ymMBA: Dog of Dance


Series of posts titled “Your movie MBA”, where we’re using famous hindi movie lines to make management gyan more approachable. Today’s theme-customer segmentation! The source material is illegal phone-taps, so reader discretion advised.

Follows this base post. And oh! This is fictionalized.

In the wake of 2010’s 2G scandal in India, newspaper offices have become used to receiving strange packets with USB memory sticks full of illicitly recorded telephone conversation. One such package arrived at our doorstep yesterday, marked simply “Gabriel’s Dogs, 1994“. Our curiosity piqued, we plugged in the USB drive to hear the inner workings of the IT industry in its infancy. The year was 1994, and this was a recording of a conversation between Virendra, VipInTa Technologies’ founder, and Haema, the company’s relationship manager with Gabriel Electric. Haema, as readers will recall, later became (in)famous as a corporate lobbyist and her other phone recordings have already been made public. It appears that Haema’s calls were being tapped much earlier in her career as well. This was one of the recordings. The uncut transcript is below.

Haema: Veeru, this is me. I know it’s late…sorry…but I need to talk with you urgently ya!

Virendra: Haan bol! Did you get any sleep? Those crazy guys at Gabriel have made me completely sleepless. I don’t know why we have to do this renegotiation tamasha every year. Why don’t they bloody ask for our first-borns and right arm as well? Buggers!

Haema: No ya! I didn’t get much sleep either. I was working with Balu on the financials. If we give Gabriel’s guys any more discount, we will make no money on the deal at all. Balu is furious, and I am ready to give up now. It’s your company, ya!, you tell me what you want to do!

Virendra: Arrey…we gave them a discount last year as well. They keep coming back every year to arm-twist. Tu aisa kar, you tell them that you’re not able to reach me. Let them give us some more time.

Haema: What are you saying Veeru? This is our largest client, and they are negotiating with all the other desi companies. I can’t just go and tell them I can’t reach you. Tell something else…should I just give the discount, and we will try to be better prepared next year?

Virendra: Basanti..<audio garbled>

Haema: Hellow?! What did you say?

Virendra: <muffled audio> Basa…ton ke saam…<muffled audio>

Haema: Can you repeat? Your voice is cutting off…Hellow?! Should I call back?

Virendra: Basanti, in kutton ke saamne mat naachna! <translated: Don’t dance for these dogs>

<Editor’s note> Customer segmentation is a very important part of a company’s strategy. Not all clients are alike, and some clients are not worth having. VipInTa had run into a very big problem- their biggest customer, Gabriel Electric, was now a problem client. Gabriel’s men routinely came down to India to ask for discounts, and the relationship had become toxic. Veeru had to decide whether to continue to give discount to the single client that gave them 40% of revenues, or to walk away and take their chances with other more profitable clients. They chose to walk away, and the rest is history. The company still doesn’t do any business with Gabriel’s men, but happens to make the most profits in the industry. Those who danced for Gabriel’s negotiators have had to sell their companies for a deep discount. (Non-fictionalized version of the story here at #19). (Non-fictionalized reference to a company that likes dancing for Gabriel is here. They sold the company in early 2011, at a fraction of the valuation of the other companies in their industry. Cheap clients make poor business partners!).

Not all customers are alike. Learn to pick well. That’s your bollywood line for the day.

Basanti, in kutton ke saamne mat nachna! Can there be a more iconic bollywood line? For those who slept through the 1970s, the line is from Sholay, and involved Hema Malini (as Basanti) and Dharmendra’s character-Veeru. Veeru is strapped to a pole, and the arch-villain Gabbar’s henchmen have asked Basanti to dance on shards of broker glass as a life-line to save her boyfriend Veeru. Incensed, Veeru is asking Basanti not to dance. She does. He lives. Happy Ending, bollywood ishtyle.

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And the world goes to… Ameerpet!


Did you know about a place called Ameerpet?  It’s a small corner of Hyderabad where a 100,000 people are studying technology at any point of time.  What Kota does for engineering aspirants, Ameerpet does for tech aspirants – namely plug the gap between college education (or lack therein) and what it takes to get a job.  Yesterday’s Economic times had this article.

Ameerpet picked up on the desperation of thousands of students like Sudha when, almost a decade ago, it morphed from a quiet, residential neighbourhood into a renegade IT hub. Every crumbling building here seems to be crammed with institutes offering courses in SAP, Java, Oracle, C, C++ and a host of others. The training institutes range from a hole-in-the-wall place to large sheds converted into classrooms that pack in a few hundred students. There is at least one new institute springing up every day, but most are low on credibility and use unauthorised software.  Every day, hundreds of people like Sudha throng Ameerpet. They come searching for low-cost courses; for the experience of working on ‘live projects’, which are smuggled from all over the world, or for a crash course to upgrade their skills.

Many people come from villages to pick up tech skills and join the employment pool – more on that subject in a later post.  Employees of tech companies come here to brush up their skills (and actually learn what their companies are trying to teach them through e-learning modules).  Many of them also teach here, earning a 500-1,000 an hour.

Its a sad reflection on our colleges that students need to go through significant additional training in order to be employable.  At the same time, it’s a testament to private enterprise that finds a way to fill the gap.  Getting to acceptable standards of employment is often good enough.

As a trainer at an Ameerpet institute puts it: “It’s like having a plasma TV and a basic one in front of you. The basic one may not give you the superior quality and status symbol of the plasma, but does it mean it is not doing its job at all?”

The frontiers of outsourcing


Two non-conventional areas of outsourcing discovered:

1.  The Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA) – who among other things helps arrange dates for you through online dating sites.  Hilarious story here, discovered thru Marginal Revolution (who also seems to have a thing against Krugman).  Read the story till the end to get the plot for the next Hollywood blockbuster – Love Story, outsourced (title credits, me)

2. Outsourced wombs – there’s apparently a half billion dollar surrogacy market in India with 350 clinics offering the service across India, at about a fifth of US costs (potentially a more compelling economic proposition than conventional BPOs).  Full story here, discovered via the freakonomics blog.

So, I think we’re gradually getting a slice of the full lifecycle.  From online tutors, to dating assistance, outsourced wombs, medical tourism and religion (eat, pray, love) – India’s got it covered.