Categories
Corporate Philosophy

How (some)Startups are Creating a Whole Generation of Disloyal Customers

Startups are good for economy. Startups are good for buyers. Startups are good for everyone in the society. Startups have immense potential of creating local employment and absorbing local talent. Startups also give a lot of business to local small scale vendors. Because of startups, buyers get a wide variety and highly customized product, catering to their part of the ‘long tail’. On the face of it, startups look so, so good. But still, many of the leading startups have changed the consumer mentality in a very harmful way.

Just a decade ago, brands used to sell on loyalty. The consumers or the buyers were loyal to a brand. Not like they never switched to other brand. If any of their trusted brands broke the promises it made, the buyer switched to the other brand. Trust was the parameter driving or ruining the business.

Now have look at the situation today. A typical buyer uses any particular brand till it gives a discount or only till it is running an offer. Once the discount or offer is gone, the buyer finds out the next brand giving similar discounts and the buyer switches. All that money which could go in increasing customer loyalty, is going into making them disloyal through discounts. As a result of this game of discounts, the buyer has become more selfish and disloyal.

Sadly, as a result of using discounts or offers as a strategy for customer acquisition and retention, a startup gets a little bit of success in attracting new users but it fails utterly to get further business. The pool of customers which it initially got, eventually runs to other brands. So many startups died this way in past couple of years.

On the contrary, one can find many brands which work by leveraging the loyalty and are growing slowly but steadily. Unfortunately, though people use Ola, Uber, Groffers or so many other services, they mostly look at them as transactional associates and not as ‘brands’. The guy who uninstalled one particular app last week and installed the other, won’t hesitate a bit to uninstall the later one and install a third app which offers a better discount. And so on…

Any idea where this is going?

 

 

Categories
Corporate Philosophy

Why Snapdeal (or even Flipkart or Amazon) can never unbox your life and what should one do to really unbox it!

Sometimes, especially when I am really tired or bored, I do enjoy watching action movies. It is a deliberate effort to help the brain to relax. For past few weeks, I can sense the aggressive advertisements and campaigns run by different e-tailers to empty out the pockets of customers as deeply as possible on the occasion of Diwali. Personally, I do not have any problem with people spending money and buying things online. Many of these ads directly hit on the typical Indian mindset- of using old stuff in the house carefully and preserving it for a long period. All these sellers have realized one basic fact- new stuff wont go in the houses unless the old stuff comes out.

In short, let it be Snapdeal or Amazon or any other e-tailer; they simply want you to buy more and will compel you to do anything- from throwing in the trash the old things that are working fine to give brand new cloths to your maids and staff so that you buy more from them. Though this type of marketing promotes consumerism, I am still okay with that. Everyone wants us to buy more and at a higher frequency and products are being designed to fail fast. I wont blame e-tailers for influencing the mentality of people in such a manner.

unboxing-the-life

What I do object is something more subtle. In order to sell more, sellers are falsely overstating the importance of material objects in our lives. Buying a new cell phone or a television with a bigger screen does nothing to make you happy and contended. It rather makes you further greedy- now you want even bigger one. Buying something cannot help you unbox your life; rather, it creates an object dependent mindset which actually puts you in a box and your entire life goes in the pursuit of enlarging the box.

It is a well known fact that shopping is a stress buster. In reality, it is a lie. Shopping is not a stress buster. Shopping, in reality, is like a pesticide; it kills the pest temporarily but the pest gets strengthened and the pesticide turns ineffective. You are again in search of a stronger pesticide. The cycle continues. The hollowness inside cannot be filled using the stuff available outside for sale.

How can we unbox our life in the true sense? Again, an answer from outside wont help. The only answer is- look within!

Categories
Corporate Philosophy

What Do We Need? ‘Startups’ or ‘Smartups’?

light-bulb-1681801_1280Last weekend, I was invited to conduct a full day session for co-founders of 22 startups, coming from the different parts of the country. The purpose of the session was enabling them to fine-tune their business plans which they would be presenting to potential investors after three days of intensive training.

All the co-founders had already shortlisted their ideas and some of them had a demo product and a few of them already had dozens of reference sites where their products were already being used. After interacting with these co-founders, I felt a bit sad. They had not bothered about or rather were ignoring many crucial questions. Here are some of the observations:

  1. Only one or two teams could define the problem that they were solving, at a generic level. Not a single team had done a good job of defining the problem that they are solving in black and white.
  2. Almost no one knew the market, the point of market entry, the size of market that could be captured and key financials such as ROI for the customer, cost of customer acquisition and life time revenues from one customer.
  3. Poor info about the competitors, their offering, opportunities and threats and key advantages offered by the products.
  4. No awareness about the industry – whether it is growing, shrinking, what are the specific challenges, collaborative efforts involved etc.

The list is quite long but I thought of listing the points I thought were most important. The purpose of sharing this is not criticizing anyone but highlight my point- Having your own startup is quite easy. Moving from startup to a ‘smartup’, where each of your actions is smart- based on data and adds value is very difficult.

In long term, startups who are also ‘smartups’ manage to succeed. Startups who cannot mature into ‘smartups’ fail miserably.

You still want to start just a startup?

Categories
Corporate Philosophy

The Downside of Apps and On-Demand Economy

I was in Hyderabad last week, sitting in my cab, insulated from the pollution all around me. The cab was air conditioned, had picked me up from a fancy apartment where we were staying and was supposed to drop me at the Salar Jung museum. Everything sounds great, except the fact that the Uber cab driver, who was driving me and my wife, would be spending ten more hours in his cab, driving through the insane traffic. Yet, he was happy, welcoming, and warm. He helped me to keep the luggage, and not to forget, suggested me couple of good places to dine at. I gave him a five star rating, enough to make him delighted. A five star rating ensures that he will get more rides, more money and sadly, more health problems.

As we were cutting through the traffic, ahead of me was a delivery boy, carrying a bag, roughly as big as he himself was. He was an integral (but easily disposable) part of the e-commerce community. I prayed for his back; which I knew will collapse in few more years and whatever money he earned, will probably go into fixing it.

 

The App economy works well; very well if you are the one who is using it and not getting used by it. It’s not only about the Apps, it is about our entire lifestyle. We had actually gone to Hyderabad to attend a friend’s wedding. The venue was grand, and the food spread wider than the imagination. It was a huge convention centre, able to handle a few thousand guests. As the wedding was about to get over, I went to the back side of the convention centre and found dozens of ladies, children and old persons sleeping on the grass; some of them were little kids of the waiters serving delicacies inside, some of them were the people who would be cleaning the venue when we all were done littering it.

I am wondering about the balance of opportunities generated versus the problems created by this kind of lifestyle of ours.

greybox

I am sure, there is a lot of employment generated because of the way we live and because of the Apps economy. But, I think it does more harm than the help. The people who we think are getting benefitted, i.e. the cab drivers, delivery boys, cleaners etc., sure, they are getting more income than what they otherwise would get. But, the cost which they will be paying back, looks much higher than what they are earning.

I happened to read a few detailed articles on internet about the consequences of this kind of work one the health of people who do it. For instance, delivery boys will find their backs dismantled (!) within a few years, the cab drivers will suffer from joints and nerves problems; just to mention a few.

Every time I go to the gate of my company to receive my Amazon or Flipkart shipment, the size of the bag makes me feel guilty. Whenever I sit in an Uber or Ola cab, I can make out that the driver will be in this box for the entire day and even till late night.

You can always make the argument- who is forcing them to join the work? They can stop being drivers, delivery boys or what so ever. Sadly, no one can afford to worry about the pain and suffering of the future at the cost of dying hungry today. It’s quite human to compromise on one’s health for more money.

The purpose of writing this article is not criticizing the companies that are being mentioned above or those which operate on a similar model and philosophy. The purpose is to remind ourselves that we are humans.

As human beings, we can live happily only if we care for other human beings. If consumers demand that proper care should be taken of the people working at the bottom of the system, it will be taken. If the consumers insist that they will make use of /buy from copmanies which take sufficient care of the people working for them, VCs will spend few million more dollars to ensure that it happens. As consumers, the onus is on us, to demand. Sadly, we are too busy calling cabs and ordering rolls on the go and do not pay a dime to other human beings and their basic welfare.

 

 

Categories
Corporate Philosophy

The idea of Impact

To define it is actually difficult to experience it is very easy and I say this from an experience.
While speaking about social organizations we come across the tough question of measuring their impact. When faced by this question we discuss quantitative and qualitative parameters which can evaluate the work of the organization.  We also think about sharing case studies and stories of the beneficiaries.

For a moment let us leave aside all that we know about impact,  it’s assessment and parameters.  Let’s first ask a better question- what is impact?  We all know that whatever we do has an impact,  but what does that really mean in the real life? In human life impact means a change. Change can be permanent or temporary but when humans come in picture this change is always permanent. Let me illustrate this with an example- the human habit of spitting on road is an impact of what habits human has acquired by observing. When someone creates an awareness about the harmful effects of spitting in public places the real impact would mean a change in behavior and not just awareness about the information  that spitting on roads is bad.

Increasing level of awareness, knowledge and creating advocates of rights is not an impact at all. I make this statement because I see that these things actually have no impact. The only utility of such exercises is the symbolic ‘inspirational’ value and that symbolical inspiration to change something can be better acquired from individual examples rather than a herd of ‘informed’ group of activists. When activism confines itself to awareness it is dead, without any life. And anything without life can never create an impact.

Thus impact means change for real. Change in actions. This is certainly difficult but not impossible.  We may may not be able to write a 100 page annual report about our social initiatives but we may be able to know how many lives have we changed for real, actually. The road is tough as it is the one which has been less traveled but you can be inspired from some of these shining stars like Baba Amte, Kiran Khalap, Satish Kamat or APJ Abdul Kalam or even you yourself who is trying to get better each day. We all definitely remember at least one school teacher who inspired us, who influenced us deeply. We all know the the name of one author who persuaded us to think. These people and their work with people is impactful. We all know the experience we have had with the change makers in our lives but we don’t know the details of actually what they did.

That is why I say that impact is difficult to define but easy to experience. We all have the chance to impact each other. Just go and do it, our hearts know the way.

Categories
Corporate Philosophy Society Uncategorized

Center of Decentralization

We speak about decentralization and empowering multiple stake holders to enhance impact of any kind of work that we plan to do. We may be working in an office or in a village on a project. We keep saying that we need people to own processes, outcomes and impact. We also often find it difficult to let go of the control as we are not sure if everyone else will work with same efficiency, same intentions, same approach as we have. We are also often unsure of the pace at which the project will move forward and are skeptical if decentralization will help us be time bound and professional. Our political system also speaks highly about decentralization but fails to accept it truly because of the same reasons. We all know what really keeps us away from decentralization but we have hardly tried to understand what makes decentralization the key to sustainability.

Almost no roads...
Tough terrain does not stop Rajwadi from dreaming.

Being at Rajwadi has helped me identify the center of decentralization. Rajwadi, a small village in Ratnagiri district of the Maharashtra state functions on decentralization. You find that there is no one person in-charge of any work in the village. Many people take lead and anchor various projects but the village has many faces. Every decision is taken mutually after discussion. Every project is implemented after consensus and debate. You will be able to find many leaders and many followers. You will be able to find many thinking souls with opinions which are debated and discarded but always valued.
Examples like Rajwadi are not miracles which happen in split seconds; there is always a long list of mindful actions behind such system. What makes Rajwadi projects perfectly decentralized? How has Rajwadi been able to sustain such high decentralization in spite of all the challenges that they face? They also (like any other society) have people who are disinterested, who have lost hopes, who are complacent, who are complaining etc. What is special about Rajwadi and the people here?
Rajwadi actually functions on trust. No person, representative or leader has work timings, working days but rather has certain roles and responsibilities. Every month the village has a monthly meeting to discuss monthly activities and grievances. Every project group meets once a week to discuss their issues and solutions. No decision is taken by an individual but the community or the group owns the responsibility. Rajwadi is not perfect, we must remember. Nothing is perfect. But it is definite that this imperfection drives us (humans) towards excellence. They have a lot of challenges and tremendous group dynamics but yet they have not lost hope in people; in ‘their’ people. They trust each other and wish the best to each other. They all help each other when they struggle.

Rajwadi Vegetable selling Project
Rajwadi Community Vegetable Farming Project  supplies fresh and organic vegetables to the nearby town of Ratnagiri.

Rajwadi culture is different from what we find in traditional companies, factories, offices. Rjwadi culture is actually closer to what professionals’ term as ‘start-up’ culture. It is open, based on trust, morally accountable; with no hierarchy and limited monitoring. These uneducated rural individuals are more progressive than scholars in our cities. We still have the real hope in our villages! We need to be a lot more humble to learn from these humans who work in farms and sleep under trees. These people have taught me the core of decentralization; which no civics text book or political science professor could help me learn.
Decentralization means trusting and being able to trust is difficult but not impossible.

Small dam built by Rajwadi villagers.
Small dam built by Rajwadi villagers.
Categories
Corporate Philosophy Uncategorized

The Fastest Way of…..(Probably Fooling Yourself!)

The fastest way of learning is not the best way of learning.
The fastest way of driving is not the best way of driving.
The fastest way of teaching is not the best way of teaching.
The fastest way of shaving is not the best way of shaving.

The fastest way of ……….. is not the best way of ……….

I hope you agree. Then why do people look for fastest way of attaining anything or doing something?
Over the period, we have become very smart at identifying needs, coming up with a product or service to fill the gap and market it aggressively. The reason I realized this so gravely is the following Twitter notification which I got today morning:

The Fastest way

Soon after reading this tweet, I acknowledged the human urge or tendency of doing things faster. I do not know, what makes us so time conscious but one thing is for sure- today, we want everything to be done quickly; let it be profits in my new start-up or awakening my Kundalini.
For the sake of it, let us not enter the debate, whether something like Kundalini exists or not. Let us assume that it exists. Come with me a step ahead and believe that it needs to be awakened. I am not bothered about people trying to awaken and raise their Kundalini but I am certainly amused by people who claim they can do it faster. Why do we consider fastest way of awakening Kundalini (or anything for that matter) to be better than the best way of doing that thing?
When a tutor comes up with a super-fast method of teaching a course, he can make more money. When a BPO comes up with a super-fast way of answering complaints over telephone, they are making more money. Similarly, when someone comes up with a fast way of awakening Kundalini, can we assume that he wants to make more money?
When we choose the fastest way, we are going away from the best way. It is quite disheartening to see folks speeding on the fastest ways. Things which are worthy to be made can never be made out of the fastest way. Things which are worth attaining, can never be attained by following the fastest way.
Whenever you think of starting something, always ask yourself this question- ‘Do I want to make something which will make a difference?’
If your answer is yes, you better take the best way, not the fastest way. This is brutal and honest truth- the fastest way is the fastest way of fooling yourself.
Sadly, in our lives, we always choose the fast ways and not the best ways of doing anything.

Go to Home Page >

Does God Exist?

Categories
Corporate Philosophy

The Reverse Car Parking Strategy- Golden Way to Increase Productivity

reverse car parking strategy
The Reverse Car Parking Strategy

We can learn a lot from observing and understanding how people park their cars. Normally, there are two possible ways in which you can park your car; one is your car faces the wall and the other is, you park it in reverse so that the back of the car faces the wall.

What is advantage or disadvantage of parking your car in any of these two ways? It is pretty clear that parking car in such a way that it faces the wall takes much lesser time than parking it in the reverse way. This very well justifies the fact that almost 99% of people park their car in such a way that it faces the wall.

On the other hand, when you have to leave, a car parked in the reverse way comes out straight within no time whereas the car which we park hurriedly, facing the wall takes some time.

Which way of parking is preferred over the other?

When I gave this a thought, I realized that usually, when we are not in hurry, we should always spend some time and park the car in the reverse way; because if any emergency comes, you can take it out within a moment. Honestly, we always try to finish things up as soon as possible and do not spend extra time doing them in proper way. And we often pay the cost of this unjustified hurry in case of emergency.

Hence, as a strategy, we should always park our car in reverse way. This does not stop here; we can apply this philosophy to almost any work which we do- right from pointing down the minutes of a meeting to proper filing.

Consider an example of filing papers on time. Most of us simply stack the important papers where we can find space- in drawers, on tables, in random files and folders. And then, one day, suddenly we are asked for some paper out of the bundle of dozens of such dis-organized paper and we can hardly find it.

Same holds true for labeling emails and transferring downloaded files to their respective folders.

I remember one incidence from my own life. I was working on very important Excel document and just out of sheer laziness, instead of using ‘save as’ option, I just randomly saved it in some random folder with some default random name. I was on vacation for few days after that. After coming back, I never needed that file. Almost three months later, I was urgently asked for some data which was tabulated in that Excel and as you can imagine, I was totally blank and clueless. After spending four hours, I could find that file!

But, had I saved the document with a proper name and at the proper location, it would have saved all the trouble.

The reverse car parking strategy taught me one very important thing- if you have time, do your work in such a way and to such an extent that it will be available within no time during emergency!