Archive for November, 2004

The PaanWalla and the Indian Mobile Phone Revolution

Thursday, November 25th, 2004

SQ 416 was late by few minutes for its scheduled time at 10:30p. Next was a hassle-free checkout (Thanks to 9 pieces of luggage and two sleepy kids!) through the Green Channel of customs at the Kolkata International airport. The next stop had to be a roadside paan shop. I was carrying a burning desire to chew a paan on arrival.
So, we stopped. The paanwalla(click here for a a look-alike) was chatting on a shining mobile phone. On my arrival at his counter, I could hear him closing the conversation in his local dialect, “…Auron baad mein, kustomber hai”. Translated — Rest later, I have a customer. The counter, which was barely 10 feet by 10 feet also had leaflets of Reliance India Mobile prepaid cards stuck on the side of his wall.
Although, growth in the youth market has been fast last year symbolizing the breadth of the Indian Mobile phone customers; the depth of the market could be estimated when you see a paanwalla handling a mobile phone. A paanwalla could be characterized as someone with minimal or basic education, a non-incorporated small business, no taxes, and possibly without a postal address.
Thanks to popular schemes offering free incoming & intra-carrier calls; Indian users have been adding 1.5m – 1.7m new customers every month with an estimated base of 38 million users.

Bajaj Scooters in California

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

Last Saturday morning was weary — I was tired sorting through all the shopping and gifts we have been buying for our relatives (Yes, an upcoming trip to India!). Soon, I was commanded to get some food from Chaat Cafe — a local restaurant which serves Indian food at drive-thru speed.
Driving down the rain soaked roads of Fremont; I waited for a final left turn into a shopping plaza. On another left lane there was something, which looked familiar — a scooter. The body contours (read, the body structure) made me feel that it was a desi scooter.
The signal turned green, I followed the scooter in order to confirm my belief. After a few risky driving maneuvers I could read “Chetak”. It indeed was Bajaj Chetak, one of the flag-ship 2-wheelers by an Indian automotive giant Bajaj. The name Chetak comes from folklore in Indian mythology. Chetak was a legendary horse, powerful and fiercely loyal to his master Maharana Pratap.
Back home — after bouts of Naan, Tandoori Wrap, and other indulges — I started researching into what I just saw.
Bajaj is the world’s number one two-wheeler manufacturer. Exports of Bajaj scooters have been growing with an expected 15% contribution in sales for the coming year. Interestingly, Wall Street Journal ran a feature article (cache) couple of months ago on Bajaj’s success in the world market and how the scooter manufacturer is poised to take on it’s rivals on price, features and fuel efficiency. No wonder Bajaj USA has a great fan following.
Here’s the promo being run by Bajaj to woo it’s American customers.

Hamara Bajaj!

Ram Shriram’s Book of Mistakes

Thursday, November 4th, 2004

SliconBeat via VentureIntelligence
Ram Shriram, founder of Sherpalo Ventures, and one of the first investors in Google, helped Google’s co-founders “in the Menlo Park garage by consulting his ‘Ram