“High share premium is not the basis of a high valuation but the outcome of valid business decisions. This new whitepaper by our iSPIRT policy experts highlights how share premia is a consequence of valid business decisions, why 56(2)(viib) is only for unaccounted funds and measures to prevent valid companies from being aggrieved by it”
Drones have been around for a long time, going back as far as World War II. For most of their history, they were considered part of the military arsenal and developed and deployed almost exclusively by the military.
However, the past decade has seen a tremendous amount of research and development in the area of using drones for civilian purposes. This has led industry experts to predict that drones will be disrupting some of the mainstay industries of the global economy such as logistics, transportation, mining, construction and agriculture to name a few. Analysts estimate a $100 billion market opportunity for drones in the coming few years . In spite of the overwhelming evidence in favour of the value created by drones, it has taken quite a few years for the drone industry to take off in a commercial sense globally.
The main reason for this has been the regulatory challenges around what is allowed to fly in the air and where is it allowed to fly. A common theme around the world is the unconventional challenges that old governmental structures have to face as they try to understand and regulate new technologies. Hence the default approach so far for governments has been reactionary caution as they try to control what are, essentially, flying robots in the sky.
However, with electronic costs coming down, the hardware becoming more accessible and the software interpreting data becomes more powerful a number of humanitarian, civilian and industrial application have emerged and as governments across the world are realizing the potential of drones, we are starting to see the first version of regulations being drafted and adopted across the globe.
Closer home India has a relatively adverse approach to drones or more lackadaisical rather. 
But as India continues to drive to become a more technology-oriented economy the role of drones in the worlds fastest growing economy and the potential benefits it can bring are hard to ignore.
However, India’s approach to drone regulations cannot be that of other major economies that have the luxury of friendly neighbours and a large network of monitoring apparatus, India has had to take an approach that has to be novel and robust. Something that balances the security landscape while also being designed to allow maximum utilization of the potential that drones offer. Out of this need to both regulate secure how and where a drone can fly and keep multi-ministerial stakeholder interests accounted for was born the Digital Sky, India’s foundational framework for all things drones.
What is the Digital Sky and how does it work?
What the Digital Sky accomplishes beautifully is to fill the institutional void that needs to be collectively fulfilled by so many institutions and make it easier for the industry and consumers to interface with the government legally through one platform. Permission to fly drone no longer requires a 90-day intimation with an arbitrary number of NOCs to be approved by umpteen number of ministerial bodies at the central and federal level. The industry and the public now know one place to interact with in order to register their drone, get recognised as a certified operator and apply for permissions and all concerned government agencies ensure their overarching interests do not interfere with the large-scale adoption of drones.
There are crucial components required for the Digital Sky concept to work, the most central being that drone operators should not be able to fly drones if they are not approved by the government. To accomplish this the Drone 1.0 regulations revolve around the concept of No-Permission-No-Takeoff (NPNT).
What this implies is that unless a drone has got valid permission for a particular flight through tamper-proof digitally signed permission tokens, it will not be able to take off. The Digital Sky is the platform to automate the processing of these permission tokens as they flow in from different parts of the country without overwhelming the authorities through a flight information management system (one of only three countries to build this nationally after China and the USA). In order for this vision to come true, there will be an enormous change in the way drones are manufactured and operated. Entire new industry verticals around getting existing drones compliant, developing interfaces that interact with the Digital Sky platform and making applications for India’s needs will develop. Hence this begs the question.
How are the current state of the industry are changing with 1.0 regulations
Until the introduction of the regulations companies especially in the UAV operations were doing non-restricted work and end up becoming the jack-of-all-trades. Companies in the manufacturing domain were unclear of who is their target customer and what they needed to build. All the companies in this domain were working with no clarity on the safety and permissions.
With the introduction of the Drone Policy 1.0, there is a buzz which has been created and efforts are being made to understand the regulations by all the entities who are set to gain from it. They understand that there will be a new aspect that needs to cater to i.e. the sense of accountability.
For manufacturer’s The NP-NT mandate will be the most immediate requirement, the most common route to implement the mandate will be through changes to existing firmware architecture. The changes themselves are being driven by open source initiatives with various operators, system integrators and manufacturers contributing to the shift to NP-NT for all major drone platforms in the country. The Digital Sky has inadvertently catalysed the first industry-wide initiative to bring together all members of the ecosystem. Other requirements such as ETA bring in much-needed standardisation in the hardware space, this allows benchmarking of products, easier availability of information about the standards to look out for end users.
For operators, a massive increase in the volume of business is expected as they can now focus on getting certified drones into the air, and not so much on getting approvals. The Digital Sky brings in much-needed certainty and predictability into an industry that will be focused on balancing demand and supply of drone-related operations in a market that has a huge need for drones and their data but limited expertise to acquire and process it. This also puts onus an industry to become security and privacy conscious and insurance agencies will play an important role in this regard. It will also immensely help in changing the thought process of the companies providing services and their customers. Customers will start understanding that they also need to have a defined plan, process and execution instead of a haphazard existing process of execution.
How industry/playground will change over the coming years?
With the introduction on the regulations and a platform like Digital sky enabling the ease of doing business for the companies who are serious stakeholders in this domain, there is no limit to what developments will occur in the coming years. It opens up possibilities for utilization of Drone and its related technologies in Agriculture, Medical, Energy and Infrastructure and transportation.
The existing players will become more mature and more focused. They will understand that with regulations in place a more focused approach is the key to scale. They will look at opportunities to compete with the global market also as the solutions that are developed around the Drone Regulations 1.0 and 2.0 will be key factors that contribute to the Indian ecosystem to becoming a global standard to test, adapt and innovate drone applications and management.
What are the opportunities? What does that mean for the current and new players?
UAV/ Drones as a business was a far-fetched thought for many entrepreneurs and has been a struggling industry in the past in India. Going forward it is guaranteed that it will be one of the biggest markets in the world for UAV as a business. What the regulations and Digital Sky platform will enable is a new levelled playground ground for the UAV companies to initiate good scalable business models both existing and the ones entering new to the sector.
The existing companies with the right resources can now plan to scale their operations and also have the added advantage of doing work for the private sector in India. Due to the restrictive method of operations adapted previously the solutions to private agencies was unavailable. Now going forward the companies will shift their focus from being a B2G entity to a B2B entity. Many new businesses for UAV air traffic management, surveillance, AI and ML-based UAV solutions and deliveries will emerge out of India with technology specific to India.
Since SaaSx second edition, I have never missed a single edition of SaaSx. The 5th edition – SaaSx was recently held on the 7th of July, and the learnings and experiences were much different from the previous three that I had attended.
One primary topic this year was bootstrapping, and none other than Sridhar Vembu, the CEO and Founder of Zoho, was presenting. The session was extremely relevant and impactful, more so for us because we too are a bootstrapped organisation. Every two months of our 4.5 year-long bootstrapped journey, we have questioned ourselves on whether we have even got it right! If we should go ahead and raise funds. Sridhar’s session genuinely helped us know and understand our answers.
However, as I delved deeper, I realised that the bigger picture that Sridhar was making us aware of was the entrepreneurial journey of self-discovery. His session was an earnest attempt to promote deep thinking and self-reflection amongst all of us. He questioned basic assumptions and systematically dismantled the traditional notions around entrepreneurship. Using Zoho as an example, he showed how thinking from first principles helped them become successful as a global SaaS leader.
What is it that drives an entrepreneur? Is it the pursuit of materialistic goals or the passion to achieve a bigger purpose? The first step is to have this clarity in mind, as this can be critical in defining the direction your business would take. Through these questions, Sridhar showed that business decisions are not just driven by external factors but by internal as well.
For example, why should you chase high growth numbers? As per him, the first step to bootstrapping is survival. The top 5 goals for any startup should be Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive, Survive. Survival is enough. Keep your costs low and make sure all your bills are paid on time. Cut your burn rate to the lowest. Zoho created 3 lines of business. The current SaaS software is their 3rd. They created these lines during their journey of survival and making ends meet.
Why go after a hot segment (with immense competition) instead of a niche one? If it’s hot, avoid it i.e. if a market segment is hot or expected to be hot, it will be heavily funded. It will most likely be difficult to compete as a bootstrapped organisation and is henceforth avoidable. Zoho released Zoho docs in 2007, but soon as he realized that Google and Microsoft had entered the space, he reoriented the vision of Zoho to stay focused on business productivity applications. Zoho docs continues to add value to Zoho One, but the prime focus is on Applications from HR, Finance, Support, Sales & Marketing and Project Management. Bootstrapping works best if you find a niche, but not so small that it hardly exists. You will hardly have cut throat competition in the niche market and will be able to compete even without heavy funding.
Most SaaS companies raise funds for customer acquisition. Even as a bootstrapped company customer acquisition is important. As you don’t have the money, you will need to optimise your marketing spend. Try and find a cheaper channel first and use these as your primary channel of acquisition. Once you have revenue from the these channels, you can start investing in the more expensive one. By this time you will also have data on your life time value and will be able to take better decisions.
Similarly, why base yourself out of a tier 1 city instead of tier 2 cities (with talent abound)? You don’t need to be in a Bangalore, Pune, or a Mumbai to build a successful product. According to Sridhar, if he wanted to start again, he would go to a smaller city like Raipur. Being in an expensive location will ends up burning your ‘meager monies’ faster. This doesn’t mean that being in the top IT cities of India is bad for your business, but if your team is located in one of the smaller cities, do not worry. You can still make it your competitive advantage.
Self-discipline is of utmost importance for a bootstrapped company. In fact, to bootstrap successfully, you need to ensure self-discipline in spends, team management, customer follow-ups, etc. While bootstrapping can demand frugality and self-discipline, the supply of money from your VC has the potential to destroy the most staunchly disciplined entrepreneurs as well. Watch out!
And last but not the least – It takes time to build something successful. It took Zoho 20 years to make it look like an overnight success.
As a first time attendee of iSPIRT‘s annual SaaSx conference, I didn’t know what to expect as we drove along the western coast of India towards Mahabalipuram – the venue for SaaSx5. From all the chatter around the event on Twitter, it looked like the who’s who of SaaS leaders in India were attending. Upon arrival, I took my seat with my colleague and looked around. There were only about 100 people in the room, very different from most conferences I’d attended in the past – a lot more exclusive, and a melting pot of SaaS founders building a diverse set of products. It had all the markings of an inspiring day, and it did not disappoint.
Starting with a keynote from the estimable founder of Zoho, Sridhar Vembu, the day was packed with talks and discussions focused on growing one’s SaaS company in the current technology landscape, primarily led by founders of notable SaaS companies of the country. One such event was an unconference on “Setting up and Scaling Sales across Segments and Geographies”, led by Ashwin Ramasamy from PipeCandy.
Picture this: about 80 founders seated in a room, circled around Ashwin who was leading the conversation about setting up and scaling your sales team. Since the flat organizational hierarchy at SignEasy, and the culture of openness at the company provide me with a wonderful vantage point of all functions across our company, including sales, I was eager to listen to the different perspectives that the founders brought to the table. At the start of the discussion, Ashwin graciously asked the audience for talking points they’d like covered, and the discussion began. A plethora of topics were discussed, starting from the very definition of inside sales, leading up to when and why to deploy an inside-sales team. Hiring and putting together the right sales team, including whether it should be in-house or outsourced, was another hot topic of debate with many founders offering their own experiences and perceptions.
The conversation then steered towards outbound sales and the mechanics and economics of that, which contributed to some of the biggest takeaways for me – things that cannot be found in a book and are only learned through experience.
The success rate of outbound sales peaks at 2%, as opposed to the 40-50% success rate you come to expect with inbound sales. This was an interesting insight, as it’s easy to assume your outbound effort is underperforming when it could actually be doing quite well. Also, you should use the interest you’re receiving through the inbound channel to refine your outbound strategy – your inbound interests are a goldmine of information on the kind of industries, company sizes, and job functions your potential customers represent. At SignEasy, we are constantly honing our outbound target by capturing as much information as possible from our inbound requests.
Further, the efficacy of your outbound sales effort is a direct function of the maturity of the market you’re in – for a saturated market with tens of other competitors, outbound usually fails to make a mark because it’s difficult to grab a potential customer’s attention. This is a great rule of thumb to decide if outbound is for you, depending on the market your product serves.
Outbound sales also requires dedicated effort rather than a ‘spray and pray approach’ – a minimum 6-month commitment is crucial to the success of your outbound strategy. Founders should be deeply involved in this initial effort, sending out 500 emails a day for at least 3 months, and tweaking and iterating through them as they get to the most effective email. It’s also important to dedicate yourself to a channel when experimenting, but also experiment and exhaust numerous channels over time to zero in on the most effective ones.
The value of this discussion, and indeed the day, was best expressed by the ferocity with which my colleague and I took notes and wrote down every piece of advice that was being dropped around the room. Being product leads of the SMB business and mobile products respectively, Phalgun and I were amazed at how much we could relate to each point being discussed, having been through and living the journey first-hand ourselves at SignEasy.
SaaSx5 was nothing short of inspiring, and we emerged from it feeling uber-optimistic about SaaS in India, and what the future holds
It’s been two years since the fateful 2016 budget which recognised “Startups” as a separate breed of companies unto themselves, demanding bespoke treatment from the government and authorities. The clarity brought forth helped quell the nerves of both companies and investors, who had to otherwise resort to exotic exercises, supplementary structures, and platoons of professionals to keep their entrepreneurial dreams alive.
As we all await with bated breath for the slew of reforms expected of the Finance Minister, it behoves us to see how far we’ve come and how much further we need to proceed so that a billion dreams may become a reality.
This article is the first part of a two-part series which explores how Startup India has eased the friction in the Startup ecosystem so far, from an investor’s perspective with the second part talking about the next step of reforms which would have a multiplier effect on the ecosystem.
Flywheel of Funding
More often than not, any coverage about fundraising covers the journey of startups and entrepreneurs and the travails of raising their multimillion dollar rounds. But there exists another dimension to this story, that of fund managers raising their own funds. A large section of the investor community was elated that the government recognised this oft-ignored story and created the Rs 10,000 Cr (USD 1.5 billion) Fund of Funds managed by SIDBI which invests into SEBI registered AIFs and Venture Capital Funds.
This approach seeks to galvanise an ecosystem through a flywheel effect, instead of gardening it via direct intervention. The 10,000 Cr corpus can help seed AIFs worth Rs 60,000 Cr in India, which when fully deployed, is estimated to foment 18 lakh jobs and fund thousands of Indian startups. By contributing a maximum of 20% of the corpus of a fund, many fund managers can hasten they fundraise and concentrate more on helping their portfolio companies raise, instead of competing with them.
The Fund of Funds has invested into 88 AIFs so far, thus galvanising more than 5,600 Cr (USD 873 million) worth of investments into 472 Startups.
Bringing back tax breaks, not a back-breaking Tax
The Government’s support of Indian investors found its way into the Income Tax Act, with several measures to incentivise investments into the Indian Startup ecosystem, such as:
- Insertion of Section 54 EE, which exempts Long-Term Capital Gains up to Rs 50 lakhs provided it has been invested in the units of a SEBI registered AIF
- Insertion of section 54GB, which exempts Long-Term Capital Gains of up to Rs 50 lakhs provided it been invested into the shares of a Startup which qualifies for section 80IAC
- Clarifying that the conversion of debentures or preference shares to equity shares will not be considered as a transfer and thus subject to capital gains at the point of conversion (the entire Venture Capital industry is based on convertible debentures and preference shares and this move has settled long-standing disputes regarding the instruments of investments)
- Issuing a notification that the dreaded angel tax will not apply to shares issued at a premium to domestic investors by those startups who qualify under the DIPP scheme (although the scope of this needs to be extended to rid the spectre of angel tax that haunts various investors and entrepreneurs)
- Clarifying that the stance of the assessee in categorising the sale of listed securities held for more than 1 year as Capital Gains or Income from Business can’t be questioned by the taxman
- Changing the definition of a capital asset to include any securities held by a Foreign Portfolio Investor, thus removing the friction arising from asset classification (a similar provision is sorely needed for domestic hedge funds and Category III AIFs)
Capital without Borders
The Startup India scheme over the past few years has rolled out the red carpet to foreign investors while rolling back the red tape. The success of this is evidenced by the percentage of funding foreign capital represents in the Indian startup ecosystem, which is 9 times higher than domestic capital investment.
Some of the initiatives include:
- Liberalising Foreign Direct Investment into most sectors including financial services, single brand retail, pharma, media and a host of other sectors up to 100% in most areas
- Abolishment of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board
- Relaxation of External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs) for Startups for up to USD 3 million
- Allowing for issue of shares for non-cash consideration to non-residents under the automatic route
- Marshalling foreign investment into Indian entities primarily for the purpose of investing in other Indian entities has been brought under the automatic route as opposed to the previous government approval route
- Dismantling the approval mechanism for the transfer of securities by a Foreign Venture Capital fund to an Indian resident
- Moving most of the filings (FCGPR, FCTRS, etc) to an online window managed by the RBI (ebiz.gov.in)
Well begun is half done
The government’s efforts to improve life for Startups in investors have begun to bear fruit in tangible ways as evidenced by the reduction in the number of companies seeking to have a Delaware entity with Indian operations. The recent leapfrog in the “Ease of Business” rankings also stands testament to this.
The Government must now seek to consolidate all these gains and clarify its stance and the stance of the tax department on long pending issues which have been a bane to all startups. While we have miles to go before we sleep, we must look back and take note of what we’ve achieved before we seek to scale greater heights.
An unusually hectic travel schedule this summer took me to four great cities in four weeks: London, Chicago, Dubai and Beijing. In each, I learned about at least one interesting organization. In London, I added to my knowledge about Unilever, the well-known consumer goods giant whose products range from soaps and shampoos to ice creams and soups, when I met the head of a unit called Unilever Foundry that engages with startups. In Chicago, I attended a Father’s Day event at Willow Creek, a non-denominational megachurch that averages over 25,000 attendees every weekend. In Dubai, I learned about Aramex, a company sometimes referred to as “the FedEx of the Middle East”, whose Chairman Fadi Ghandour was the recipient of the 2017 Academy of International Business (AIB) Executive of the Year award. Finally, in Beijing, I visited the Nasdaq-listed JD.com, China’s first internet company to be featured in the Fortune 500.
Four very disparate organizations, but all with an unexpected common thread that became quickly apparent to me in each case: entrepreneurial behavior. As a relatively young e-commerce retailer, JD.com was probably the most “obvious” candidate for being entrepreneurial – and from the various displays at its futuristic exhibition center it wasn’t difficult to perceive that the company was in no mood to rest on its laurels. But the hunger to stay relevant was evident at the other organizations as well. In the case of Unilever, it had quite deliberately stepped outside of its comfort zone to engage with non-traditional allies, specifically startups, in the pursuit of novel ideas and innovative solutions. In relation to Willow Creek Church, it had clearly added creative elements into its activities, borrowing from a very different template – showbiz – to infuse its worship services with a greater experiential appeal. And as for Aramex, here was a courier company that had fearlessly pursued opportunities in a volatile region which held little appeal (when it was created in the 1980s) to large international players.
Why do I describe these companies as entrepreneurial? Arguably, Unilever’s behavior can be described as proactive in that it took the initiative to add a new dimension to its partnering activities: working with startups. Willow Creek’s actions can be termed as being innovative in that, in order to enhance their efficacy, novel ideas were creatively incorporated into what some would view as boring activities. Aramex had demonstrated a propensity for risk-taking. Academics refer to these features – proactiveness, innovativeness and risk-taking – as dimensions of “entrepreneurial orientation”. Numerous studies suggest that higher levels of these specific characteristics in organizations yield better results and, as JD.com is clearly striving for, continuous strategic renewal. The important message here, then, is that being entrepreneurial isn’t just for startups in high-tech sectors; it is as relevant to large corporations like Unilever, non-profits like Willow Creek and firms in traditional industries like Aramex.
So what does it take for an organization to be entrepreneurial? Here are three lessons:
1. Recognize that it is a collective effort. It was evident to me that in all four cases, the leader at the very top was providing clear messages to organizational members, calling for creativity and dynamism. But that was not all. These organizations seemed to also have “middle managers” who had bought into the need to stay hungry, and they all implicitly or explicitly emphasized the need for attracting and retaining talent. Thus, while leaders matter, it’s not just about them. Everyone in the organization has a part to play.
2. Draw inspiration from your local environment. While there are broad similarities between these four organizations, the specifics in terms of being entrepreneurial perhaps reflect some inherently local characteristics. For instance, Unilever Foundry struck me as very global in its ethos and ambitions – not unlike London, the city in which it is headquartered. Willow Creek had “creative directors” on its staff whose passion for pushing the envelope reflected the creative edginess for which Chicago is known. Aramex’s resilience was congruent with that of Dubai’s. JD.com’s scale of ambition echoed that of Beijing’s.
3. Learn to be comfortable with contradictory ideas. All four organizations were addressing tensions. To illustrate, Unilever was exploiting its own assets (brands) and exploring new ideas via outsiders (startups). Aramex had to remain locally relevant to its core Middle Eastern base, yet also be international in its mindset and reach. Willow Creek was holding on to both the traditional and the modern. JD.com seemed focused not only on short-term competitive challenges but also on long-term strategic imperatives.
Clearly, none of these lessons is easy to put into practice. Being entrepreneurial is effortful, not effortless. It is unlikely that these organizations, or any others, always get it right. The key, however, is to strive continually.
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.
Founder – Applyifi
1) Destiny is a Child
2) Create a Crisis on purpose
3) Unbundling of Payments in FinTech
4) Recruiting – Interview the Intern | Work-Life Balance
6) Baba, Are you?
TiE Nagpur and iSPIRT – two iconic initiatives, committed to building a great startup ecosystem for startups in India, came together to create magic at the Nagpur Innofest on the 5th of March 2017. Innofest is a platform where innovators can connect with enablers, experts, mentors to build, create, connect, improvise & explore. It’s a movement on ‘Innovation’ in India.
The first Innofest of 2017 was held at Nagpur, with over 150 slated to attend the event. However, the organisers were pleasantly surprised to cater to over 250 people that eventually attended the event. The keynote addresses were made by Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder iSPIRT and Nagaprakasham, who is an investor. There were multiple workshops during the entire day.
Over 10 interesting hardware products were showcased at the event. Right from a 3D printing machine, collision-detecting devices, IoT based tracking devices, ultrasonic sensors, drone technology to the very unique e-funnel.
Nagaprakasham talked about the trend of creating copycat technologies and emphasized how innovation must ensure that newer technologies are able to touch more and more Indian lives. India’s strength lies in its humongous manpower, ample farmers, cheap labour and last but not the least, its vast natural beauty. And they all must be leveraged for innovation.
Subinder Khurana, held a session on Product innovation, where he talked about the essential ingredients of innovation. He pointed out that every venture must have a story of its own that is inspiring enough for not only the customers, but also family, friends, investors and other collateral stakeholders.
On the concept of disruption, he clarified that breaking something is easy, but it must be done creatively. Has some new technology being leveraged? Is there a good story around it? Is some equilibrium being challenged, which will add value to the customers?
Sharad Sharma spoke about IndiaStack and why it will be a critical step in helping creating new innovations for Bharath, he also explained about the building blocks as part of IndiaStack which include Aadhaar. He also spoke about how SAAS will be for India as Cyber Security is for Israel. He spoke so passionately that later during an audience interaction, Shashikant Choudhary, TiE Nagpur President felt that the entire stage was shaking and the podium would fall off. We had Radhesh Kanumury, Country Lead, Global Entrepreneur Program, IBM India Ltd having a fire side chat with Prajakt Raut. Radhesh spoke on the various technology trends giving good insights about them along with examples of innovative Startups working on those areas.
Another session, led by Prajakt Raut was on creating Business Plans. According to him b-plans are critical indicators of the real status of the business as it gives us a framework for assessing the business. The plans give us early warning signals of something that is not going right. It is important for every Founder to know the answers to these questions: What problem or opportunity are we addressing? (The market/ target audience). How are we addressing it?
How are we planning to do it? (Organisations & operations planning) what skills are required? (What are the competencies that are required to handle the business). Why are you doing it?
We also held the iKen Workshop which was facilitated by Rakesh Debur and Kavita Arora of Bangalore Makerspaces joined us to mentor the innovators. This entire activity was possible because of the support of TiE Nagpur and the people of Nagpur who joined us on a Sunday.
Some of the innovations showcased…
Traxafe is an advanced, tiny IOT based tracking device for kids, elders and cars. It’s based on GPS, GSM and BEACON technology connected with a user-friendly app to keep track of your loved ones.
E-Funnel is an electronic fluid gauging device. It measures any quantum of fluid flowing through it. All the information information of every fluid filling can be accessed through a mobile app or through our website on your desktop. It will be available for different variants of diesel generators, trucks and buses.
ISCREAM is a device which can perform numerous operations from detecting vehicle
collision to analysing the vehicle analytics.i-Scream is assisted with our IoT-based crash sensor and emergency response software which helps us to both keep a track on you and make you feel safe at the same time.
It has been a nervous month for the professionals working for internet and e-commerce companies in India. Shutdowns and layoffs have been the flavour of the month, and business models have come under scrutiny. The effects of recent events at Stayzilla and Snapdeal have not been limited to job losses only. Weighed down by these developments in the sector, Rakuten, the Japanese e-tailer, has puts its India plans on the back-burner.
Stayzilla, an alternate and homestay aggregator, has shut operations. Investors including Nexus Venture Partners and Matrix Partners have invested USD 33 million across multiple rounds in the company. The founders have promised to bounce back ‘with a different business model’.
Snapdeal, announced that it will lay-off about 600 employees from the company including from its Vulcan (logistics) and Freecharge (payments) business divisions. The company has so far raised USD 1.75 billion from investors which include global heavyweights such as Softbank, Kalaari Capital, Temasek, Alibaba Group and eBay. However, Snapdeal reportedly is left with less than enough cash to survive the next 12 months. The merger talks with Paytm, facilitated by the common investor Alibaba, are not murmurs anymore and seem to be the logical next step in many ways. A very honest and important insight on the business model emerged from this episode, in which the founders admitted to ‘doing too many things’ and ‘diversifying and starting new projects while we still hadn’t perfected the first or made it profitable’.
The above incidents highlight the fact that Indian e-commerce in 2016 has been significantly different from its ‘glory days’ in 2015. GMV growth in 2016 was flat, even though long term prospects remain intact for now. The year-end sales were also impacted due to the demonetisation exercise carried out by the government. The cash on delivery (CoD) transactions, which account for approximately 50% of total GMV, were severely impacted due to the lack of availability of the new currency notes.
Figure 1: India e-tailing GMV (USD mn)
Source: Company data, IAMAI, Euromonitor, Credit Suisse
GMV, as the supreme emperor of metrics, has lost its sheen and the challengers which have come to the fore include revenue per customer (function of number of orders per year, value per order and commission), net promoter score (a measure of customer satisfaction) and overall user monetisation (including alternative sources such as advertising as well as new service offerings such as hyperlocal services).
The sustainability of business model is back in focus as a tool to evaluate potential winners and losers. Throwing money at the customers as discounts has not worked out very well for a lot of players. There has been a definite move towards trying to find other means of retaining customers. Going forward, winners are most likely to be companies that provide a differentiated customer experience. An obvious example is Amazon Prime which now brings more personalized experience to the company’s customers. Flipkart (Flipkart Assured) and Snapdeal (Snapdeal Gold) have similar offerings to enhance the stickiness of their customers. While ‘Flipkart Assured’ has seen limited success so far, Amazon Prime, launched at a very attractive price point of INR 499 per year, seems to be more suited for success going forward. Amazon has also clubbed its Netflix challenge – Prime Video offering with Amazon Prime subscription. With these offerings, the companies are trying to take focus away from discounts and towards customisation, quick delivery, consistency and reliability of shopping experience.
The control over supply side is a key element of constructing an enhanced and consistent experience for customers. Logistics is one of most prominent cost items for ecommerce firms, and depending on the category and value of the goods being delivered, could be 10% to 20% of GMV.
In India, the number of Amazon fulfilment centres has grown to 27 by the end of 2016. Shipping from stores is less efficient than from dedicated fulfilment centres. Amazon is looking to replicate their success in North America where they have invested billions in network of fulfilment centres. It has more than 75 such centres in North America, covering 25 US states. This gives Amazon an easy two-day reach over the entire US. Snapdeal has opened 6 logistics hub during 2016, with an estimated investment of USD 300 million. Paytm, flush with a USD 200 million funding from Alibaba, is reportedly firming up plans for a significant strategic investment in a logistics firm to improve its deliveries process.
The key growth drivers for e-commerce in India remain in place. There is a large aspirational population, faster and wider internet access, a never before push on digital payments and an opportunity to further penetrate the offline organised retail market. Nevertheless, the year 2016 has been a reality check. The Indian players have had to review their business models and take some tough calls to focus on sustainability. While the market may continue to be volatile in the short term, with more potential shutdowns and/or consolidation in the offing, we can now be more confident that the firms that do survive will turn profitable soon.
This is a guest post by Arvind Yadav,
Principal at Aurum Equity Partners LLP.
You’ve shaped up your business idea to flag off. You have a pool of talent believing in that idea and lined up with working prototype with feedback. Now, it’s time for funding to take your idea to concept to design to product to a successful business.
Depending on the idea, startup projects can be particularly expensive and often incur new, unforeseen costs. That is particularly true of technological ideas, which are currently in vogue but require exploratory costs (to pay experts to determine if the idea is feasible) and initial product development costs. Even if a team proves the idea is feasible, they often need to build a working model or prototype to prove that to investors, which can sometimes add thousands of dollars to startup expenses.
The vital idea behind bootstrapping in commercial means is to borrow as minimal finance as possible. In two words, you only rely on either on your own budget and savings, on some crowdfunded amount or simply on loans from friends and family. This scenario urges you to borrow insignificant amounts of money and thus keep interest costs minimal. But as the market dynamics populates further, the wider entrepreneurial community starts delivering differing views.
Guy Kawasaki has proclaimed that “you should always be a boot-strapper… too much money is worse than too little” but goes onto to suggest “if you do get offered venture capital, take it, but don’t spend it”.
Most people focus all their time and attention on building their idea, and forget that even the coolest product or service is worthless if people don’t use it. Creating a successful product or service requires two things:
- A solid implementation of the idea.
- People that use it.
For the best chance of success, you need to identify the smallest core of your idea that has value to your potential users, build only that, and release it. This “minimum viable product” or MVP serves as the ultimate idea testing ground. It lets you build a relatively inexpensive version of your idea, test it with real users, and measure adoption.
Investors see a lot of ideas, which is why they won’t sign an NDA (your idea is not original, no matter what you think). But if you have a team that has delivered products in the past, worked through adversity, and has a failure or two to learn from, then the investor can see a group of people who will protect his investment, and has demonstrated the skills to do so.
So No. An idea will not get you funded.
To be investible, a start-up needs to have a good product-market fit and the potential to scale up quickly to a large market. It needs to be defensible with intellectual property or some other competitive advantage. And it needs to have a credible team in place, people who investors will believe can execute. And there needs to be some kind of proof, also called validation, also called traction.
Building an early prototype also helps you attract tech talent, because it gives people something to look at and play with, and it communicates your idea in a more “tangible” form. Then you can shop it around to potential technical co-founders to get them excited about your vision. If you have the means to actually build a working prototype, so much the better!
Additionally, the current market size doesn’t matter. The market size in 10 years is what really matters. You want to be in a small but rapidly growing market. You can change everything in your start-up except the market. So spend a lot of time up front to make sure you’ve thought through your market. “Having value” and “being fundable” are two completely different things.
Two of the most valuable things that the investor community seems to have been seeing from close quarters are: customer feedback and data from pilot research, which can enable them ask questions that lead to product breakthroughs. Angel Investors would need to know how your idea has improved to a bit more than a fledged product wireframe, so that their willingness to invest into those ideas via money, and social reach can increase to ensure that the success of your product is further defines by cutting-edge product development process.
Following guidance is thus seems to have gained ground and immovable traction for all the aspiring entrepreneurs who are progressing from a Bootstrapping channels to Angeled funding:
- Be value-driven rather than fund-driven
- Be independent of technologies that make you lose control over your idea
- Make the customer a base for your product than profit
- Base your ideas on supply and demand and not on the money it can attract
Once again, this isn’t a strict definition, but the seed round is normally used to fund the initial stage of your company where you’re finding product/market fit, and the following rounds are meant to help with scaling. That said, the road from concept to readiness (aka product MVP) is long and winding. Entrepreneurs’ single greatest challenge in this sphere of activity is balancing bursting creativity with structured, method-driven decision making.
This post is not about “tools” which will make you (integral)dx more productive. This post is about telling you rules of the Jungle called Product Management.
So you are the Product Manager, Right ?
You just graduated out of B-School (or even worse completed your bachelors degree) and you have been given the product manager tag in the company you decided to work in. Welcome to the Jungle. Unless you have a really f**ed up CEO or a clueless CTO, you are in for a hell of a ride. There are a dozen of definitions of a Product Manager but, here is the one that sticks –
You are the mini ‘CEO’
Welcome to the Jungle. People don’t follow rules here. Especially when it comes to product. Here are 49 rules that I have curated, over the course of 7 years, across Product, Operations and Sales.
As a Product Manager, you will be exposed to attention, and a lot of it. Mostly unwanted and discomforting. Don’t be surprised if your peers are jealous of your role. You will get pulled into every meeting. You will looked upto/at for every release. For every feature. For almost every client meeting/call. But that is least of your worries. Unless you have been a PM before, your biggest challenge would be not having a benchmark. You have no way to draw the line. Follow these rules and you will stumble less- I am personally still trying to master the art.
- Get sold to the product. Believe in the product yourself. If you don’t, try again. If you still can’t make your self believe it, drop it and find something else.
- You will get sucked up in your work schedule. Be ready for it.
- Don’t get sucked up every time. At times, drop the bomb on Sales and Marketing. Reality check can never hurt
- Learn the art of saying no. At least in your head. Practice it over a period of time with/on your CEO, CTO, Sales and Marketing (in that order)
- Develop a healthy relationship with your developers, QA and designers.
- Avoid making value judgements. What are value judgements ? The statement that you say aloud in your head without ANY authority or reliable data to back it. You always know when you are speaking from the gut. (You know who else spoke from the gut ? George W Bush)
- Trust your developers. Back them up. Stand for them. Pat their back and give them credit.
- Bet on your Sales and Marketing. Support them. Be their favourite cheer leader. Always
- Keep some buffer from Day 0 itself on your delivery schedule. You are surrounded by uncertainties. Every client wanted “it” yesterday and no dev will have it ready by tomorrow.
- Split roles between you and your CTO. Decide, who will plan and who will drive the execution. Don’t fuck this one up. Don’t take planning, because you most likely don’t understand your dev’s code.
- Between your CEO, CMO and you, figure out who will OBSESS about “organic growth” (SEO). You don’t have bandwidth, don’t ever opt-in for this one.
- Coin and propagate your own product terminology/nomenclature, before sales “oversimplifies” it or dev “rocket-sciences” it. This is a critical to build and manage perception.
- Write emails with keywords that you can search. Chat with keywords that you can recall and search again. You will spend significant time in forwarding old emails to dev, sales, marketing, CEO. Skip the CTO. Your CTO barely opens your email.
- Park your personal choices of colors, fonts and design at home. Product is being built for customer’s delight, not yours (or your investors)
- Like a rhetoric, keep telling point #14 to your CEO.
- Get a Tee that says “Good is not fast and fast is not cheap.” Boring, cliche but still right.
- Pulling an all nighter for product release is cool and fun, but not if you are releasing thrice a week.
- Remember that you don’t understand quality assurance or testing. Like everything else, QA is a skill. Unless you have learnt it, avoid claiming it.
- If you are building a B2B product, you definitely need a QA. If you are building a B2C product, hell as sure you need more than 1 QA.
- Be friends with QA and Designer. Make them feel special. You won’t exist without them.
- Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups. Under communication is an assumption. Hence, under communication is a fuck up. Over communicate and play safe.
- Build your own narrative as an objective and data driven person. Understand and question the objective before jumping into anything (including that market research slide for the investor deck)
- Document everything that is made and not made. At least try.
- Begin you conversations with developers and designers with context. They will feel involved, aware and productive. Context helps. Always.
- In the same breathe, demand context from Sales, Marketing and CEO. You will be able to address their requirement faster.
- You will always be able to sell better than your entire sales team combined. But again, don’t do it.
- Keep your Company Logo Product Logo, favicon, Product Description (1 liner, 5 lines and 1 pager) always ready. Anyone can ask for this. Anytime.
- Plan ahead for a week. Do so on a Saturday/Friday Evening. Do it on a Sunday night if you have to but NEVER on a Monday morning.
- CEO’s often talk sense. Listen to them.
- Not everything that your CEO said was actionable. Don’t act on everything that your CEO says. They most likely didn’t expect action themselves.
- Build your own opinion about the industry, domain, and the product. Attend conferences/events focused on your industry.
- CTO’s can/will have walls. Be inquisitive ( read pushy)
- You need to be aligned with your CEO, Sales, Marketing and CTO. Don’t forget your actual job (Mini CEO/Get-Shit-Done)
- There is nothing better than pen paper when it comes to maintaining lists. There is nothing better than pen paper when it comes to wire-framing.
- Don’t boil the ocean with every release planning. Every dog has his(/her) day. You will have yours on the day of bug bashing.
- Avoid falling sick. Exercise daily. Meditate daily. And buy a Macbook air
- Nothing will go wrong if you are late by two minutes late in sending that presentation/ releasing your product update. Be right and late rather than being sorry and on time. If your Sales team can’t hold for a client for 2 mins, imagine..Again, plan better next time and avoid being sorry.
- Next time, a Sales guy says that “it was you and your product” that costed him/her a sale. Gulp down your ego. Hear them out. They are ranting. The next day, give it back to them. Patiently.
- Your role needs you to seek feedback. Proactively. Ideally once a month, from all your peers. Similarly, your feedback for your peers is critical.
- Sales folks are hired for selling. They most likely, can’t make presentations. Live with this fact. Make a template for them. Engage your sales team by changing the template’s colours every 10th week.
- There is never a bad time for having chai/coffee. Though Obama doesn’t drink coffee. But again, you are not Obama.
- Content writing is NOT your forte. Nevertheless, write the copy for your website or someone else will write something that you never made/promised/planned. Rant about it, if you ever hire a content writer
- Create your own reports, dashboards and product performance benchmarks. Do this before the developers starts developing.
- Start your day with numbers of the previous day.
- Learn to let go, of things you like. Your favourite features, CEO’s favorite feature, colors, fonts, processes and evening dates.
- In hindsight, you will always be right. Move on.
- You job needs you to be a swinging pendulum. Hah. Self-Pity mode is awesome. But, don’t let it stretch for more than few hours
- Last but not the least, remember to laugh about that how, once upon a time, everyone including your head of sales, marketing lead, CEO, CTO and dev ops were clueless about the house of cards that “you” got “built”
- In the end, make your own list. And pass it on.
Author – Vivek Khandelwal
Founder of Datability Solutions, a technology startup building iZooto, a web push notification platform for user engagement and retention.
A Step by Step guide on how product marketers should evaluate on page chat tools, implement and use them to start generating leads for sales.
We had rolled out the first version of our product in March. It was only in April when we saw a spike in customers signing up and we started getting lot of support enquiries. The reason for the latter was obvious – the product was broken. While we nearly choked on the support requests, we ended up creating a Ver 2 of the product. While the queries continued to flow in, the questions were different. The learning was simple – constant customer interaction and hand holding can prove to be extremely critical, especially when you are driving product adoption. The feedback that flows in, is worth its weight in gold. But again, not every beta user is an email fan and unless you are speaking to everyone ( less likely ), you will potentially be missing out on lot of feedback. It was at this stage, we decided to extend onpage chat as a support channel. The idea was simple – capture feedback whenever you can. And hence started our hunt for drilling down to the ultimate chat tool. We had a very clear requirement – we wanted to talk to people who are inside our product. Nothing more. Nothing less. We played with as many as 7 tools ( we rejected lot many ) and finally drilled down to Drift for onpage chat. I will talk about the choice in detail but before that here is how we went around with our primary research.
What’s Your Requirement ?
We tried a ticketing solution and we failed at using it. Ticketing solutions are meant for dedicated support teams. Back in March, we were 9 people. 3 of us were doing (trying to do) everything. Our requirement was very simple – we were not looking for a blown ticketing solution. At least not yet. But we also identified what we were looking for in the ideal solution –
- Query First. Details Later – Most of the messaging platforms, first ask users to fill in a form. These forms can have anything between 1-4 fields. That’s a catchy catch. Situations which trigger support are often desperate. Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures and the user will end up providing all details to log in a support request. The experience is clumsy and far from being ideal. The ideal experience should be the other way round, allowing users to first push their question / query and then asking them for contact details.
- Design Centric / Clean UI – Nothing much to say here. The design must encourage user to chat / talk.
- Mobile First- The day your product adoption goes beyond 3 times zones, your luxury of operating as per your own time zone goes away. Expect customers to send you emails / chats at hours which would be unearthly for you. You will realise the need to have the ability to handle these chat requests right from a mobile app. Expect your support staff to be answering queries at 2AM, on lunch desk or while sipping chai.
What Options Do We Have – “The List”
First things first – Find the list. Best thing is to go to G2Crowd or GetApp and start from top to bottom. This will save a lot of time. Our first website was built on WordPress, so the WordPress plugin could also be a great place to start your primary research. Not that it’s critical to have a plugin but again it’s a handy. Here are some other places to start your hunt
- G2Crowd: Live Chat Reviews / GetApp Live Chat Reviews– This can be overwhelming
- WordPress Plugin – Not a great list
- Google for – Live Chat / OnPage Chat tools / Chat Based Support Tools. Scan through the first 3 pages on Google.
- Product Hunt is a great place to search for the newer tools – This can be great because you get on to the Beta list and have access to early bird pricing. Pricing which typically changes after 4-8 weeks ( depending upon the product’s release cycle et al )
“The Free List” – Getting these out of the way
Elimination is extremely helpful, especially when you are hunting for a software and have a couple of dozen options to choose from. There are a dozen free live website chat tools out there. I have always believed that there are no free lunches. These tools come at a cost – user data, limiting experience, weird packaging or dev involvement. I am not saying that these tools are bad. For a business up to a certain scale, free might work. For most, it does not. If you are looking at messaging/chat seriously (Read Here On Why You Should), throw this list out of the window.
Experiencing the Experience
For obvious reasons, all these tools, without fail use their own product for onpage live chat. While experiencing the onpage chat support and talking to sales reps on chat, we realised some key points that influenced our decision.
Live Means “Real Time”. Nothing Else Is Acceptable
Unlike Yahoo chat rooms where users had a lifetime to respond, in case of an onpage chat, the expected response time is seconds. If you are a B2B SaaS product, your average bounce rate ranges between 50% – 70%. Top this up with the fact that the average attention span of a human is less than that of a Goldfish. If your response time exceeds 30-45 seconds, the user has most likely moved on from the page. You have lost a potential lead and valuable feedback. You have to be on your toes to respond to these incoming chats within seconds. This is the real game changer. When you attend a visitor on chat within seconds, you have already won of half of your battle. The rest half is won, when you address their query. Yes, you can’t be available 24*7 but again that’s the idea. You can put together some great copy telling them how you are busy fighting aliens in a parallel universe and are offline but that’s a second option. And you should treat it like that.
Mobile Interface Is Super Critical
Because the conversation with the end visitor must be in real time, having a mobile interface for your customer support team / agents is critical. You are strapped out of resources and money to have dedicated agents manning the chat window. It is because of this reason, your Sales / Marketing / Content team should have the ability to reply to these incoming chats – right from their mobile device. This allows them to respond swiftly when you cannot. Imagine being on a client call / heading back home late night / being in the elevator and still converting visitors into paying leads. Most of the tools do offer a dedicated App ( both for iOS and Android) for agents.
Chatting But Only At The Right Time
If you could build an offline store for your product, would you want your sales reps nagging your visitors the minute they entered the store ? If the answer is no, identify simple metrics on when / where / on doing what – you want to prompt your users. These could be basic triggers such as –
- Amount of the page scrolled
- Time spent on the page
- Did a specific action / event on the page
These proxy signals will help you in filtering the spam. Gauging the user’s intent basis some proxies is extremely important – especially when your sales reps will be investing time here.
Getting The Messaging Right
More than often, most of the onpage chat prompts that popped up on the website, irrespective of the page had the same messaging. One size fits all approach really doesn’t work. This messaging can be far more personalised basis the history of user or your knowledge about the user – again, something that needs to be done at a later date. Not Day 0. If you were to build an offline store for your product with every page of the website as a full blown section in the store and you had the luxury of having dedicated reps manning each station, how would you like these reps to greet the visitors ? Can this be quirky – Why not. No harm in experimenting.
Smart Conversations with Context
In the Utopian world, I would want to know everything about the visitor who I am talking with. Where they are from, which company do they work in, what is their function, what is their objective and so on. Conversations with context are far better than just plain hello. Pick up a tool that allows you to know bit more about the customer. You don’t need to know which other website they are looking at but simpler things like which city they are from – can help your sales reps in break the ice. This is referred to as data enrichment / knowing more about your customer. This can literally take you down the rabbit hole but remember, you don’t have to boil the ocean by knowing everything about the visitor. After all, you do have the option of talking. 🙂
Alright. What Are Your Drilled Down Options ?
Here is what our final list looked like before you apply filters of cost, features, support, API’s, customization et al.
As a young startup, we follow a simple framework while evaluating third party tools –
- Time vs Value
- Effort vs Value
- Cost vs Value
The semantics of an early stage startup require the software value to follow the Brontosaurus Curve.
- Stage 1- In the initial stage, Founders want to see value without investing too many resources. Stage can be defined as Trial period / Trial period + another month. Once the value is established in the product and support has been evaluated, you are fundamentally good to go.
- Stage 2 -Post this, the team would put the tool on an auto pilot mode, moving to the next task. Waiting for developer bandwidth to get allocated.
- Stage 3 -Once developer bandwidth, the next level of value is unlocked. This typically involves personalisation, integration with CRM et al.
Good to have’s at this stage are pre-built integration with CRM, 1 Click Installation ( like a WordPress plugin / Zapier based integration et al )
It is for this reason, we went ahead with Drift. Drift is not a live chat software – it is a customer support and sales tool. Drift’s slack integration is what makes it indispensable for our customer support and sales team. It comes in with a pre-built integration with Hubspot – helping us push and pull data fluently. The fact that it is priced optimally – only helped us pick up the paid version immediately. Today, 10% of our current leads / signups are because of conversations that our website visitors have with our sales and support team. This number is improving on a daily basis and we are excited about scaling up this channel. Here are some of the handy metrics to be tracked are simple –
- Open Rates
- Click Through Rates
- New Subscribers and
- New Leads
We @iZooto work hard every week to ensure that we beat our past week stats for all the 4 pointers. There really are no benchmarks besides whatever it is that you have achieved so far. The focus area is simple – to outperform the numbers of last week. Tools in hand – limited dev bandwidth. Access to creative resources for copy and design, followed by sheer execution and constant iteration.
Author – Vivek Khandelwal
Founder of Datability Solutions, a technology startup building iZooto, a web push notification platform for user engagement and retention.
The below post is edited from an answer given to ET for this story. This article is 2 yr old. Republished today.
The rise of Mobile is a big shift in the way Internet is used, thereby influencing commerce over the Internet. In developed economies it is the desktop based users who have started spending a significant amount of time on mobile. For India specifically, mobile is bringing in lot of first time Internet users.
Given that Google Search is not the default starting point on mobile, there is a void waiting to be filled as the platform of the mobile internet. No, Android/iOS is not it. There are 3 services that I believe can be the platform of the mobile internet viz. maps, payments and delivery. Before looking into each of them, the hypothesis here is that the Internet of mobile is no longer about serving information but it is about enabling actions. So what happens to information related stuff? They will move to a Chat like app with a command prompt like interface. It is already happening with Wechat, Line etc. Search would be easier over chat with results showing bite-size info in cards, the blue-link click is only required to dive deeper. Why chat and not current Google search? Because the current Google search is a state-less communication. Two consecutive searches do not relate to each other. The command prompt type interface serving bite-size info will need to be state aware, just like human communication.
The 3 platforms:
In the long term, Maps are going to be default page for most of our local needs, like movies, cabs, handyman or anything related to offline commerce. Different reports suggest that about 40-50% of all mobile search is local. Instead of a page with blue links, maps will become our search engine on mobile. China is already seeing this change with Baidu Maps driving all-things-local. Google Maps also recently integrated Uber to show estimated pickup time if you have uber installed (http://blog.uber.com/
Users currently find it easier to search for “Zomato Pizza Hut” on Google and then go to Zomato’s Pizza Hut page, as compared to first going to Zomato.com, and then searching for “Pizza Hut”. In the same way, people will not look for a cab on a map inside Ola or Uber’s app, instead Ola and Uber’s cabs will be visible together on a single instance of Google Map.
The future of mobile local search is Apps on Map, and not maps inside apps. Just like now we don’t need to bookmark every restaurant site on the web browser, in future we may not need to install every cab booking app. This is the most important and defensible product of Google in the long term. Individual Apps as an interface is an intermediary stage of the mobile evolution until platform level aggregation and deep integration does not come into action again.
We do not see payments as a platform because it is generally not the starting point or in most cases we don’t even realize if it has an interface. It just happens, and that is how it is supposed to be. Apple and Samsung are working towards that. In India, the wallet feature in apps is being accepted. Mobile carriers and large banks are trying to get into the space. Paytm seems to be moving fastest in this space though. There are still licenses to be issued in this space by RBI and rightly so because this space is more about enabling trust and insurance, the core of commerce, than anything else.
Indian consumers do not relate to payment systems and insurance directly, but in developed economies one can ask their credit card company for a complete refund if the service by a vendor is not satisfactory. So they not only act as a credit and payment company but also an insurance company. Being on a universal trusted payments platform will mean more business. Micro-transaction will happen over a payments app and each little vendor need not have their own app with payment gateway. I should be able to use a plumber’s service and pay via a payments app that both of us use.
Delivery of physical goods is a big platform opportunity. What we generally see as an ecommerce company is a delivery company. A lot of commerce, new and used, B2C and C2C, is being limited by the physical movement of goods. While intercity delivery is controlled by large courier companies, the hyper local delivery of goods is still an unsolved problem. Uber is dominant in this space for people movement and now starting for food but their platform doesn’t yet allow movement of small goods from B2C or C2C. In India, Delyver and Grofers are trying to capture this space. Entering the C2C delivery space will be a big move for them. It’s human delivery network now but from what we see, it will evolve into a drone network.
- It is going to be an extremely hard job. No amount of preparation or education is going to prepare you for what it demands.
- You will feel like quitting at so many instances. Don’t, just persist.
- It’s a lonely job. There will be no one who you can tell everything about your work.
- Uncertainty is the hallmark of entrepreneurship. You have no guarantee that you will last a year, at times a month and sometimes even a week. Learn to embrace this uncertainty.
- You will wake up crying at times. Don’t fret about it, deal with it.
- If you are married, your spouse will play a very crucial role. They are going to be the only person who you can tell everything. They can give you the third-person view to take unbiased decisions. They are going to be your rock when you are the lowest.
- Being a CEO is all about transitioning from doing everything in the early days of the company to delegating everything as the company matures.
- You are going to make a lot of decisions in the company. If you are overly careful in your decision making you will slow down the growth, if you are too impulsive you will end up taking the wrong decisions.
- Setting the vision and talking about it is your responsibility. You cannot crowd-source the vision from your team. You must listen to everyone but at the end you set the vision.
- You define the culture and most importantly you guard it. People will ultimately emulate what you do.
- As a founder-CEO it’s your number 1 duty to ensure that the company never runs out of money.
- CEO should always be involved in the product. You can go away from any other function but not product.
- The success of your organization depends on how well your team is equipped. No one comes knowing it all at the job, it’s your responsibility to ensure that you train everyone.
- You will never have the complete information that you need to make decisions. Your gut/hunch will play a big role in such situations.
- It may sound counter-intuitive but gut-thinking can be developed. Great founders take right decisions not because they have all the information but because they have vast amount of knowledge. That’s what constitutes the gut-thinking.
- You will be wrong more often than you will be right. The trick is to detect your mistakes early, learn from them and never repeat them.
- You must stand by the wrong decisions you make. People will respect you if you are willing to accept your mistakes.
- Take time to explain your decisions. People around you need to know what is the thought process behind your decisions.
- Don’t fall in the trap of over-deliberation. Most of the times speed is more important than the right decision. You will always get time for course correction later. Good is better than best.
- There will be times when you are going to take decisions that nobody will believe in. If you have 100% confidence in yourself, go forward unabashed, because no one else has the full picture other than you.
- When taking strategic decisions, step out of your day-to-day operational work. Decompress completely. Swipe the board clean. Forget everything that’s going on currently. And then think about whatever you want to think. Think, how your future will change if you take this decision and not what benefit your present will get out of it.
- There will be some decisions that can significantly alter the direction of the company. You can’t always white-board a conclusion out of them. At times, you need to mull over them, you need to let serendipity happen.
- All good decisions seem obvious in hindsight because it’s easier to explain a chain of events, rather than predict one. Don’t mistake yourself in believing that you have found a pattern.
- For decisions like letting a misfit go, shutting down a product line etc. it’s always better to do it sooner rather than later.
- You are the guardian of the culture. You define what is to be appreciated and what is not acceptable. If you don’t do it ardently you are fucking up the culture.
- It’s always easier to hire people who believe in your culture than to try and convince non-believers. If someone doesn’t fit your culture, don’t hire them no matter how good they are on skills.
- You have to speak, shout, repeat, chant, recite and roar about your culture. Culture becomes culture only when it’s spoken about all the time.
- There is no definition of what a good culture is. More than being Utopian it has to have universal resonance.
- Your culture is never set in stone. The basic tenets will be defined but the shape and form of culture will rapidly evolve as the company grows.
- A good culture must breed 2 things — respect for each other’s work and open communication.
- Soon you will realize the impact you can create through your individual contribution is meaningless when compared to the impact you can create by leading people.
- The best way to lead is to lead by example. A good leader tells you how it’s done, a great one shows you how.
- As a leader, the biggest thing that you can give your team members is your time. A lot of them will go through a bad phase or will be clueless about what to do. At those times, they need to know you are there.
- People will look up to you. At times, even for things in which they are far more skilled than you. You don’t have to take their decisions, just provide them your confidence so that they can take their decisions.
- Good leadership is when people are not afraid of bringing bad news to you.
- Politics starts at the top, if you start taking sides, everyone else in the company will too.
- In no situation can you afford to shout at your people. Things will go wrong, you will loose your calm, you can be stern with them but not disrespectfully shout at them.
- People need inspiration. To be a leader you will have to inspire them and it’s best if you do it by story-telling.
- Talk to/address the entire team at regular intervals. The format and frequency depends on you. It could be for 30 mins every week or 3 hours every month. I do an ‘All Hands’ every month. It has been 3 years and the All Hands has always had above 80% attendance.
- Very few employees are going to critique your decisions, particularly if you are a vocal leader. It’s very easy to get blindsided because you will rarely get a critical feedback. There are two ways to mitigate it a) have a close network of advisers who can say harsh things to your face b) consciously create a culture where people are not afraid of you.
- The first thing you need to learn is how to manage your time. Your time is a scarce resource, you must be very protective about it. Say no to anything that doesn’t add value.
- Learn to manage emails. No matter what communication tools yor organisation uses, you cannot escape emails. This particular trick has been extremely useful for me in managing my inbox — https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/email-multiple-inboxes#sm.000a54r0d14a2ct5r3d1yoluod5vf
- Manage your calendar — every Sunday spend 30 minutes analyzing your calendar for the week.
- Learn to manage your cash-flow situation. You need to keep track of the following every month — cash outflow in the month, revenue collected in that month, money spent on salaries and money in the bank. Setup a process so that you receive this information regularly.
- Every thing that goes on in the company will come to you. Very soon it becomes over-whelming to manage this information barrage. You need to learn to deal with it.
People Management and HR
- Hire a HR early in your company. 30 employees is the right stage to hire a HR.
- The sooner you introduce an objective performance management system, the better it is. In the early days you know about what everyone is doing, but as you grow you will loose control. The right stage for introducing a formal process is when you are 40–50 employees.
- One on Ones are absolutely critical. Ensure that you do one-on-ones, at least once a month, with everyone who directly reports to you and so do the other leaders in the company. In his book ‘High Output Management’, Andy Grove talks about the right way of doing one on ones.
- Set Goals — Every employee needs goals in order to contribute effectively. Most of the time people don’t under-perform because they don’t want to work but because they need direction. A quarter is the right time frame to set goals.
- Providing Feedback — Provide both negative and positive feedback with the same demeanor. It’s very important to come prepared when giving feedback. Provide negative feedback not based on your feelings but based on facts. Don’t use the Sandwich Approach, discuss the positives and the negatives as is.
- Just providing negative feedback is not enough, it’s your duty to also provide them a direction on how they can improve. If you are feedback is not accompanied by how they can improve then you are wasting their time.
- Appreciation — Everyone needs appreciation, do it often. Appreciate people at the time they do well (don’t save it for later) and be genuine when you appreciate.
- People don’t leave because they are underpaid, they leave because they feel you haven’t been fair. You are not supposed to compete with the best paymaster out there, but you do the best you can and they need to know that you are being fair.
- Setup an on-boarding process. When the company is small it’s easier for people to understand everything happening in the organization. Once you are beyond 30 it can be daunting for a new employee. Setup an on-boarding process where they get introduced to the product and people.
- Set a rigorous reporting process: Having access to the maximum amount of information across organization is going to be your biggest asset. As the organization grows you will find extremely hard to get all the information. You need to set up a rigorous process of updates with your direct reportees. Every function head should share updates with you in-person as frequently as every 14 days.
- Whether you like it or not, you will have to do meetings. The point is how to make sure that your meetings are productive. There are only 2 types of meetings that you should attend — a) where you have to take a decision b) where you get updates/information. The productivity of the first depends solely on you and the latter on how you have trained your team. Step out from any meeting where you are not going to take any decision and you are not getting information you already don’t have.
- In his book High Output Management, Andy Grove talks about the concept of ‘Chairman of a meeting’. This is the person who is going to lead the meeting, facilitate discussions and take decisions. You will be the chairman for a lot of meetings as a CEO. If you are not going to prepare for these meetings you will waste everyone’s time. As a rule of thumb for a 1 hour meeting, you must spend at least 30 minutes in preparation.
- You don’t have to take charge of every meeting. As founder, you would be tempted to do that in any meeting you are part of. Refrain!
- Explicitly ask people if you are needed to be part of a meeting. Wherever you are needed, ask them for an agenda and also ask what is expected from you in the meeting. Else say no.
- No matter how careful you are, you will make wrong hiring decisions. There is no definitive science for interviewing so don’t beat yourself up for wrong hires.
- Add a layer of objectivity in hiring. Every role should have some form of objective evaluation, like a task.
- Don’t interview people on what they have done in the past, interview for the role they are coming in for.
- Go prepared to interviews — put down a list of questions that you definitely need to ask. You don’t have to ask them in any specific order but you must ask all the questions.
- Ask your interviewers to give a Yes, Weak Yes or No. If there is a single No then don’t hire. There should be a majority of Yes in the verdict.
- Ask people where they screwed up in the past. Their failures will tell you more about them, than their success.
- Set an interview target for yourself — commit to doing at least 15 interviews per week in the first 2 years.
- Don’t look for patterns, there are none. Some people are good at giving interviews some are not.
- You need to create a circle of people (not necessary everyone in the company) whose loyalty is unshakable. These are the people you will rely on when shit hits the ceiling. Look for this trait when hiring key people.
- Whether you like it or not you are always fundraising. Practice the pitch incessantly, so that you can pitch anytime, anywhere.
- Fundraising is not a milestone, it’s not an achievement, it’s just a necessary evil.
- Fundraising is about story-telling. More than facts, investors are interested in your story.
- Choose your investors carefully. These are the folks with whom you are going to take some of the toughest decisions for your company, you want someone you can play with.
- Choose friendly terms over extra money. It’s okay to get half a million less in the bank if you can get less restrictive terms.
- You don’t raise money when you need it, you raise money in the good times, and as soon as possible.
- Raise as much as possible. Your company can fail because of reasons completely out of your control. Having a war chest at that time could be invaluable.
- Become immune to rejection. Most of them will turn you down not because you are not good but because they don’t understand what you do. 99 rejections are worth it for that one who says yes.
- Don’t let fundraising get over your head. It’s your number 1 duty but not your only job. You can’t compromise with running the company just because you are fundraising.
Things you should do
- Read voraciously, set a target to read at least one book a month.
- Network — In the early days of the company meet as many people as you can. In the later days of the company, choose who you want to meet and reach out to them.
- Take holidays — don’t feel guilty about it, you need it more than anyone else. Take spontaneous and frequent holidays, you will be amazed at the kind of thoughts that will come to you when you are relaxed.
- You will have to do a lot of public speaking — internally to your employees and externally to the world. Rather than being forced to do it, do it consciously. Practice before every major speech.
- Your job is to protect the downside of the company. The upsides will anyways take care of themselves. You should be constantly sniffing for what can go wrong.
- Exercise — Being a CEO will take a massive toll on your mental health. One way to keep your sanity is to exercise. Make it a habit to exercise at least 5 days a week (you can pick a sport).
- You are always negotiating — negotiating with your investors, your clients, your employees, prospective hires and everyone else. Master the art of negotiation, at the end it’s all give and take.
- Every time you say ‘Yes’ to something, you will be saying ‘No’ to something else. Choose your ‘Yes’ wisely.
Guest Post by Sachin Gupta @ HackerEarth. Original Post can be seen here