Journalistic Integrity & Samsung Mobilers

We saw a controversy around CJ’s Berlin visit with Samsung today. The story is evolving and a lot of too and fro would happen. I don’t want to get into that here. I tweeted about an incident where we were offered Nokia T-shirts to wear on a trip to Goa where the Belle series were introduced. I along with a couple of others didn’t wear it. Some bloggers who are taking great offense to Samsung’s treatment to CJ agreed to wear a Nokia t-shirt and being filmed / photographed during the trip.

Now before I make my point, here I am not pointing out malpractices by any company or something that I have an objection too. My point is about my conduct as a journalist / blogger. 

Samsung Mobilers?

My friend Raju suggested that the bloggers (or some bloggers) visiting Berlin with Samsung aren’t reporters on a media Junket. They are part of a marketing program called ‘Samsung Mobiles’. That is debatable, but let’s consider it too.

If I were to be a Samsung Mobiler (under a marketing program and not a reporter) and I also run a technology blog . I might even give a quote or two for a local newspaper about technology and tweet my opinions on the tech industry. The question is, shouldn’t my audience, the reader know about my affiliation with Samsung under a marketing program if I am writing about Nokia or HTC or any other mobile company for that matter?

Consider the flip side, if I am visiting Berlin under the Mobilers program believing myself to be a journalist / reporter, how would my readers trust me if I am wearing a ‘Samsung T-shirt’ and covering their products? Doesn’t that reflect bias?

During my time at OnlyGizmos, this was a tussle I had with the environment at times.

I may not know what Mobilers is, but no matter how we brand it, a marketing program or a modified media junket, it raises doubts on how the journalistic integrity is maintained.

Maine Bola Tha

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” – Henry Ford

One of the most ridiculous and irritating argument I have heard time and again around me is “Maine Bola Tha”. Sounds much like someone predicted the end of the world and it came true. And this applies to so many things, be it politics, cricket, family, relations or business. The part that I am focussing on today is business.

Most startups fail and things hardly ever go as predicted. You are almost always short on resources and what defines success is choosing what not to do and when. So if you think you are a leader / entrepreneur, better learn to take the bitter pill and get out of the ‘Maine Bola Tha’ club. Humans need gratification, appreciation and admiration. Seek it. But not for things you thought, but for things you did.

If you think it through, you would have done it, provided it appeared as a must do. You didn’t do it, you didn’t make it happen.

The race wasn’t won by the ones who predicted what would happen, it was won by the ones who put their money behind that prediction.

To win you need to do. So shut up and start working. Anyways, nobody cares.

Update: A good read on this topic by Seth Godin – When to speak up

Value

Long time back I had defined friendship upon trust. A few years later, I would like to revisit that bit and base it on Value. What I said back then was

“Friendship demands trust. For me trust is the respect that a friend gives me, I value that and I like to give the same in return. For any reason (and generally many) If I fail to see that respect for me and/or I feel I cant give that respect to you, we shall seize to be friends!”

and I still believe in it. However in recent times I have started to realise (thanks to great coaches in my life) that Friendship or any relationship is driven by value. A relationship could simply be adding value to each other on an ongoing basis. And the value may be as simple as making me smile.

So how does the belief change in the light of Value?

“Relationship is driven by value. I gain tangible or intangible value from every relationship that I maintain and my existence in that relationship adds value to the other person as well. If for any reason, I fail to see value for me or my value addition to a relationship or put another way, if for any reason I do not add value to a relationship, perhaps that ship is just dead weight”

One of the reasons may be trust, but it may not always be the factor affecting value.

The choice I now make is to add value to every relationship that I carry. I may not always be able to do so and should I give up on those relationships is something that I haven’t figured.

Probably some other time… I would want to revisit this and align my thoughts.

Startup Founders Are Clerk -2- CEO

I have been thinking this ever since I met Kashyap of Inkfruit at the first Startup Saturday I attended in February 2009. Apparently the founders of Inkfruit have titles like ‘Maharaja’ and ‘Nawab’ instead of CEO and that made me think if a Startup founder should really use a CEO tag?

While it most cases it makes no difference to what business one does, but we do have people who would frown at a CEO tag used in a 5 people company. I wouldn’t care much on what a founder labels himself, but if I am to propose a title, Startup CEO’s are ‘C2C’ (Clerk to CEO). That’s what you really do. The day you have a CEO tag, you are probably a mid-sized company, not a startup anymore :)

PS: You can always act like a startup. No matter how big you are.

Startup CXO

Update on the Airtel Incident

Before I begin, I want to thank everyone who took time to tweet, share and comment on my previous post: [Audio] The Police Officer On Behalf Of Airtel – FIR, Threats etc

Your words and support has been my energy for the past two days. I really appreciate it. Here is an update from my end.

a) Airtel has contacted me with several calls since I posted the article along with the audio clips. I do believe that they have taken the matter seriously. Airtel has confirmed that they have cancelled the contract of the agency who was responsible for the unscrupulous call.

b) Airtel (@airtel_presence) tweeted to me today and said:

@annkur Hi! We once again apologise for the unethical behaviour by our vendors. We would like to inform you that we have discontinued the services of the agency in question for violation of Airtel’s code of conduct. Regards

However I noticed that they have been tweeting a slightly different version to everyone else:

@ishita_I_am “Airtel does not condone any harassing or unethical behaviour by any of its vendors or people. We have discontinued the services of the agency in question for violation of Airtel’s code of conduct.Airtel follows the standard industry practice of using the services of collection agencies only after duly following up for settlement of dues with the customer for a period of 90 to 120 days.”

You may have noticed that I haven’t spoken much about my original dispute with Airtel in my previous post, that was for the reason that I wanted to keep the focus on their recovery tactics. However given that they are not hinting on twitter that they have duly followed up with me for a period of 120 days and only then forwarded the case to collection agencies, I feel compelled to reply.

My response: During the duly follow up, Airtel’s collection department refused to look into the billing complaint and said ‘aapne use kiya tabhi to bill aaya hai’, they were often arrogant and non co-operative. They had even agreed to close the account by collecting Rs 2500, reference compared to Rs 5000+ that they are now demanding. Someone from the collection department visited my office with a letter that had my name but a wrong address and phone number to collect the due the last time I had a correspondence with them and the only call I got after that is the ones I mentioned in my post. (Funnily even back then they emailed me from a Gmail ID and the email read this “This has reference to the above mentioned subject, A/C (“a wrong account no”) we would like you to note that the said A/C has outstanding 5,875.91/- for collection of your said account, kindly make payment of an amount of Rs.  2,500/- (Two Thousand Five Hundred Only). Please note that said amount has been arrived at after adjusting all dispute charges. “)

It is only now that they have agreed to look into the complaints and issues I raise about FUP, a lapse in upgrading my scheme (which was accepted by their call center when I was a subscriber) and mysterious Rs 199 under the head ‘gaming charges’ in many of my bills.

c) When I complained about the illegal threat from a lawyer last month on twitter, Airtel looked least bothered to look into the issue and the caller Anoop from Airtel Presence only helped by asking me to pay the bill and did nothing to investigate the call I received. It is only after I recorded another aggressive and illegal call from Airtel that they swung into action. While I do not doubt their statement that they have cancelled the contract of the agency responsible and is taking whatever action possible against them, a doubt sure can be raised as to why they failed to investigate this matter before?

There have been so many people complaining of similar calls on my post, Airtel must answer as to why it was ignored before and confirm if they have initiated any legal proceedings / police complaint against the agency concerned.

d) I am not sure on what next at the moment. I would wait for Airtel to again check my account and I would pay the right due. However as advised by Nikhil of Medianama on Twitter, I would be writing to TRAI with a copy of the call recording.

As I do that, I shall update this space. Thank you.

 

[Audio] The Police Officer On Behalf Of Airtel – FIR, Threats etc

Last month I had tweeted that a senior High Court lawyer had called me from Delhi with regards to an unpaid Airtel broadband bill and demanded that I pay up in an hour else he would go ahead with proceedings in the Delhi High Court.

The call appeared dubious. The lawyer changed the amount I will have to pay as a ‘fine’ twice, ranging between 80,000 to 150,000 INR that too for a bill amount he claimed was approx Rs 5000. I told him that I don’t like this extortion attempt. The call ended with promises of going legal against me. (Wonder why Delhi when I am based in Mumbai and my Airtel connection was in Mumbai?).

I tweeted out from my account @annkur and Airtel promised to call me. And they did call me regarding the same, only to tell me that I should pay the amount they are asking (some 5,000) and the caller wasn’t ready to co-operate on the complaint I had raised with Airtel before disconnecting my connection. Airtel was in no mood to discuss the so called lawyer who called me and ignored my complaint about harassment / legal threats.

Back then I was travelling and couldn’t do much to record the call, however I got the opportunity today. So what happened today? 

I was in office and I got a call from one Mr Samir Saxena who claimed to be ‘thana incharge’ of a police station in Delhi. I made a excuse of driving the car and offered to call back. I called back from a colleagues cell and recorded the call.

He (Samir Saxena) told me that Airtel’s lawyer was present with him and they have some magistrate order to register a FIR against me and start proceedings in 1 hour if I don’t visit an Airtel gallery and pay up the requested amount.

The supposedly police office talks about a fine of some Rs 65000 this time (funny right?) if I fail to comply. The person calling narrated my airtel account no, due amount as per them, address (shop no) and my full name. I asked to speak to my lawyer and call them back.

My friend advised me to lookup the police station and call their landline to confirm. As suspected there was no ‘thana incharge’ named Samir Saxena there. 

During the second call from the same person, I informed them that the police station denied the said officers name and that infuriated the caller such that he went on to threaten me beyond limits with police action etc.

I have both the calls recorded. And sharing it with the community. There is lot of discussion there, my words would perhaps not convey the severeness of the situation, you should listen to both the recordings below.

Airtel has failed to responsibly assist my CS complaint. Failed to settle the bill even after agreeing last year. And are now harassing and threatening me such that we won’t even want criminals to be treated in a democracy like ours.

I am a graduate by education, have taken a course at Asian School of Cyber Law, have been a journalist / technology reporter / blogger since 5 years yet I was scared on both occasions. I still am. I can only imagine what would happen to a common man with such tactics by large cos.

I am happy to share both the phone numbers (last month and today) if required. I am also contemplating legal action against this caller and Airtel. Waiting for advice on that.

25 May, 2013 12:44AM – Note: I have posted an update here.

June 6, 2014 –  For the ones asking what to do about it? Sadly – this is a widespread – industry wide practice today. I get such calls even today and I choose to ignore it. At times I take it as humour, but I ignore it for my peace of mind. 

E-commerce In India. Hey Ram.

Let me start with a question, a bad experience shopping online… how many of you have been there? In early 2000 (guess around 2002) I was a confident online shopper. Bought a cool college bag (single strap was trendy) online for Rs 199 and paid COD. Bought a coke bottle and deodorant spray and paid Cheque-on-delivery. Awesome time that was. Fast forward, its been 10 years since I started shopping and selling online. Quite a journey. While I don’t sell anymore, I don’t buy either (exclude ticketing on Cleartrip). My fears of shopping online came out today, when a friend of my tweeted this out:

Ecommerce In India

Got cheated for the first time of shopping online. Not very difficult to guess who this Sequoia funded company is.

Explains why I am scared of shopping online. Not much because of such buyer experiences, more because I have been a seller! More on that in a bit.

India would have been a different e-commerce economy if since 2002 the awesomest safe shopping experience was preserved. But that din’t happen. We have far too many bad experiences around us. Lakhs of online shoppers cheated, left with poor service and no after sales. Don’t expect them to trust a new poster boy of e-commerce in India, no matter how good they are. For the Internet medium has failed them :(

Ecommerce Scams In India

8i Mobile with 3D Sensor. Free Watch. Rs 2,799. No points for guessing which what they are doing here

The poor experience may be with a iPhone shaped cheap Chinese mobile selling for Rs 2999 or a digital camera at a fraction cost. Or perhaps just late shipment. And by late I mean several weeks. Add to that non responsive customer support. I have been a vendor on the old biggies of India’s Internet story. They were (probably still are) a heaven for sellers selling cheap goods with no service. They knew the CS was seller oriented. And we are not even talking about their email service users getting spammed like crazy with ecommerce ads. Forget privacy and spamming, the basic goods and service weren’t delivered properly. And the reason was not poor logistics in our country.

For a short term gain, quick profit, they have ruined the internet buying experience for perhaps millions of Indians. And now the fire is being re-ignited with deals, loss making ventures, but wait. A fraud again? Poor service? Just do a google for a few popular sites selling stuff and you will see complaint boards still filled with sad tales. I admire the ones like Baazee (now eBay) who maintained a good CS, disputes would happen there, but dispute resolution was effective. I respect the newer ones who are on social media, talking to their customers, resolving issues and delivering on time. But how do you undo the damage that the dinosaurs of Internet in India have caused? How do you weed out the multi-million-funded-donkeys-dressed-as-horses?

Note: Some thoughts as I now remember, are recalled from my Quora answer on “What are the biggest challenges facing eCommerce sites in India?”

Human Beings, Newton’s Law Of Motion & Balance

For every action there is equal and opposite reaction. When Newton stated this law of motion, he probably was thinking less about Human behavior. But it still speaks a lot about humans.

Read it again, ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’. Don’t we do the same as humans? Take the example of a kid who wants to play and his mother who wants him to study. The more the kid is notorious, the more the mother would get strict. Both striving for a balance.

As humans we tend to pull towards a point of balance. The point of balance though, isn’t defined. It is a gray area that resides somewhere in between. The more away the other person from your picture of what is right, the more you would pull towards the other side.

humans, tussle and more by annkur

Child and Mother duo is probably an easy but poor example in this case. I would let that be the first one for simplicity, but for the ones asking, here is another. How about a coach and player. The coach’s objective is to extract the best from the player, but the player may or may not be aware of what is missing in his game. The coach would obviously make the player work to get inside the gray area. Similarly the tussle for balance is very much existent in organizations as well.

Aren’t there specific people in your contacts whom you would call a number of times to remind for a very small thing? Why would you need to give them so many reminders? It is the same tussle that I described between the child /mother or a coach /player.

Let’s talk a bit more about the tussle.  Read More

The 1-10-50 Rule

Over the past few months a very important side of startup life has been discovered by me. For me and a number of folks around me the journey gets a boost from an Inspirational talk, either in person or YouTube. Yes, the billionaires speaking (or say any large entrepreneur) does give us a push, but the rule I want to put forward for a startup is: 1-10-50 (One Ten Fifty…)

If you are a 1 person company, the best advice and help you will get is from a person running a 10 person company. If you are a 10 person company, your best advice would come from a 50 people company. Go talk to them.