Clone Wars

First came Best Buy.

People were happy, they got good deals, saved some money. Good … but meh! Perhaps their launch was before time. Avante Garde.

Then came Groupon.

A multi-billion dollar valuation, e-commerce 2.0 buzz, social media tongues wagging about. It was the next big thing since the Internet.

I guess over a period of time, folks soon realized that the business model was pretty simple really. Get bulk, negotiate with vendors and give back a small share back to the users. That was also the eYantra model. I hear its gotten its second round of funding as well.

Followed by a slew of Groupon clones … there are too many of them really to name a few. The unfortunate thing is that not one of them is willing to call themselves a Groupon mee-to. We are different is what they all say.

Everybody on this planet is unique, just like 7 billion other people.

If you thought that I would be writing another nerdy review of Star Wars, you are mistaken, Ser.

With Groupon clones sprouting everywhere on the Indian e-commerce scene, its going to be a war out there. The war is going to be played out in our inboxes, on our cellphones, on our social media pages and in our tweets. Our credit cards will be the trophies, each transaction a battle on who will get us the cheapest deal. If you thought that it would make me happy, its not.

All the discounts in the world are not worth the beauty of a spam free life. It’s been ages since I have seen an empty inbox, gotten no sms-es. The Clone Wars are on, and you are the next battle!

Indian Services: A bleak future

With the Indian economy shifting from an agrarian focus to a service-based industry, a lot of foreign investors are attracted to the nation. However, the sustainability of this is under question. As service experiences from bad to worse and consumers are crying bloody murder in the courts, how will the Great Indian Dream be achieved?

The word service comes from the term – to serve, i.e. to work for another.

I am sure you will agree with me that this is hardly the case these days. To measure the quality of service, all service providers have come up with an excuse called as SLAs (Service Level Agreements). What it means is that the service provider is giving certain time limits for each of his failures, and he won’t recognize the failure until and unless that SLA has been crossed.

Ironically, its very logical and you can’t argue against this. But zoom out a bit and think seriously, if you are providing SLAs for life and death services, what would happen? I won’t call you sick, until you have been sick for three days. Dead until, you have been dead for a day.

I won’t spring into action until and unless the given time goes by.

I will ignore your pleas, until you start shouting murder at me. Then I will create tickets, and play the game of the escalation matrix. Then I will care, and once the issue is resolved, I will stop caring.

As consumers, what can we do?

Well for starters –

  1. Read the SLA’s before taking on the service. Do they seem reasonable? Try negotiating on the SLAs and make them sharp.
  2. Clearly define the Plan ‘B’ – What happens if the impossible does happen? What happens if a service promising 99.95% uptime goes down? Who takes the risk and who takes the hit?
  3. Danda works top-down. Sad, but true. Remember that. If you want the cronies to spring into action, knock at the top.
  4. Get a back-up. It’s expensive, it’s redundant, but it’s a safety net ready to catch you when Plan ‘A’ fails.
  5. There’s an interesting start-up Akosha, consider contacting them
  6. Lastly, switch providers and rinse repeat!
Aside

Job is War!!

At a friend’s wedding, I heard about this new approach to one’s job. The man was talking that his employee’s are peace time soldiers, “eh?!?” I went. The idea is that many employees approach their job in a fashion like peace time soldiers … they assemble in formations, they do their drills, they salute to their seniors and when no one is looking, they relax and goof around. Having done this myself, I could not disagree … so what does one do to get out of this rut? The answer is simple … go to war!!

During war, soldiers are willing to give their lives (in this case their jobs) for a particular purpose. Employees should identify the purpose for which they will strive hard and achieve or else give their jobs. That gives them the true drive at work, an achievable goal and also a reality check. If an employee cannot come up with any such purpose, then you can be rest assured that he/she is already looking out for different opportunities and is not really pulling his/her weight around.

I tried this tactic with myself at my office, with wonderful results. Not only am I making goals clearer for myself, but also I am sending out a message to everyone else whom I am working with as to what drives me and what is my top priority.

So what are you willing to die for?

Learnings from start-ups

j0387194During my brief stint with eYantra, our foundation team did some cool stuff. We also made more than our fair share of blunders. I am just putting it down in one place, so that oth ers can benefit from our experience. On reflecting back, I am glad this happened because it was an eye opener in more senses than one. It was also a stint which significantly boosted my confidence.

I worked there for a span of two years, and had to come back to Mumbai because of personal reasons. What happened after that I only came to know through small and infrequent chats with the employees there. Enough to realize that I need to share this with everyone to benefit from the collective’s insights.

The Do’s

  • Have high levels of energy. It’s your baby, only you can make it happen and no one else. If this requires sacrificing lazy Saturdays and Sundays, then so be it.
  • Your core team can make the difference between a failed idea and a successful venture. Their group dynamics is very important for your venture to succeed.
  • Weekly meetings to keep everyone upto par on different tracks. I think this becomes more important with increasing members in the team.
  • Show a sense of direction, and be integral to your vision. If you falter, your team looses faith in you. Soul searching (if any) should be done with as small a team as possible.
  • When in doubt, discuss. Come to a common agreement with the team to move ahead.
  • Be starkly honest to the first set of your employees. Treat them like family. If you are a product oriented firm, then your product development team is to be treated with the utmost respect.
  • Get some market traction before your product is ready. That way you will already have a ready buyer for the product.
  • (appended) Find differentiators and expound them in the market
  • (appended) Believe in your idea. If you don’t believe in it, then no one else will

The Dont’s

  • In an e-commerce setup, all the divisions are important. One cannot run without the other. Treat them likewise.
  • Under-commit but don’t over-commit. Your reputation is at stake e.g. if you promise someone biryani and deliver daal then it won’t be appreciated, but the other way round, you will have a satisfied customer
  • Don’t expect your employee to show the same amount of commitment that you have. You have equity, they don’t.
  • Confounding your employees with that variable performance bonus … it’s more of a disabler (suggestions welcome here). (amended) If you still want to have that variable, then have complete transparency in how it is calculated, and give your employees a chance to perform by including it in the next round of appraisal.

The list will be re-visited upon and your comments will be integrated into this. Thanks in advance.

Manish Saini writes –

Don’t reduce the pay of your urrent employees in the pretext of the variable, rather introduce as a part of your next round of appraisal.

Ranjith Boyanapalli writes –

DOs would be to “find a valid differentiator” and have your “goto market strategy well in place”.

Mayur Pathak writes –

Every idea needs its own time and grooming. It is important to be persistent enough. Take suggestions though, but dont rely on them. Dont give up just because you lost patience or because some one said so. Come to the office every morning thinking this is going to be the best day ever.

don’t reduce the pay of your urrent employees in the pretext of the variable, rather introduce as a part of your next round of appraisal
Aside

Do you want a free t-shirt?

btplogo A classmate of mine has jumped and launched his enterprise with some of his friends. MyZingo is in the e-commerce space, and has launched their first online B2C initiative known as buytheprice.com. As part of their launch, they are planning to give out free t-shirts to the prime registrants.

So if you do want a t-shirt, then head off to their launch portal and register.

PS – If you have a gmail id and if you know how to use it wisely, then you can win a free t-shirt for sure!!

Social Media

Yesterday, I attended Startup Saturday … the theme was Social Media and how it can be leveraged by start-ups effectively.

Some of my key learning –

  • Online marketing does not replace offline marketing efforts, and vice versa. If you are planning a huge effort in one media, do not ignore the other
  • The best way to use these platforms is not as a broadcasting medium, but as a way of engaging with your customers
  • Don’t create propaganda, create evangelists … who can propagate your name
  • Social media marketing is not cheap, and it is certainly not a free alternative to traditional marketing
  • In case of B2B space, marketeers can target the end-customer through social media and get the attention of their intended customer organization

Will attach the respective presentations as and when the organization committee puts them online :)