Friday, November 17, 2017

Tips to sell your second hand stuff on OLX and Quikr

I freely admit to acquiring a lot of gadgets that I don't really need, and sometimes don't really use either. If you keep experimenting with new gadget trends, it's bound to be a hit or miss affair. I have several hits (like my Triple-Fi 10 IEMs from Ultimate Ears that are still going strong) and a few misses including several fitness trackers. And of course, upgraditis leads to a lot of old and well-loved gadgets which have been much-used and replaced - and now it's time to find them a nice new home.

Enter OLX and Quikr who claim to be the answer to your prayers when you want to convert the second hand stuff you do not use, into money. 

I have had some experience of selling on both sites, and with a fair degree of success. Success does not only imply selling at the desired price, but also giving my gadgets a good home :)

So here is what I figured

1) For best results, post your ads on both sites

Quikr and OLX work a little differently from each other. Quikr's USP is that they will take care of the money transaction and shipping - a huge convenience to buyer and seller, and one which also opens up a huge market beyond your home city.

On OLX, in contrast, deals are locality dependant and sometimes, I have had to agree to meet halfway to close the sale (this works for me as I prefer people not coming home in any case).

I appreciate that Quikr is more oriented to selling - it forces buyers to make offers and forces sellers to either accept them or negotiate - but that can be irritating. It's natural to want to chat and ask questions sometimes before making an offer. I like that OLX facilitates this but it can lead to a lot of pointless chats that are stuck in limbo as well.

2) A detailed description is as important as a photo
While a photo and one-line description meets the bare minimum criteria to post an ad, it helps a lot if you write a longer description highlighting aspects like how much the item was used, or describing tech specs. Neither site allows you to link to external URLs, which is a limitation when posting gadgets, where you might want to point potential buyers to specs or product reviews. But remember if you are selling a phone or iPad, that there are dozens of similar products and writing a small outline, helps your ad to stand out.

3) Expect to get offers that are 30-50% less than the price you posted.

Each time I posted a product, I obviously did research on the price range for similar-aged products online. For example, the 7 year old iPad 2 sells for anything between Rs.10,000 to 15,000 on OLX so I thought that at Rs.8000 my iPad 2 should go fly.
The truth is, I was deluged with offers - to buy at Rs.3000 or Rs.4000. 

I soon figured, that there is a huge market for an old iPad but there is a gap between the buyer perceptions of the value of the product and the seller's expectations. Brand name notwithstanding, we live in an age when iPhones and tabs and even laptops are getting cheaper. I lowered my expectations but kept my product at a slight premium over buyer offers and eventually I got a price I was happy with. Remember that while this stuff is at home it has no value anyways

4) Really rare and specialist stuff is better off on a specialised forum or group

One of the products I am trying to sell is a Baratza Precisio Coffee Grinder. While Baratza has phased it out of the market, it's still a fabulous grinder to pair with literally any coffee marker, including an entry level espresso machine. It's hard to get  this product in India, let alone with 220V and ready to use. However, it is attracting spectacular levels of disinterest. Leading me to believe that I need to find a better home for it. An enthusiast group or forum might be a better bet even eBay might be better though I need to pay them.
Both sites lack visibility on Google search and on desktop and for a free listing that's certainly too much to expect. But it does limit the offers you receive.
Be sure to share what you are selling on all your social media channels and groups as well, as someone who knows you or shares your interests is more likely to buy from you.

5) A quick decision pays

Many of the buyers on OLX or Quikr are in a hurry to make a deal. I receive persistent messages to 'please reply' from people whose offer were so low, that I was not interested in replying. But sometimes, I got busy and missed  out on some genuinely attractive offers because I was in a meeting or travelling. Check your messages regularly and engage potential sellers before they end up buying elsewere.

6) Conversation is necessary before purchase
Indian buyers seem to like the human contact and reassurance of knowing who is selling the product. I find that taking the conversation offline quickly is productive, despite my reluctance to keep giving my contact details to strangers. All the buyers on both sites have so far been genuine, courteous and extremely professional, which is why I am now more willing to get on Whatsapp. You will also be able to negotiate prices better once you start speaking to each other. As much as I would love the offer and deal to be concluded through messaging alone, it does not happen that way.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wi-fi Network list not visible in Windows 10 - here is the only fix that worked

Windows 10 users have been plagued with several strange bugs that are baked into Microsoft's newest Operating System. For example, a month ago, video stopped working on my Skype and Google Hangout calls, effectively crippling my business communication.  The camera drivers stopped working after an update and reloading them did not work. Troubleshooting with Dell Support quickly led to the realisation that the problem is software and not hardware based. At that point, Dell Support drops off like a hot potato, not even bothering to give the standard advice to reload Windows 10. I don't blame them for it, they are generally awesome at what they do but solving the Win10 mess is not their problem.

So I did a reset of Windows 10, which is very easy compared to what such a task would entail with earlier versions of the OS (Does anyone remember creating backup discs? Or booting up from a pen drive?) Thankfully those horrible memories are in our past now.

Win 10 boots up in an hour or less and automatically restores your files for you. It does delete your apps but helpfully leaves a list of deleted apps on your desktop for reference.

Once Win 10 rebooted, the first thing I did was look for a wi-fi network to connect to. Much to my irritation, not a single network showed up in the list. To connect to a network I had to go into Network settings, and manually enter the network name and key. 

Frustratingly the wi-fi networks showed up perfectly in my login screen - the one where Microsoft shows you pretty pictures. They just vanished once I started working. 

Another irritating side issue was that the Windows Search bar stopped working - search for anything and it returned a blank.

You can imagine that it's hard to live with and work on a PC that has this problem. Searches online turned up two threads that correctly identify the problem:

Microsoft Forums
Tom's Hardware

However, the fixes mentioned in these posts did not work for me. 

To be clear, this is a permissions/registry level issue, making it difficult for a lay person to solve.

The correct fix is Here on Page 3 of the Microsoft Forum.

One post advices users to download the free Windows Repair Utility from

Downloading and running this utility fixed both issues that I mentioned. Now my wi-fi networks show up, and my Windows Search Bar works!

I hope this fix is of use to people who are afflicted with a similar problem.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A foolproof way to improve mileage

A lot of automobile blogs and sites will tell you that your car's fuel efficiency is a composite of many factors including optimum tyre pressure, clean components like air and oil filters, and using a high octane fuel.

I have been deeply unhappy with the average of 10 km per litre that I get from my Hyundai i20 Elite (Petrol). To add insult to injury my Dad got a steady 13 km per litre from his 15 year old Baleno (which has a much bigger more fuel hungry engine) before he finally sold it last year. He has the new Baleno now and averages 18 km per litre with ease.

Dad is a retired automobile engineer and some of his mandates in the past have included designing truck and car engines, the machines that manufacture them, and compressors. So he knows what parameters will make the big difference.

I asked him for tips to improve and after observing my driving he gave me just one piece of advice - to watch the engine RPM (speed). In essence this is what he asked me to do;

1) Upshift the gears as quickly as possible. To the extent possible drive in higher gears always
2) Avoid letting the engine speed go above 1500 RPM unless I am in 5th Gear. 
2) Avoid hard braking

This all seemed simple and in my control, so I started practicing these tips around a month ago. In this period I have refuelled thrice and I can say that it's working. My fuel efficiency is up around 25%. Earlier a full tank of 40 litres would get me 400 km worth. Now I refuel at 450-480 km. I have not changed anything else so it's only the more mindful driving that has made all the difference.

Watching engine speed and avoiding braking suddenly has also made me a more mindful driver. I used to think that a careful driver is one who watches traffic and pedestrians. I can now add to that list, a careful driver also watches the engine speed and cares for their car. 

You will need to figure out the optimal engine speed depending on your make of car and engine - and I am sure it will be different for diesel and petrol cars as well. Try this tip - which does not require any expensive investment - and see if it works for you!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The customs nightmare for gadget lovers - a guide on what not to do

Like most gadget lovers, I spend a fair amount of money ordering from international sites and sellers. There will always be something that I cannot find on an Indian site - it could be as small as a replacement cable for my earphones - or something as big as the new Pebble smartwatch that I have been eyeing. Or sometimes, even if I find them on Indian sites, they are at eyewatering premiums over the same product on say, Amazon USA.

To a large extent, my international purchases have been restricted to eBay sellers, or Amazon. Recently however, I was tempted by the newly launched Beddi Alarm Clock, a $99 smart alarm clock that raised Kickstarter backing and also got a lot of favorable reviews.

I ordered it direct from Witti Design, the creators, who were offering international shipping at $20, making the total order value $120(approximately Rs. 7500). It was shipped through DHL, who delayed delivery by a week, citing hold up at customs. Finally, they called me and asked me to send an invoice copy for the product. I did not have an invoice - instead I sent a screen grab of the order page on the Witti Design page. 2 days later the product arrived at my door with an invoice of charges slapped by DHL, attached below. For those who do not have the patience to click, the various duties/octroi/handling charge all amount to Rs.4223. If you add back to that the $20 shipping fee, I would have effectively paid nearly 90% of the product value as shipping, import etc - making it  a disastrously impractical purchase. I love new gadgets and iOT but I would balk a little at owning an alarm clock costing Rs. 12,000.

Here are some of the problems that I faced, and what I have learnt:

1) In my basic understanding, customs duty would have been levied at a maximum of 30% for an electronic product on the entire invoice+shipping value, and I would have expected a customs duty of approximately Rs.2200. I verified this using the horrendously complicated import duty calculator on the Indian Customs Website. Instead, customs has been charged at Rs.2917. The only explanation I can think of for this, is that I have been penalised for absence of an invoice, and the Customs took the assessable value, as being higher than the invoice value (approximately Rs.12,000)

In order to understand the customs duty better, I asked DHL for a proof of payment and they sent me this document. All it proves that in the cattle truck of customs clearance, no one would have really bothered about getting the exact value of one item right.

Learning 1: When buying directly from a seller abroad, especially a startup, insist on getting the invoice copy and remind them that the courier/customs need to receive a copy of it too. In this case, I blame DHL for even accepting the consignment sans an invoice. They are the 'experts' who should have known better, but probably did not care about just another small value parcel.

2) You would notice the handling and warehousing charge that DHL has levied. Both these were disputed by me. Importing a product to India involves clearing through customs, and so this should have been quoted as part of the original fee. If the handling charge arose as a result of their mistake in not obtaining an invoice copy, then I should not be asked to pay it. Warehousing charges, though nominal, were again not due to my error but the seller/ courier failure to arrange the proper papers.

Learning 2: The courier/clearing agent is your choice between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea. 

For maximum peace of mind, you should import only through Amazon, who will quote to you upfront an 'Import Deposit Fee' - an extortionate amount that corresponds to anything between 30-40% of invoice value of the product, and offer you the option to purchase at an unfavorable exchange rate (Rs.70 was the going conversion rate against the dollar, when I checked last week). Amazon guarantees that you will not be charged extra, however, that's a small consolation when you have paid the maximum that you could. Amazon promises to refund any amount that is not used, but in 10 years I have never got a refund. I would love to hear if anyone has.

On the other hand, you can ship through regular post (postal charges are not added to Customs Duty) but you will have to stand in queue and clear your own product at Customs. Waste of time and temper flares are the chief threat here and both are guaranteed at Customs. On the other hand, you get to present your case personally and you can never under-estimate face to face interaction and negotiation in India. I have personally been allowed to walk with nominal duty on a television set after pleading my case. If I had been present to explain my alarm clock, I am sure that the customs duty would be lower.

The courier will save your time and is supposed to expertly handle customs - in this case, it did not happen and I was left with a huge price to pay. I would advise that both devil and deep blue sea are at least predictable in their outcomes and depending on your time and budget, you should choose one or the other. Working directly with the courier can become a nightmare of logistical red tape - more on that in this blog.

3) I conveniently forgot it when ordering, but octroi is payeable if Mumbai is the destination for the product! Though Mumbai is the port of entry, octroi would not have been charged if I had a delivery address in Thane or Vashi. 

Learning 3 : One more reason to look forward to the unified GST which will hopefully lead to abolition of octroi, forever. Meanwhile, you still pay a price to be a citizen of Mumbai (or a few other cities). 

Meanwhile, if you find a local site which is offering your product, compare the price they are offering with what you will pay after customs and octroi (Don't compare with the US price!). Then decide what makes better economic sense.

Also, unfortunately, even in this era of liberalisation it still makes better sense to do what earlier generations of Indians did - ship to a relative in the USA and wait for them to bring the product to India. Or, wait till you travel yourself. It will save you a lot of time and money. In a recent survey of airport authorities, I was told that Customs department focusses passenger surveillance on detecting and stopping gold, drugs and currency - or other criminal acts. They derive more revenue from their Cargo operations and focus their attention there. Cargo is unfortunately where your precious imported products land up, straight into the Customs net.

4) At the same time, I had ordered a small value item off eBay from an international seller. It was shipped free of charge through Hong Kong Post and delivered to me by the postman within a week. The seller had marked the invoice value as $20 and indicated the product as a gift, so no customs was charged. 

Learning 4 : There are legitimate workarounds and some sellers understand them. It's good to learn what these are and leverage them to your advantage. For example, the cost of shipping through post is not added to your customs duty, unlike courier charges. It also pays to have an expert friend who can help you to specify which category your goods should be imported/declared as. Goods declared under certain categories attract lower customs duty than others and the range is as wide as 10-110%

5) After a lot of time spent arguing with DHL and trying to understand the charges, I did what I should have done initially - I reached out to my seller, Witti Design. When I explained the issue to them, they did something unprecedented and heartwarming. They offered to bear half of the costs, without any further questions. Within 24 hours, the additional amount was deposited in my PayPal account.

Learning 5: It pays to deal directly with small sellers and companies who care about individual customers and whom you can reach out to on a one to one basis. In fact, anytime when you ship internationally, you should reach out to the seller BEFORE purchase and clarify shipping and customs charges. Having a rapport and relationship with the seller can ease a lot of heartache.

6) You should not think that my ordeal ended with the fees. I tried unsuccessfully to visit the DHL office to pay their fees and collect my package. Only to be told that they had instructions from the seller to only deliver at home. I asked WittiDesign to send an authorisation letter to DHL so I could collect my parcel. They sent me a 'yes it's ok' email and I took that to DHL only to be told that they need a certain format to be filled. They pointed out that the name of the company and the name of the shipper did not match and rejected the email. I had to 'allow' them to deliver at home.

Learning 6: I was tempted to say, do not ship with DHL. They suck!!!
Jokes apart, it's a toss up between dealing with customs yourself and dealing with a bureaucratic, rigid, rule-bound courier. I think DHL riled me up just as much as the Customs Office would have and probably more - I expect government officials to throw the book at me and I expect a courier company to be more customer friendly. Just remember, that as an importer, it is your responsibility to facilitate clearing of your goods, whether you are an individual or a company. Either ways, you pay - in money or in time and effort that you put in. If you want to save the Amazon tax, and save paying huge import duties, your only way is to familiarise yourself with the rules and see how you can best protect your interest.

I was discussing this with some of my uncles and family elders and one of them gave me possibly the best advise that I can end this article with, 'Don't buy abroad", one of my uncles said. "It's the age to Make in India. Find a local substitute'

Appropriate advice in an age when trade agreements are ending, borders are closing and imports may get more and more expensive.

By the way, the Beddi Alarm clock is doing fabulous and I plan to do a review about it soon, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Throwback Tuesday - Gadgets from the 70's and '80's

Unless you were born in the 70's or earlier, what I'm speaking about may be gibberish to here goes. Put your hand up if you have ever;

1) Extracted an entangled cassette from a player and repaired it by splicing. I have redeemed several precious tapes by cutting and sticking them with cellotape, in a pre-digital era when there were no music backups. 

Scotch Tape was a double meaning term in those days so you needed to specify if you were reffering to this;

Incidentally, Instructables has this neat tutorial on how to repair a cassette.

2) Rented LPs (Vinyl records) from a local library.

We used to have a large vinyl collection at home, including a number of Western Classical concerts.

We even had this (A reel to tape recorder, precursor of the digital tape recorders)

3) Played an arcade game OR a text based adventure game on a VGA monitor (Pre Color monitor era)

4) Been stranded with a corrupted floppy drive and lost data

5) Typed your school or college project on Word Perfect or Word Star (so you remember a limited set of DOS commands). 

6) Your biggest prize possession was a video game - like these - if you didn't have someone to get you a Nintendo from abroad.

7) Your second biggest prize possession was a CD Discman (a definite upgrade from a walkman)

8) You have rented and watched camera prints of movies on VHS (and you had a VHS player at home) 

9) Tandy, Commodore and ZX Spectrum were the objects of aspiration. Radio Shack and Sinclair Computers were brands that were familiar to you if you used PCs.

10) You were part of a parental debate as to whether to buy an Uptron or a BPL Color television.

11) Once you bought the television, this was what you saw on it through most of the day;

But you looked forward to seeing a better sight; 

(Gitanjali Iyer, one of the most polished newsreaders of the times)

12) You have booked an STD or ISD call instead of dialling directly

Share your fond (and frustrating!) gadget memories from the 70's and 80's

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Offline Internet

Hike, India’s homegrown answer to the ubiquitous Whatsapp Messenger, launched Hike Direct in end 2015. Touted by CEO Kavin Mittal as an ‘incredibly powerful’ breakthrough technology, Hike Direct allows two users of the app who are within a 100 metre radius to chat and share pictures, stickers and files at high speed without using their data connection. Hike Direct uses Wi-Di technology that bypasses the slower Bluetooth connections, allowing data transfer speeds of upto 40 Mbps. Effectively, you can share a 100 MB file with a friend in 10 seconds, and neither of you will use a paisa of your data plan.

However, Hike is not the first mover in the offline game. That crown goes to ShareIt, which has consistently ranked amongst the Top 5 apps in the India Google Play Store since the past few years. ShareIt allows users to transfer files, movies, music and even apps to each other without a data connection, phone to phone. And like Hike, it’s completely free to use.

Both of these apps are examples of what I like to call the Offline Internet, which is a real phenomenon to reckon with in the Indian market. The Offline Internet is a network of mobiles that are a repository of content – games, movies, music, pictures – which gets shared between users at minimal data cost. The Offline Internet represents the way that the Next Billion mobile users are discovering, sharing and consuming content, bypassing restrictive data plans.

It’s not hard to understand why the offline internet exists. Put yourself in the shoes of the young, enterprising consumer who has just purchased his/her first smartphone. What is the first thing you need when you buy a new phone? Apps, music, games, movies – all the stuff that makes your device a personal entertainment system. How do you get it? Do you spend further on expensive data recharges to download everything or stream it off the net? Do you make the journey to a shady ‘download store’ to fill up your SD Card? Do you fiddle with a PC and cables? Or do you just ask your cool friend who has everything on his phone already, to share it with you – and in the bargain, help set up your phone with the latest apps that you need to have? Obviously, that’s the easiest and fastest way to get up and running.

The reluctance to use up data, so alien to the affluent always-connected Indian, is real and palpable, even amongst the allegedly internet-addicted Indian youth. The student will switch off data during classes and switch it on when travelling back home. Call centre employees switch off their data at work (where mobile phones are often forbidden). Many people paradoxically switch off data during travel, or at times in the day when they simply do not want to surf. Even Whatsapp and Facebook can wait till it’s the right time to check them again.

India ranks amongst the countries with lowest cost of mobile usage in the world:

(Source : World Bank Blog

However, it’s a different story when we look at the cost of data vs income. The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, sought that by 2015, broadband services should be available in all nations at 5% of Monthly Average Income, or lower, in order to be affordable. 

However, India, like many other nations with a large number of poor people, faces challenges in achieving this target.

(Source : Measuring The Information Society Report, 2015 by International Telecommunications Union)

In a post entitled The Data Trap, the JANA blog points out that at India’s hourly minimum wage of 20 cents/Rs.13,  it would take 17 hours of labor to pay for 500 MB of data. Hopefully, mobile data prices are continuously falling (and minimum wages are rising). Still, these two sources point to the extent of challenge in getting people online – and keeping them online for sustained period of time. Either affordability has to improve, or people have to see a benefit of being online.

What are the implications of the offline internet for marketers and app developers?

  1. Make apps small. According to VC Firm Lightspeed Ventures, the ideal app size for markets like India is below 5 MB, vs 10-15 MB globally.
  2. The crucial elements of your app experience should be able to function offline or in a hyrid offline-online environment. This is however, carries a difficult trade-off – to work offline, an app needs to store data on the phone and most budget smartphones today are space constrained. It’s common for people to bump off apps that they don’t use, especially if they are hogging handset space. Google has acknowledged the need for offline internet by making YouTube an offline functionality in countries like India.
  3. The example of ShareIt demonstrates that shareable apps are a workable concept in India. People who procrastinate on whether to download a new app, may be willing to use it if they can get it free from a friend. For the developer, this means letting go of control – and also losing out on Play Store download stats. But I am sure that it’s still possible to keep a track of shared API’s. Or to partner with ShareIt to be a featured app and keep a track of shares!

No matter what you choose to do, the offline internet is a phenomenon that we cannot ignore, especially as internet penetrates into the lower pop strata.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Artificial Intelligence is the New Black

"Over time, the computer itself — whatever its form factor — will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day. We will move from mobile first to an AI first world” – says Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Artificial Intelligence is the technology of the future that Google, IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have been investing in for years. It represents a future that could leave Apple behind if it takes off. But what exactly is Artificial Intelligence? Is it like those computers that beat Vishy Anand at chess? And if that’s the case, how exactly is it going to change my life?

Voice Assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s newly announced Assistant represent the tip of the iceberg where Artificial Intelligence is concerned. To be understood – and to trigger actions based on voice – is not as easy as it sounds, given the huge variety of languages, dialects, accents and individual pronunciations that exist on this planet. If we have made progress in this area, it is because of the increase in the global user base, which has made continuous learning and refinement possible.

But where AI can play a much bigger role is in handling the vast, unimaginable dump of data that has been generated across millions of websites, apps, social media sites and internet users, across the last decade or so when internet usage accelerated sharply.

IBM points out on its website that 90% of the world’s data was generated in the last two years, and 80% of that data is unstructured. Whether it is organisations seeking to organize and structure their own internal archives or a website seeking a deeper understanding of their own user data – Artificial Intelligence can help to make sense of it.

For example, IBM’s Watson Health has partnered with the American Diabetes Association to analyse clinical and research data and create apps that aid doctors in managing the disease. The partnership will give IBM access to 300,000 patient records and 66 years of data. The goal is to use this vast data dump to train Watson to understand diabetes and make data-driven recommendations. Watson Health is already working with Medtronic to build ‘cognitive apps’ that monitor blood sugar level and then automatically adjust the insulin dosage in insulin pumps.

Or take a recent development by the Accessibility Team at Facebook called Automatic Alternative Text – which will begin to ‘read out’ the content of photos to visually impaired users, by ‘seeing’ what they contain eg. Three people smiling. Across Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, users upload nearly 2 billion photos everyday, and Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence division is building software that recognizes images automatically, using machine learning. The technology is still at an early stage – it can reliably identify concepts in certain categories like transportation, nature, sports, food and people. It can identify a pizza or a selfie, but not the detailing (eg. Pizza with olives and pepperoni). But it’s still a huge step forward, that Facebook can accurately categorise a range of photos with 80% confidence!

The more gimmicky side of AI has always fascinated people and created great sound bytes for media – Frankenstein Robots, participating in reality shows and beating real life contestants. Now, we also have creative AI - for example, a neural network wrote the screenplay for Sunspring, a sci-fi film that is ‘fascinatingly incoherent’. Meanwhile, Google’s Project Magenta aims to create art using AI – spanning music, videos and other visual arts. Google AI was used to write a (Rather creepy) love poem after reading 3500 romantic books; you can read the text here. One of the line goes like this;

There is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
I had to do this.
I wanted to kill him.

However, the new age AI is moving away from gimmicks into a more hardworking space – making sense of complex data, answering more complex queries from that data, and learning to analyse patterns in a more human like, intuitive way. Also, the results of AI are actually directly impacting people’s lives rather than being utilized only at an institutional level. Mobile apps represent a way in which the benefits of AI can literally reach people’s pockets today. We don’t need to read about it, or watch it on TV. We can actually experience it – like the visually impaired people who can now ‘hear’ Facebook photos!