Failure

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“One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”

I love this quote from ‘Kung Fu Panda’. I have seen this quote to be true on so many levels and in so many situations.

Nobody likes to fail and failure is not a very pleasant experience. But some of the best learnings come only out of failure. Despite this we all fear failure, it is imbibed in us by society and years of being told not fail. I would like to know one person who went back from school and said, ‘Mom, I failed the test today’ and received a response which went like, ‘Great! So what did you learn from it’.

It often happens that the fear of failure is on top of an entrepreneurs mind and it causes them to make decisions in order to NOT fail. They do things that seem safe and not risky because failure would come at a cost.

Instead, as an entrepreneur it is important to make decisions to succeed.

What is the difference??

Take coding for example; if you are looking to succeed you will make all the mistakes and break the code as many times as possible till you succeed.

If you are coding not to fail, you will only do the most obvious things that you are sure would compile. You will never want your code to fail. In the process, you may never find the more optimised and brilliant solution that was always there within you.

As you keep writing code, which keeps failing, you understand the issue at a more fundamental level, you understand what works and what does not. You understand interdependencies better, which may not be described like an equation, but your mind is clear about it. This insight allows you to do things that others cannot.

Failure is merely experience that helps perfect you!

But you need to fall before you learn to walk and it is only then that you learn to run.

Blablacar – Thoughts to ponder about India (Updated)

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Blablacar is a French startup that recently scored a USD 100 Million in funding to expand beyond Europe. One of the countries that the company is considering entering is India. India is a large market and has a huge number of cars on its roads. Blablacar is a company that allows for car-pooled rides over long distances (100 Kms to 500 Kms). Let us say I am driving down from Bangalore to Mangalore alone, I could put out an invite asking others who might like to join me at a cost. I get to subsidise my ride and those who are looking to travel, would be able to hitch a ride. The ride might cost as much as the bus but would be more comfortable and faster.

The idea seems very slick at the outset but deploying it in India is nevertheless going to be fraught with challenges and the need to overcome certain fundamental issues.

It is easy to assume that a company of this nature would find a huge market in India, since India had about 21 Million cars on road as on 31st March 2012. We can easily add another 12 -15% to arrive at the current figure. With so many cars, there are bound to be people who are not driving their vehicles filled to capacity. Blablacars offers an interesting way to monetise these empty seats while at the same time doing a little, in terms of helping the environment and reducing fuel burn.

Yes. But they are not going to have it easy in India.

In India, cars represent a status symbol. They are not just a means of transportation, because the best means of transportation for Indian roads are the two-wheeler, given the congestion and poor state of the roads; not to mention the huge gap in terms of mileage. Indians do not like to share their cars, They buy it to show off and that they do by waiting for hours at the traffic lights. I know several families who have cars but use a two-wheeler for most of their moving about. This has been part of the reason intra-city car-pooling has not taken off in any meaningful manner in India.

Coming from Europe, you might be very tempted to say; “Yes, but you cannot undertake a long distance travel in a two-wheeler”. True that, you cannot.

But.. 

India is not a country of highway loving people. Highways are seen as unsafe and it is assumed that you need some kind of training (which only taxi drivers have) to be able to drive on the highway. Yes we might travel on the highway once in a while, but we won’t put our own cars on the highway and much less drive them there. Highways are fundamentally badly built (barring a few segments/routes) and considered rather unsafe. Unlike in Europe not a lot of people take to the roads during vacations, and even if they do, they hire a cab. Most of them prefer bus and train.

Watch this Canadian driver get a load of Indian road.

There are certain segments which tend to travel by road. But the only reason for doing that is for the purpose of flexibility. When you travel by road by yourself, you get to stop where you like, take the trip at your pace, fast/slow as you may like and also the trip can be more impromptu. Most importantly, you need not follow somebody else’s time table. 

There are four segments of people who take to the highway: 
Business people who want the flexibility.
Students who do it for the thrill of a road trip. (18 to 25 years of age)
Vacationers who are used to driving on road. (Very small segment)
People who work in a city very close to their native place. (Bangalore to Chitradurga over the weekend)

When you look at it like this, the market shrinks very rapidly. 

It not all bad.

If Blablacar has to successfully enter India, it has to do it very strategically with focus on very targeted segments instead of going to the entire market. You would start by making a list of highways that are most well suited for drives. Highways which have some of the best roads in India and get frequented often, such as Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Bangalore-Chennai, Mumbai-Goa, etc. These highways are a pleasure to drive and increasing numbers of people are beginning to use these roads. Focusing on these markets help define the segment that you most wish to cater to and also increases the possibility of closing greater number of transaction.

Like buses, in India there are a large number of taxis which serve a certain route. You would mostly find these taxis parked near Interstate bus terminals (ISBTs). When I used to study in Agra, I would often take these taxis, which were often Tata Sumos which would load up 9 others and drive from Delhi to Agra. They were invariably quicker than the buses would not stop as often and cost slightly more than the bus.This segment is completely disorganised, it would take someone with a keen eye and with experience to even spot these guys outside bus stops. Blablacars can do for them; what Redbus was able to do for bus operators. 

Over the years, roads have been improving in India and that will continue and probably convince more Indians to take to the roads. At such a time, Blablacar might be well poised to take advantage of the growing market.

I feel currently, this route would be best way to enter India for Blablacar. What they do, how they do, if they enter India at all, remains to be seen.

As the french say, “Nous verrons”.

Update:

I drive a lot on the highway. So during my recent trips I have been noticing another things. I have finding the many individuals who rent a car from Zoom and driving by themselves on the highway. The simplest explanation for this is since they charge by the day, it works out cheaper to rent the car and drive it by yourself rather than to take cab. Since this segment of crowd would be cost conscious and by default are not using owned cars, would be much more willing to share their ride to drink the cost down further. Should be a sweet market for Blablacar.

Why Elon Musk opened up Tesla Patents

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A month back Elon Musk said come one, come all (in good faith) and use our patents. Its okay! Lots of commentary was written about how Elon Musk is the shining beacon in this world of patent trolls. This should be the way every large company should look at their patents and have the willingness to move forward with others. And it went on…

Tesla built a brilliant car. But then they realised that in order for this car to find mainstream adoption, there would be a great deal of infrastructure that needs to be put in place. Now, no single company can put all of this infrastructure in place across the world.

Companies in the Valley tend to be putting a few charging points in their parking lots for free for Tesla users and Tesla itself is putting a few charging station. At the end of the day, the cannot put charging points everywhere. Also, if the entire population were to plug their cars in, the power consumption will no longer be negligible in the grand scheme of things. There needs to be a way of passing the cost on to the user and standardising this.

The trouble is, if a large portion of the industry does not accept this modus as standard, this may never happen. If one car manufacturer is going the oil route, the other hybrid, and still another one with Hydrogen; each will have to create an eco-system of their own. For the sales of Tesla to balloon, this approach – Electric Cars – have to be accepted as a mainstream solution, the best solution and the most popular solution.

By throwing the patents open to other car companies he laying down a bait for them to bite on. It is no longer a question of product, but a question of strategy. Will you go with Electric or not? Not whether you like the Electric car made by Tesla or another company, since there are not too many others.

Building this market from here forward alone is going to be a gargantuan task and Elon Musk knows it. Not to mention, the alternate possibility where one of the other strategies (Hydrogen Cars) works better, which will be an existential risk!

That is the real reason to throw open the patents. Nothing generous about it.