When will people come?

So I was trying to estimate how many of my invitees will attend my wedding ceremony and how many will attend the reception (the former is at noon and the latter the same evening). While a large number of people have kindly RSVPd, not too many have really mentioned which event they’ll turn up for. So it’s my responsibility to somehow try and figure out how many will come when, so that the information can be appropriately relayed to the cooks.

Personally, if I’m attending the wedding of someone I don’t know too well, or a wedding I’m attending more out of obligation than out of the desire to be there, I prefer to go to the reception. It’s so much quicker – queue up, gift, wish, thulp, collect coconut, leave. The wedding leads to too much waiting, insufficient networking opportunity, having to wait for a seat in a “batch” for lunch, and the works.

Again, I hope that most people who are coming for my wedding are coming more because they want to attend rather than looking at it as an obligation. Actually I was thinking of a wedding invite as being an option – it gives you the option to attend the wedding, but you pay for it with the “cost” of the obligation to attend. In fact, over the last few days, I’ve felt extremely guilty while inviting people whose weddings I bunked (for one reason or another).

That digression aside, what upsets estimates for my wedding is that it’s on a Sunday, when more people will be inclined to come in the morning rather than at night. For one, they have the day off. Secondly, usually people like to spend Sunday evening at home, ironing clothes and the like, preparing for the grueling work week ahead.

And the fact that the venue is on the northern side of Bangalore, while most of my invitees live in the south (the fiancee and most of her invitees are in the north) makes me want to increase my “lunch” estimate and decrease the dinner estimate. And then the fact that I’m getting married on a seemingly “auspicious” day, when there are lots of functions all around, makes me wonder if I should discount the total attendance also.

After the wedding is over, I’m willing to anonymize and share the spreadsheet I’ve used for my estimates. Ok you might think I’m a geek but what I’ve done is to put an “attendance” probability for each event for each attendee, and then taken expected value to get my estimates. As I write this, I think I should take standard deviation also, and assume the law of large numbers (yes I’ve invited a large number of potential guests) in order to provide my in-laws (who are organizing the whole event) 95% confidence intervals for number of guests..

Anyways, I just hope that my (and my in-laws’) estimates are right and we won’t end up erring in either direction (shortage of food, or wastage) by too much in either direction. And the costs of the two (localized costs – as hosts, our costs of food shortage (in terms of reputation, etc.) is much higher than cost of wastage; though from global sustainability perspective it’s probably the other way round) have led our solution of the Newsboy Problem to be conservative in estimate.

And yesterday I was suggesting to my in-laws that after the wedding lunch, we can revise the estimates for dinner to M – X where M is the total number of guests we expect (counting double for people who we expect to attend both lunch and dinner) and X is the number of people who had lunch. It’s important, I think, to use as much information as possible in making decisions.

MGM Channel

Yesterday I upgraded my Tata Sky package to Annual Mega Pack (with the would-be-ladywife wanting all Kannada and Telugu channels, and all movie channles; and with me wanting all sports channels this was most economical). And got service to this channel called MGM which was earlier part of an add-on package I wasn’t sure I wanted (along with TCM, Lumiere and Warner Brothers).

So last evening I celebrated the upgradation of my Tata Sky package by watching this random (isn’t close to the same league as the dollars trilogy or once upon a time in the west) western called Hang ’em High. Decent movie, but what made it immensely watchable is that there were no ads.

Yes, you read that right. MGM doesn’t show any ads in the middle of movies. Not one. And given the Tata Sky pricing, I guess it charges a reasonable subscription fee to fund itself! The sad part is that they don’t advertise this enough and so probably they aren’t able to collect as much subscription fees as they could. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful model and I just hope they sustain (my assumption is that if they didn’t show ads during a Sunday evening movie, they won’t show ads at all).

Given the surfeit of advertising that plagues most of our movie channels, I knew something like this was going to happen sometime. A channel that subsists on user subscription rather than spoiling the viewing experience by flooding the movie with ads. And what has made this possible is direct to home television, where your choice of channels isn’t dictated by your neighbour’s. And one in which it is easy for the channel to monitor the number of subscribers without the distributor (in this case , Tata SKY) fudging the numbers.

We need to be thankful to DTH for enabling such beautiful concepts like no-ad-movies, and thank MGM for taking a bold step and starting a no ad channel. Now, can sports channels create “plus versions” of themselves where they’ll show uninterrupted sport rather than cutting the first and last ball of each over and showing  the rest of the over in a smaller screen? I’m sure there are enough people who will be willing to pay a premium for it.

And I wish a similar model comes up for radio (Worldspace RIP but you didn’t offer radio in car). Again, too many ads.

Shopping in New York

When I went shopping in New York on Friday I was reminded of this article by Tim Harford that the bofi had posted as part of a comment on one of my earlier posts. The basic insight in the article (which draws upon some widely cited research – I’ve read about it in several other places) is that too much choice may not be a good thing. That basically if presented with too much choice you are likely to just put NED rather than put effort into making the choice, and so it makes sense on behalf of the marketer to restrict choice.

So on Sunday evening, after having spent most of the day with a bunch of friends I know through an online group, and an hour or so with RG Mani, a very tired me walked into Macy’s, which claims to be the largest store in the world. I don’t dispute that claim – there are some six floors with each floor being the size of an average Big Bazaar. And there are clothes. And clothes. And shoes. And clothes. And more clothes.

Since I was trying to shop not only for myself, I ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the women’s section also. And the problem there was one of plenty. There was so much stuff to look at that it caused intense NED. I ended up just giving up on large sections of the store, and not even looking at even a sample of price tags there (yeah, I’m a cheap guy and was looking only for heavily discounted stuff). I won’t elaborate further on this “too much choice => NED” funda. Read the Harford article for more on that.

I don’t know what the strategy of the store is and whether they had deeply discounted stuff at all. The sample of clothes that I happened to check the price tags of were all extremely expensive. Perhaps the store did have some cheap stuff, but I don’t understand the policy of hiding it somewhere. Is the thinking that people on the lookout for cheap stuff are going to look more carefully and will hence find it? Which means some kind of “skimming” in terms of people’s attention spans? But the problem with this strategy is that by not displaying the cheap front up front, you may end up turning away a lot of people who look for cheap stuff!

Looking through all the huge floors of Macy’s caused me so much NED that when I saw an excellent looking reasonably priced Tommy Hilfiger sweater I didn’t even bother trying it. Maybe if I’d seen that sweater earlier I would’ve owned it now! So much that choice, and size, can do!

On Monday I went to this store called Century 21 near my office and had a more productive shopping experience. They also had both cheap and expensive stuff but they prominently advertised the cheap stuff with prominent “sale” signboards. Much more targeted, much more convenient for the cheap shopper, much more sales which means much more profits. Only thing I wonder is if this strategy of theirs turned away people looking for the higher margin expensive stuff..

Alumni Dinner Pricing

So this is Anusmaran week. This is the week where all over the world, in over eleven cities, alumni of IIMB will meet in the annual alumni meet up. The venue for this is usually a convention hall or a lawn in a hotel, and people have to contribute an “entry fee” in order to pay for the dinner. Drinks are usually “extra” and you have to pay for each drink that you drink.

The problem with this is that for “pseud value” reasons the event is usually held in a reasonably expensive place. For example, in Delhi it happened at the India Habitat Center, with the “participation fee” being rupees eight hundred only. And on a Sunday evening, and you know how early or late parties in Delhi start. I didn’t go for it so I don’t really know about the response but I don’t expect it to have been spectacular.

The probelm with alumni meets is that the organizers (usually students doing their summer internship in the city where it is held) underestimate the elasticity of these meets. They don’t realize that people who want to be in touch with each other continue to be in touch with each other irrespective of efforts by the Alma Mater, and that there needs to be some sort of concrete incentive in order to come and attend the alumni meet up.

As I was discussing with Baada a short while ago, networking for networking sake does require a reasonably high level of enthu. It doesn’t come naturally for most people. You netwrok if you have a product to sell and need to meet potential buyers. You netwrok if you are looking for a job and hope to meet potential employers. You network if you are looking for some favour and there is a good chance you might meet someone who might do you that favour. You don’t naturally network for netwroking sake.

Given this, expecting people to shell out a not-so-inconsiderable amount to attend a networking event where food will probably be of dubious quality and you have to pay for each glass of booze is a bit too much. The more enthu people and people who want to network will turn up. The rest won’t. They will probably get together with their own little gang of people (maybe all alumni of the same college) and go elsewhere for good dinner and conversation.

The first time I attended Anusmaran was in 2005 when I helped organize it in London, where I was interning. All of us London interns were full of enthu for networking back then and turned up in good numbers. There were quite a few alumni also, and it was good fun. I attended Anusmaran in Mumbai in 2006, immediately after I’d joined my first job. I knew that a large number of people from our batch was in the city, and Anusmaran provided us a good opportunity to catch up. Extremely good fun.

In 2007, I had gone to the Bangalore meet and walked out looking at the extremely thin turnout. I went to the nearby Adigas for dinner along with Aadisht and GB. Was good value for money.

Yes I might be a cheap guy. But what the organizers need to keep in mind is that a large number of attendees are also cheap guys. So forget all the pseud value and hold it at a place where it doesn’t cost too much for the attendee in order to network.