Archive for the ‘John Tucker’ Category

Mango Arbitrage

February 12, 2008

Mango season is just around the corner.  I saw my first cartload on the street today.  They were barely green, so get ready for March Mango Madness.  I will ship to you anywhere in the world via DHL.  £1 each + shipping and handling, PayPal accepted.


February 11, 2008

Tricia, Theresa and I have decided to institute “technology-free night” at Venkata Ramana Colony building #6-3-597. No, not tonight or I would not be writing this to “you all”. It’s tomorrow, TUESDAY night.  Tuesday TFN.  Want to join us? In-person participation is preferred; no advance notice necessary. Just show up around 7:30 PM. Bring us your huddled masses of chimmels who suffer from carpal tunnel and tinnitus: No danger here. Or bring that repressed drawing desire you’ve been forced to hide from the world since you were seven.  Stringed instruments, come on down! Everything is possible.

Surprise and delight

February 6, 2008

Here’s how to know when you’ve got your product or service or marketing right:  Watch the way these kids’ faces light up as they see themselves and each other in the camera viewfinder.  Try to match that reaction!

The road to the tractor barber shop.

January 25, 2008


January 25, 2008

Yesterday, we ran an eye camp in Mangzunuru, a village of about 5,000 people.  It wasn’t a great day – The Sarpanch (village president) hadn’t shown up to endorse it.  Business started off slow and got slower around 11 AM.  I asked Rama Devi, one of the Vision Entrepreneurs, if she wanted to take a walk around to see if we couldn’t find some more prospective customers (35-55 year-olds).  She is by far the top performing salesperson in the district – She outsells by a factor of 3:1.  After spending a few minutes listening to her, you can tell why. 

Rama Devi grabbed a stack of flyers and a pair of reading glasses for show, and we set out.  It was hot.  Going from door to door, she ambles up to small groups and gave her pitch.  The approach varied, but she was consistently personable and authoritative.  Unlike the flyer-hander-outers of New York, she invested minutes in every person she talked to, carefully explaining the details of the service.  While target customers are relatively easy to spot by age, they certainly weren’t eager to accept what she had to say.  The degree of skepticism was alarming.  I was facinated by the variety of suspicions and misconceptions launched at her:

“You aren’t doctors – how are you qualified to check people’s eyes?”
“You are working for a government program and are trying to charge for glasses that should be free.”
“Do you represent a Christian organization?  Why are you trying to change our village?”
“Reading glasses caused these dark circles under my eyes.”
“Wearing glasses makes your eyes roll back into your head.”

I stood there stymied, while Rama Devi handled these grenades with mental judo.  She’s heard them all before.  “This is for everyone.  You can come get screened for free,” she said.  “No obligation so why not come check?  We’re not affiliated with any political party or religious organization.  These are high quality glasses and will not damage your eyes.  We bring them right to your doorstep; otherwise you would have to travel far away and spend more money.  They are just for reading so you don’t need a prescription.  We have been trained to screen your eyes for this simple problem – for more complex problems we can refer you to a hospital.”

Along the way, I asked, “How do you decide who to give one of your flyers to?”

“I can just tell by the way they act when I start talking to them.”  Soft skills like Rama Devi’s are hard to find.

Eight days a week

January 21, 2008


It took an all-night train ride to get here from Hyderabad, but that’s nothing.  Now that I’m riding on the back of a two-wheeler on a sunny Tuesday morning in rural Andhra Pradesh, it was well worth the trip.  Today, I’m shadowing Surya Prakash, one of the District Coordinators at Scojo.

Surya pulls his motorcycle over to the side of the road to take a call.  I take the opportunity to stretch my hips and legs.  I am not a yogi yet! It’s a 70 km ride out to Rajam pali, the village where Surya’s team is hosting an eye camp today.  His phone rings off the hook.  For good reason: Surya manages 35 Vision Entrepreneurs.  He checks in with them several times a week to help them plan upcoming camps and to track their sales progress. 

We get to the village. I see a new Vision Entrepreneur putting up the banners at the edge of the park where the camp is being held.  They’ve gotten permission to use the office of the Sarpanch (a local government representative) for the day.  Prospective customers have already lined up, giving their information at the front door and waiting on the porch to have their eyes screened.  Kids from the school across the park have snuck over to peek in the windows, resisting elders who shoo them away.  Be kind to them, I think, these are future Scojo customers!

The Vision Entrepreneurs have a lot of flexibility – they can determine their own schedule.  Some of them use it as supplemental income; some make it their full time jobs.  Regardless, they all depend on Surya.  They need new inventory and marketing materials for their camps but most importantly, guidance on how to sell.  “Get me your reports and then we can talk about it!”  He says to one of his team members with a smile.  Selling reading glasses in villages far from your home can be lonely work.  Which is why Surya has instituted team practices: Vision Entrepreneurs frequently go to support each other’s camps without a share of the earnings, knowing they’ll get the same support reciprocated. 

After the mid-day heat cooled off, we headed back to town. Surya dropped me off before going to his office to do paperwork.  “What would you do if you had more time?” I asked.  Surya would rather spend it with his team.  It’s easy to imagine rural distribution models from afar, but they only comes to life through people like Surya who make “work” a verb.

A brand new day

January 19, 2008

I just met someone who was born yesterday.  I spent a day with Tricia at a maternity/pediatric care hospital, and got introduced to their newest customer.  He didn’t even have a name yet – that comes later in a naming ceremony. His proud parents excitedly sat with us for an hour and discussed everything.  The father makes $200 a month and supports his wife and three kids.  They had planned on two kids – this baby was an accident.  The mother will get her tubes tied in a few months.  They didn’t know the sex of the child until after it was born (it is illegal here for doctors to tell).  The mother wanted a girl so she could help out around the house.  In the U.S., it is impossible to have this kind of conversation because of HIPAA privacy regulations. 

In developing countries, people discuss “personal” topics much more openly.  People ask you to take their photo, without fear of publicity.  Why is privacy so much more intense in developed countries?  Does the same information have a higher value?  Do people in developing countries have less to lose?

Channel factors prevent follow-up

December 27, 2007

In the paper A Behavioral-Economics View of Poverty, Eldar Shafir explains:

“Minor situational details, referred to as channel factors can have great impact.  The opening up of a channel (such as an a priori commitment, or a first step) may facilitate some behaviors, whereas other behaviors can be blocked by closed channels.  In one classic study, college seniors were given persuasive messages about the value of an inoculation against tetanus.  While the messages were effective at changing the students’ beliefs and attitudes, few actually took the step of getting a tetanus shot.  By contrast, when other students received the same messages but were also given a map of the campus with the infirmary circled and asked to decide on a particular time, the percentage of students getting the innoculation increased by an order of magnitude.”

At our village eye clinics, more than half of the people who are screened and who need glasses fall in the category of “will purchase soon” (which is different than “needs but does not want”). People want to buy glasses “later”.  Perhaps they need more time to think about it, need to consult a spouse or don’t have money with them.  Regardless, between now and later, Shafir’s channel factors will get in the way – for the buyer and for the seller.  Other parts of life become more pressing as time goes by.  One of the things I’m working on is creating ways to reduce the barriers that prevent these prospective customers from getting their new glasses.

Christmas is for everyone

December 24, 2007

The cars here play little songs when they back up – sort of like some greeting cards do when you open them.  I just got distracted at work because someone’s car-backing-up song down the lane was playing “Santa Claus is coming to town”.  In a city where only 3% of the population is Christian, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here too: Sellers at stoplights have replaced their stocks of mosquito-killing-tennis-raquets to hawk red furry hats instead.  The children at the orphanage across the street are hanging decorations.  Giant inflatable santas loom large over the bustling streets.

This evening, Chris, Catherine, Tricia and I are headed to the City Center mall for the 6 PM event: FEED THE SANTA.  We are so giddy we can hardly contain ourselves.  Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!


December 21, 2007