India must embrace Data Democracy

In May of 2017, the cover of the Economist proclaimed that Data is  “The world’s most valuable resource”. The proof of this proclamation can be seen by the domination of Tech Giants in virtually all major global markets. Moreover, they are quickly gaining ground & unseating incumbents in more traditional industries such as transportation, media, entertainment, advertising and payments. In the talk embedded below, I explain why this is a strategic challenge for India.

Fuelling the rapid growth of tech giants is the Data of users such as you and me. For Data controllers, Data is the ultimate truth about what your customers like, dislike, need, and pay for. With the power of AI, Data knows when, where, and how much their customers will pay, even before they do. This can be seen in all markets disrupted by Data giants, who have consistently outgrown competition and established their dominance. I present some examples in my slides embedded below.

Moreover, the virtuous cycle of data feeds itself. More Data helps create better products. Better products have more users, who in turn, create more Data. This property of Data creates winner-take-all scenarios.

Data controllers understand this new power equation, and have rushed to create platforms. Platforms accelerate the creation of new and engaging products. Other companies, even competitors, are invited to build products on the platform. Large platforms then become the fertile grounds upon which all user interactions take place, and the data of those interactions is captured by the underlying platform alone

Data is being locked into silos, so that the value extracted from the data does not have to be shared with anyone, not even with the users who helped create it. This sort of Data Domination, does not leave any oxygen for challengers to outgrow the giants. For such a powerful resource, that can change the face of $100B+ industries seemingly overnight, we seem to have very few regulations around it.

The problems around Data represent a triple-threat. We need to rethink Anti-Trust, Privacy & Data Colonization in the light of Data Domination. It is clear that the issues around data are not just a technology issue, but also a policy one.

The argument here is not protectionism, it is that under the current regulatory & market conditions, Data accumulates in the hands of a few, and hence, so does power. This holds true equally for foreign as well as domestic firms. The EU is notifying the General Data Protection Regulation, a set of data protection measures placing extensive restrictions and penalties on data controllers. Similar protection as well as anti-trust efforts are underway in US, Japan and even the UK. But these countries don’t share the same socio-economic context as India.

India also managed to jump ahead of the curve in developing digital infrastructure as public goods. We have a billion users on the JAM trinity. We have strong national-level platforms such as GSTN, BBPS and UPI. The government has also developed the India Stack, a set of Open APIs that enable paperless, presenceless and cashless transactions dramatically driving down the cost of transactions. Between Telecom-OTP, Aadhaar Authentication and UPI PIN, we have three unique methods of authentication, that can be mixed and matched to design the level of security and robustness required.

With such a strong digital spine and a growing mobile-first citizenry, India can make a significant departure and develop a unique model for data protection as well as empowerment. We need to proclaim that users have a right to access their own data and should be able to share it in a safe, consented manner with anyone they choose. This is an inversion of the usage and ownership of data.

Inverting the Data is only about giving the user freedom and choice. The freedom to share their data, and the choice of multiple providers. Data portability will empower users to choose what their data is used for. Being able to share a rich data history, increases trust in transactions. This choice of sharing is as relevant for a rural farmer as much for an urban millennial. The more reliable and accurate data you share, the better the interest rates on a loan, whether you’re buying a tractor or a sedan.

To empower users with Data, there are 3 steps India needs to undertake. First, we need to convince the government to open up big public data sets for users to consume. This includes data from national platforms such as GSTN, BBPS, etc. Second, regulators need to open up the data sets in their jurisdiction in a standard, machine-readable format. Third, we need a policy intervention to allow for the free flow of data with user consent in the private, unregulated spheres.

In today’s world, Data is power. History has shown us time and again, that we must not let power accumulate in the hands of the few. Instead we must empower all with their data. Your Data is your vote, and you should be able to choose whom you give it to. With 3 simple steps, India can lead the world in demonstrating a true Data Democracy.

A New Tryst with Destiny

On Aug 15th 1947 at the dawn of India’s political Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his “Tryst with Destiny” midnight speech. In 1991, India gained economic freedom from a clutch of socialist era shackles. In 2017, it is time for India to redeem its “pledge in full measure” towards freedom of the individual and enterprise to achieve its destiny.

Today, as India completes its 70th year, we need to, as is customary, take stock. India is a $2.2trillion consumption-led economy today, growing at about 6.5 percent, with a 250m in the middle-class out of 1.3billion, and at an average of 29years old, the youngest population in the world among major economies. Life expectancy is at about 68 years while literacy is at 79%.  About 31% of India resides in urban areas. India’s forex reserves were at $386billion in June 2017 up from $5.83billion (~3.5months of imports) in 1991. We now have about 799 Universities and 50,994 colleges with about 34million students in higher education.

While very impressive strides have been made in many areas, it is important that we keep in mind the fact that 15% of the world lives in India and over 68%  ie about 700million of our people live on less than US$2 a day. Over 17 million people are born (equivalent to the population of The Netherlands), an estimated 40million are unemployed, 47million youth drop out of school by 10th standard, healthcare related expenses push over 60million people into poverty each year,  500,000 students graduate each year from various colleges and over 12 million join the workforce each year. The investment required to educate, feed, train, and employ these large numbers into gainful jobs is in the lakhs of crores. Where will this money come from if not from economic activity and from creation of millions of jobs?  Where will the water and sanitation, education, travel, housing, electricity, entertainment, banking and financial services that need to be provided to these huge numbers come from?

For far too long, we have been plagued by poverty – of ideas, of ideology and of course economically. Misplaced socialistic policies in the early years of India ensured that poverty was distributed while cronyism ensured that a few made unconscionable amounts of money and enjoyed the trappings of power.

Jobs and solutions are created by entrepreneurs and those who are entrepreneurial in their thinking. Governments are facilitators and regulators to make sure that everyone’s playing fairly and by the rules. Wealth is then created by entrepreneurial actions. Only when wealth is created, can there be investments in creating the support infrastructure and services necessary for India to seriously consider redeeming its pledge in its tryst with destiny.  And a crucial pre-requisite for this is the need for an entrepreneurial mindset among different stakeholders. A mindset that challenges status-quo, propels growth, engenders innovative problem solving, embraces ideas, technology and models, and delivers benefits to people.

Fortunately, India has no shortage of entrepreneurs, of all kinds! There are born entrepreneurs, some become entrepreneurs and others have entrepreneurial thinking thrust on them thanks to circumstances! In 2017, as the landmark $2.5b Softbank-Flipkart deal shows, Indian entrepreneurs have come of age.  The Indian startup entrepreneur is educated, aware, unafraid, confident, assertive and, are unabashedly Indian.  Today, the Indian startup ecosystem is the 3rd largest in the world with over 26,000 startups and with over $90billion in value being created. 

This century will be driven by knowledge based capital with software as engine. India is recognised, regarded and respected for its software prowess built on the success of Indian IT services which deliver over $170billion in revenue and employ over 4million people today. Indian talent runs software giants like Google and Microsoft and powers thousands around the world from Silicon Valley to Singapore, Boston to Bangalore. India’s ability to leverage this talent, create and deploy knowledge based capital will be key.  New technologies, models,  affordability, policies are all helping India rapidly emerge as a key player in the 21st century knowledge economy.

Regulators and governments are waking up to the transformative power of innovation via startups. Policies are being re-worked, technology platforms are being deployed and programmes being launched to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.  Digital India, Startup India, India Stack and other programmes are being co-opted to drive financial inclusion, education, healthcare, and governance.  Startup hubs, incubators and accelerators, entrepreneurship groups, are sprouting across cities and towns in India. Costs of doing business, ease of doing business have to come down dramatically and there’re initiatives underway to make those happen.

In 1929 in Lahore, a call for “Purna Swaraj” a declaration of India’s Independence was given and Gandhiji hoisted the Indian flag.  No one knew how or when this would happen but it was an audacious goal, a call to action that drove the people to achieve their goal in 18 years.  Is it possible, similarly, for us today to set a goal that will galvanise us to action to achieve what seems audacious? Is it possible for startups to enable India to leapfrog and transform itself? Could we have a 10year goal calling for 100,000 startups, benefitting 10million people, impacting 40million people, uplifting 30million MSMEs, creating $500billion in value? Is it possible for us to imagine that each of us, in our lifetimes, creates – either directly or indirectly – a 100 jobs? Can these 100,000 startups – with educated, experienced, entrepreneurial and energetic founders– each  take up this challenge? Ten million jobs can be created by this group, indirectly benefiting 40 million?

If it is possible, it is do-able!

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishada has this to say:

“You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

Do we desire this strongly enough?

Build On IndiaStack – Venture Pitch Competition

Announcing ‘Venture Pitch Competition: #BuildOnIndiaStack’

Dalberg and iSPIRT invite applications from early-stage ventures that are tech-
based solutions leveraging the India Stack platform at the core of their business
model to bring financial or transactional services to the underserved in India.
Pitch to some of the leading investors and thinkers in the Indian start-up ecosystem,
including the Bharat Innovations Fund, Omidyar Network and Unitus Seed Fund.
Winners will spend an hour of 'Think Time' – a mentorship session with
technology evangelist Nandan Nilekani.

Who are we looking for?

We are open to all innovations that use the India Stack to unlock new business
models or reach previously underserved new customer segments across sectors
such as financial services, education, healthcare and others. Some core focus areas
for the competition may include digital lending and supporting activities, such as
alternative credit scoring; sector specific affordable digital finance services such as
health insurance or education loans; sector specific digital services such as skilling
and certification, property registration agreements, patient-centric healthcare
management; and SaaS platforms “as a service” that support the development of
other India Stack based innovations such as Digi-locker or e-sign providers.

 

Who is eligible?
All applicants should:
1. Meet the 3-point criteria: tech enabled, leveraging India Stack Platform and
serving the underservedBe

2. Be a part of two (minimum) to four (maximum) members team including the
founder of the companyBe early stage start-ups that have received only seed (or limited angel)

3. Be early stage start-ups that have received only seed (or limited angel)
funding, if at all

 
What is in it for you?
The investor group, comprising of Bharat Innovations Fund, Omidyar Network and
Unitus Seed Fund, is a network of investors and operators, entrepreneurs and
technologists, designers and engineers, academicians and policy makers, with the
singular mission to solve some of India’s toughest problems.

Through this event you have an opportunity to receive:

-Exclusive focus on tech innovations that leverage the India Stack platform
and have the potential to address the underservedFlexible

-Flexible, insight driven, funding of up to Rs. 8 lakhs for early stage, innovative
modelsStrategic

-Strategic business support, through their specialists to support investees in
their strategy and growthA chance to be a part of the India Stack ecosystem through partnerships,

-A chance to be a part of the India Stack ecosystem through partnerships,
pilots, workshops, conferences and network building exercises

Visit www.buildonindiastack.in and send your pitch now.

Innofest to Innonation

Evolving from a festival of innovation to a platform helping innovators to succeed…

Over the past 3 years, while volunteering for Innofest – the platform for hardware entrepreneurs – I realized two things:

  • Doing a hardware product in India is much tougher ….
  • … but there are several resources available across the country that can make it easier for hardware companies to succeed

What was needed is a way to connect those who need the assistance and advice to those who can help and are willing to help.

The goal of this group of 10-12 individuals who selflessly give their time in organising various initiatives and events under the Innofest umbrella is to make it easier for first-time entrepreneurs and to assist them in their journey. We deliberately chose to focus on startups and individuals who were using hardware and technology to solve meaningful problems. Because that is the most underserved section of the entrepreneurial eco-system.

The initial 2 years were invested in reaching out to hardware entrepreneurs and enablers who can assist them – maker spaces, companies, mentors, investors, etc., and bringing them together to interact with each other. As with many other sectors, in hardware led innovation too, resources were concentrated in 3-4 cities, while innovators were spread across the country. These innovators usually worked on their own, often spending time and energy and money on aspects that had already been solved by someone else. Getting together problem solvers and innovation enablers was a critical first step. And the community responded enthusiastically. Over 1800 innovators turned up at the inaugural in Bangalore. Since then we have taken the initiative to Hyderabad, Jaipur, Nagpur and other cities. In fact, Prathibha Sastry, the key volunteer driving Innofest took two ‘yatras’ – once driving from Bangalore to Delhi and once Bangalore to Assam – to find innovators in small towns and tier 2 cities across India.

What she unearthed was awe-inspiring – folks who were solving local problems with their frugal innovations. However, many of these enterprising folks did not consider themselves as entrepreneurs. For them, they were just using their ingenuity and creativity in addressing a problem that they or someone in their family or community faced. They were solving for Bharat. And that we feel is the real opportunity. To encourage these inspired, enterprising and creative problem solvers to get their innovations to solve problems at a much larger scale than they have currently envisaged. To help spread their innovations to places that can benefit from these innovations. I.e. find innovators and help them in their entrepreneurial journey.

To do that, it was important that we shift gears. And at Innofest, we have.

We now have extended the goals to not just curate and connect innovators and enablers, but to also undertake programs and initiatives that will increase the chances of success of these innovations. These include providing better access to resources like maker spaces, working with large corporates in helping drive their innovation programs, creating better access to capital and markets, creating a pool of mentors, etc.

Indeed, from being a festival or celebration of innovation, Innofest is now a platform for innovators to succeed in solving problems and making our country a better place. And hence, we have also taken the bold step to change our name from Innofest to Innonation, which means using innovation to improve the nation.

Whether you are an innovator, or want to volunteer, or a company that wants to support innovation or a co-working space or maker space, do connect with us at Innonation. We need a lot more people in making this volunteer-driven platform successful.

To get a ringside view of the innovation happening across India, join us at the flagship event in Bangalore on 26th August. If you are into solving a problem for Bharat, check the agenda to see what workshops and events are most relevant for you.

See you at Innonation. The country needs you to be there.

Prajakt Raut

Founder –  Applyifi

 

 

What I learnt from organising 100 #PlaybookRT. #iSPIRT

When I was a kid, the only goal that I had in my mind was to become a cricketer and play for India. But never did I get an opportunity to play beyond the gully cricket and few matches as part of the school cricket team and my cricket was just restrained to the park level.

My dreams of scoring a century have now finally been full-filled. Playbook RT, something that started in the early days of iSPIRT, turns 100. This is my first century, the gully cricket ones not withstanding.

Our elevator pitch — took us 15 sessions to get to this.

As crisp as that sounds, it took us around 15 Round Tables to distill this elevator pitch, and truly understand our own product-market fit.

This is the story of how it all began, and of the amazing journey, the lessons, the people who made it all possible. For those of you who love visuals more or are pressed for time, there is a photo-story at the end of this post — please feel free to scroll to the end of this post for that.

Inthe early days of iSPIRT, Sharad(iSPIRT) initiated the process of the mentoring program with Ashish Gupta(HelionVC), Aneesh Reddy(Capillary), Vivek Subramaniam(iCreate/Fintellix) in order to put together a mentorship program for product companies. We iterated over 10–12 calls about the format, audience, focus and how things will be run. Once everything was nailed down, Ashish took the lead of curating the first playbook and the facilitator was Shankar Maruwada(EkStep).

You can see the level of planning which went behind the scenes of the first playbook.

Planning for the First Playbook led by Shankar Maruwada(EkStep)

Pallav Nadhani(FusionCharts) & Ambarish Gupta(Knowlarity) were part of the first playbook and added lot of valuable insights and others benefitted from this learnings.

Ashish was a splendid host for the first playbook. I still remember the yummy samosas and kachoris that we got during the break and I still remember Ashish helping his office boy in serving tea to all the participants. I was blown away by the simplicity and the humbleness of Ashish. Thanks to Nikhil Kulkarni(Flipkart) for capturing all learnings in a subtle way.

The next goal was to conduct Playbooks around Product Management & Sales in different cities. I remember Amit Ranjan(then Slideshare) & Amit Somani(then MakeMyTrip) helping us with the Product Management Roundtable in Delhi and Aneesh Reddy(Capillary) helped in curating the Playbook. Ankur Singla(then Akoksha) then did a wonderful piece on Notes on Product Management — insights from Slideshare / MMT / ex-Google PM.

Amit Somani(then at MakeMytrip) & Amit Ranjan(then at Slideshare) led the playbook

Ashish Gupta also helped in connecting with Samir Palnitkar(ShopSocially)who kicked off the PlaybookRT in Pune. Sandeep Todi(then Emportant)helped with the blog on Challenges in Building a Global Product Software company from India. It was a little challenge initially to get the right audience, but we just got few good people like Mohit Garg(MindTickle) help in inviting few founders for this playbook.

I got to read a wonderful blog post by Sridhar Ranganathan on Products and I did reach out to him to see if he could help us with the Playbooks. He liked the idea and Aneesh did the selling to him. Sridhar travelled to different cities and did the first playbook for us in Chennai & Hyderabad.

The attendance for the Hyderabad playbook was thin, but the session was very interactive and the 7–8 folks who attended, had a lot to take away from the discussion. Here is what was captured by one of the attendees Don’t try to solve every customer problem by a line of code.

I learnt a lot from Sridhar’s playbook on product management. Vijay Sharma(then Exotel) captured the learnings of the playbook here Product RoundTable Bangalore @ Vizury Office

Sridhar Ranganathan(Credibase) leading the Product Management Roundtable at Orangescape

We did a late beginning for Mumbai and thanks to Avlesh(WebEngage) for helping us in starting the movement with Sandeep’s support. Avlesh disappeared in the middle of the playbook and he had lots of documents to sign as it was a saturday… But I remember Sandeep holding the fort till Avlesh came back and shared his learnings of building WebEngage.

One of the early playbooks on positioning that Shankar Maruwada(EkStep) did at Freshdesk just to get Girish hooked on to the format 🙂

Organizing and hosting a playbook is no small feat. It has taken us a lot of time to put together the following checklist. Feel free to use it if you would like to put together something similar for your community. We have built new initiatives like Cohorts, etc using the same principles.

iSPIRT was misspelt most of the times in the early days 🙂

Curator Checklist

  • There cannot be more than 12–14 participants. The sweet spot is 10–12 participants. Minimum number is 5.
  • We must select participants with similar levels of maturity in the context of the topic. (Over time we should develop a predicted coherence score and see if that prediction is valid based on post-RT data collection.)
  • Adequate discussion should take place with the Facilitator on the topic. It should be sufficiently narrow. It should not be about batting as a whole but about how to play leg-spinners. There would be a Plan B by the Facilitator if the topic ends up being too narrow. It is wiser to err on the side of being too narrow, rather than being too broad.
  • It is mandatory to for a first-time Facilitator to attend a PlaybookRT for at least one hour.
  • Curator should discuss Facilitator checklist. This discussion should happen before selection of the topic.
  • Four weeks advance notice should be given for PlaybookRT if it is not tapping into a pre-curated participant list (e.g. BEX or InTech50). This is to ensure cross-city participation.
  • Postmortem call (30 mins) is mandatory. Participant feedback and other learning should be discussed in this call. At the end of the call Curator should assign an overall rating (on a scale of 5) to the PlaybookRT.
  • Participant feedback for NPS Score must be collected.

Facilitator Checklist

  • You must select a topic that you are comfortable with. You must have expert practitioner knowledge about this topic.
  • You should reach out to startups to scope out the specific topic areas you’ll cover.
  • You should be part of the curation (i.e. shortlisting) of the participants… you must try and get participants at the same level.
  • You must do the homework on the final participants. You must learn about the startups by visiting their website. You must also understand the challenges faced and expectations from the PlaybookRT (this information is in the form filled by the participant).
  • Identify 2–3 participants that could be anchor attendees — folks who will trigger conversations and also add value to the conversations.
  • Engage the participants for the first 30–45 mins to break the ice. You should go beyond introductions — Something on the lines of: We are struggling to do xyz. The goal is to create an atmosphere of trust so that they spell out more details.
  • Participants are continuously requested to chime in with their views. You should also make sure that everyone speaks in the room. For instance, Shankar Maruwada asks very specific questions to participants along the way. He is able to do this because he has done homework on each participant beforehand.
  • Seating should be such that people can see each other.
  • Make sure that the focus area of the RoundTable is 6–8 points. It is difficult for participants to retain more than.
  • Encourage the usage of whiteboard with participants. This allows people to change position and brings energy in the room. Peer learning is vitally important. Don’t be a sage on stage.
  • Share list of books/videos/tools that participants should use after the RT.
  • Ensure there is a break taken after 150 minutes.
  • At the end, summarise key learnings by each participant. Everyone speaks for at least 2–3 mins.

My job has been very simple, just keep hunting for the Curators & Facilitators and allow them to make the magic happen 🙂

Access the complete list of PlaybookRoundtables here. Some learnings from the Playbook Roundtables have been captured here by my friend Rajan(then Intuit). 90% of the Playbooks did get a NPS Score of 80+. Special thanks to Rajan who kept pushing for this 🙂

The Design Thinking playbook in Delhi by Deepa Bachu

From the 50th PlaybookRT

Shankar helped in putting together the 50th Playbook and it was good to get some folks who had attended the first playbook joining this one.

Product positioning is all about connecting emotionally to your prospective customers — Insights from the Positioning and Messaging PlaybookRT

Playbook at Kayako which was led by Paras Chopra, Pallav Nadhani & Varun Shoor

Mavens are trusted experts who pass knowledge to other founders in a pay-forward model in small intimate learning sessions.

Some of our Mavens are

Aneesh Reddy, Pallav Nadhani, Amit Somani, Amit Ranjan, Avlesh Singh, Deepa Bachu, Deepak Prakash, Girish Mathrubootham, Niraj Ranjan, Jay Pullur, Paras Chopra, Pravin Jadhav, Rushabh Mehta, Samir Palnitkar, Sanjay Shah, Shankar Maruwada, Suresh Sambandam.

Some of them who are not mavens but have helped us with few roundtables are:
Vivek Subramanyam, Sudheer Koneru, Ambarish Gupta, Phanindra Sama, Abhishek Sinha, Ashwin Ramesh, Shashank ND, Shivakumar Ganesan(Shivku), Krish Subramaniam, Ankit Oberoi, Arpit Rai, Varun Shoor, Dhruv Shenoy, Manav Garg, Naveen Gupta, Rajiv Srivatsa, Sampad Swain, Kailash Katkar.

A big shout-out to Suresh Sambandam for doing the maximum number of playbooks 🙂

Image Design by Rakesh Mondal

Special thanks to Niraj Ranjan Rout(Hiver) & Rushabh Mehta(ERPnext) for introducing the new format i.e the Tear Down sessions and helping early stage(pre-product market fit) companies on helping them find their product market fit.

All the Maven’s have signed the below code of ethics:

Our team of Dedicated & Committed Volunteers who made this happen in each city

Thanks to you who make time in your incredibly busy lives to make these sessions happen.

Companies who hosted the Playbook Roundtables and also hosted some awesome snacks/lunch/dinner 🙂

Many volunteers who have helped in writing blogs for and about the sessions and also help in editing some of my blogs… especially Sairam Krishnan & Kingston David.

I am terribly sorry if I have missed out someone here! I know you will be modest but please do let me know so that I can add your name here. In highlighting your efforts, we motivate others in our quest to make India, a ProductNation…

ProductNation Founders Tribe

There are around 1000+ Founders who have leveraged the playbooks and the list can be accessed here.

Founders right after the Playbook that Paras had hosted at his office 🙂
A recent playbook that we did at WebEngage…you can see the Happy Faces…that is the metric that i measure the playbooks : )

Iam really glad that I will participating at the 100th Playbook Roundtable in Chennai on “Inbound Marketing — Workshop for DIY Global SaaS Startups”. This would be led by Krish of ChargeBee & Suresh of KiSSFlow.

This marks an incredible milestone since our journey began in 2013, and demonstrates the increasing demand for our playbooks every year.

Circling back to my cricket story at the start of this write-up, we all start with an outrageous dream. It is definitely good to dream big but when there is a bigger calling, we should yield to it!

I am so very proud that we’ve reached this milestone. Thank you for your support, and I look forward to celebrating more milestones together in the future.

Thanks to Kingston David for editing this & Titash Neogi for making this look good 🙂

All these guys are waiting for the Next Set of Playbook/SaaS roundtables 🙂 If you carefully see in the big screen…the Big A of the SaaS industry is also asking the same question…Kab hain Next Playbook 🙂

There are hundreds of big and small moments that have made up this journey so far — it is impossible to capture them all here, but I am sharing some of these moments via this photo story — I hope to give you a flavour of the energy and spirit of what made us reach 100!

The first PlayBook Roundtable
A PlayBook RoundTable without Post-its is unthinkable!
In the early days, iSPIRT was often misspelled. 🙂
Typical hustle during a networking break at PlayBook RoundTables 🙂

See more photographs on the FlickR album and few photos here

Understanding Your Customers And Building For Them – #99PlaybookRT

Building great products requires us to understand customer needs and its nuances, are more often than not, counter-intuitive to our assumptions. The Design Thinking Roundtable session by Deepa Bachu helped us identify methods to bridge this gap between building great products and understanding customer need. I was lucky enough to be part of the small group of product managers, designers, and fellow entrepreneurs to have an engaging discussion onimportance of design as an innovation strategy. How well do you know your customer?

How well do you know your customer?

Deepa’s opening question “Do you know your customer?” probably got all of us thinking on do we really know our customer. Personally, I somewhat know my customer. Just for that veryreason I am sitting at my client’s front office to fulfill the basic requirement: that of understanding my customer better. Working with Enterprise businesses requires us to learn and appreciate that we have 2 types of customers: 1> Management 2> the Actual End-user. We build our assumptions from our conversations with the management team who are the decision makers, but it’s the end-user that matters. The end-user, who is the employee should stand to benefit equally or probably more than the management, for our product to succeed. Every designaspect, needs to be geared to make the daily user happy. Understand your customers

Understand your customers

After knowing who your customer is, the ascent for a better product begins with sitting down with the end user in an amicable environment to learn about their challenges and their day to day experience. Deepa pointed out the importance of empathy, active listening and observation to help capture the end-user’s experience. Her role play exercise with one of the participants around the difference in the approach on asking open-ended questions while actively listening and observing delivered a completely different set of answers, in comparison to when as an interviewer she was asking closed ended questions and was not actively listening. In short, let your customer speak & take notes!!

Participants in the middle of the interview role play exercise 

WhatsApp Image 2017-06-08 at 9.46.47 PM

Developing Insights

Remember that the customer is only explaining their challenges or sharing their activities. Value addition to our product comes with inferring from these observations to identify insights. To find that hidden customer need, we will need to introduce adequate structure to the information collected from the customer / end-user. Some of the tools for us to use are:

  1. Empathy Maps to record our observations, which helps us split the talk and action of the end user that we can use to interpret the observations
  2. Ecosystem Maps help us understand the customer’s environment and his / her ecosystem. A map to tell us the sequence of events that are leading upto our solution or after the solution.
  3. Problem Statement helps us see the customer’sview point and their emotionalconnect to the problem. From a product point of view, we can turn a poor customer experience into customer delight by evoking the right positive emotion after using our product. Mind you, these folks are your product advocates. 

Research

Customer Benefit

The core of design principles is not nailing your UI/UX, it is matching your customer need, the problem they are facing in the environment they are using / will use our product. Only when the experience matches this customer need will we really see true customer benefit. Value addition of this benefit requires the need to collect the right metrics to understand if we genuinely made a difference instead of vanity metrics like just increased downloads / users.

By understanding our genuine impact, we can course-correct our product with continuous improvement coupled with rapid prototyping to help us slowly move towards our product goals and vision.

What’s the one thing participants will do differently after the #RoundTable?

different

Overall a great learning experience thanks to Pensaar and iSPIRT for setting up this session.

By Rohit Krishnam, Co-founder of Lima Payments.

Editor’s Note: This #RoundTable happened to the 99th one and there was a small celebration on this occasion. It’s been a great journey so far and we’d like to thank all the participants, facilitators and volunteers who made this possible. Here’s to making India a Product Nation.

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WhatsApp Image 2017-06-08 at 9.46.44 PM

Are you having fun in what you do? #PlaybookRT

Michael Jordan once remarked: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game’s winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed.”

Ask any entrepreneur, and they will say, well, this is the story of my life. Owning a business is one of the most cognitively challenging jobs. To move from a stable job with a steady income to one where uncertainty is the flavor of the day every day takes courage, competence and confidence. Most of all, it requires an emotional tolerance strong enough to deal with the pressures of change and unpredictability, not to mention the mental fortitude to navigate through it.

As iSPIRT approaches its 100th Playbook Roundtable, Avinash conceived the idea of a completely different roundtable theme. One that focused not on strategies and tactics that a founder could apply to his product but one that focused more on the tremendous evolution that an entrepreneur goes through in his or her journey. And who better than Abhishek Sinha of Eko to facilitate such a roundtable.

The playbook was held at Eko’s office on 3rd June 2017 with a select set of entrepreneurs in the Delhi NCR region.

Taking a leaf from Jeff Bezos’s playbook, Abhishek drafted a 6 pager that covered important phases in his entrepreneurial journey, and all the participants spent the first 30 mins going through it.

In this 6 pager, Abhishek shared real life stories all through his journey of 6d and Eko. These stories touched upon how he became desperate and did more of the same. How he understood for the very first time that it is critical to think different. How he attempted at thinking big and audacious. Why being young and with it being foolish and naïve helped. Once one has started on a big goal why it is critical to developing the understanding of the landscape especially regulations. How he learned the importance of execution, scaling and making money. The mistakes he made when Sequoia and Khosla wanted to write cheques and he couldn’t close the deal.

More importantly the lows in his personal life and how he sought help to get things back on track. How he has personally exhausted all options to lose and hence winning is the only option. Today, as a battle-hardened entrepreneur, why he has the conviction of success.

These thoughts set up the tone for an interesting set of candid discussions and expressions over the next few hours. I have captured some of them below:

Enjoy your journey

Most of us started on the entrepreneurship journey with the idea to create something cool or do something fun. It was never about creating a billion dollar business.  There was a lot of pureness to this thought as we went about solving one problem at a time, and having fun. But slowly we stop enjoying ourselves. We stop thinking differently and start doing the same thing again, and again. This brings in predictability but stops us from experimenting different things.

So when you are questioning your journey and your growth (success or lack their off), just remember you are where you are supposed to be. It will work out fine, just trust in your journey. Sit back and relax and enjoy the ride. You will be surprised where it takes you.

Once you get to the top of the mountain you may come to miss the fields below. So take the climb one step at a time and enjoy the journey, entrepreneurs.

Destiny

Abhishek reflected on near-death experiences in his business and how he managed to get over it. He hasn’t been able to put my head around why a certain deal fails and why one succeeds. Ambarish from Knowlarity too chimed with a similar thought where atleast one or 5 occassions, something happened that kept him and his business going. If one simply applies theories of probability to these random events, the result becomes even more inexplicable.

This has driven Abhishek towards the realm of spirituality and over a time trust in a higher energy which has taken care of him. He has become a strong believer in destiny and a higher power, and that if we pursue our dreams the doors will open up.

At the risk of being cheeky, I couldn’t help but share this SRK dialogue.

Believing in destiny though is not about sitting back, and letting whatever is happening to happen.

Create a Cause or Purpose that People can relate to

Abhishek mentioned how he takes inspiration from religious organizations that create a cause that people can relate to, and inspires them to work towards its goals. Mark Zuckerberg in his recent commencement speech at Harvard also touched upon this, where he mentioned that when President Kennedy was visiting NASA space center, he asked a janitor what was he doing, to which he replied “I am putting a man on the moon Mr. President.”

A sense of purpose truly comes from within, and you can’t find meaning with a company that doesn’t share your values. So one of the simplest ways to cultivate a meaningful workplace is to stack your team with people who share the passions of your company. When everyone is aligned as a part of a bigger movement — that’s when the true meaning behind your work (and your company) shines through.

Ambarish shared how he ensures that all candidates, interns and vendors in his company are interviewed personally by him. This does take away a sizeable amount of him time, but it helps in multiple ways:

  • It keeps his team on the check as they know all vendors and candidates have to get past Ambarish
  • In his interview, Ambarish dissuades candidates to join by spelling out all the challenges of working at Knowlarity. This ensures they don’t just actually hire but let those people who in who really want to join Knowlarity

Driving ownership in teams and individuals

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers and product people, and are able to spot patterns & problems in the current scheme of things, and the relevant solutions very easily. And we immediately get our teams to work on the solution. This is a bottom up approach. You instruct an employee to perform a task or even accomplish a goal. But in effect you still own that task or goal. You tell the employee what you want, you define success and you create metrics to measure that success. That’s accountability. The employee takes responsibility for getting done what you want.

However a top down approach requires entrepreneur to only mention the problem to the teams and outline the contours, and let them come with the solution. This requires patience, and as more often than not, the solution will be staring right at your face while team members will go though their own curve before they discover it. But once the team members do come up with the solution, there is more ownership as this is now their baby.

Ownership happens when an employee comes forward and says, “I’m going to make this happen. Here’s what I will do. Here’s what I will accomplish. And here’s how I will measure progress.”

If you only have one or two employees and you love to micromanage, you can get by with hiring people you will simply hold accountable.

But if you’re truly trying to scale your business for growth, micromanagement soon fails. There is simply no way a chief can be involved in every task, process and decision.

If you foster a culture of ownership, you don’t need to be involved in every detail. You can focus your attention elsewhere, secure in the knowledge that owners will always come to you when they have problems or need help.

Be Different and Not Just Better

It’s not about doing more or better, it’s about doing different. If you can create that which is new and different you stand a greater chance of success. You can find white spaces that you can fill in.

When you break rules, you experience something unique. Ensure you savor this uniqueness even if your ideas bomb because these unique and different efforts will create experiences that themselves are unique.

Create Crisis In Your Mind

An entrepreneur often needs to play mental games with himself or herself. These games allow you to challenge yourself and create a crisis in your mind that pushes you to think creatively and innovate. If fear of the unknown has you tied down, try this: after you find yourself posing the “what if?” question to yourself, answer it. By doing so you bring that unknown fear into reality and make it more tangible and certain. With certainty comes clarity and with clarity comes opportunity to crush all challenges.

Remove Safety Nets and Bring Focus

Having safety nets or diversions lead to entrepreneurs loosing focus.  It sometimes become imperative to remove these safety nets. When you have safety nets, you are not all in. It makes you timid to jump in with both feet. But when you remove all these safety nets, you have only one choice: take the leap.

Having your back against the wall you are forced to go all in, forced to make it work, forced to believe in yourself.

The session culminated with Abhishek sharing how he is taking inspiration from the Android model and smartphones that creates an unbundled experience for consumers. Feature phone could do (i) calling (ii) messaging (iii) entertainment / games (iv) value added services like calendar, alarm, notes etc. Though all these are fairly tightly bundled and hence customer couldn’t exercise choice – take it or leave it. Smartphone is an unbundled architecture. It offers the same four functionalities though as its architecture is completely unbundled and open – it empowers the customer to make the choice basis their transaction scenario / context and cost. A similar framework could be applied to several industries to create unique products and solutions.

As the session ended, one could sense how Abhishek had been socialised to the highs and lows of business life. The mental game of entrepreneurship often feels like Snakes and Ladders. There were days for Abhishek when he just wanted to run away, where he felt as if he was in freefall and plummeting to the ground without a parachute. But, looking back, those are the moments that defined him. He has accepted – sometimes with a lot of delay and a good fight – that he was the architect of the bad situations and he accepted full responsibility for them. That is how he bought his freedom.

It’s only by acknowledging your failures that you can build on your successes.

Guest Post by Rajat Harlalka, Volunteer for iSPIRT

0 – 100 customers! How fast can your SaaS startup accelerate?

The toughest challenge in your startup journey is getting to the milestone of first 100 customers. iSPIRT’s 97th PlayBook RoundTable, ‘Zero to One’ was held last Saturday in the hot and humid city of Chennai.

Ankit Oberoi from AdPushUp moderated the RoundTable which was attended by 13 other startup founders eager to know how to crack this. The PlayBook didn’t have formal presentations but rather involved everyone into an engaging conversation that was both informal as well as informative.

First things first, as early stage SaaS startups, “Kneel down and build your product well, when bootstrapped” was Ankit’s advice.

Identifying Target Customers

Emphasis was made on identifying your target customers to help you build the right inbound and outbound strategies. Ankit mentioned that a good way to find your target customer type is to look at your top ten customers. Few entrepreneurs looking to generate quick revenue might tend to drift towards a service model.

Arvind Parthiban, CEO of Zarget had an insight on this trend — “Going the service way will work only if one can scale up right and maintain profitability in the longer run”.


Inbound Marketing Tactics

A majority of the discussion was about inbound procedures. 3 simple things should make up your Content Marketing strategy –

  1. Identifying your target persona
  2. Creating quality content
  3. Setting up distribution channels

Just creating content will not cut it! You need to market it right to do justice to its quality.

Though it is a painfully long process, bootstrapped startups have the luxury of time and they should invest in building on content strategies around long tail keywords. Much emphasis was given as to why content should be created for personas. An example that was pointed out for this was Groove’s blog where the focus is exclusively on founders.

It is right for early-stage startups to focus on generating traffic through content but the real focus should be on giving value to the readers. Conversions can happen even later and not necessarily while reading your content. Growing a subscription list through your blog is not only a no-brainer, but a must have item in your growth stack .

Ankit stressed on how Neil Patel talks about why you need to urge your readers to subscribe right from the start. When you have a subscribers list, you can nurture them to share your content and build a bigger subscribers list which will ultimately increase your brand value and improve your customer base. Initial days of your startup journey are when you can do such things that take time to scale.

Intent Defines Inbound

Categorize your efforts based on intent when you are going all out on inbound marketing. Content writing has to be segregated widely into two types –

  1. Buyer Intent
  2. Value Intent

Buyer intent content are the ones written with the focus on ranking higher on search engines. These should have focus on keywords and the main objective of these content pieces are to sell your product.

Value intent is when you become a Thought Leader of the industry you are in. Helping your customer persona should be the name of the game when you generate such content. At times, you don’t even have to put a link back to your product when you write such content. Educative long form content with simple writing works best.

Just like content writing, content distribution too has to be categorized based on intent.

  1. SEO intent — You share the article/blog with search engine ranking in mind
  2. Sharing intent — You find avenues where people are bound to share the post more
  3. Distribution intent — Sharing in one place that sets off a chain of shares

Be spot on with your content!

Creating a content calendar is a must! Knowledge sharing on this topic pointed out that the calendar should be finalized, ideally, in the first few days of the month. Decide on buyer intent topics with the help of keyword planners. Thought leader articles can be written with the help of community platforms — find answers for the most-asked questions. Quora is a gold mine to search for blog ideas.

The consensus from the more experienced entrepreneurs at the RoundTable was that content has to be tested too. The headline is the most important bit of your article/blog. Ankit spoke about how 75% of your readers don’t actually read your content but rather scan for information. He shared a personal insight on how just a headline change helped AdPushUp make an article go viral overnight! Check out this article here.

As much as headlines, the first few lines matter too! In fact, most people who share an article actually read the intro and then skim through the article. Sharing happens not because people read it fully but because they feel it is relatable to something they would read and want to express to their circles about the type of content they would read. Your formatting should be spot on to help them digest your post in just a few seconds!

Headlines need to be tested extensively. Vengat from Klenty stressed on how testing one variable at a time is imperative for success. Ankit talked about how he narrows it down from a couple dozen headlines for their blogs. A/B test between the best ones to ensure you get the best variation.

Types of articles to try…

The Zero to One #PlayBookRT stressed on a few interesting article types startups should try –

  1. Summarizing Comprehensive Blogs — Found something useful? Write a brief, original summary of the blog. This will rank organically. Ensure author credits are given.
  2. Roundups — Take a pick of useful tips, quotes, tools etc., and do a roundup. Reach out to the people/products/companies you mentioned and they will share it to their followers
  3. Skyscraper Technique — Find an awesome content and piggyback on it. Find linkable assets, make it better by adding in your thoughts or collating ideas. Reach out to the authors of the post and share it on social media.

While on the topic of Content Marketing, the topic of paid promotions came into play and it was agreed upon that paid promotion for articles should be done with the intent only to hit a critical mass. With paid promotions, readership is not improved but only the views are artificially increased. A good insight from one of the attendees was to try and push notifications about blogs through live chat platforms like Intercom.

Hiring your inbound team

There are two types of talent you need on your inbound team for achieving success in your content marketing endeavours. The hustlers & the experts. Hustlers are those who understand the market and the distribution channels while the experts should be the ones strong in content.

AIESEC is one hiring venue that you should consider for smart and affordable talent.

You need to break down your web analytics — group traffic sources and optimize for each and every source. Ankit explained how Google not only ranks posts but also pulls down posts with the help of Ryan Fishkin’s social experiment. He urged people to open a top ranked post and immediately go back to the search results page. The search engine bots picked this up and realized people no longer find the post valuable and dropped it by one position!

We live in a smart world! And to outsmart Search Engines, you need smarter content tactics.


Quick look at a few other learnings

  • Arvind and Ankit then shared their experiences with events generating brand value and how that indirectly helps your inbound conversions.
  • PR is yet another way of getting social approval. It reduces sales cycle as well as helps with search engine rankings.
  • Vengat shared his learnings from Prodpad’s gamification for trial users that kept urging for additional actions for trial extension. This would inevitably lead to more activation.
  • There was a brief session on PPC campaign optimization and how Google’s Quality Score is important

Out-take on Outbound

Ankit stressed on the fact that if a startup concentrates well on inbound tactics and is all set for the long run, outbound becomes considerably easier. Most US companies go all out on inbound tactics. Being in India, we have the luxury to work on outbound marketing at relatively cheap costs.

Tools like BuiltWith, Datanyze, SimilarWeb are in this space. The problem to be addressed would be scaling the process without expanding the existing team. As you reach out to more and more people, the data bulk can be huge to handle if you don’t automate/semi-automate the process.


An entrepreneur’s journey is one to be cherished and the initial acceleration from 0–100 customers is enjoyable though dotted with challenges. The 97th Product Nation PlayBook RoundTable turned out to be a learning experience for everyone who attended and hope this article threw light on what was discussed to those who weren’t lucky enough to be part of it.

Never miss an iSPIRT event again — stay tuned to this page for updates on upcoming Product Nation events. Guest blog post by Kingston David, Zarget

The cause of ‘SaaS’ Industry is top priority on iSPIRT’s policy radar

‘SaaS’ can drive the future of Indian IT Industry both in International trade as well as domestic front. With changing dynamics in Software sector globally, ‘SaaS’ can help India remain a Software power house. iSPIRT has been following ‘SaaS’ industry growth from this perspective. The realization that there are several policy hurdles for ‘SaaS’ industry was very early conceived at iSPIRT.

Accordingly, iSPIRT made several attempts to ease the problems of ‘SaaS’ industry. One of the belief at iSPIRT is that ‘SaaS’ is basically about ‘product’ first and then a ‘service’. With this belief iSPIRT has been continuously taking up the case of clear distinction of Software product within the larger framework of Digital economy consisting of “Digital goods” and “Digital services”.

In order to stop the exodus of Startups, which constitutes a large number of ‘SaaS’ based startups, a Stay-in-India checklist was taken up with Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). There have been a number of items cleared by DIPP such as Angle Tax, Fair market Value, ESOPs provisions made better, Company incorporation rules simplified, Domestic venture debt made easy, Convertible notes, FVCI norms relaxed and External Commercial borrowing (ECB) eased by RBI etc. Some of these announcements under the shadow of StartupIndia policy. However, iSPIRT has been continuously pushing policy makers to relax all these norms for all start-ups. iSPIRT covered most of these announcements in PolicyHacks blogs given here.

A major problem area for ‘SaaS’ startups is also the payment gateway systems. ‘SaaS’ industry has to resort to either relocate to a foreign geography, or open a subsidiary abroad or seek expensive international payment gateway services. On domestic front the ‘SaaS’ industry suffers from recurring billing problems. Both these issues were taken up in PolicyHacks sessions given here. iSPIRT believes Indian ‘SaaS’ companies should be able to carry of out international trade of digital goods without moving out of India seamlessly and using Indian payment Gateway systems.

The belief at iSPIRT that a futuristic industrial policy at Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) is required to meet the challenge of Indian IT industry was followed up with a National Policy on Software Product (NPSP) at MeitY. Being the administrative ministry for this Industry MeitY has in past played highly catalytic role in making of IT industry that India is proud today. A similar renewed thrust is required to push the Indian Software Product Industry.

One of the main emphasis in NPSP draft being followed up at MeitY is the ‘‘SaaS’’ segment. iSPIRT team is continuously engaging with the MeitY officials to educate them and influence on the importance and the need to focus on ‘SaaS’ segment.

There is recognition in Government system for need of this strategic shift. Honourable Prime Minister’s speech at Germany (Link here see 12th Minutes segment) is the evident of this realization of need for change that can lead to companies like Google to be born out of India.

iSPIRT is striving hard in this direction to see the ‘SaaS’ as the next big leap by India.

The End Doesn’t Justify The Means: A Public Statement

[Given the course of events that have unfurled recently, iSPIRT created IGCC to investigate, and strengthen governance. Sharad Sharma, who has previously apologized and accepted responsibility on Twitter, has reflected further on the topic, and written this post. We are putting it out to ensure that this starts the right discussion inside iSPIRT and outside – Sanjay Jain]

There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right. It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Albus Dumbledore

What is IndiaStack

Over the last week, iSPIRT has asked itself fundamental questions on who we are and how we conduct ourselves. As a pro-bono partner in the development of the India Stack, this team has had the privilege of designing systems that have eventually seen adoption by the state in a quest to solve said hard problems. Our work results in technology platforms that have positively impacted the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians. However, technology is merely a tool whose potential for misuse must be checked. This demands accountability both of the tool and its makers.

No system is perfect. And when one embarks on an endeavor to build a public platform that impacts an entire nation of over a billion people, some imperfections are bound to emerge. These imperfections should rightly attract criticism and concern from civil society. It is at this point that a natural conflict develops. Between the individuals that built the system with a great degree of dedication, application, and indeed love, and the individuals that are wary of how the said system can be used against the very people it was meant to benefit.

This conflict when left to fester without a set of rules of engagement is bound to devolve into an uncivil discourse that attacks and hurts people on each side, without actually achieving the objective that both parties hold very dearly. We are blessed and privileged that we can build for and speak for millions of our countrymen. Our privilege stems from our education, our abilities, our stature, our connections, and our life’s work. And for the most part, it must be acknowledged that individuals on both sides of this divide tirelessly endeavor to leverage this privilege to better the lives of those less fortunate among us. We build and speak, for our people. And so it is our responsibility that we conduct ourselves with dignity, grace, and generosity of spirit, while fiercely battling on the right path to that better future.

And on that count, I as one of the builders have stumbled. I condoned uncivil behavior by some anonymous handles over a period of ten days. I have owned up to this transgression. It was investigated internally by the iSPIRT Governing Council: Sudham as a team stands dissolved, and I will no longer be communicating on behalf of iSPIRT externally for 4 months.

I am clear the end cannot, and should not justify the means. But the larger lesson here is that we must develop systems and processes internally, and a framework and principles within which we will operate.

In the process of building, there is a set of factors that influence policy making. And this pie chart is an indicative representation of these factors.

IndiaStack2

Facts on the ground: Half of policy making is the policy itself and the data points in reality that led to it. It comprises of everything from the problems the policy endeavours to address, the people who are victims of these problems, previous attempts to solve them, and the data that can back up this approach. It was traditionally a major chunk of all that was needed to make a policy, particularly in a highly centralized society where a chosen few had the privilege and the power to craft and enforce said policies.

Mainstream media was the other major pillar of policy making. By serving as the primary medium of crafting public perception of millions, a chosen few reporters and their editors had the privilege of being the exclusive custodians of the court of public opinion. If you wanted to get the word out and have the people be on your side, these were the people you’d turn to.

The most significant shift in policy making in decades is the rise of social media. The emergence of platforms where individuals could transform into influencers by consistently generating unfiltered content is shifting the balance of power in the perception game. An ever increasing audience of online content consumers now turn to these platforms for their news and information. So much so that it has become a primary source of news for these early adopters.

A simplistic but useful rubric to describe the nature of discourse on social media is to classify into two categories, namely civil and uncivil. Civil discourse is exactly what is sounds like, a respectful engagement, where all parties concerned conduct themselves with a degree of basic human decency. And while the conversation may be informed, or not, backed by facts or utterly fabricated, the debate never descends below a certain level of decorum. In such discourse, there is always room for one to see the reasoning of the other side. It leaves space for empathy. And empathy is the foundation of collaboration. Both parties in such conversations can at times work together once it’s made clear that their objectives are aligned.

On the other hand, there is another side to the conversation on social media. Specifically, the kind that tends to unravel on Twitter. Uncivil discourse is marked by abuse and trolling — where one willfully sows discord and makes inflammatory, extraneous, often untruthful remarks about a topic or an individual with the express purpose of upsetting the target to evoke an emotional response. Such conversations often find themselves unfolding through anonymous handles that can employ such tactics without fear of retribution. Such behavior is malicious and dishonorable, and in the long run saps the soul of the perpetrators themselves, while simultaneously hurting the targets. It is the lowest form of engagement that leaves both parties poorer for it.

Having danced with such tactics myself for ten days in May, I can say with certainty that it is conduct unbecoming of our prior actions and accomplishments. Put it simply, I have learnt my lesson. One that should have been painfully clear to begin with. Such behavior — uncivil comments made while hiding behind anonymity — is loathsome and abhorrent. And I will never engage in or condone such methods ever again.

That brings me to the question, how does one stand up for what one has built, and the cause of inclusion that it aims to serve, while accommodating the concerns of its detractors? To answer this, here is a set of potential principles.

  • True North: If one truly believes their work to be the right thing, it must be showcased in both the intent of how one chooses to engage with critics, and in the stories of impact that showcase how what’s built has actually improved the lives of the people it aims to serve. By making the citizen our north star, and having their best interest guide our actions, we can at the very least be assured of having done the right thing. Regardless of what slings and arrows one takes in the process.
  • Empathy: To truly believe deeply in our hearts that even our harshest critics come from a place of wanting to protect the citizen and to make an effort to understand why they have framed their criticism in that manner
  • Openness: Our policies must be made visible to the community at large through various stages of evolution through discussion papers and roundtables
  • Fervor to educate: A gospel that isn’t sung is never heard. We will work hard to showcase the positive impact of our work and spread the message far and wide.
  • Commitment to civility: No trolling, no anonymity, no abuse. Ever.

Given the course of events that have unfurled recently, I accept the IGCC decisions, and reaffirm my commitment to the iSPIRT mission and values, and to help it emerge as a better organization. This will be my last public post for some time. I look forward to accomplishing our goals (the End) through Means that we can all be proud of.

Smart tools for SaaS founders to handle inbound & outbound sales processes – #PlaybookRT94

When #iSPIRT announced a roundtable on ‘Building & Scaling Growth Teams for Saas Founders’  with Ashwin Ramesh (Synup) leading it, I was thrilled to join it, assuming it would be a direct take off from Ashwin’s session at #SaaSx4. Well, we were not disappointed. I am sure the other participants share my feelings on the outcome – It was an action-packed interactive session on the strategies one can use to be successful in SaaS.

Most fellow founders who joined the discussion chimed up with a common theme, with questions on how to get good inbound leads, how to scale up, crack the game, and most importantly – how to switch from outbound to inbound.

In this post, I want to provide a summary of all the tools that were discussed in the roundtable to help in content creation and distribution, and tools that will help you do outbound in a structured way. The sheer number of tools that we discussed was overwhelming to the group, to say the least.

WhatsApp Image 2017-05-05 at 10.36.03 AMContent is still King, so let’s lead with it.

Content: Good content is more important than the fact that it is a blog or a post or guest post. It could be anything that attracts folks, and gives your product or service the attention span needed. Some of the examples of good content that were discussed include websites,  checklists (e.g. http://localseochecklist.org/), videos, visualisations, infographics, data driven content, Quora ads, & Answers wiki.

If you need ideas on how to create great content, take a look at https://tympanus.net/codrops/

Now that you have the content, let’s shift the focus to distribution. The traditional models of distribution have become saturated. No one’s going to come just because you wrote and published something. So you need to come up with innovative ways to distribute content. Well written content, if it is not reaching the intended audience, is a dead investment and one has to have deliberate policy of setting aside a budget, even if it’s a small one, for distribution of each piece of content. You should try the following options:

  • Start contributing on reddit, and especially to a subreddit specific to your industry, business area or technology. The strategy suggested is to become active participants of a specific community, engage in discussions, post comments, contribute and build your credibility. The content you may share here would be actively promoted by other participants and also gets picked up other channels. The key is to build credibility and be supportive to other members.
  • Another idea is to sign up to https://inbound.org/ and once again be an active participant, and a slowly become a regular contributor. 
  • A third option is to use services like QUUU to distribute or share content across social media including Twitter , Facebook.
  • Investing in FB paid ads also has been found effective for many businesses.
  • If you feel that the above strategy is high on investment and low on initial results, start using article syndication services like Outbrain or Taboola to engage your target audience while they are browsing or reading interesting content on the web. 
  • A good way to use Taboola or Outbrain would be to use it with  Bombora, one of the best B2B intent engines. It gives you better options to identify / reach your B2B customers. There are integrations available for Bombora with Outbrain, and you need to decide on the budget. 
  • If you need to reach out to key influencers to help you share your content on a wider scale, use Buzzsumo to build the list and also get an idea about what your competition is sharing.
  • Once you have the list, use Buzzstream to manage the outreach that is desired. It helps manage the relationships and also monitor the content sharing. 
  • One related area which may be of benefit is to reach out to journalists using tools like Haro and Bite Size PR
  • If you have good content, you can choose to distribute the same through newsletters. Look for a curated list of newsletter sites or owners and get your content into these newsletters. It is an ongoing challenge for newsletter publishers to get good content for their readers, so reaching out to provide them content becomes a win-win proposition

Social media is a powerful medium for reaching out to a wider audience.  Tools that may be used for leveraging social media audience are:

  • Lead Sift ( twitter )  – This is used to keep track of potential customer who are engaged by  your competition . Helps in qualification of leads and setting up engagements faster 
  • EngageWise : To help present your content to a wider audience based on the interest they show in similar content. This helps in growing the pipeline using the reach of social media.
  • Lead Feeder :  Identifies the visitors to the website thereby qualifying the visitors and makes better / faster engagement possible. Offers and integration to CRM as well.
  • Ad Espresso :   One can create and test FB Ads in a very short time and run ad campaigns instead of single ads to effectively reach the different sections of audience thereby reducing cost and increasing efficacy of the ad.

Any website / online content strategy has to consider SEO.  Some of the tools that can be used for SEO include ( apart from the tools offered by Google ) 

  • Screaming Frog   – This can be used for in-depth technical analysis on your site .  It is a website crawler, works very fast & quickly allows one to analyse the results in real-time. 
  • All in one SEO  :   It can be used to optimize WordPress site for SEO. 

Another key element of growth involves reaching out to prospective customers. For that , email is still the most effective mechanism.  When it comes to using outbound emailing, getting good data ( email ids ) is equally important as the mail content and delivery strategy . 

For Creating the Data ( emails ) the options available are 

  • Scrape websites for data  
    • Screaming frog : The custom extraction feature allows you to scrape any data from the HTML of a web page using CSS Path, XPath and regex
    • Scrappy :  An open source and collaborative framework for extracting the data you need from websites, in a fast, simple, yet extensible way.
  • Some other common tools are 
    • Builtwith  :  One may get to see leads in your list by known technology spend, the usage or non-usage of competitor or other technologies as well as the usage or non-usage of entire categories of technologies like A/B Testing.
    • Limeleads : Access to a large repository of business leads across multiple verticals
    • Zoominfo : ZoomInfo’s Growth Acceleration Platform offers the most accurate and actionable B2B contact and company intelligence 
    • Buy data from publishers like D&B . This link is useful for Indian websites only.

Once you have the data , cleansing or cleaning up email list is the next key activity 

  • External agencies may be employed to clean up the email list. There are many service providers engaged in doing this for an acceptable consideration.

Once the email list has been curated, then you have to decide on the best way to engage the prospects or identify a delivery mechanism. There are many tools which support a structured approach to sending mails in a personalised manner, away from the mass mailers.

  • Klenty : This is an outbound sales automation tool for your inside sales team to prospect, outreach and follow up at scale. 
  • Prospect : A simple tool for sales automation. Works well for cold emailing and drip marketing. 
  • Quickmail : Another simple tool to automate outbound emails. 
  • Outreach  : Yet another platform that supports emailing and calling. 

Any inbound process revolves around the sales funnel. Organisations constantly look for increasing the conversation across all stages of the funnel or improve the funnel itself. Some of the recommendations that came out of the extensive discussion included usage of Google Analytics and other exclusive tools for understanding the user’s journey in your website and app through session recordings, heat map analysis, etc.  It would be good if cohorts are defined before initiating analysis so that patterns can be identified. 

  • Heap: Automatically captures every user action in your web or iOS app and lets you analyze it all retroactively.
  • MixPanel: Follow the digital footprint of every user across mobile and web devices. Know precisely what happens inside your product.
  • Inspectlet: Inspectlet records videos of your visitors as they use your site, allowing you to see everything they do.
  • Hotjar: Can be used to understand user behaviour as it visually represents their clicks, taps and scrolling behavior on your website.
  • Crazy Egg: Through Crazy Egg’s heat map and scroll map reports you can get an understanding of how your visitors engage with your website. 

Other tools that were mentioned include marketing automation tools and A/B testing / multivariate testing tools. One common suggestion which came up was to use best in class tools rather than using all in one kind of tools. A few examples of specific tools are mentioned below. Since all of them are well known, I don’t think it’s necessary to add a description of what they do.

Marketing Automation tools / Communication tools: 

A/B – MVT Tools 

A big thanks to Ashwin and the roundtable participants for listing these tools and sharing their experiences in using them.  I may have missed out one or two of the tools discussed. Look forward to your comments on these tools and also suggestion of other equally valuable tools for inbound / outbound processes.

WhatsApp Image 2017-04-29 at 7.01.02 PMDisclosure :  I am Neel Padmanabhan part of Team Lucep and head India Operations . Lucep is an instant response call back tool that is currently being used by several businesses around the world for handling inbound leads. The tool is designed to encourage visitors to the website to contact the sales team and get a response as quickly as possible.

The curious case of B2B SaaS Startup’s inside sales and marketing

Amazing but how? This question pops out of every startup founder’s mind while reading success stories. Persistence, determination & hard work, great to know, but nobody tells the real thing. Where are the techniques? With any magic, the logic behind is what a technician always looks for. So, where is the secret formula of startups having millions of dollars of revenue in SaaS?

‘XYZ’ startup got Series A $3M from ‘The one who every founder dreams of’ 10K Signups in a month (What were you doing? Tell me NOW!) $1M ARR in just 4 months of product launch (Who are these rich kids?)

These stories are highly inspiring, and to achieve such fabulous growth you need experience, the right product and perfect techniques of sales and marketing (Yes, funds could wait!). Being an early stage startup founder and that too into SaaS B2B, also an engineer who codes. I personally feel this is a deadly combination, where people like us know EVERYTHING when we start out BUILDING and half the way we realize about SELLING(hopefully we do!), the path to revenue, well the only reason we could be SUCCESSFUL.

The Invitation

While I was looking for my answers reading the book traction, building flows and learning by experimenting different traction channels, SaaSx happened (SaaSx was not like any other conferences or meetups, but really an experience to cherish, I now literally wait for the next one to happen) and there I met Avinash, he invited me to the PlayBook RoundTable Zero to One — Marketing and Inside Sales — SaaS happening in Delhi.

The invitation looked something like this..

Roundtable Focus Areas
– The PlayBook Roundtable will focus on how Early stage SaaS startups can get their first 10 and then the first 100 customers.
– The founders will share their experience of the initial steps to be taken, key metrics to focus on and the team structure for inside sales and marketing.

Facilitators
1. Sachin Bhatia (Ameyo/Inside Sales Box)
2. Ankit Oberoi(AdPushUp)

Bang On! it is very few times when you get the opportunity to hear from those who are just steps above you in the ladder, their learning from successes and failures could help you make the most out of your current situation.

Hops and Drops

11 founders at different stages of their startup journey in one round table conference hitting the bottom line with the right questions and right people to answer them.

  1. First 10 Customers, hacks to reach them? (Ankit’s hacks make you realize it is not that difficult)
  2. When to start marketing and help generate leads even before the product launch? (Conversations, Sachin even mentioned how first 100 conversations helped him get the Product Market fit)
  3. What is the actual Traffic / Conversion / Cost per lead from their experience? (These numbers helped to validate stuff you dream of)
  4. Initial Teams, Hiring Experiences and Compensation plans? (Most of us, funded or bootstrapped are struggling with this)
  5. Key learning in the initial lead generation and sales efforts?
  6. Content Marketing Strategy, to build for Google or Readers?
  7. Medium vs WordPress vs Your Own Blog? (It is not good for me to answer this here!)
  8. Launching product in the foreign market, the Hows of it? (SaaS businesses largely aim countries outside India)
  9. How to make your website the best marketing tool? (The number of leads generated from there, some mind boggling statistics we went through)
  10. To put pricing or not? (A million dollar question in itself)
  11. Hacks around Adwords and minimizing cost per click
  12. SEO, Keywords, On Page, the real metrics, and the lead generation techniques
  13. Tools to trigger drip marketing campaigns
  14. Social Platforms their reach and how to maximize with minimum efforts and cost
  15. The strategies worked for DIY tools
  16. Lead tracking, Website Chat
  17. Content — Blog / Ebooks / Video
  18. To go for PR or not?
  19. How to experiment more with current traction channels?
  20. Mistakes which led them to lose customers, and how reduce churn rate?

And much more.. A day full of insights, no presentations, no mind-boggling figures but real conversations based on the real fears we as founders and startups face everyday.

To not let go..

The journey of a founder has lots of ups and downs, engaging with the right people who could help you in a way you just imagined could be a path breaker.

Thanks a lot to the team at iSPIRT — Avinash and Rajat for making it accessible to the community.

Ankit and Sachin were as candid as they could be, the secrets of their business are going to help us take leaps with our startup.


If you wish to know the answers to the above asked questions, reach out to iSPIRT. I’d love to hear from all of you who are at different stages and learning like all of us in the space.

Guest Post by Anshuli Gupta, Co-Founder @WidelyHQ, My twitter handle @anshulix

Inadequate liquidity for Indian Startups

Recently was having a conversation with a Private Equity friend and was trying to explain the challenge that has captured my imagination and full attention, ie exits for software product startups in India. He felt that the data about the exit structural deficit that I was trying to point out felt too bearish to be true. My counter argument was that my intent is not to sound bearish but instead be a realist, after all acknowledgement of a problem is first step to solving one.  Post that conversation I thought should put this data out publicly so that through crowdsourcing can at the very least improve my understanding if it is off by wide margins.

2012-2016 VC vs M&A

India VC vs Exits 

India VC vs M&A


India Software Products VC  (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$801.00 $1,021.00 $4,883.00 $6,526.00 $2,419.00 $15,650.00
147 123 173 330 223 996

India Software Product M&A  (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$205.00 $308.00 $799.00 $1,350.00 $1,339.00 $4,001.00
43 39 59 137 113 391

Source iSPIRT M&A Report https://www.slideshare.net/ProductNation/india-technology-product-ma-industry-monitor-an-ispirt-signalhill-report?ref=http://startupbridgeindia.com/

Israel VC vs Exits 


Israel Software Product VC  (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$1,878.00 $2,404.00 $3,422.00 $4,307.00 $4,775.00 $16,786.00
567 667 684 706 659 3283

Israel Software Product M&A (in $m)

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016*
$8,149.00 $3,704.00 $4,493.00 $6,462.00 $6,782.00 $29,590.00
74 81 109 98 86 448

Source IVC Report, http://www.ivc-online.com/Portals/0/RC/Survey/IVC_Q4-16%20Capital%20Raising_Survey-Final.pdf

Above data indicates that Israel was able to generate 1.8X of the money that went in while in India in the same period it was 0.2X. The right comparison is exits from 2012-2016 with VC investments from 2005-2009, iSPIRT report does that comparison but results are even less encouraging.

Exits follow a power law distribution, however in India it seems like a power law’s power law.

Not only is the volume of exit a challenge but also the structure, any ecosystem exits follow a typical power law. For every $1 bn exit, there are ten $100m deal, for every $100m there are hundred $10m deals.

Top 7 deals in India account for ~$2.5b of the $4b in exit. About 250 of 391 deals total a deal volume of $97m which means the size of an acqui hire i.e in long tail is about 0.5m, which is inadequate even for an angel investor (in other ecosystem long tail is >$10 m, hence being referred to as power’s law power law). Lack of many $10-100m deal means there is a missing middle of the long tail.

Source iSPIRT M&A Report https://www.slideshare.net/ProductNation/india-technology-product-ma-industry-monitor-an-ispirt-signalhill-report?ref=http://startupbridgeindia.com/

Anything in the data above that does not feel kosher  ?

 

iSPIRT M&A Connect program takes a multiyear view to design interventions that can address the middle and long tail of the market coordination challenge.

Getting SaaSier every year #SaaSx #Chennai

With almost 150 SaaS founders, a set of investors, and the volunteers, SaaSx was rocking content-wise from 10am to 9:30pm, with the @Zarget beachside dinner kicking it into the next gear. How do we know it was a good event? Well the NPS score of 76, with 91 responses says it all!

Probably only event that was worth being a part of in the last 1 year. Happy to volunteer next time!

The most earth shaking session every year? After all, “Chumma Adhirudhulla.” is the dialogue of his favorite actor! @mrgirish rocked the stage with his sheer authenticity, wearing his heart on his sleeve, and talking about the challenges in building a business like Freshdesk, the mistakes they made on their journey and the learnings from them. More than one founder approached me later saying, ‘If even someone like Girish makes mistakes while growing the business, then I should not fear my mistakes but grow faster by learning from them’.

Best part was how approachable, upfront, honest and open all the big guys were..

It takes a special form of courage to go (metaphorically) naked on stage in front of your peers. And get critiqued by the best in the business. And we saw that from three very special founders in the Product-Tear-Down. @WidelyHQ  @GetOmnify @99Tests, were three SaaS startups at different MRRs, at different stages of their product/market lifecycle. Read up on their experience at

These three were chosen by the panel from seven initial conversations, from a shortlist of a few dozen startups who had applied. The startups they picked were in different stages, had to be easily understood by the audience, and yet have enough lessons to learn from. The goal was to create teachable moments, and the audience loved it with many founders volunteering to get their products torn down, something we’re working to do at scale. If you’re interested follow @saasxin to get notified.

Fantastic event with priceless learnings.

The constant refrain on the SaaS side has been ‘move up market’. But what does that mean? Well if you were at SaaSx, @Sudheer_Zenoti spoke candidly about their journey from SMB->Enterprise. What’s the largest single $ value sale done on the phone from India, for an online sale product? I nearly slipped off my chair when I heard a 7 digit number. In US Dollars. Whoa! And here we are discussing whether Inside sales can work at $30,000. It must be something in the Chennai water that Arun Kumar, COO Zarget drank over his 13+ years of inside sales experience. Or was it in the product? In India, we have enough developers and product managers, to build any product we need. But as Srikrishnan Ganesan pointed out, ‘Market trumps everything’, and if you are in a bad market, or too early, or too late, then there is little you can do to win. There are many paths to $1M ARR. Some have angels that give you loans, and others take some time to light, but then take off like a rocket. If you were there till then end, Ashwin Ramesh of Synup, and Girish Redekar of RecruiterBox, shared their paths to where they are. The only truth is that there’s no one path, you’ve got to make your own!

SaaSx4 was fantastic. I started implementing few of my learning from Saturday (18th March) itself.

The morning #SaaSFaQ unconference turned out to have some great questions on product/market fit and GTM from early stage startups. Fielded by Shekhar Kirani, Avlesh Singh, Krish Subramanian, there was a great deal of interactive learning concentrated on the floor. Learning for next time, break it up into smaller sub-sections, to get even more interactive and participatory.

In Product Teardown session, it was evident that Bharat’s inputs blowed everyone away.

Do you have more than $1M ARR, facing growing pains in your org and model?? Well, in the morning, the dynamic duo – Suresh and Girish, ran a closed door session for a few founders, getting into serious topics that were only for founders’ ears. What happened inside, stayed inside.

Every SaaSx runs purely on the passionate, high-energy,  super-committed volunteers, themselves serious SaaS founders & thinkers, who create the strictly curated content that makes for a great experience. This year the volunteers were @MrGirish, @SureshSambandam,  @cbKrish, @ArvindParthiban, @Avlesh, @avinashraghava and @sKirani. We sorely missed  the ever-energetic wisecrack @vinod_cc. Like every year @_rakeshmondal did a kickass design and website, bringing SaaSx to virtual life online.


Here’s to an even better #SaaSx5 next time around!

 

Deep And Wide Product Adoption Are Key To Reducing SaaS Churn

Who am I writing for? SaaS product managers and founders.

We recently had someone move on from Wingify (the company that owns VWO and Pushcrew). After they were gone, admin was doing a review of our software expenses and found a line-item for Popcorn Metrics with no clear owner. The person who had left was the only one using it, and no one knew why, or what it was used for.

Removing Popcorn is as easy as removing a code snippet, so I reached out to them asking to cancel.

This is the problem when your product hasn’t been adopted widely or deeply. You might have sold the product in that a customer is paying for it, but you haven’t truly sold it until they’re using it extensively.

Width

By width, I mean that multiple hierarchies across departments in a company are using the product. Best examples would be:

  • communication platforms (Skype, Gmail)
  • HR & performance management software
  • document editing and management (Google Docs, Office 365)

If a product solves the basic needs of any workforce, it’s likely to be adopted widely. The more widely a product is used, the more value it’s providing and consequently, it’s difficult to remove.

Depth

By depth, I mean the level of dependence on a product. For me, defining features of deep adoption are:

  • the product supports a key process, eg. the company’s sales process runs on a CRM, performance & payroll management is done on an HR software, or technical support delivered through support software
  • the product has important data that companies don’t want to lose
  • the product enables, or connects with multiple other data silos to make 1 + 1 = 3
  • the product is mouldable to support the company’s workflow

Placing the products we use at VWO on a depth/width graph, here’s what I came up with:

Explaining the graph above:

  • Recruiterbox comes in the middle-ish because it’s mostly used by hiring managers and HR. It is used across all departments, but not across enough hierarchies. And the data it contains isn’t as valuable… mostly resumes/profiles of candidates who weren’t a fit.
  • Canva, the easy graphic design software for non-designers, which I put to show a product that has minimal width or depth. It mostly comes up when designers aren’t available. Going by Canva’s initial positioning, they might get slightly deeper adoption if they are able to tap into social media marketing teams.
  • Clearbit, connected to Salesforce and used for lead enrichment. We hardly ever login to the product, but I suspect we’ll keep using it until the contract renewal date rolls by and they raise prices. That’s when we’ll probably look to BuiltWith or something similar. I’ve included Clearbit to show a product that takes care of a small but important part of a business process, and as long as it does its job and the business process remains the same, it’ll keep being used.
  • I’ve put Namely in the middle because even though it is HR and performance management software, at Wingify we haven’t adopted it fully. I notice that everyone uses it, but only for a few days every quarter during appraisal time. It could have deeper adoption if we had big-company kinda HR processes, but since we don’t, maybe Namely is suited to big companies with more sophisticated HR policies and management?
  • Salesforce is probably the best example of a product completely owning a process, owning data, deep integrations and being used extensively by executives. I admire them for this, though I will never recommend them to anyone because of the painful experience it is dealing with the company and the product.

More thoughts

Not all products can have wide and deep adoption, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If a product can capture even one important process for a team, the likelihood of churn reduces significantly. For example, Canva could if it targeted teams that need quick, good-looking images without relying on a graphic designer. First thing comes to my mind is social media teams in B2C businesses who are running campaigns all the time. Or take Recruiterbox from above, not widely or deeply adopted in the org but does a damn good job of streamlining the recruiting process.

Products tend to have higher a lifetime if they have some of the following properties:

  • Are the “source of truth” in an org for important process/data
  • Are in the core departments of finance, HR, sales, manufacturing/production/product and R&D
  • Are used by practitioners and executives for different purposes
  • Some or all parts of a team’s KPIs are reported by the product
  • Are heavily used by senior management
  • They are close to the value provided & realized by a company, like product, R&D or revenue/profits

Salespeople are trained to hack the selling process by reaching the highest decision maker as soon as possible. No doubt this still works, but in a world where hierarchies are flattening, practitioners who’re going to be actually using the product are becoming important factors in the buying process. Making a quick sale without adequate follow-up support from customer success managers leaves you at a risk of being upended after the contract period.

The Customer Success function can have a massive impact on increasing lifetime value if they understand that their goal in the first few months is to increase width and depth of adoption of the product, and they’re incentivized towards those goals.

Based off my Canva point, I realize that when you’re creating a product, it’s important to think of the process and data that you’re going to own, and for the teams + hierarchies that you’re going to own them. And this needs product + human effort.

I’m surprised why products don’t integrate more deeply with email. There’s this entire hullabaloo about AI and chatbots right now (early 2017). I’d instead focus energies on much a deeper sync with Gmail and Outlook. After all, that’s where the majority of decision makers spend their time.

Guest Post by Siddharth Deswal, Lead Marketing at VWO. This post originally appeared on http://deswal.org/saas/to-reduce-churn-your-saas-needs-to-be-adopted-widely-and-deeply/