Tag » business

Have you heard of the Dabbawalas?

Mumbai Dabbawala or Tiffin Wallahs: 200,000 Ti...
Image by babasteve via Flickr

I’ve been meaning to post this fascinating article from the Economist about Dabbawalas:

Using an elaborate system of colour-coded boxes to convey over 170,000 meals to their destinations each day, the 5,000-strong dabbawala collective has built up an extraordinary reputation for the speed and accuracy of its deliveries.

According to the Wikipedia article, Dabbawala literally means “box person”, and they combine smart technology with a super flat hierarchy:

Although the service remains essentially low-tech, with the barefoot delivery men as the prime movers, the dabbawalas have started to embrace modern information technology, and now allow booking for delivery through SMS. A web site, mydabbawala.com, has also been added to allow for on-line booking, in order to keep up with the times. An on-line poll on the web site ensures that customer feedback is given pride of place. The success of the system depends on teamwork and time management that would be the envy of a modern manager. Such is the dedication and commitment of the barely literate and barefoot delivery men (there are only a few delivery women) who form links in the extensive delivery chain, that there is no system of documentation at all. A simple colour coding system doubles as an ID system for the destination and recipient. There are no multiple elaborate layers of management either — just three layers. Each dabbawala is also required to contribute a minimum capital in kind, in the form of two bicycles, a wooden crate for the tiffins, white cotton kurta-pyjamas, and the white trademark Gandhi topi (cap). The return on capital is ensured by monthly division of the earnings of each unit.

Cluttered by design

Cluttered by design

An interesting WSJ article on retail in India:

Mr. Biyani doesn’t allow haggling, but having damaged as well as good quality produce in the same box gives customers a chance to choose and think they are getting a better deal.

Kodak to disrupt printer industry?

Here’s a bold move from Kodak: they’re launching a printer with cheap ink cartridges. Just like the razor industry, the printer industry is based on the lucrative scheme of selling cheap machines at a loss and recouping the cost on outrageously expensive supplies. This has obviously been a pain point for consumers, but no one has had the incentive to change this model. Kodak needs to do something disruptive to gain share in a crowded market — sometimes all it takes is one dissident to bring down the system.

UPS package delivery

UPS is leveraging some clever technology to shave seconds from each delivery, and saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. I love the fact that they consciously avoid left-hand turns:

Not only does Alles’ handheld computer contain his route sequence – with as few time- and fuel-wasting left-hand turns as possible – …

My Penguin

Penguin is publishing My Penguin, a collection of books with blank covers to be decorated by the reader. Readers can submit their artwork to the online gallery. I love it.

Starbuck’s mugs

Terrapass thinks Starbucks should shift to ceramic mugs. While I think the brand argument is a good one, the table-turnover point blatantly ignores the customer’s needs. Of course, ultimately it probably comes down to the cost calculation. In other news, Starbucks has put a substantial amount of effort in designing a cup with recycled materials.


James Surowiecki from The New Yorker comments on how Nintendo may be winning the console wars by taking third place. Also of interest, an article about the design of the Wii and an interview with the designers. I never, ever, play video games… and yet I have a strange urge to buy one of these.

Cellphone vending machines

A friend of mine is proposing cellphone vending machines. Of course, someone’s already doing it. It’s a brilliant idea nonetheless.

Name segmentation

The authors of Freakonomics tell us about market segmentation by first name. To explore trends in names through the years, check out the Baby Name Voyager.