough, but it was probably our least favourite, mostly thanks to a strange pungency. The Chicken Roulade turned out to be the dish of the day, with an awesome spinach filling, a mildly spicy herb sauce and butter rice to complete the package. From the half a dozen pizza options, we chose the Pepperoni & Bacon. They weren’t stingy with the meat and the caramelised shallots added a nice touch to the thin crust pizza.

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There were plenty of interesting options but we were pointed to the Brownie Caramel Fudge and the New York Style Blueberry Cheesecake, and thus we had a new benchmark of how meals should end! The brownie was just the right texture and consistency – neither too dry nor moist- and had some wonderful dark chocolate! Good chocolate dishes are always a tough act to follow, and the fact that the baked cheesecake almost beat it is testament to its quality. I wondered whether we should have started with desserts!

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For about Rs.1350, you could share a couple of non veg starters, two  non veg main course dishes and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The Mirage actually lives up to its name in the sense that the restaurant’s appearance doesn’t do full justice to the quality of some of the dishes. Considering the Koramangala location, it manages to deliver value for money as well. A little more attention to the overall packaging, including some good music (instead of piping Radio Indigo) and it could be wonderful and make money!

The Mirage, #61, 4th Floor, Above Corner House, 7th Block, Koramangala, Ph: 080 65333533/633

Brand, Journalism, Marketing

A few months ago, in The Future Of Owned Media and Can media become social enough?, I’d written about a marketplace model that would connect journalists and ‘buyers’. More recently, I saw an article about Contently raising a round of funding to work on its stated objective - connect freelance journalists and writers with nontraditional publishers, such as brands, agencies, nonprofits, and new media companies. These organizations use Contently’s technology to commission projects, such as sponsored articles, infographics, and blog posts.

Like I’ve tweeted before, journalism is definitely in need of a business model. Media (with advertising) is arguably not the best bet now, because of various reasons. Digital has allowed brands to create their own media platforms (blogs, websites) and social has enabled them to (at least) broadcast it themselves, without a dependency on traditional media. Frank Strong, in a post titled ‘Why Content Marketing is the new Branding‘, rightly states that content is currency. It not only builds perception, but enables us to transact with consumers, keep a conversation going, and at some point, achieve a certain business outcome.

However, except for campaigns, marketing collateral etc, brands have never really required/produced ‘content’ on a regular basis, and thus they are not wired for it. But content marketing obviously requires sustainable quality content, and that’s where brand journalism can play a part. I’d come across the term ‘brand journalism’ first on this post in early 2013 – ‘The Role of Brand Journalism in Content Marketing‘ – where it is defined as “research, storytelling and reporting for a non-media company, in that company’s line of business, with the goal of thought leadership.” (Erica Swallow) There’s a media vs non-media debate in the post, but my little tiff with the definition is that ‘thought leadership’ is rather limiting. There might be other business objectives/outcomes. Unless we’re talking of a leadership among the consumer’s thoughts. (share of mind)

Meanwhile, in addition to a structured way like Contently, I can see brands already doing other forms of brand journalism. (used loosely) I’d classify blogger outreach, guest Twitterers, all under this, because the brand is using a content creator’s contextual reputation to enhance its own standing. The latest example I saw was quite fantastic – teen retailer Wet Seal ‘handing over’ its Snapchat account to MissMeghanMakeup (aged 16) who has quite a social following on various platforms. (via) To note that this is not Miss Meghan’s only client!

I can paint a rather utopian win-win-win picture with this – brands with a purpose that has a social-societal perspective, journalists, who have created trust and a reputation of their own, who can identify with the brand’s purpose and who can write honestly (with disclosure) and consumers, who get to know more about the brands they align with through superb narratives created by these journalists. (among other storytellers) But I’d be surprised if it pans out this way anytime soon.

It will have its challenges, but most of it is when we try to fit this method into the ‘containers of the past’. Its potential to succeed is because it offers much for all stakeholders. Journalists will have the option to be authentic in their writing, and give full disclosure because they’re not tied to the (traditional) media aspect. (newspapers/channels with their own business interests) Brands can be transparent about who has been commissioned to produce their content, and can use paid, owned media to promote it. Consumers get an interesting mix of narrators. It is a shift because the players (Brand, PR, journalists, media platforms) and/or their roles (production, distribution) will transform, but I do think brand journalism (a type of content) + marketing stands a chance.

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until next time, to better brand stories

Brand Agility

One of the movements that I’d mentioned in the drivers for brand/marketing in 2014 and beyond is agile marketing. In my mind, there are various factors that are contributing to this eventuality like fragmentation of media platforms and the phenomenal amount of data being created and consumed to begin with.

Simulations, testing, analysing data, and quickly adapting are the basics of this approach to marketing. In terms of ‘ingredients’ to play with, I’d still go with the traditional 4Ps of the marketing mix- Product, (includes packaging) Price, Place (I include the internet with Platform) and Promotion, with Purpose being an umbrella addition. The input and the output, I have categorised into business dynamics, using the other favourite marketing letter – C. These are consumer, competition, channel, content and context, and the cohesive narrative that is created. I’m trying to evolve a framework from these, while watching brands actually practice it – with or without a theoretical structure to the approach.

One of the brands I’ve noticed doing a good job using many of these ingredients and the I/O is Uber. That’s despite the recent surge pricing bad press. In fact, I’d see this as an example of their ability and willingness to adapt. In the US, they’ve been honing their craft for a while – free rides for students during the Boston school bus driver strike was the first occurrence I noticed, and then soon after, the delightful hat tip to pop culture on National Cat Day in a tie up with Cheezburger.

They launched in India recently, and true to form, wasted no time in launching the UberSLEIGH during Christmas in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad –  a tie up with Goonj. From a critical agile marketing evaluation perspective, it would be easy to argue that Christmas is a recurring annual event that brands plan for. But auto-rickshaw strikes are relatively less predictable. A fortnight later, on January 6th, Uber slashed rates by 75% in Bangalore in response to a strike. What is easy to see is the anatomy of an agile strategy. To me, it seems that they are well on their way to developing a flexible marketing framework that helps them take advantage of any variations in the ‘input-output’ factors I’d mentioned earlier – in this case, pricing product and place in response to consumer and context.

Newer brands might have an advantage in developing these frameworks because of minimal ‘baggage’ in their brand philosophy. But then again, the advantage for existing brands might be their existing role in a consumer’s life. Traditionally, brands have attempted to build a unique/distinguishable/identifiable ‘idea’ of itself in the mind of the consumer, with different forms of the promise+identity+attributes+personality framework and (relatively) limited broadcast media options. Iterations cycles were lengthy and included brand tracks and insights which resulted in large campaigns. Several things have changed now. Consumers have shorter attention spans and are increasingly fragmented in their consumption habits. Social platforms have caused brands to cede control over the conversations – any consumer’s experience can potentially create the perception for millions of potential customers. Platforms for reaching the consumer are exploding, and each have their protocols. The potential amount of data from all of this is huge! The challenge for brands is to stay relevant across contexts and create a cohesive narrative, and this requires an evolution in marketing processes. Like I’ve written before, if technology is invading marketing, then perhaps agile – which is a popular approach among that kind – is the way to go!

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until next time, sprints and marathons

Notion states

My last post on the subject of home was in the context of the multicultural world we are creating, how in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity we might end up creating a homogeneous world, and whether the idea of home would change with time, as we begin to choose places that connect to our soul over the soil we were born in. (soul vs soil courtesy Pico Iyer)

One of my main punching bags in the institutional realignment line of thinking is the concept of the nation state, more specifically its relevance in a massively connected world. A simplistic view is that economics, trade and many other things might be better off without them, given how much of an enabler technology is turning out to be, and geo politics will anyway be a lesser phenomenon if there aren’t any nation states. Arguable, yes.

However, I had very little idea on the replacement concept. Geography (land) would exist and would have to be organised in some way. What way? In a wonderful display of appropriateness, Wired gave a possible answer – in the form of a post titled “Software Is Reorganizing the World“. I loved the concept of ‘geodesic distance’, and the mapping of not nation states but states of mind. (soul) The idea of (what is now) cloud communities taking physical shape is fantastic! While it might sound far fetched, it really isn’t – the post gives historical precedence and emerging patterns to back up the idea. As does Tony Hsieh’s The Downtown Project in the present day to transform the decaying and blighted part of the old Vegas Strip into the most community-focused large city in the world.

Around the same time, I came across this Facebook (official) note titled “Coordinated Migration“, (thanks MJ) which shows how Facebook is using ‘hometown’ and ‘current city’ descriptions to track migratory patterns across the world. Probably, in a few years, this would be a mapping everyone would take a keen interest in, to find kindred souls, and to be what they are destined to be.

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until next time, a state of bliss

Social’s second chance

For context, I believe the first chance was brand/marketing. That potential has pretty much been converted into a banal, mostly campaign oriented, traditional media (with better targeting thanks to various contexts) approach, though thankfully, we have do some rebel strongholds. I can clearly see this within the Big Shift construct – the third wave is about how organisations/institutions respond to knowledge and the flow of information, and what I see now is the typical marketing organisation conveniently converting social into a media framework that it seemingly understands and has worked with for a long while. The big boys – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – have all created advertising products that cater to this thinking. Viva la broadcast!

But I’d like to think that all is not lost. Social changed to social media when it approached brand in the same way its media predecessors did. I see this as a phase which will last until social media saturates itself and becomes just another standard media platform. That leads me to think – if each domain (HR, Product) treats social in the same piecemeal way, it is bound to fail across them all.  When this does happen, at least some organisations will realise that a larger structural change is afoot and the institutional response needs to be more strategic. ”The Next Social Imperative” made me realise that social has been attempting to work on top of business processes, but it needs to work the other way to even begin this journey. (also, strongly reminded of Tac Anderson’s post in this context back in 2010!) The driver will be market dynamics but the good news for organisations is that many in the existing workforce have the potential to become navigators of this change.

How does the workforce systemically play a part? Stowe Boyd’s insightful “The Future of Work : 4 trends for 2014” has at least two trends (consumerisation of work and me-isation of productivity and performance) that clearly point to this shift and its harbingers. Consumer technologies (and more so, the philosophy behind them) and a different kind of workflow can actually make an organisation more consumer centric than the silo approach currently followed. Steven Sinofsky’s long but superb post on the theory and manifestation of this paradigm shift is a must read on this subject. A very interesting manifestation of this shift I saw recently is Zappos’ move towards holacracy - a comprehensive ‘operating system’ for organisational governance that focuses on purpose and accountability without a top-down, hierarchical management structure.

This could be the first step towards ‘social business’, and I’m thinking of social business as a platform. (a fantastic read on platforms) The organisation and its purpose would actually work as a platform to channelise and augment the connection between employees and consumers. This purpose would also convert a job into work than an employee is connected to, and on the other side, it would help the consumer get closer to a brand he believes in. This is also when epics happen. Social (and other) technologies would play enablers for a more fundamental change in the structure and nature of work, and allow organisations to harness data, connections and transactions towards a shared purpose. More a transition than a disruption. Different organisations, I think, would evolve differently – some would not evolve at all. This is more hope than anything else, but I do believe that social technology has it in itself to be transformational, and not just transactional.

until next time, back to a socialist, communist workforce ;)

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La Tagliatella

First published in Bangalore Mirror

Something about the consonants in the name of the restaurant reminded me of The Godfather – turned out to be the Tattaglia family, one of New York’s ‘Five Families’ in the novel. The establishment on 100 feet Road, Indiranagar (map) obviously has no connection, and is actually named after a kind of pasta. Yes, there is valet parking. There is something about the façade and the view of the brightly lit interior from the outside that conveys opulence. This is only enhanced once you step inside – gold and yellow dominate the décor, with red thrown in for good measure, and the chandeliers and the framed pictures only add to the effect, though occasionally it tends towards gaudiness. But just when you begin to think you’re in the protective warmth of a palatial bungalow, the culinary illustrations, the display of cooking instruments, the pricing and the temperature manage to bring you back to the cold reality of a fine dining restaurant. There was a lot of chatter happening on our table – some of it was because of the menu, which had a variety of choices, and it took several rounds of discussions before we could reach a consensus, but most of it was courtesy the intense cold. When we asked for it to be reduced, we were given a central air conditioning story. It did seem that the entire air conditioning was centred on our table! The rain meant that we couldn’t use the alfresco option available.

The starter options consist of a couple of soups, half a dozen salads, and some antipasti. We skipped the first two and launched into a Focacce liguri and a Mozzarelletta. The flat bread and its toppings turned out to be quite picturesque, but even the collective presence of duck ham, parmigiano cheese and provolone cheese wasn’t enough to take the dish beyond ordinariness. In contrast, the simplistic combination of mozzarella melted with nuts and sweet tomato, though not very appealing to the eye, made a mark on other senses – smell and taste. It was totally melt-in-the-mouth, with the nuts offering a texture counterpoint. The wine list is fairly exhaustive on paper, but that is a common menu, and in Bangalore, they have chosen to serve only wine. They had run out of bottles of the white wines we preferred, so we settled for ‘pints’ of red and white wine, and were left rather unimpressed with both!

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The sheer variety of pasta choices is something to pay attention to – from spaghetti and ravioli to Sorrentino and Taglierini, I could count about twenty. Together with the condiments, there are potentially hundreds of combinations! Add to that pizzas and calzones! We began with a Tagliatella pizza – thin crusted and fairly large with pesto, mushrooms, taleggio cheese, turkey bacon and spinach. This is probably shuddh Italian judging by the relative blandness, and despite that consideration, it failed to impress. The Calzone Verde was a lot of hot air as they weren’t really generous with the mozzarella, mushrooms and pesto stuffing. We then tried the Gamberetti di Funghi which turned out to be an excellent dish with well cooked pasta and prawns. On weekdays, they have a ‘1111 for 2’ menu, in which we can choose 3 pastas from 9 options. That turned out to be quite a blessing and we sampled the Spaghetti Bolognese, Sorrentino with Vera Casalinga sauce and the Tagliatelle with Tremenda sauce. The spaghetti nosed ahead, though I thought if the Tagliatelle wasn’t a tad overcooked, it might have won, the cream sauce was quite good. I liked the Sorrentino as well, but the table was evenly divided on the parmigiano-reggiano and Iberian pork dish.

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There are plenty of dessert options, but as usual I got unlucky with the exact one I wanted! We tried the Tiramisu, which was phenomenally good and the best dish of the day. The Tutto Cioccolato seemed a little too similar to the standard lava cakes available around. Coppa Fior di Latte al Cioccolat oFuso – Mascarpone ice cream with hot chocolate cream – was also just average.

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For about Rs.2700, you could share a drink, a non veg starter, a non veg main course dish and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) La Tagliatella is an international chain and prides itself on the authenticity and freshness of the ingredients used. That probably explains the pricing to an extent, but somehow the experience itself didn’t really justify the bill. So, unless the gap between value and cost is bridged, the bill would make it very easy for a customer to suspect a Godfather like extortion!

La Tagliatella, 766, Amrest Bunglow, HAL 2nd Stage, 100 feet road, Indiranagar, Ph: 080 60506066/77