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I love to spin and bike. Spin classes have always been my favorite. I love the music, biking is so much easier on the knees, and you get to strengthen your muscles and burn a lot of calories in 45 mins.

One of my friends talked me into doing a Soul Cycle class at 6:30am. I am not a morning person. Not at all. I set the alarm and keep snoozing till it is time to get the kids ready for school. So I didn’t wake up and didn’t go. I decided to try one class at my time, and if I liked it enough, it would be motivation enough to wake up.

I tried one. OMG!!! It was in a small dark room with loud blaring music. I was not expecting that. So many people love it and swear by it, but I had no idea! They closed the doors, the room felt a bit warm to make people sweat more I guess. I have never done a spin class with clip ons, I just don’t like them. But here that was all they had. So I borrowed a pair. The clip ons had zero arch support so my right foot hurt like hell and I could not do any adjustments. The music was super loud, and the instructor had to speak louder through the mike to be heard. Within 15 minutes I was feeling claustrophobic but didn’t want to quit. So I kept going. I saw two small weights in the bike in front of me. Holy shit! Would they make us do weights on the bike itself?

Anyway, it was hard, very hard. I love spin and didn’t expect it to be this hard. After another 15 minutes I could not take the loud music anymore. I started thinking of how late I had slept the night prior, how I had skipped my lunch and had a smoothie instead, maybe that is why I could not continue. The instructor had a candle by his bike. Already the room felt hot, there was limited oxygen with doors closed and room so dark, now I had to share my oxygen with a candle!!!

I felt the pain in my right foot acutely. Every time the instructor spoke, I thought my ear drums would burst. That is when I decided to walk out. So I struggled to get the clipped shoes out. I had no idea what to do. The instructor asked me to just leave the shoes there and velcro my feet out of them. So I did.

Outside the manager and another employee showed a lot of concern. They were super nice which is such an anomaly in New York. I mentioned how claustrophobic I got and the music was just too loud. My ears would not stop ringing. I had a headache. They credited me for the ride and told me I should use ear buds next time, and all Soul Cycle rooms are dark.

On a positive note, I had class that was a third full. Imagine if I had attended a popular class!!! My calves feel like lead so obviously something worked. My friend is now talking me into going to one class with her, she really likes her instructor. Maybe I will make the trek in the morning and use ear buds this time. Maybe it won’t be so bad on my foot, I will wear compression socks or something. I have that credit to use on my account.

I ended up reading about it after my experience. Many people recommend doing at least three sessions before deciding to stop. But I just cannot work out in a dark room.

After Soul Cycle, I walked outside, it was super hot. I went right into Mercedes Club for a swim. It was such a refreshing change. The club was bright, airy, and open, no dark areas. And the pool had skylight. The gym was cool, pun intended. I felt like I could finally breathe. It was just such a refreshing change from Soul Cycle. I don’t know if I can start my mornings in a warm dark room with blaring music.

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My adorable boys are 2 years old, a big milestone. I see changes in them everyday. They are learning and growing, learning to be more expressive and empathetic. Today Aadi didn’t want me to cut his nail but obliged with his father. I was a little upset and felt like why doesn’t he want his mom to do it anymore, and AM was a bit nervous since he has never done it. So he wanted me to do it. I looked at Aadi feeling a bit upset, he gave me his charming adorable smile which I didn’t return showing that I was upset, his smile faded which broke my heart, as I was going to reach out to him to make him feel that it is ok, he looked at me and walked over to me and gave me his hands to cut his nails. My heart melted and I teared up a bit, wondering if I am teaching him to put himself second and feeling a tad guilty about it, but also feeling so nice like he cares about my feelings. He is only two but understands everything. It was just so sweet, I can’t stop thinking about it and feeling a burning in my heart for having caused him any little pain that made his smile fade, and yet feeling wanted and loved by him.

Motherhood has changed me in so many ways. Previously, kids seemed like such a nuisance. Now, when I see kids throwing tantrums I feel for the parents and I like children in general. Somehow parenthood unites you like nothing else. Before motherhood, I nit-picked about people; now, I get along with a lot of parents on the common ground that my kids are happy with their kids. You kind of feel like in the same boat and supportive of each other. I didn’t expect motherhood to change me so much. I also find pleasure in small things, like recognizing words my kids are learning, small things that make them smile like a lollipop (wowwipop), excitement in going to the zoo and showing them different animals and teaching them in general. I am learning to be very patient, and my toddlers, both of them, test my patience to the maximum. I am trying to change a lot just to deal with tantrums better. It is easy to just walk out or yell back, but a lot harder to just try to understand them, take a deep breath, and be patient. But I am happy, in a way I never was in my job or any other relationship. I feel truly happy!

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I have been MIA for a long time, writing a blog requires a lot of motivation. Maybe I should commit to one!

So much has been going on in my life. I will cover each of these in detail, because living in NY is crazy, but with kids it is even more crazy! In my third trimester I found out that I was having twins, twin boys no less, and now they are almost 2. It has been a roller coaster ride. Having one child is hard, twins is three times hard because you have the same number of people managing two! I want to get back into writing my blog, so I will choose one topic each time and cover it at length.

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Alexander Wang for Balenciaga

It has been so long since I last wrote! I am hoping to make writing a regular part of my day now that I don’t have an official job.

I have been getting into designer handbags in a big way. I LOVE fashion like most people, and have always been interested in designer and regular clothing. But of late I have really gotten into handbags. More about that later.

I LOVE LOVE Alexander Wang. His designs are minimalistic with subtle use of hardware. His bags have a very structured look, as do his clothes. Most of his handbags are accessorized with minimal hardware in interesting places, very very subtle looking, but they add a “pop” to the bags. He is also very creative with flexibility in the ways in which a bag can be worn. His Marion Prisma bag uses sleek rose gold hardware to add a touch of color. The white Diego bucket bag has colorful studs. The Lia messenger bag has studs at the bottom, very subtle and attractive. His bags are not always practical though. The Lia messenger bag is very very stiff and while that helps maintain shape, you can’t put as much into it even though the size is good. 

Balenciaga recently got him on as designer. Balenciaga and Wang have very different aesthetics, so this marriage doesn’t fully make sense. On further probe though they target a very similar customer. Both have “rocker chic” looks. Balenciaga’s motorcycle bags are very popular, they have a very different look from Wang. Lots of zippers, tiny tassles, very “out there” and busy. Wang’s looks are very minimalistic with pops of color using studs and other hardware. Both target “rockers”. From that perspective it makes sense. It also allows Balenciaga to move into unchartered territory, and make a name for itself in bags other than motorcycle-looking ones; there are only so many similar bags that women will buy.

Wang’s new bags for Balenciaga are very minimalistic, practical, and attractive. They have a very understated look. They leather is EXCELLENT! I tried out a few in Bergdorf’s and am in love. The leather is soft, designs very interesting, the very look is sophisticated and structured. Clean lines, subtle hardware. I am very excited to see where Wang takes Balenciaga next.

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As a kid, I loved watching British shows that came on after 9pm in India such as Yes Minister, Mind Your Language, etc. till American shows such as Friends, Seinfeld, Small Wonder, and Wonder Years took over. I loved Friends, but I like the dry tongue-in-cheek British humor much better than in-the-face American. I could never understand Seinfeld till I spent a few years in the US – back then it just seemed stupid that people laughed at obvious stuff.

I recently decided to start watching Brit shows online, and found my fav Mind Your Language on YouTube. It is a show about a British teacher and his class of international students who want to learn English. Barry Evans is very charming as the Brit teacher Mr. Brown. The class has one person from each country – India, Pakistan, Middle East, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Africa, France, and China. Each character is very stereotypical but entertaining. And of course the matronly Miss Courtney who runs the school and epitomizes the “stiff upper-lip” British. I enjoyed watching the show again even after so many years.

It is unfortunate that even after being such a good and charming actor, Barry Evans lead a sad life. When he was born, he was left in a box outside children’s house and was brought up in orphanages. He acted in a few shows and was popular, but later on his boyish looks made it challenging to get roles depicting his real age. Apparently he was bisexual. Towards the end of his days, he was broke and worked as a cab driver. At the age of 53, he was found dead – the cause of his death is unknown. An 18 year old kid was arrested because he stole Barry’s car and a few credit cards. But Barry had an overdose of alcohol, and a bottle of pills was found near him although he did not take any pills. The kid was later set free.

I felt very sad reading about his life. It is so sad that untalented women like the Kardashians and Hiltons become popular and  mint money just because of their silly useless reality shows. While really talented actors and actresses have to struggle for years. Same thing for designers – “celebrities” like Lauren Conrad who come up with their own clothing line do well, and take the place of really talented designers who would do better with such opportunities. Why is our culture so celebrity-driven rather than talent-driven? I just feel so bad for all these talented people.

I wish I could learn more about Barry Evans’ life. He has faded into oblivion…

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I changed jobs recently and took a week off for a short 4 days trip to Canada. It was an amazing trip, and I felt so relaxed and well-rested in these 4 days — more than I have ever been these last 2 years! I got a list of top 10 places in Canada, and decided to go to Montreal and Quebec City since they were within driving distance. We left Friday and drove 7.5 hours to Montreal. It was surprising that even on a Friday there was very little traffic and the drive was a lot of fun. I bought something from Apple where if I connect it to my iPhone, I could listen to the music on the car’s stereo on channels that had no signal. It took a while to get proper connection, and it was a lot of fun listening to our favorite songs on the way.

We stayed in Old City which had cobbled streets, street entertainers, and a park. I loved walking around everyday. We visited the Archeological museum – there was a very interesting exhibit on the Rapa Nui. We also visited the Basilica. When AM and I had gone to Spain, I was so sick of seeing Basilicas but AM made me visit every single Basilica in and around the towns we visited. So he made me visit this one too!

We stayed at Intercontinental Montreal. It was a decent hotel and at the heart of Old City, walking distance from everything. There were very charming art galleries around that area, and we found my favorite restaurant, Eggspectation (containing creatively named and cooked eggs items on the menu). We tried other restaurants but the food was very bad – I end up falling sick from the food.

After two days we left for Quebec City, 3 hours away. I loved the place! It was extremely charming and more like Europe than Canada. Very very green and rainy. It rained on and off all day. AM and I slept a lot and felt very relaxed. There was not much to do other than walk around. It had sloping roads similar to San Francisco. The old city was completely fortified all around. We did a city bus tour and learned about its history. I wanted to catch a French show in the park but it rained all day. We stayed at the Loews De Concorde which was close to the old city. I found my favorite place for brunch, Cosmos. A very cool restaurant with a delicious menu. I loved the fruits they served – sweet and delicious.

We spent a day driving outside the city and covered an entire island with charming houses. We also visited a nearby basilica and waterfall. It was just so nice to sit quietly, relaxed, enjoying the cool breeze. The weather was cool and pleasant. I did not want to come back to the craziness of NY. At that moment, I hated NY. People outside live so quietly and relaxed, and in NY everyone keeps running around and sometimes people are so bitchy and stressed. The drive back took 10 hours and seemed so long. I could have easily spent another 2 days in Quebec City doing nothing.

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One of the biggest questions related to social media is, is it a sales channel? Can it be a sales channel? How do you monetize it? A billion $ question, if you ask me. Social media is like a black hole – every company is trying to figure it out. Ones that have figured it out and are looked upon as “best-in-class” have yet to monetize the channel.

One of my favorite sites is the award-winning much-touted OPEN forum. It is a forum by American Express for its small businesses. It provides content relevant to small businesses and keeps the user engaged enough to come back for more. It performs extremely well in organic search. It is a website all by itself. I have seen online advertising on sites such as http://www.entrepreneur.com just for OPEN forum, displaying video content. Many people have cited the forum as a best-in-class, and it makes perfect sense for Amex because the company not only signs up small businesses for its card, but also provides services. Now for the big question – does it increase leads?

Starbucks got a lot of attention when it made its “free pastry” promotion viral on social media. However, the company did not share results on how much sales it got as a result in its stores.

There are ways to monetize this channel, but it will never be a big component of e-commerce. Facebook and YouTube are the largest visited social networks, and users are there not to buy, but to interact with networks and watch videos. Users are likely to buy after visiting forums, communities, and blogs, but these are not as widely and frequently trafficked. Hence social media as a whole will not have a positive ROI in terms of sales, and should not be viewed as such. These sites, however, provide access to a wide network, and networks of network, with the ability to drive significant traffic. In addition, the great thing is that one does not need to spend a lot of money – all it requires is creativity, persistence, and really committing to the channel. Of course a lot of money spent the right way does help – the OPEN forum is a great example. But eventually companies start viewing the investment in terms of ROI, and it becomes a white elephant that is too expensive to manage and does not have positive ROI.

Take the example of Facebook. Here are a few steps to follow:

  • Build a professional-looking page and make it interactive – An in-house creative with HTML knowledge can do a fairly good job. Freelancers can do it for as little as $500.
  • Leverage existing properties – Add Facebook link in emails, direct mail, brochures, catalog, and all communication materials, website/Homepage, store windows, etc. Every customer touch-point by the company should have the URL.
  • Customize URL – Have a URL that makes it easy for the user to find you. For example, http://www.facebook.com/openforum and/or http://www.openforum.com/facebook. I prefer setting both up but promoting the latter just because it makes the user remember the website.
  • Explore Facebook advertising – This step should be done only after a professional-looking page is in place, else users will not “convert” or like the page.
  • Drive fans to the page – Include links in your and partner Wikipedia entries. Make links available to affiliates and partners and “exchange” fans with them. Use sweepstakes to add fans. Leverage networks for sweeps – for example, every user that enters a friend into the sweeps automatically gets 1-2 extra entries to win something. For consumers, it could be anything – gift cards, shopping spree, paid trip for two, iPad, free music downloads, etc. For small businesses, the incentive could be a paid trip to a conference or conference pass, Facebook advertising credits, subscriptions to magazines or research tools, online conferences, etc. Fan-only content and exclusive promotions and discounts are other ways to drive fans by making promotions viral. A referral program is also a great way to add fans. Members get an incentive to refer a friend, similar to the sweeps example above.
  • Provide engaging content to keep users engaged – Exclusive promotions and discounts, user-generated content (photos, videos, discussion groups, tips) are all ways to keep users engaged. These are subtle ways to increase sales. If a user sees another users’s outfit, he/she may like it and want to buy. A specific shoes website (don’t recall the name) has videos accompanying the products, and seeing the shoes on someone makes a world of difference and can potential increase conversion rates. A similar strategy can be used on Facebook through user-generated content, testimonials, and videos and photos on outfits.

Now for the most important part, how do you measure performance.

  • Have the number of fans increased? Keep track of an increase in fans on a weekly basis and compare it with competitors. Over time you may come to a consistent % weekly increase – use this as a benchmark. Has this % increased after your efforts? If so, then you can use it to justify performance. This is the best and easiest way to measure performance.
  • Do the efforts drive traffic to the site? Measurement is as simple as adding a tracking code in all Facebook URLs, working with a technology partner that has tracking ability, or simply looking at free web-based tools and evaluating before and after traffic from Facebook as well as Inbound links.
  • Has Google page ranking increased? This is a little more far-fetched since none of the efforts drive traffic to the website, but in the long run it may be worth exploring this metric.
  • Do your customers engage more on social networks? Again, this is a very subtle metric. Rapleaf is a company that takes your email and direct mail database and identifies their patterns in social networks. You can use Rapleaf’s service to understand existing user behavior online, and see if that pattern has changed after building and promoting your Facebook page. Again, this is subtle but worth exploring. It is a cost-effective way because Rapleaf works on a monthly-fee basis.
  • Does it drive revenue and sales? There are several ways of testing this. Use a separate promotion code on Facebook to track redemptions and sales. Every person that “Likes” a page is an existing or potential lead. If running a sweeps or referral program, see how many users who signed up and shared their email ids end up purchasing something. Once you have a user’s email id, it is easy to track revenue driven by them. Apply a customer lifetime value to every new sign-up. Over time, there should be a consistent % of qualified leads from all the leads. So revenue = qualified leads * customer lifetime value. It is easier to track if users purchase directly from Facebook – if the revenue is collected elsewhere (eg. stores, website sign-ups, search, affiliate), it is difficult to track the impact of Facebook. A lot of times users may see a promotion on Facebook but convert through another channel such as search or affiliate. If you have an existing web analytics package or ad server, do a path analysis for before and after Facebook efforts, and see if Facebook has increased its standing in the path.

Again, social media will never be a prominent sales channel, but its relevance and importance cannot be denied. Lets go beyond revenue and leads for a few minutes. What are other benefits of this network?

  • Customer service – Want to reduce costs at that expensive call center? Use Facebook. Get customers to post their questions and concerns on Facebook. It is easier for them as well to write on Facebook than wait for 10-20 minutes on a call. Concerned about having the world read customer issues? Set up an email id with facebook@companyname.com, and address all issues through email. The benefit is that if call center reps have to address the issues, they can respond during downtime.
  • Making customer feedback constructive – An unhappy customer will want to tell the whole world about their bad experience. Two instances come to mind. One, a customer was so unhappy with customer service at the call center that she wrote it as a status message. Two, one customer was so unhappy with her experience that she made it a point to write a negative comment on almost all posts by the brand. How to you deal with this? Take all comments offline and encourage customers to be constructive. Write a templated response informing that you have heard them. Email them and ask them to email their issues to you – they will have to write something constructive – “I hate you” which is prominent on the Wall will not show up in the email response. The customer in case two above stopped expending energy in writing negative responses and wrote a constructive email explaining her frustrations. We apologized and mentioned that we will channel the feedback internally to the group concerned. RESPOND to the customer and genuinely try to address the issue. If possible, give them an incentive to make good for the bad experience. Jet Blue posts a templated response and drives users to their customer service page.

One thing to keep in mind is NEVER delete comments unless they are inappropriate or spam. Customers need to air their grievances, and Facebook should encourage an open communication. Sephora deleted a few negative comments. This made a customer angry and she responded with strong words on their Wall. More customers posted comments on how this was unprofessional of Sephora, and it became a heated conversation. Deleting negative comments is the worst thing a brand can do – there are other ways of dealing with this feedback, so why do anything that reflects negatively on the brand and company? Gosh, this is a looooooong post. There is always so much to write about social media, and in this case Facebook! More to come… adieu.

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