Be warned of the Culture of Excess

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The big moves, are made to polarize. You can’t win everyone, at the sametime, it is important to let go of those who aren’t pretty much bhakts of what it is that you are building to get to the finish line. But you can also lose your right hand man if you decide to go the other extreme.

When I saw pictures of the Flipkart office, I knew Amazon had won the war.

In the west, entrepreneurship is a bug that bites you when you are in school (college). Hence the reason why there is an ecosystem around Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley etc. In India, it is the org where you get your first job. It defines, well, it will define who you are and how you think. Unfortunately, if you worked in one of the top four body shops, getting one to have an eye for detail is next to impossible – there are rare ones though.

Workspace sets culture. I would close my eyes and back an entrepreneur who comes from Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo or Bosch. These are entrepreneurial orgs, and there is a culture of frugality and innovation built into their genes. People work hard, without expecting to be pampered. They don’t expect an art gallery to work out of. Art galleries aren’t productive spaces. And startups and offices are quarries, not galleries.

I still remember the story of Amazon, where they refused to spend money on fancy tables. So they took doors, put it on four legs and used them as tables. Startup legend says, there are still offices where they have those tables.

“These desks serve as a symbol of frugality and a way of thinking. It’s very important at to make sure that we’re spending money on things that matter to customers,” said Bezos, 34. “There is a culture of self-reliance. (With the low-tech desks) . . . we can save a lot of money.”

Take the other extreme, where we have struggled turning entrepreneurs out of google engineers. They are given in to a culture of excess, and that is death in the startup world. Bring them into a startup and they expect free flowing food, colorful bean bags, unlimited computing resources and the attitude of “It doesn’t make business sense, but why not?” Sure, corporates that are lost in the dark with 1% of your products generating cash, taking blind shots can adapt that strategy, but such attitude in a startup is death. You can only afford to swing once or twice and miss, in the startup world.

So, they have set the tone for polarization. Here’s an org that survived through the dot com bust, is known for frugality and is publicly traded (and even though hasn’t made profit, is well regarded). And then there is this new kid in the block, who owned a subcontinent, and is now starting to give into excess.

Funny thing is, orgs like Google and Facebook and even microsoft can afford to give into excess. They have margins to be able to do that. All said and done, at the end of the day, Flipkart is a trading site, where they make margins out of goods sold. Close your eyes, imagine the biggest distributor in the world and imagine their offices. I’d guess it doesn’t look like an art gallery. Someone had made the decision, that they are going to go the way of the excess (not with money earned but with borrowed money), that unfortunately isn’t going to last long. Worse, you are also ruining a whole new wave of entrepreneurs who probably took the first job there, with a culture of excess.

If there is a war coming, and one that you need to win, you need by your side an army that gets the vision of what you are trying to accomplish (and makes the sacrifice to stand by your side). If you have to get people moving with facade and glamour, there is a chance that you don’t have a purpose to paint, just fashion. Fashion fades. Purpose wins the war for you.



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Every Friggin Grocery Shopping App is Broken.

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There is so much money going into all these grocery startups, but i have a feeling that fundamentally the whole experience is flawed. Browsing through categories in an app is so tedious that I’d give up, if I have to do this every week over and over again.

I actually tried shopping for the list once, using – It was hopeless. I realized half the items were not available. My cook is also picky to the point of the brand of flour we use. at home my mom does the same thing. It is better not to buy at all, rather than buy a different brand.
So, I gave up and went to the grocery store. it took me far less time picking things out of a grocery store with a cart, than it did with an app. Well, caveat, I know what is where in which aisle in the grocery store by now, but I’m never able to predict what goes into what category in an app.

See, weirdly a grocery store is not categorized. If you notice closely you will realize there is a flow, it starts with ice creams, bread, eggs, milk right near the entrance (stuff that is often bought), and once you go past, its the munchies, and then the coffee stuff, leading to the pickles, leading to oil, spices, rice, grains and pulses, and the you’ll see islands where the detergents and other stuff are kept. Its like there is an invisible flow, you kinda can anticipate what comes next. You don’t hop from one aisle to another (like a category), you naturally flow into it.

The only time you look up (for category aisles) are when you are lost, or are coming to a store for the first time.

A really good grocery app – for that matter even if Flipkart goes mobile app only, has to be like that. Easy to browse, without killing us with categories and trying to make us guess. Nobody has that kind of patience.

Well, that’s a design problem. If you cant solve that, here’s a cheaper, faster, easier way to do this. Let me click the list I get from my maid and at times my mom and upload it to you. You either do magic or have people sitting there who convert it into a list and tell me price / amount. I can then add / remove things to the “basket” and check out. Imagine, me clicking and sending you a photo of a list with quantities and brands marked next to it. You can send me back a list with whatever you can recognize (I can’t guess a few things on the list at times), and suggest alternatives for what you dont have. I can quickly accept, reject, opt out and should be good to go. You don’t even keep inventory and are sourcing from nearby merchants, cant you atleast make my life easier by making the shopping list process easier rather than making me pay by putting out an app that belongs in the mid 90s?

Upsell, me on the add-ons and whats beyond the list (essentially the shelf near the cash counter when last minute tic tacs and gums are bought), cause I am quite set on those essentials and am just wasting time, browsing through categories.

Whoever gets that right, will blow all these bigbasket and peppertap fellows out of the water.

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Thoughts on Finding a Mentor

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To get a mentor, and to even make use of them well, you need to be able to ask the right questions. You need to mature first on your perspective as an entrepreneur (and fundamentally a human being) in order to be able to do that.

No mentor, or respectable one, enjoys spending time with a child. The one thing every mentor revels in, is in seeing a perspective that is deeper than his, but lacks experience. That’s where mentorship becomes a mutually beneficial relationship; One built on respect, rather than old school rules of unconditional devotion.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

“The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Luke 6:40

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Getting your first 300 Customers (B2C)

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A lot depends on the kind of business you are running, the target segment etc. I’d do as much as refining and narrowing down as early as possible – because every segment that isnt a direct fit, but is getting bombarded either walks away with negativity and more importantly is a waste of valuable money.

I’d leverage your social media for all its worth. Craft a messaging that targets the first segment of market that you believe is a very close fit to. Identify two more such market segments. Download your entire social database – be it on linkedin, facebook, email etc, and see if you can find 200 people (handpick them) who fit into each of these segments.

For eg. Lets say you are running a baby care portal, and you segment it by demographics, age group etc, and narrow it down to two or three different key segments that you believe will strongly convert, the key is to identify 200 of such segments from your own network. Add offline ones like family, relatives, friends all into that mix. This is very important.

Send out the link, talk to them, hand out brochures, and see for two signs:

1. Visits and final conversions (in this case, a transaction)
2. Repeat purchases and visits – is any of them coming back a second time and buying anything or transacting with your system.

Take all three segments, and track back to which segment has the highest visits and final conversions (one time), and which one is doing better on the repeat puchases and visits. (You can finetune visits to purchases later on).

Once you identify one segment, then its a matter of how to scale this up. You have numbers on total visits and conversions, so you’ll know the math on what is a “sustainable” number to bid for when you do ads. You should also keep in mind that this “baseline” is the best possible scenario – most probably your conversions will be lower, since it will be to strangers, rather than to folks you know of.

Take that one segment, run two three different kinds of campaigns, and two three different kinds of channels and see what works. Keep fine tuning, keep what works, kill what doesnt. Rinse, repeat.

The third way to grow is strategic tie ups. Lets assume that once you figure who your Wow customer is (the customer who will love you for the service you are building and will cry when you shut down), if you know of a existing entity that caters to that same audience, you can figure if there is a way to do a joint marketing program, or an affiliate program to get some of that customers with a big bump. But most will charge an upfront fee, so its important that you know it will convert well upfront, or you’ll lose money again.

Hope this helps. Its not exhaustive, but you get a sense of what marketing and customer onboarding in a consumer company is like. Perhaps others can add to this.

PS: Dont bother yourself with what worked for others. Most marketing campaigns only work once. What happened for whatsapp wont work for hike. And that time and instance rarely repeats. Case in point is Dropbox giving extra space for referrals, but the same strategy for box never worked.

So instead of trying to replicate Whatsapp’s strategy, go back to the fundamentals and figure what makes a lot of sense for your service and product instead.

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