Tuesday, February 02, 2016

New Ideas: How Far is the Market?

What is the distance between a product-idea and the marketplace in India?

In the developed markets this distance has been cut down considerably by those who have an access to the internet. As this article illustrates, the difference between those who harness freelancers on the internet, and those who go the traditional way, can run into thousands of dollars.

Comparing two similar products presented at a trade show, it turned out that one had spent four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in hiring engineers and manufacturers, while another needed just seven months and $11,800 to get there. How the market responds to a prototype presented at a trade show depends on a number of factors but what does it take to get till this point?

The first thing you need, of course, is an idea. From here on you are seeking the answers to a series of questions:

  • Is the Idea unique?  - checking the online databases at Patent Offices and Patent Depository Libraries. If the idea turns out to be unique, then - 
  • Who provides the best VFM for professional Patents Search services? If the idea continues to have legs, then after filing a provisional patent - 
  • Which product designer / engineer can create a prototype model?
  • How should demand and product pricing be assessed?  - Focus groups through sources like ManagementHelp.org
  • Which manufacturer provides the best deal in terms of cost and quality? Does he also have his own distribution network?

In India, over and above all these questions, you need to also constantly look over your shoulder to see if there is anybody waiting to flood the market with cheap imitations!


* Entrepreneur.com (2010) - From Idea to Market - http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/217332

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hi Honey!

Honey is often refered to as "the only food that never spoils". There have been (unverified) claims of archeologists digging out 2000-5000 year-old jars of honey from sites in Egypt and Georgia. And today specialized honey's are counted among the most expensive foods in the world.

In 2014, a small consignment of Elvish honey from remote caves in Turkey sold in France for about USD 6,800/kg!

How does India fare in the world of honey exports?

According to APEDA, India exported 29,578.52 MT of natural honey to the world for Rs. 535.07 crore during the year of 2014-15. This comes to just ₹ 180/kg ($ 2.7)!

It is worth noting that we export almost no honey to Europe. In 2014, the European Union imported more than 315,000 tonnes of honey, most of which came from China. Despite all the barriers erected by EU, there does not seem to be much of a cost advantage here. Chinese honey costs just ₹ 20/kg more than Indian exports.

The amazing thing that emergers from these numbers is that the export value of Indian honey is far below the cost at which it retails within India!

Why do Indian exporters sell honey to the Arabs for ₹ 180/kg when they can get ₹ 600 to 900/kg in the domestic retail market? Or was I missing something here?

According to my friend H, the missing element here is Volumes. When it comes to getting agriculture commodities to the markets, one of the most important things to consider is scale of operations. Just as Indian honey is exported for a fraction of its domstic price, Basmati rice too earns our exporters pretty thin margins compared to the domestic market.


The Chemistry of Honey - http://www.compoundchem.com/2014/08/21/chemistryofhoney/

10 most expensive foods in the world - http://www.worldfoodist.com/2013/01/25/the-worlds-most-expensive-foods/

Oddity Central - most expensive honey in the world - http://www.odditycentral.com/foods/worlds-most-expensive-honey-costs-as-much-as-a-small-car.html
- Elvish honey from Turkey - $ 6,800 / kg

World's top-5 honey - http://www.justfoodnow.com/2010/12/22/honey-the-five-best-in-the-world/

BeezHoney India - http://www.beezhoney.com/

Yemeni  Hone - http://www.honey-foryourhealth.com/the-worlds-most-expensive-honey-and-why-you-should-run-to-buy-this---yemeni-honey.html
Yemeni Sidr Honey - quality page - http://www.yemensidrhoney.com/index.php/quality-safety

USA - honey.com - http://www.honey.com/
Wikipedia on Honey - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey

- Certifications: HACCP (Hazard Analysis for Critical Control Points) - http://www.22000-tools.com/what-is-haccp.html
- ISO 22000 - for food safety - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_22000

- (IT, 2010) - Contaminated Honey in India -- http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/unhealthy-bitter-truths-about-honey-in-india/1/112833.html
. Only Hitkari was found to be free of antibiotics

Trade Stats - Honey in Europe (2015) - https://www.cbi.eu/sites/default/files/trade-statistics-europe-honey-2015.pdf

- APEDA Honey exports - http://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/SubHead_Products/Natural_Honey.htm
exported 29,578.52 MT of natural honey to the world for the worth of Rs. 535.07 crore during the year of 2014-15.

- Myth-buster - no honey in ancient Egyptian tombs - http://bumblehive.com/honey-was-not-found-in-pharaohs-tombs/

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mewar at War

Why would 16,000 women throw themselves into a giant bonfire?

This is a question that has troubled me. History is replete with instances where kingdoms have gone to war, where cities have been beseiged, of armies saughtered and people enslaved. Carthage, Rome, Cuzco, Babylon, Jerusalem, Vijayanagara, Delhi...the list goes on an on.

However in the Rajputana kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar, the endgame has always been marked by huge fires lit in palaces where the women are said to have killed themselves en masse, while their menfolk went down on a final, suicidal charge into the waiting enemy flanks.

Chittorgarh Fort (Western ramparts)
In the popular annals of Indian history, the defenders of one fort have used this as a standard procedure across centuries - Chittorgarh. This first time this happened was in 1303 CE when Sultan Allaudin Khilji beseiged the fort for six months before it capitulated. Over 16,000 woment went up in flames in the first recorded "Jauhar" in Mewar. The scene was repeated in 1535 CE, when Mohammad Shah of Gujarat took the fort, and then again in 1568 CE when the Mughals led by Akbar blew up Chittor's fortifications using gunpowder.

Chitrtorgarh Fort - Suraj Pol (Eastern Entrance)
The mass suicide is often portrayed as the outcome of a Rajput "Code of Honor", of "Death before Dishonor". Yet, whichever way you look at it, it seems rather bleak to be in a situation where you forego the option of living to fight another day. What is it that really made these mass suicides worthwhile?

One answer to this question comes from V.S. Naipaul's book, "Among the Believers". In a chilling description of a new type of warfare that arrived on Indian shores, he describes how in 710 CE the 14-year-old "General" Md. Bin Qasim ordered the execution of all fighting men, enslavement of all the women and children in Sindh.

Once this was set as a standard procedure in the medeiva; "all out war", it left the combatants with very limited choices. Either you die in your own home, among family and friends, or got raped and killed while being flogged on an ardruous trek across the Hindu Kush mountains, or to the streets of Arabia.

For the women and children in a city that had already under seige for many months, it may not have been a difficult choice. Was it the women of Chittor who set the precedent? Or is remembered because it happened on such a large scale, repeatedly, at the same site?

Somehow, this does not be a topic of interest to our historians. Its a pity that there is so little information on this either online, or at the actual site.

A layout map of Chittorgarh near the ASI ticket office


Q: How is it that the Jain temples and towers survived the military assaults that had flattened almost all buildings in Chittorgarh? One of the oldest structures in Chittor is the Kirti Sthambh built in the 11the century, and it still looks as though it were completed yesterday!

Friday, January 08, 2016

Mount Abu

Mount Abu is an amazing and a pathetic place in equal measure.

For a series of low, unimpressive hills that rise out of the plains of Rajasthan and Gujarat Mount Abu earns a rather disproportionate share of our awe. It is a place described in the Puranas as "Arbudaranya", it figures prominently in the creation myths of Rajputs and Gujjars. It is home the Dilwara Temples - perhaps one of the most intricately carved marble buildings in India. Escavations from historical sites across Abu span the past two millennia.

These days, Mount Abu is better known as the nearest "Hill Station" for all the residents of Rajasthan and Gujarat. This simply means that the hill attracts all kinds of riff-raff looking for a quick holiday destination where they can toss out all their garbage - especially liquor bottles and chips-packets.

Granite walls "scooped out"?

Despite the present state of affairs, the place is full of fascinating things that have hardly been written about. The rock formations all over Mount Abu is something to behold. Unlike the Deccan Plateau where you see large boulders balancing in improbable places, here you have rock faces that look as though they have been carved by a giant walking around with an icecream scoop!

Achalgarh, Mount Abu

Also amazing is the way animals have been honored in the temples here. At the Dilwara Temples, there is a whole gallery of magnificent elephants in polished marble. These aparently were built to honor the animals that lugged tonnes of marble up these hills.

Less celebrated but even more touching is the sight of three water buffalos carved out of black granite, standing guard on a water tank full of their brethren in flesh and blood. Who built these temples? If you ask the local guide, he will tell you some cock-and-bull story about a king who killed three demons who took the form of bufallos.

Three Buffalos
There is certainly a lot more to the ruins than meets the eye. Is anybody studying them seriously? How long will we continue to cover our ignorance with tales of Gods and Demons?


- Geology - http://www.mantleplumes.org/Malani.html

- http://www.mountaburajasthan.com/tourist-places-to-visit/gaumukh

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Cost of a Stadium

How much does it cost to build a stadium?

Over the past one week a controversy has been raging over the cost of building a cricket stadium in New Delhi. The Chief Minister of Delhi claims that his office was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) because his office had been investigating the shell companies behind a controversial "refurbishment" of the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium which cost about ₹ 142 Cr (USD 22 m). He also alleges that the money trail leads up to Arun Jaitley, India's Finance Minister.

Not the one to take things lying down, the country's Finance Minister has now filed a defamation case against the Chief Minister.

As allegations and counter-allegations fly to and fro, here are some figures that put things in perspective:

  • A brand new stadium was contructed at Dharamshala for ₹ 20 Crores (USD 3 million)
  • Prior to the Commonwealth Games 2010, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was refurbished at the cost of ₹ 600 Crores (USD 92 m)
  • The iconic "Birds Nest" stadium built for the Beijing Olympics cost USD 243 million (₹ 2,750 Cr).
  • In Japan, there was a huge controversy over the cost of a new stadium for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. A design created by Zaha Hadid costing USD 2.1 billion (₹ 13,650 Cr), It has now been replaced by a "cheaper" design that costs only USD 1.2 billion (₹ 7,800 Cr)

If we take the Dharamshala stadium as a realistic local reference point, the cost of JLN stadium and FZK stadum certainly seems over the top. But this should not come as a big surprise to any of us because we all know that in the absence of transparent funding to political parties, there is really no incentive towards having projects that have zero kickbacks.

Ultimately, as the old saying goes, "When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled."


* BBC - http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35158004
* Financial Times -- http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b5db6708-a874-11e5-955c-1e1d6de94879.html#axzz3v4mJWh9V
* Zahid's Stadium design for Tokyo -- http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/new-national-stadium/

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Latest Tango in Paris

"Would you be interested in a smoke-less choolha?
...And how about a lantern that takes energy from the sun to light up your home at night?"

If you are shooting these questions at a bleary eyed villager's wife in a remote village in South Asia,  bewildered disbelief is what you would get. Why would anybody come around asking such inane questions? Would such new fangled things fit into the rough and tumble of living on a farm? Who can afford such gadgets anyway?

And yet, this is exactly what is happening in hundreds of villages in Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and other parts of the world. Life is becoming a wee bit easier -- thanks to events that have been unfolding in far away places like Stockholm, Rio De Janerio, Cartagena, and now, Paris.

Thanks to increasingly unpredictable changes in weather patterns, Climate Change has gradually moved from the realm of eggheads to actions that have a real impact on the ground.

Back in October, 1991, a diverse group of 183 countries met at Rio de Janerio. This meeting led to Conference of Parties (CoP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Then a partnership with international institutions to deal with global environmental issues led to the formation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Since then this insitution has provided over $12.5 billion in grants and leveraging $58 billion in co-financing for over 3,690 projects in over 165 countries.

This is an endeavour of amazing complexity. As with other most multilateral funding projects, GEF too operates through a wide range f partners: UNDP, UNIDO, ADB, WB, and a host of bilateral agencies and national governments. Each of them has a different way of working - UNDP partners with local government bodies while ADB and WB seem to prefer a a more direct approach to disbursal of funds.

For the past two decades, a complex machinery has been slowly grinding its way through the buureaucracy, resulting in some of the most unexpected sights across the world: people lugging equipment across remote areas -  wind turbines, micro/mini hydel systems, solar panels -  trying to get self-contained communities to increase their dependence on strange, new equipment, all for the Greater Common Good.

What about the biggest guzzlers of fossil fuels, like factories, power plants and automobiles?  Until now big changes in the developing countries were conditional upon receiving finance and technology from developed countries, as entitlements, not as foreign assistance.

How does the Paris Agreement change this?



* UNFCC - Technology Transfer Framework -- http://unfccc.int/ttclear/templates/render_cms_page?TTF_home

* https://www.thegef.org/gef/gef_projects_funding

* (15 Dec 15 IE) - A long way from Rio -- http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/paris-climate-talks-a-long-way-from-rio/

Friday, December 11, 2015

Modi-Abe Camaradarie - Getting Down to Brasstacks

Prime Minister Abe in India now, and its time, once again, for the media to make hay while sun shines.

The Indian Express has come out with a special RED 'advertorial' initiative (pages 6-7) to mark the ocassion. It has the usual (unattributed) writeups on the history of investment, trade and social cooperation between Indian and Japan, as well as fillers to mark spaces where the expected advt revenue did not turn up. One of these is a "Fact File" box right below a message from the new ambassador designate, Mr. Kenji Hiramatsu, and the first point here states: "Japan is the world's largest consumer of Amazon rainfalls"!

Indian Express Fact File: Really?

What was that again?? Japan is the world's largest consumer of rainforest wood, but where on earth did the IE staffer get this absurd "fact"?

Not to be left behind, the HT Mint marketing media initiative carries a marketing initiative titled "India-Japan Deepens Ties". Here too the only advertisement is from Maruti Suzuki and the set pieces toss around numbers that make little sense. During Modi's visit last year, the title article claims, "Abe had set a target of 3.5 trillion yen $33.5 billion of public and private investment.." . There is no mention of how much of this has actually fructified over the past one year, since November 2014. The only data point at hand is a 2013 FDI figure of $1.7 billion!

Perhaps journalists working on advertorials can be excused for putting out shoddy data. However, the loss of credibility in the color-pages is not balanced out in the editorials or oped pages. In the opinons section there is one piece from Harsh V Pant who makes one pointed comment - "Thought there has been significant movement on these issues over the past year, these initiative still remain highly contested between the bureaucracies of the two nations."

Therein lies the rub. The Dedicated Freight Corridor project agreed a decade ago continues to be a snailpaced work-in-progress. And now we have the new promise of a $14.7 billion (₹ 98,000 Cr) bullet train project linking Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

While there has been a lot of hype around the Modi-Abe camradarie, substantial progress on India-Japan linkages is still bogged down in the red-tape, both in New Delhi and in Tokyo.

What exactly does it take to get the babu's cracking on both the sides?


* 11Dec15 - Reuters - Japan's bid for bullet train gets cabinet nod -- http://in.reuters.com/article/india-japan-train-idINKBN0TT0PI20151210
- Cabinet approval for $14.7 billion Japanese proposal...Mumbai-Ahmedabad - 503 km...Japan had offered to finance 80 percent of the cost ...at an interest rate of less than 1 percent.

* Pant, Harsh - 11Dec15 - The Abe-Modi Connect - http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/yoDbATculxoLxfwhlzSL8N/The-AbeModi-connect.html
- US-2 amphibious aircraft - submarines - nuclear plants
- Earlier this year Japan lost out to China is a bid for a high-speed railway in Indonesia

* Mint marketing media initiative
- 2014 Abe set a target of Yen 3.5 trillion $33.5 billion of public and private investment and financing from Japan including ODA to be made over a period of 5 years
- JETRO - number of Jap companies operating in India has grown from 267 in 2006, to over 1800 in 2013.

* 11Dec15 -- IE -- http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/japanese-pm-shinzo-abe-to-arrive-today-number-of-pacts-on-table/