Some WOW mobile apps from India

mobile for blog

Everyone knows the India mobile internet story. And what a story it is. India is expected to have 371M mobile internet users by June 2016, adding more than 100M users in 12 months (Source). That’s phenomenal growth by any standard. And because it’s happened so fast, the mobile app ecosystem has struggled to keep up. For the last 2 years, we witnessed several debates on mobile app Vs m-site and saw some very sub-standard mobile apps coming out of the country. But, happily, we are finally starting to see some people who truly get that the mobile screen is not just a smaller laptop screen (face-palm). That the way people consume content on mobile is vastly different from how they browse online. And hence, the approach to mobile needs to be a radical one.

Although I’m a prolific consumer of mobile content, I’m no authority on the subject. But I’ve seen some great mobile apps come out of India’s start-up ecosystem recently, and wanted to call those out. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order:

  1. Hopscotch

These guys got it right quite early on. They are a time-bound boutique product company, with a large focus on kids’ stuff. Theirs is a no-frills app without too many icons to distract you. The app demonstrates a great understanding of the customer – there are 2 ways their customers would search for products on the app, and icons for those are centerstage. Of course, the clean UI adds to the appeal. And the recent changes of introducing larger images and improving the scroll experience only add to their advantage.

Interestingly, they have a less-than-brilliant website. But I suppose they realized that themselves because as I write this, I see that the site has been taken down and there is a “coming soon” message there. Aha.

2. Myntra

Myntra is one of the largest fashion portals of India. There was a lot of hue and cry when they decided to go app-only. Time will tell how that worked out for them. If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of a quality app. I think these guys have done a phenomenal job of analyzing data consumption on mobile and then creating an experience to match. I say experience because it really is that. You’re not just shopping for products, although you can do that easily. You’re reading a magazine. Trends, fashion updates, brand updates, latest collections, new products, blog posts etc. Great visuals add to the appeal and it’s everything you would expect from fashion on your phone. Two thumbs up.

3. Urban Ladder

Another e-commerce start-up that “gets” mobile. Although, these guys took a bit of time to get there. But get there they did. As a company, I consider Urban Ladder one that holds good, clean design in high esteem and this shows in everything they do. The app is no exception. Good creatives, along with a magazine-style approach to browsing makes this an app that would see a lot of repeat traffic with high session durations. I did find it a little too cluttered in places, but I expect they will iron this stuff out eventually.

4. Swiggy

The boom and bust of the food-tech bubble in India has kept Swiggy in the news a lot lately as it is one of the few that survived the ride, so far. Theirs is an app that is very basic and functional. And that’s the reason it is on this list – it works. Not every app needs to be a creative and visual array that overwhelms the user. The Swiggy user is hungry and just wants to order food quickly. The app helps him/her do just that. They should probably add an easy access menu for different cuisines, but even without that, it does the job.

5. Cleartrip

Cleartrip is one of the stalwarts of clean, functional design and digital workflow in the country. I know their awesomeness is done to death already, but no list of good mobile apps from India can be complete without a mention of the Cleartrip app. They brought a paradigm shift in the mobile travel experience, focused on what was important and displayed an understanding of mobile that was way ahead of its time. Now better apps have come in since then, but Cleartrip remains a great app.

Unpacking the customer experience

How many times have you heard a start-up, or for that matter any organization, say “We are focused on providing the best customer experience”? It’s one of those cool things to say these days – understood in very few cases, and actually followed in even fewer. Which is unfortunate, because a focus on stellar customer experience is the one thing that can really differentiate a product or a service in a competitive market. Think about it – there are very few organizations providing a product or service that is truly unique today, chiefly because information is so commoditized in this digital age. So then the only thing that can set you apart in the mind of consumers and keep them coming back to you is how they feel when interacting with your organization – their experience.

In order to “provide the best customer experience”, we need to first figure out how customers currently experience us. This is where a customer experience map comes in handy (lots of literature online on customer experience maps; here’s one I liked). Building a good customer experience map is no simple exercise. It requires getting your hands dirty, so to speak, and really immersing yourself in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The best and most straightforward way to do this is to become the customer! But there are practical difficulties in this method. If you’re someone senior in your org (which is quite likely, if you’re undertaking this exercise) then it will be hard for you to get an unbiased and unpolished view of the service customers receive when they interact with your org. There are two ways to get around this. First, speak to your customers. Talk to them about their experience at different stages. Be careful to use a wide pool of diverse customers. Also, it is important to have specific questions ready for them if you don’t want the discussion to get sidetracked or be too generic. Second, use a mystery shopper. This is just a fancy term for an unknown outsider who uses your services and then reports back on the experience. Use a trained person for this as it’s not as simple as it sounds, and you need someone who knows what to look for.

A good customer experience map highlights what you’re doing wrong, where you’re alienating the customer, and this information is a crucial starting point in developing a stellar experience. But remember that it’s not just about where you’re screwing up. You will also find out what you’re doing right! And this is important – this tells you why your loyal customers are loyal, and why some people are coming back to you despite the screw ups. This is powerful information – to talk about in your brand communication, and to inspire and rally the team around.

Once you’ve mapped your experience, you’re ready to start working towards making it the best one and the reason that you will be chosen over all others. This is not an easy journey to embark on. It is especially difficult because both marketing and operations need to have joint ownership over this objective – both teams must work hand in hand. And that is never easy 🙂 But if the objectives are clear and the goals of all teams are aligned, the customer experience journey can show remarkable results for the organization.



Keep it simple

When one thinks about ‘organization strategy’, a 50 slide deck with complicated graphs and 20 colors comes to mind. Somehow we imagine strategy to be a scary beast that seasoned management arrives at after careful research and planning. That is why most of us find it hard to articulate our company strategy. We save the deck away carefully after the presentation and only open it a year later to try and remember what was articulated and how we can make the numbers look like we got there.

Honestly, what could be farther from strategy? The core purpose of strategy is to align organizations, rally them behind the vision and have it executed by every rung of the organization. How will you achieve all that by something that can’t even be explained in a conversation?

Real strategy is simple. It is something that “the doorman understands”, as Subroto Bagchi says in his book, The Elephant Catchers. His idea is simple too – strategy needs to be something so simple that everyone gets it. Only then can people get behind it. Because the proof of a good strategy is in its execution, and for that you need the organization aligned 100%.

But more important than being simple, continues Bagchi, a great strategy is an act of emotion. It is far-fetched, it is unreasonable, and it is powerful. Only then will it be memorable. Only then will it stir up the troops, because the battle to scale is not an easy one.

I am sold on this concept. I think an obvious corollary of this idea is the immense importance of actually having a strategy – a vision. An idea so simple and powerful that it gets everyone pedaling in the same direction, overcoming all the fears and apprehensions of scale and change. No one every got inspired by senior management locked up in a room and deciding on the company’s 5-year plan while everyone went along with business as usual. But with a leader who clearly articulates the one thing that the company needs to achieve as a team, repeats it at every occasion and to every employee – well, now we’re in business, quite literally.

5 tips on making the most of glorious Florence

So I’ve just returned from my second trip to Florence. The first time I was in Italy (with my husband), we behaved like regular tourists – spending a day in every city and running around to cover as many ‘attractions’ as possible. And seriously, it would be very hard to not do that on your first trip. But I urge you – don’t! If you have the good fortune of spending time in Florence then grab it with both hands. There aren’t many cities in the world with as much character and flavor as Florence. Take at least 3 days there and let Florence amaze you.

There are a million articles online to tell you about all the touristy things to do there. Here are my personal ‘gems’ that will help make this your most treasured trip.

1. What they say about lines at museums is true. They are long, very long. If you are one of those pre-planning types, then you must have already bought tickets online to ‘skip the line’. But if you’re like my ‘let it flow’ avatar during my last trip, you will be taking impulsive decisions. There is hope for you yet. If you decide late tonight that you feel like Uffizi tomorrow, all you have to do is make sure you’re there right when the doors open at 8.30 am. There’s a very high probability that you’re one of two people there. And it’s all good. Just get in, grab breakfast at the cute cafe on the Uffizi terrace, and enjoy the splendor of the masters.

Sadly, this isn’t nearly true for Accademia. You will have a line waiting to welcome you, no matter when you land up there. But we got there early and only had to wait about 40 mins.

2. Which brings me to The insider tip 2 – chat with the person next to you in line, no matter which line you’re in. An oft ignored pleasure of travel is discovering people as much as discovering places. Grab every opportunity. Whether it’s a fellow traveller in line, or the charming proprietor of your neighborhood cafe.

The lovely Daniella with her orchids

The lovely Daniella with her orchids

3. Relish those croissants and cappuccino. If you can’t afford a lavish breakfast everyday, just take them out – that’s not too heavy on the pocket, but just as delicious.

4. There’s a reason why Italian gelato is so famous. Have one after every meal. Don’t smirk – this is serious. Be on the lookout for those little gelaterias hidden in small streets and don’t be afraid to try each one. ‘Grom’ is the favorite of many, and it’s good, but there are many, many more. The best part is that each one experiments with flavors and so there’s an innumerable number of flavors to try! Follow this advice like a religion or you’ll regret it the moment you step out of Italy.

5. Spend your evenings on the bridge watching the mesmerizing sun set over Florence. The bridge I refer to is Ponte Santa Trinita, not Ponte Vechchio. But hang on, here comes the tip. While you’re mesmerized looking at the sun, turn around for a bit. The sight of Florence bathed in orange glow, under the watchful eyes of David in Piazza Michelangelo is unforgettable.


The rear view mirror

One of the most ego-boosting experiences in life is being invited back to your alma mater to disseminate some words of wisdom to current students. Not only is it immensely gratifying that you were “chosen” amongst all other alumni to “show the way” to youngsters, but it also recreates a much-craved connection with the place you once called home.

So when student representatives from IITK (Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur) called me recently to spend a day with students on campus and talk to them, I was elated. The actual experience was even more pleasing than the idea of it. My student hosts were extremely gracious, and I was blown away by their hospitality. It made the experience of being back on campus that much more memorable.

The guidelines given to me about the “Talk” weren’t very clear. They were loosely about choosing management as a career path, opportunities along that path, advanced study choices etc. I don’t consider myself an expert on any of these topics, so I decided to start by talking about the choices that have shaped my career and some principles I seem to have followed along the way. I also spent some time talking to them about the HBS experience and the big bundle of opportunity called entrepreneurship. But that’s for another day.

So here are the three mantras that emerged, that have determined my professional path so far:

1. Analysis Paralysis

Don’t over-analyze things. And definitely don’t over-plan. I can bet that you won’t be where you think you will be 10 years from now. Or even 5, with the way things change today. So setting long term goals and trying to architect your path towards them is not the ideal way to spend your life. Besides, goals change. You change! So live in the moment. Think about what makes sense for you right now, what you would enjoy doing and thrive in, right now.

2. If not you then who

We are a privileged lot. Decent education, background and opportunities. We can take this privilege and view this in two ways. We can look at it as a burden – expectations from us are higher and we can spend our lives trying to live up to those expectations. Or we can look at it as a gift, a safety net. A good background gives us the power to try new things, and have something to fall back on if we fail. It’s a no-brainer which option I am recommending. We need to use our strengths as assets, and not liabilities!

3. Get on a rocket ship

I’ve borrowed this one from Sheryl Sandberg. But it’s apt. Always be open to new opportunities and experiences. And when you find something that’s exciting and challenging and has potential, get on board! You can only do this if you stay flexible, are open to new experiences, and are not afraid to fail. When you choose what feels right in the moment. Because the right time and the right opportunity don’t come together very often. So grab with both hands when they do.

It was a fun time talking to students about their hopes and aspirations. And all the questions they had. It also made me pause and reflect on how I got to where I am today, and how things have changed. But these mantras haven’t. And they hold as true today as they did when I was graduating and full of questions, just like the wide-eyed, enthusiastic and totally clueless students I had the pleasure of speaking to.

Splitting – extremes in relationships

I was introduced to the concept of splitting during my time at Harvard. One of the courses I took as a part of my MBA was about team dynamics, and the professor briefly touched upon it. But this concept has really stuck with me, and recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Wikipedia defines splitting as “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole”. Simply put, this means that we would rather see the world as black or white and also categorize each person’s actions as one or the other. While there is a lot more theory here, and I am by no means an expert, what I find truly intriguing is the application of this principle to human relationships. It is especially evident in your relationship with your partner – when one person takes an extreme stand on something, the other is automatically induced to support the other extreme. Think back to any disagreement you had with your partner – if he/she stated that they felt strongly about something, you would have started feeling uncomfortable and would most likely have started defending the opposite point of view. My interpretation of the theory is that extreme positions incite us to bucket the opinion, and the person, in the “black” category, and ourselves in the “white”. When in reality, we may actually be quite neutral about the topic.

I found this so interesting that I’ve been exploring it’s application in my relationships with different people. With colleagues, for example, if I get very passionately supportive about an idea, I will most often see a lukewarm reaction, at best. However, if I give a slight nudge and pretend to be less enthusiastic than I may actually be feeling at the time, I’ve seen that at most times people open up and exhibit what they really feel.

The most fascinating is the possible application of this theory to a parent-child relationship. Now this is a big hypothesis on my part, with no scientific backing whatsoever (actually, none of my analysis above has any!) But here it is – if one or both parents exhibit an extreme characteristic in their personality, the child would tend to display the opposite trait. For example, if one or both parents are big extroverts and highly talkative and social, the child would tend to be an introvert.

There is so much of human behavior that this simple theory can explain – it really is amazing. And so many ways to apply it to make our relationships smoother, stronger and less stressful.

Have you met your true self?

Are there some pictures of yourself that you feel more connected to than others? I know it’s a weird question, but humor me and think about it for a second. May be it’s a certain expression or a particular pose in a picture that just – feels right. I came across such a picture of myself just now, and it got me thinking – why was I feeling uplifted looking at it? What I realized was that my expression, attitude, look – everything was just right in that picture. It was what I wanted it to be. Now that’s the key. Not what looks good, but what you want it to be. That’s when you feel that click.

It’s the same with certain situations and certain people – they make you feel good because they bring out the you that you want to be. All of us have this inner ideal within us – the image of the person we want to be, and often think we are. Different times and places bring out different flavors of that self, but once in a while everything is just right and you get the whole deal – you meet your true self. I met mine in that picture today.

And this is not a trivial thing. Because we can only be happy when we are our true selves. All other times we’re just inching towards that. Often you think about an incident and feel and inexplicable discomfort about how you acted or how things turned out. That’s because  you were far from your self – from how you want to see yourself. Identifying your true self is hard, but it’s only the first step. Because after that, you need to constantly put yourself in situations that bring you closest to that ideal. Whether it’s the kind of job and career you choose, whether it is your friends or even in your life partner – each choice must be driven by what brings you closest to your true self. It’s a constant struggle, but it’s worth it. If just looking at the right expression in a picture can bring so much joy, imagine a life where you constantly embody your true self!

Planning to be spontaneous

I’ve never really been a planner. Now I anticipate lots of hands going up in protests here since I can be a little anal while planning vacations etc. But I’m talking about life. I know a lot of people who have a very clear life goal in mind (usually professional) and know exactly how to get there. Every decision takes them a step closer to that goal. Their career is well thought out and they go about systematically acquiring the skills they need to achieve their “long term” goals.

But that’s not me. My professional decisions have been nothing if not spontaneous, and most of my personal ones too. I tend to leap into whatever feels right in the moment – good people, exciting work, fearsome challenges. It has never been about where it will take me five years down the line and how I will be placed then. And so far it has worked out wonderfully. I have been lucky to have selected some fantastic opportunities and have earned valuable experiences through them. But lately, more and more as I’ve been looking for my next gig (much more detail on that later), I’ve been wondering whether that is the best approach going forward. As I aim higher, shouldn’t I be thinking strategically about the kind of roles I would like to own and the skill gaps I need to fill in order to get there? Shouldn’t I be foregoing some options that seem like they could be fun but may not necessarily help me develop areas I deem important?

As I was developing this rather unnerving train of thought, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. On a TV show I was watching today, a 29 year old girl finds out she has a terminal disease and just a few months to live. Now I won’t give any more details lest this get morbid, and anyway everyone has seen enough and more of these situations on TV. But something made me really think about this scenario today. Not the dying part, but the part about not really knowing the future. When you don’t know what lies ahead, how can you take it for granted? All you know for sure is what you have here and now. There’s something to be said for seizing the moment – doing what feels right, right now. You can plan for the future all you want, but should you do it at the cost of the present?

So Carpe Diem or not??



A new dawn

My hope for this new dawn
This new wind, this new breath
This fresh lease of life
This chance to take control
This chance to loosen the reins
This fitful lift of a misty cover
This refocus of a shaky picture
This wistful, wistful morning
My hope for this new year


Is for courage
To face the torrent and hold my ground
And a little bit of luck.
Is for wisdom
To bend humbly when I am out of my depth
And a helping hand.
Is for an open mind
As I don’t always know what I need or want
And some band-aids for missteps.
Is for levity
So I can laugh with life at its sense of humor
But some mercy too.
Is for strength of character
To be thoughtful, kind, sensitive and respectful
And love.


A new dawn

A little paradise called Coonoor


I had been itching to get out of town for a while. In fact, this is one of our oft-cited woes about moving back to India (the complete list is material for another post) – that we don’t travel nearly as much as we used to in Boston. So when Ankan (my far better half) casually mentioned one evening that his boss thought Coonoor is a good weekend getaway, I jumped at the idea. No literally, I jumped up and started Googling Coonoor. This was Thursday night; by Friday, I had reserved a homestay and researched enough to know that the only transport option at such short notice was to drive. And because it was a >8 hour drive, we were packed and ready to leave at 6 am on Saturday morning – quite impressive by our standards, and quite telling of our desperation to get out of Bangalore.

Coonoor is approximately 300 km from Bangalore (~20 km beyond Ooty), but single lane “highways” and mountainous terrain make it an 8-9 hour drive each way. However, the drive is lovely. We took the Nice Road to get out of Bangalore, and then SH 17 to Mysore. We didn’t pass through the city for fear of traffic (you can see what Bangalore does to folks), and instead took the ring road around the city. It was quick and painless. After this it was following the highway to Gundlupet and then Bandipur-Mudumalai. These are national parks, and you are guaranteed to see at least some grazing deer as you pass through. Quite fun. They say you can catch a whole host of animals if you make it there at 8 am. Of course, that thought was hilarious to us because of the implication that we would have had to leave Bangalore at 3 am, so we satisfied ourselves with some lazing deer.

After Bandipur you have a choice of two paths to Coonoor – you are faced with a fork in the road. The path on the right is the Gudulur highway. It is longer (by ~20 km but equivalent to almost an hour), but has a gradient climb and scenic routes. This is the path we intended to take. Of course, as in life, things didn’t turn out as we planned. We took the left path (because that’s the only one where we saw a sign), which is a “short cut” but that means it is 20 km of steep uphill climb. I wasn’t sure my little Eon would be able to make the climb, which is why I didn’t want to take this route. But the roads were fabulous, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d expected. We reached Ooty soon enough, went right through and made it to Coonoor around 2 pm.

Now I must take a moment to extol the B&B we had selected, “De Rock”. It’s run by a quirky guy called Charles who was very polite and attentive but also, um, interesting. The place was beautiful – a couple of lodges built over a tea estate, looking right over Lamb’s Rock, one of the favorite view points in Coonoor. I’m a sucker for good views and so this was heaven. Green and peaceful, with jungles to explore and trek in all around. A perfect setting for a relaxing holiday.

The lodges atop the tea estate

We got there on Saturday afternoon and left Monday noon. There really was no “plan” for the trip. We would head out after breakfast to explore nearby areas. This is where it was useful to have your car with you. The winding roads of Coonoor were a pleasure to drive on. Since we were actually a few kilometers outside the town center, there wasn’t any congestion. You were surrounded by beautiful slopes covered in tea estates anywhere you drove. We would park the car at a convenient spot and then just trek around, taking in the views. Quite lovely. Charles got quite friendly with us and so took us on some “secret” treks through the forest. On one of these we followed the sound of water to discover a tiny stream gurgling through and then disappearing behind the trees.


When I was not climbing up hills, I could be found loitering around the gardens of De Rock, admiring and photographing the unbelievable variety of flowers sprinkled about.


The weather was just right during the day, but you needed a good jacket at night. The B&B had a nice bonfire going at night. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip – we spent hours around the bonfire on both nights, gazing at the lit up valley below us and the starry sky above.

While an unstructured trip is the best way to do it in Coonoor, one must-visit place is Sim’s garden. I had read that it is a botanical garden, so went there expecting a regular garden with flowers, but boy was I surprised. It is a massive, well maintained spread with something for everyone. There are ancient trees, some over 200 years old, from all over the world for you to explore. And then there is a lake with gardens all around for kids to go crazy in. Loved it.

On Monday, it was time to head back. We stopped in town for the customary tourist shopping of tea, spices and chocolates, before heading over to Ooty. We also spent an hour in Ooty to climb up the highest peak, Doddebeta. This was a waste of time – the only disappointment of the entire trip. Cutting our losses, we decided to take the long route back to Bandipur and then Bangalore. The drive was definitely longer but oh so beautiful. The views would have been good enough, but we had little treats such as a serene lake with a lunch of yummy noodles and Nilgiri chai, a chance encounter with a eucalyptus forest, and running into (not literally) a couple of wild elephants when passing through Bandipur. The last couple of hours of the drive at night were a little painful but I can proudly claim that I was a very responsible front-seat passenger and didn’t fall asleep even once.


We got home at 11 pm, dead beat but thoroughly refreshed. What a wonderful trip!