Category Archives: Business

The sane entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship and sanity don’t go well together. Who in his or her sane state of mind will go after launching a company instead of joining some established business or taking a job with great prospects?  It is like riding a roller-coaster every day without knowing if today it’s going to be a high or a low.

You don’t become an entrepreneur for the money. If you are well casted for the world out there, you can make lot more money being a corporate executive. You don’t do it for the comfort. Believe me, the life out there could be a lot more comfortable doing a 9-5. Why then? I think the only real reason is the passion and drive to do something that you absolutely love and believe in.

The thing that you require to succeed is to really stick to it. It’s that roller-coaster. You cannot quit if there are one too many lows in a row. Persistence is the key element here. Stick to it, take tangents and get better. You cannot be an overnight success (someone wisely said–it takes three years to be an overnight success, sometimes more).

Success is a funny thing. It is very subjective and relatively hard to measure. You can be successful by being happy or by being independent or by being rich. But if and when you end up “succeeding”, things change dramatically. All of a sudden, you become the sane entrepreneur!

Make it easy

I recently bought a new laptop. It was something I have been pushing out for about six months because I was so used to my 5 years old laptop which had everything I needed set the way I wanted it from the software to the auto fills and what not.

So as I start installing software and using the new laptop, I was pleasantly surprised by Chrome. As soon as I logged in Chrome with my gmail account, it auto populated everything from bookmarks to history to auto fills making my life so much easier.

I have a similar experience every couple of years I upgrade my iPhone. As soon as you log on using your Apple account, all your apps and notes and contacts just gets auto set to your new phone seamlessly.

The essential thing here is to understand what would make the life of your customers easier. I didn’t select to use iPhone because of its seamless upgrading functionality nor did I select to use Chrome because I can transfer my personal information across computers and make browsing experience easier. But after experiencing that, I am quite sure that I going to stick to iPhone and Chrome respectively. So here’s a small thing that might not be of that much help in customer acquisition, but can really be worthwhile in customer retention.

Next time you are at the drawing board adding great features to your product, think what can you do so that the customer sticks to your product even if there are a zillion alternatives out there.

The cool pool

Apple, Trader Joe’s, Ikea, Starbucks and brand X.

Being brand X is the dream of every other brand, or in other words, every other brand wants to be called in the same breath as these brands. So what are the essential elements to be part of the “cool pool”?

One of the biggest factors that differentiate these brands from their respective competition is trust. Trust is something that makes or breaks a brand. If your customers trust you to serve them in the best possible way, you create a stickiness factor for your brand like nothing else.

A key characteristic of these brands is that they are intensely customer-centric. From great in-store experience to product development to even product packaging, the idea is to delight the customer. These brands put customer at the center and revolves everything around them.

To be a great brand, you need to define it around a niche and focus on that. You should do a particular thing and do it better than anyone else. You should be the ultimate authority in your field of expertise and keep innovating in that niche to remain ahead of the competition. You can of course do brand extension, but keep it adjacent to your niche and leverage your brand.

Another idea of niche is to appeal to a niche audience. Niche appeal is a great asset for a brand. When companies market their products to a niche market, these people consider themselves member of the company’s cult. I am not suggesting that the product should not be for the mass market. The idea is to start from a niche market and then expand the reach to the masses. In the process, you will generate support from a group of mavens who will add to the company’s capacity to target a bigger and broader market in the long run.

You can never be a great brand if you imitate some other brand. You can of course learn from them and apply that in your industry. In order to be a cool brand, you need to focus on your customers and gain their trust, be an expert in your niche, and out innovate your competition.

Why you can’t be the next Apple?

Or for that matter the next Starbucks or the next Amazon or the next Facebook.

The key characteristic of these great companies is their distinctiveness and focus on their customers. The moment you start thinking in terms of being the next Apple, you lose focus on what you are and start following a path that neither distinguishes you from your competition nor serves your customers. There’s no harm in adopting best practices, learning from their mistakes, and being ambitious. But the focus should be on how you can do the best to serve your customers.

There are many examples of companies out there in different countries which follow the business models from some other countries and implement it in their own market. Many of these are acquired by the companies they end up copying, but there is a certain distinctiveness in the ones that survive in the long run. These companies are smart enough to adapt themselves in their specific markets. Whether it’s the payment plans or service agreements, these companies modify them with focus on their customers which leads to long-term sustainable success.

To sum it all up…hold your distinctiveness and focus on your customers. Find your own spot in the cool pool.

What’s next?

These are the two words that are eternal and defines success. What’s next here means staying on your toes and constantly thinking on how to improve and innovate, and taking the next step towards your vision. It means out-innovating competition and providing your consumers with the next big thing. It means never ever hitting the snooze button!

Complacency is the biggest obstacle to long-term sustainable success. In business, and for that matter in any other field from sports to arts to life, being complacent leads you to be unaware of your deficiencies. You got to keep working on how to improve your products and work towards making the life better and their jobs easier for your customers.

Another big obstacle is legacy. Legacy is hard to break out of for both you and your customers and is one of the biggest reasons preventing businesses to come up with breakthrough innovations . If you are used to doing something in a certain way, it takes a lot of courage, great vision and persistent efforts to out-innovate and break out of the mold before someone else takes the lead. It is much better for you to cannibalize your business than letting your competition do it for you.

That brings us to competition. Competition is the best promoter of innovation. Companies that believe they don’t have competition are in a state of denial. There is nothing in the world that doesn’t have competition. It can be direct or indirect, existing or upcoming, but there’s something out there that is a lucrative alternative for your customers. The best way to deal with it is to embrace it and never take the step off the accelerator to remain being the best option in the market.

So what’s next?

Branding and differentiation

With several choices available in the marketplace for any given product, be it a bar of soap or a car, it is important to define differentiation for your branded product. You can differentiate your product, no matter how generic it is in its properties, to make it own a unique identity and connection with customers. That is in very simple terms the definition of branding. It’s the distinct identity that you create to help your customers connect with your product. It’s the perceptual aura that you create for your product. It’s the stamp of confidence that you build around your product. It’s the bedrock for differentiation.

In order to define your brand, it is important to focus on elements that are sustainable over a long-term. It can be your technology that differentiates you from the rest, puts your brand at the forefront of innovation and a step ahead of competition. It can be the design excellence that defines your brand. It can be the customer service that is at the core of your business and makes you command the trust of your customers.

It is often asked if price can be the differentiator for a brand. How much a product costs the customer can be an important element of the product. It may be the most important consideration factor for many products, but it cannot be the differentiating element. Price more often than not is a sanity factor. Price-value equation triumphs the price very easily. You cannot define your brand purely on price. On the contrary, if you brand it right, you can command a premium for your product.

Your differentiation is something that makes a statement on why consumers must select you above anyone else. Branding is that statement. It’s something that stands out for you. The best way to define it is by understanding the needs of your customers and gaps in the marketplace and mapping them to your strengths.

NaMo

2014 General Elections in India are historic in lot of ways. It is the world’s largest election ever with 815 million people eligible to vote, with over 100 million new voters. These are the longest (9 phases, 35 days) and the most expensive (INR 35 billion, USD 600 million government expense; excludes political campaign spending) elections in the country ever.

The most fascinating part of the election is the NaMo phenomenon. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister candidate of the Bhartiya Janata Party, has taken over a party with many contenders for the top post. Political outcome of the election apart, there are a few key learnings that can be taken from the him and applied to life and business.

If you listen to Modi or follow his style of functioning, one thing that you will see from the get go is his vision and determination to get his message through to the voters of the country. He might not be the most eloquent speaker in the world, but he knows how to get his message through. He understands what language his audience will connect with and adapts his script accordingly. For example, his team divided one of the battleground states in 36 zones and he had a different message for each zone in that one state. The biggest lesson here is that you got to understand your audience. Do your research and make sure you know your customers. It’s much easier to mold your script to fit their thought process than to ask them to adapt and understand you.

Second key thing to understand about NaMo campaign is the grip Modi has on his campaign. The man leads from the front and has complete control on the campaign. It’s more about team management than micromanagement. What Modi has made sure is that he has people whom he trusts at the right places. Whether it is people in-charge of battleground states or the core team responsible for seat distribution, he has mapped capabilities of his team members to the jobs. Lesson: You cannot do everything alone, but you need to lead from the front and be in-charge and responsible. You need to build your own team of people you can trust and count on. You need to leverage the strengths of your team members. Different people have different capabilities. Put them at the right places and make them accountable.

If you watch NaMo speak, walk or talk, you will notice an amazing amount of energy. It is said that power brings energy in people and you have the energy to work round the clock on something you love. This  appears to be more true here than anywhere else. Modi has an energy which is in-turn induced  in the millions who attend his public rallies. His energy shows his commitment to be there and do what he is doing. Key thing to learn from this is to do what you love. Do it with 100% commitment. Make sure you are immersed in it. This will provide you excitement and energy to do it and increase the chance to success.

NaMo team is expert in what I call aura development. Whether it was “Jitega Gujarat” (Gujarat will win) in assembly elections or “Vote for India” in 2014 general election, Modi creates an aura which gives you a feeling that if you are voting for him, you are doing the right thing. You are doing it for your state, for your country. Lesson: Take the center stage. Position yourself to be synonymous with the larger purpose. Represent the space and do it with authority and conviction.

Health care going social

Health care industry has evolved with the social web. One of the key areas of impact has been in the way patient support groups operate. Something that was much of a local group concept has now become much more powerful and global with the help of communities, forums and social networks. These networks have provided patients, caretakers and health care practitioners means to connect and discuss various issues. They are permanently shifting the dynamics of how a side-effect of a drug or the news of a new cure is spread in the world today.

This brings great challenges and opportunities for health care companies. Let’s start with the key challenge. It’s no longer the case where pharmaceutical companies can control the messaging on anything from drug recall or a device malfunctioning to a drug side-effect. People affected by the issue now have a channel to spread the word without the help of a mass media outlet.

But that presents a great opportunity as well. Drug manufacturers can proactively understand what are the biggest impediments for patients to take a drug. They can understand why patients are purchasing one brand over the other. They can learn on why doctors are prescribing their competitor’s drug over theirs. It’s a vast pool of information, more current than ever before and more real than it can ever be. What you need is the right technology to mine the information, organize it and make sense of it. You will get insights that can help you in everything from messaging to new product development.

The rise of use of social technologies is affecting every industry, brand and product out there. It is not possible for you, as a brand, to escape the phenomenon. It is no longer a question whether you are getting affected by the social media or not. Your social world is already out there and it is having an impact on you. The question is whether you are leveraging it or not?

Education industry in India

350 million people under the age of 14 (as of July 2013). That’s India. Despite of all the hurdles and system defects, India is a growing economy with an up-and-coming middle class. The importance of education in India, as far as the middle class is concerned, is paramount where on an average parents end up spending the biggest share of their income on providing the best possible education to their children. This makes education industry one of the most lucrative industry in the country for at least a couple of decades.

When looking at education industry from a technological lens, there is a huge opportunity to innovate and revolutionize the way education is delivered on a mass scale. Let’s focus on K-12 education here. One of the biggest challenges that technology an address to a large extent is consistency. There is a big gap in the quality of education between the best-in-class and rest of schools in the country. Technology can play a big role in bridging this gap. Having a connected infrastructure that could set de facto standard for home work preparation, teacher training and even extracurricular activities can improve the quality of education and experience in many schools.

Along the same lines, is the issue of scalability and customization. To make any technology platform successful in increasing the level of consistency across schools in the country, a very important thing is scalability. The platform needs to be scalable enough to be accessed by thousands of schools and customizable enough to meet the needs of millions of students. Another key thing that a scalable and customizable technology solution will do is that it will make it economical for mass adoption in the country.

One of the most critical things that a technology based solution for K-12 can do is that it can make education interesting. It sounds simple, but is the real make or break deal for the success of the platform. The reason being that this platform is not competing with the way education is otherwise delivered in the country. It is not even competing with the competitive offerings in the space. The real competition comes from the likes of Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and hundred of apps on an average mobile phone. If you want kids to spend more time leveraging this platform to learn, it needs to be as social as a Facebook, as easy to use as a Tumblr and as readily accessible as a Candy Crush.

Technology has revolutionized many industries in different parts of the world. There has been a lot of advancements in the education sector as well with companies developing innovative solutions for schools and students. With the increasing penetration of high-speed internet and economical accessibility to internet connected phone, there is lot more that will happen in the education industry in India which is ripe for a massive evolution in the years to come.

The ecosystem game

A product does not live in a vacuum. Several variables play a role to make a product a lucrative sell and an attractive buy. The important thing is to understand and in some cases build the ecosystem surrounding the product.

For years success of Microsoft Windows has been attributed to the army of Independent Software Vendors and the ecosystem of applications on Windows making it the preferred desktop operating system in the world. The power of ecosystem is evident again when you look at the smartphone industry. Both Apple and Google have been able to create an ecosystem of applications on iOS and Android respectively making them the leaders in the industry.

Ecosystem is not important only in the computing world. It is prevalent in pretty much every industry out there. Take car rental industry as an example. Car rental is lot more than just the cars that are rented to the consumer. It’s the whole ecosystem consisting of elements like insurance of the cars, used car market, roadside support and so on. A consumer while renting a car leverages the entire ecosystem in the process.

The constituents of a product’s ecosystem varies from the social drivers to infrastructure support. It needs a lot of innovative thinking and a certain inclusiveness to bring in many players to be part of the game. It’s something that is in many cases essential for the viability of the product and provides unparalleled competitive advantage and a great deal of stickiness factor leading to customer retention.