Here are some of the books I’ve managed to read so far in 2022
- Well Designed
- From Poverty to Power by James Allen
- The Housekeeper and the professor
- Scientific Healing Affirmations by Paramahansa Yogananda
Here are some of the books I’ve managed to read so far in 2022
Two years after purchasing I finally decided to give “Zero to One” a read & totally loved it.
About four years back I came across Blakemaster’s notes from Theil’s Stanford class and was totally blown away. A lot of the content in the book is from these notes.
Sharing some things from the book that stood out for me
Zero To One:
For the uninitiated, loosely speaking creating new technologies/ways of doing things is “0 to 1” and just replicating what works/doing incremental improvements is “1 to N”.
In a world where technology creates an extreme leverage, it is much better to do “0 to 1” than “1 to N”. The “Zero to one” approach helps you in thinking bold and trying to solve bigger/non trivial problems. Successfully solving hard problems in most cases can lead to supersized returns.
Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.
You get outsized returns for being right when the consensus is opposite to your thinking. The suggested way to get there is to
a) Think for yourself — Independent thinking over opposing the crowd (just to be contrarian)
b) Question what you know — Especially question what you know about the past and if you are not reacting mistakenly about the past
Secrets and Business:
Being contrarian in business is akin to uncovering a secret. Secrets(difficult to figure out) are different from Mysteries(impossible to figure out).
Great companies can be built on open but unsuspected secrets about how the world works.
Very few people take unorthodox ideas seriously today, and the mainstream sees that as a sign of progress.We have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered.
You can’t find secrets without looking for them. Belief in secrets is an effective truth. The actual truth is that there are many more secrets left to find, but they will yield only to relentless searchers.
Great companies have secrets: specific reasons for success that other people don’t see.
Competition Is For Losers:
Competition and Capitalism are opposites.
Competition can make people hallucinate opportunities where none exist.
People tend to think competition is good but as per Thiel, competition is a destructive force and not a sign of value. When it comes to competitive environments, people tend to lose sight of what matters & focus on their rivals instead.
While competition might be good for consumers/supplies it definitely isn’t the best for the competing players. Monopoly businesses on the other hand (except when they purely act as rent collectors) by virtue of having higher margins/profits can afford to plan for long term and drive progress by innovation.
Who is likely to innovate more? Amazon/Google or say Lenovo/HP (PC space)
Making A Monopoly:
Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits
Every monopoly is unique, but they usually share some combination of the following characteristics:
a) Proprietary Technology
b) Network Effects
c) Economies of Scale
Brand, scale, network effects, and technology in some combination define a monopoly; but to get them to work, you need to choose your market carefully and expand deliberately. Proprietary Technology can lead to the strongest form of Monopoly while Brands are the weakest form of monopoly and only work well for long in a few cases such as Pepsi & Coke.
If your company can be summed up by its opposition to already existing firms, it can’t be completely new and it’s probably not going to become a monopoly (Think of a 10X better product/technology)
Running Startup as a Cult: While the popular answers to the question “What would the ideal company culture look like?” could include perks such as Foosball/TT tables, mac for everyone, open work hours etc Thiel calls them out for NOT being substance. What matters is
The opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people.
Some commandments from Thiel in this regard include
a) Hire people who are talented, but even more than that they should be excited about working specifically with you.
b) You’ll attract the employees you need if you can explain why your mission is compelling.
c) Everyone should have a shared understanding of the world and your company’s intended position in it.
d) Defining roles reduces conflict. Everyone is responsible about one thing and everyone else knows about that one thing.
A Framework For The Future: Thiel offers an interesting lens to look at the future.
An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future, but she has no idea what to do about it.
A definite pessimist believes the future can be known, but since it will be bleak, she must prepare for it.
To a definite optimist, the future will be better than the present if she plans and works to make it better.
To an indefinite optimist, the future will be better, but she doesn’t know how exactly, so she won’t make any specific plans. She expects to profit from the future but sees no reason to design it correctly.
We cannot take for granted that the future will be better, and that means we need to work to create it today.
Thanks to Saloni, Navneet for reading the drafts
Here’s a list of books which readers/followers of openculture.com suggested every intelligent person should read. How many of these have you read?
Stumbled upon this book while searching for a basic level book on ‘Statistics’ and the blurb and reviews caught my attention so I decided to pick it up.
(How To Lie With Statistics – Darrel Huff)
It’s a petite book with less than 150 pages. It’s not really a book on ‘Statistics’ but on how Statistics are used and abused both consciously and unconsciously by advertisers, surveyors, sales people and others alike or ‘Statisculation’ (Statistical Manipulation)
Here’s a little summary/review of the book:
How to talk back to a statistic ?
Ask the following questions
A quick read for the initiated which will change how you see statistics used around and hopefully save you from deriving false conclusions
A couple days back I read this article on Medianama which shared that Amazon will soon go live in India as a marketplace with Junglee.com, but a tweet today morning announcing that Junglee.com is live caught me by surprise.
Amazon, of course was expected to test waters in India this year but the whole junglee.com gig is away from most people’s anticipation of how it will all unwrap.
Amazon for the records is the the biggest global e-retail/e-tail giant which posted $17.43bn in revenues in last quarter of 2011 (35% more than the revenue for same quarter in 2010). The company net sales were up 37% compared with 2010.
Amazon is India
There was a lot of speculation particularly for the last six months about Amazon’s entry to India. Amazon as countless sources have shared, already have development centers in India and had started looking for talent for their fulfillment capabilities. As per the current regulations Amazon is not allowed to open an online Multi-brand retail store, and can not make FDI in India except for a single brand retail business, thus Junglee.
Here’s how Amazon describes it
“Junglee is an online shopping service by Amazon which enables customers to find and discover products from online and offline retailers in India and from Amazon.com. Junglee organizes massive selection and multiple buying options from hundreds of sellers, and leverages Amazon’s proven technologies and millions of customer reviews to help customers make smart purchase decisions.”
For the uninitiated Junglee is like a Huge Brochure which lists millions of products from thousands of vendors. You choose the product that you want to buy and then go the vendor site or call them to order as explained here
Here’s a look at one of the category(Books) page
Just one book, also I am not sure why am I being shown featured jeans when I categorically chose books. Bugs.
Here’s a sample product page(for Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist)
Amazon apparently relies of it’s own site for Metadata (Product Description for ex) which in some cases can be really screwed up like for the book ‘I Too Had A Love Story’
The product description is picked from http://www.amazon.com/I-Too-Had-Love-Story/dp/8188575704 and is as far from the actual book description as it can be http://www.dialabook.in/books/i-too-had-a-love-story_1_12247.html
Scrolling down further is the review section. Most part of this section comes directly from Amazon.com
Junglee.com for now has about 5 sellers for Books which includes names that probably feature towards the middle(and bottom) spots of a list of top 10 online booksellers in India. Almost everything from the list except Flipkart and Infibeam can be expected to list here.
Using Junglee as a Seller: Win Some, Lose Some
Junglee let’s online and offline retailers to list themselves and their catalogues for free and without any ongoing commission.
What it means for suppliers (especially small time indies) is that they get a chance to drive traffic and sales from Junglee’s visitors and will convert some customers to direct. Over a period of time as in an online marketplace set up their ratings and reviews will determine how they fare in the long run.
The picture however isn’t all rosy. For established players like Indiaplaza (unless there is some non-compete or alliance agreement) registering on Junglee will give them a temporary boost in terms of both traffic and eventually sales but once Junglee starts running it will break its shackles and given them a run for their money by listing Amazon.in as the default/first choice as a buyer. Once that happens the customers will make the switch to Amazon (in place of a retailer they found a few months back) with the blink of an eye.
(http://services.amazon.in has more details on how to set up ads on Junglee.com)
Using Junglee as a Customer: All Profit No Loss
Junglee.com is another (but branded) shiny object for the scores of people who spend hours daily on the interwebs tweeting or facebooking. They know have one more place to spend time and compare prices. It will be helpful in finding alternative vendors for particular categories and helpful in finding product categories that have been literally out of the online sphere, stuff like Pet Supplies.
Within a span of months you’ll find dozens of people selling Pet Supplies and the likes on Junglee. What this means is that consumers won’t have to wait for their favorite e-commerce site to add some category or a stand alone/vertical service around the category to launch.
What’s up with Amazon?: Junglee is the shortest(and smartest) possible path
To begin their tryst with India Amazon is trying to be the front end(influencer) of the purchase funnel in stead of starting being a back end service provider. It wants Indians to log on to Junglee.com to begin their shopping journey (they can or cannot decide to buy from Amazon) but eventually they’ll make it their in house offers compelling enough to get a huge chunk of the pie.
Here’s how it could unfold for Amazon. Junglee is essentially the market place of Amazon.com abstracted and launched a special business for legal and other reasons. In Amazon.com’s marketplace lot of vendors put their goods on sale and do most of the fulfillment too. Amazon however displays their products and collects the payment from customers (Think Ebay).
What Works Good For Amazon
Having said all of that, Junglee is an interesting piece in the Indian e-commerce puzzle and it will definitely have an impact on the existing market leaders. Most Indians from what I understand would give an arm(or probably) a leg to switch to another cheaper vendor especially if it has Made in America tag on it.
What do you think?
I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite a while now, glad this long weekend gave me enough time to finally sit on it.
A lot has changed since I started working on Dial-a-Book some 2 years or so back(then part time though). Back in Q4 – 2009 e-commerce was quite nascent and VC funding for it was not even half as common as it is today. There were just 2-3 online bookstore or e-commerce sites that looked like they could go anywhere and every week a new online bookstore was being launched. Indiaplaza was probably the most popular one.
All these existing and upcoming online bookstores were pretty much doing the same things, building a half decent website, listing a lakh odd books and giving heavy discounts in hopes of wooing the online audience. Two years into it, a couple of the popular sites at that time have grown enormously, another couple new sites have emerged and attained very good scale and almost all the remaining ones have either shut down or are doing just well enough to sustain the owners.
I’ve always been a price conscious book buyer with likings but hardly any loyalty to a bookstore. I remember when i first discovered Midlands who offered me 20% discount on all books how I moved almost all(leaving a few impulse buys here and there) my book purchases to them. Kinda same thing happened when I discovered the desi online stores, the fact that they offered even more discounts and could home deliver(for free) almost any book in a few days time was a good enough reason for me to move all my book shopping( a few books/month on average) to them.
Back then I was one of the only few people in my circle to buy books online and almost none of my friends/colleagues had much clue about the online book buying scene. The booksellers on the whole turned out to be surprisingly unaware of the developments in the e-commerce(mostly book selling) space. They hardly had any idea about online bookstores and those who did were quite dismissive of them by saying ‘Such things work in the US not in India, here people want to touch and feel before buying’, ‘These online sites give too much discounts, they can’t last long’.
Circa 2011, the same bookseller is now offering a recently released book by Amish Tripathi at 1/3rd discount, which is just 3 Rs more than the price (Rs 192) at which it is being sold at most online bookstores.
So what changed? More importantly, what led this change?
Q 1. What Changed?
A 1. The Market Dynamics
1) More for Less
Giving a 33.33 % discount on a newly released book would have been unthinkable for any bookstore, especially the ones which sells 200+ copies of each new release every month with a standard discount. But now the whole game has changed, today’s reader is exposed(and addicted) to heavy discounts, highly efficient and user friendly customer experience and the only way to survive is to offer competitive pricing coupled with widest possible range and great overall experience. Gone are the days when the booksellers used to decide which books to import/stock, how to price them and to procure locally available books on customer request (if at all) and take a week for it.
Every search on twitter(for a big online store) would reveal at least a couple tweets mentioning how people now browse books at landmark/crossword and buy them online. You can see the shift happening right there.
2) Let’s Get Online
Seeing the stellar growth of some of the famous online stores a few bookstore chains also woke up from slumber and started developing and promoting their online stores. Landmark, Crossword, Odyssey et all now have online stores where they claim to offer hugh discounts (interestingly on some books the discounts are even even more than anywhere else)
Not just this, even the smaller chains(like Sapna, oxford) and individual bookstores are online and spending money on google ads and social media to promote themselves.
Apart from these there are some publishers (like Pearson) and some distributors(like Prakash) who couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a shot and online bookselling and thus too have jumped the bandwagon and are doing their best to well, give more discounts.
Going further all the e-commerce stores which were focusing on other categories (mobiles etc) also have started adding books to their product list. In news recently was Homeshop18’s acquisition of Coinjoos
That’s not it, the grapewine has it that still more companies from different sectors dazzled by the million and billion dollar valuations of popular Indian e-commerce stores are planning to take the plunge and well start another online bookstore
3) Better Support
Thanks to the success of round 2 of e-commerce especially for books a lot has improved on the backend i.e at the end of publishers and distributors. Lots of processes have been initiated and followed regularly at the vendors end. Most distributors now stock their data and share stock reports bi weekly/weekly, publishers regularly share information about new and upcoming releases. Most of these guys are no better than sloppy govt officials who take enormous time and effort to do things but in order to survive some of them have learned to be better organized and efficient.
Q 2. What Led To The Change?
A 2. Lofty Ambitions Backed By VC $’s
A quick look at the new release section of most online book stores will put many a booksellers into depression. A new release on an average is on a 30% discount and depending on the hype surrounding it, publisher and competition it could go up to 50 % (Yes, that’s the cost which even the publishers might not give to their distributors but if you are luck that’s what a new release could cost you with free home delivery).
The logic championed first by Amazon (and thus replicated ad infinitum) is, give heavy discounts on new books to get more eyeballs/buzz and bigger volumes thus better topline and better pricing from suppliers. Repeat.
You don’t expect a regular customer to understand(or bother with) all this but seeing massive discounts on the online portals make them feel that there’s a huge margin in books and as if all this while their neighborhood/favourite bookstore chain was ripping them of by not giving as much discounts.
For a customer who has bought a book at 30-40% discount will hardly ever buy a book at 10% or no discount at all
Though as a customer this would have been a dream come true for me but being on the other side of the business I too am surprised at how its working for some sites. You can now order a 95 Rs chetan bhagat book for Rs 57-60, make it two books and its free home delivery and the book is home delivered in 1-2 working days via class A courier (Bluedart if you are lucky). It doesn’t leave much to imagination that no one, even the publisher can possibly make any money in these transactions.
A lot of small booksellers ask me “How can online sites give this much discounts when the big distributors themselves don’t get as much discount from the publishers?”
The answer more often that not lies in the fact that most sites are not focusing on making money on these transactions here but on just getting more customers. With millions of $’s in VC funding the formula is simple
However in all this merry making of deep discounted prices there’s a catch.
For every 5 or 10 super cheap transactions there’s 1 transaction on most popular online bookstore in which the customer ends up paying price more than the its price on a bookstore of at times even worse paying more than the MRP/MRP for Indian Market.
‘The Goddess In India: The Five Faces Of The Eternal Feminine’ by Devdutt Pattnaik (ISBN: 9780892818075) is one such title. I personally bought a few copies with Rs 395/- sticker on them and on checking online the same book (picked from the same source because I can compare the delivery time on the site) being sold for almost 4 times the price.
A possible trick here could be: Stock a few copies as per the local market MRP of book which is scarcely available, once the copies at suppliers run out, sell them at international market MRP and deliver them in 2-5 days (because its in your stock).
Such cases are more common in categories other than general books/novels, especially where chances of price comparison are less. This is clearly a minority case
This is kinda similar to what a popular bookstore in Delhi does with their super discounted sales. Buy books as per local market MRP(which is easily half or less than the international market MRP) and then sell it on the MRP pretending it to be on heavy discounts . Ex: A book with local MRP of Rs 350 is being tauted as being for Rs 1200 and after 70 % discount it comes to be for Rs 350/-. So the customer ends up paying the local market MRP (no discount at all) but might think he saved 70 % and got a great deal
Going online one can leverage efficiencies like just in time inventory, virtually unlimited list of products, pre-orders etc which in itself offers a significant advantage over traditional bookstores but selling books with -ve margins, plastering the internet(or TV) with your ads is something that cannot be competed against.
I’ve heard of some booksellers and publishers taking up this issue of excessive discounting with online bookstores and they apparently have made some progress like this popular publisher of general books has told one big online store to not offer more than 35% discount on their new releases. For every big publisher that is able to get their concern heard and acted upon there are five smaller publishers that are given a choice to shut up completely or face de-listing from the site all together.
Having said all this I feel the time has arrived for every bookseller to re-think their way of doing business and figure out how are they going to sustain themselves in these times where their much bigger and deep pocketed competitors are willing to do anything that it takes to own more customers.
And if you are beginning to start an online bookstore(e-commerce store if you will), you better have a really well thought out execution and funding plan.
This post is partly meant to be a rant and partly to share what I feel. Feel free to agree/disagree.
In middle of a telephonic conversation with a friend(web entrepreneur) I popped a question,
Did you see Indian e-commerce stores putting up phone numbers on their website/product pages to help people buy (read order) products?
Gladly, as expected he replied with a “NO” which brings me to the question if/why/how do things change in the startup/business world with new things being introduced and then blatantly reused (copied) by others.
When we started Dial-a-Book some 1.5 years back, we were the ONLY ones that took orders on phone and accepted Cash on Delivery(COD). Yes, none of the existing players had anything remotely similar in their way of working.
Come 2011: The two biggest e-commerce players in India have started COD (about 6-8 months back for one and 2-3 months back for another) and now they also have put phone numbers on their portals to take orders. Surprising? Hardly.
Wait for a couple months and you’ll see almost everyone following steps. In fact I remember one of the young and aspiring e-commerce startups went to the extend of launching a service similar to ‘Dial-a-Book‘ and branding it as “X.com’s Dial-a-Book”, Duh.
I don’t mean to say we are the inspiration behind these but definitely the uncanny resemblances are a bit too much for them to be completely independent in thinking and execution. I know it might be really difficult to acknowledge but that’s how it is. The idea of sharing this here was that I felt like putting it done of paper/web for records.
Copying a feature or idea is one thing and doing justice to it is completely different. The most painful part of it being the big guys almost always get the credit for doing new things which aren’t really new.
It will be interesting to see how things change going forward with the e-commerce scene also extending to the phone commerce scene. Stay Tuned !!
Despite being wanting to blog for a long time all I am able to find time for is to share the links/stories of Dial-a-Book. But I sincerely hope to change this, in the mean while here’s another story on a site for techies
Here’s an excerpt
Mayank Dhingra studied to be an electronics engineer and started his career as a software developer. In 2009, he quit the security of a full time job to start Dial-a-Book that lets you order all types of Books over the phone. They accept Cash on Delivery in 27 cities including NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkatta, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Hyd. TG caught up with Mayank
Techgoss (TG): Tell us about your educational and IT Work Background?
Mayank Dhingra (MD): I am an electronics engineer by education and started working as a software developer and eventually turned into a Social Media Consultant. My first job was with Fidelity in which I worked on building and enhancing software (on Microsoft technologies) for their internal use. In my second job at Slideshare I worked on their Slidecast feature, did some work on the back end/server side and some front-end coding for a few features.
TG: How was Dial-a Book business idea born?
MD: I’ve always wanted to start a business around books and after …..
You can read the complete article here
Last few weeks/months have been good for Dial-a-Book especially as far as the press mentions are concerned. While January saw coverage from Inc India (Dial-a-Book to be chronicled by Inc India), February saw the coverage in Yourstory.in (My Interview with YourStory.in) and Rediff
and this month its First City Magazine that carried a story on us
It’s a great story but apparently they don’t have it online so you’ll have to grab a copy of March issue of First City to read 🙂
It’s been a long time since I scribbled something here but hopefully things will be better in the coming few days.
Anyways, here’s an excerpt from my email interview with YourStory.in, hope you like it
When was the last time you went to the neighbourhood book store? The chances are, you can’t recollect readily. Gone are the days when buying books involved a visit to the trusty book store round the corner. Online book stores, with a practically unlimited collection and simple search mechanisms, have sprouted by the dozen and the good bit is, all of them are seeing patronage. We at YourStory recently caught up with entrepreneur Mayank Dhingra, the co-founder of Dial-a-Book, who promises to make book buying even simpler. In this exclusive chat with YourStory, he speaks about his startup and how he intends to create a community of book-lovers.
If someone asked you to tell them about Dial-a-Book in about three sentences, what would you say?
Started with the aim of simplifying the process of buying books, Dial-a-Book is India’s first service that lets you order all kinds of books and novels over the phone. We offer free home delivery across India and accept payment by cash upon delivery.
How is Dial-a-Book different from other online bookstore models?
While online bookstores let you order books only on their site, Dial-a-Book allows you to order books over phone, SMS, email, and even Twitter or Facebook. You can even order the books that are not listed in our database but are otherwise available. We accept cash upon delivery and have our own delivery team for the Delhi/NCR region. And most importantly, we just don’t sell books. We are working towards building a community of avid book lovers.
How did the business idea for Dial-a-Book come about?
I have been an avid reader since my college days. I had always thought of doing something with books at some point of time. The advent of the online bookstore concept in India intrigued me and I spent some time observing various online bookstores, their way of working and other variables. I also used to observe how people shop for other things like medicines, groceries, food etc. It was during this time that I realized that the process of buying books can be further simplified and made more user-friendly, just like ordering burgers or pizzas. And hence, Dial-a-Book was born
Tell us about your background.
I did my Electronics & Communications engineering from Delhi College of Engineering (2005 batch). Towards the end of my college stint, I started toying with the idea of staring my own business. I joined Fidelity Investments as a campus recruit and worked there for one and a half years, building software for internal use.
From Fidelity, I joined Slideshare where I worked on various features of the website and some back-end technologies. In Slideshare, two friends of mine and I started an online platform called Kwippy. Kwippy started as a status message aggregator and got a lot of traction in both Indian and international online media.
After working at Slideshare for a year, I left the organization and joined MPower Mobile. I worked there for a year and quit to start something of my own. That’s when Dial-a-Book happened.
Let us know about the tie-ups that you have. Is there acceptance for your concept?
We’ve tied up with most local distributors based out of Delhi along with a few small to medium-sized publishers and we regularly procure books from them. We did a trial run before starting the service and based on the feedback, we decided to venture into the business. We’ve sold books in almost all of the 27 cities where we have Cash on Delivery (COD) and a few other places as well. A lot of our customers regularly buy their books from us and many of them recommend us to their friends and family.
Where do you see online book buying and Dial-a-Book five years from now?
Five years from now, a significant percentage of books sold in India will be sold online and over the phone. In five years, we see ourselves as the number one player in the ‘over the phone’ category and amongst the top 5 in the online space. Currently, there are a number of guys vying for a piece of the pie(online). But my view is that the next few years will see a lot of consolidation in this space and the market will have just a handful of players who will do a majority of the business.
In the next five years, Dial-a-Book will tie-up with more publishers, expand to other cities, explore other/faster modes of delivery, work more closely with authors and build a passionate community of book lovers. We have a lot of interesting ideas for the business which we’ll put to test soon.
This is an excerpt, you can read the complete story here: http://bit.ly/i1wdfV