The Great Indian Ecosystem

Some gems I heard over the last two days (All paraphrased. Non italicized bits are mine):
  • Indians don't take risks. Yeah, right.
  • Indians are immature. We should read more books. Whoa, there!
  • Indians don't know how to sell :)
So, more or less, "Me = All Indian" seems to be a strong foundation of the ecosystem. Add to that the repetition of the sentiment. And again. And expertise is thus born!

So the hordes selling Tally, and of course making it, and the numerous loads who set up Potels, and the Tata Nano and the risk associated with buying a JLR or a Corus, the buying and selling of Glaceau - I guess no Indians in any of those pictures, eh ?

Ok, sorry about the sarcasm etc. I will confess it did get my goat and this was not a mature reaction. Should probably go read a book to figure that one out :D

Seriously. Guys, please. There are numerous other Indians who take risks, sell awesomely, and while they might not read books, their business maturity will be the content of many. Hordes of them. We're the nation who's everywhere - amongst the largest trading, immigrating, innovating populations. (Its not, repeat not, repeat not about patents and lab research alone. Please get over that inferiority complex of yours. Please.) Yes, I personally suck at a lot of these attributes, and would love to learn how to deal with this gap. So do a lot many from the technology space, and this is surely a gap we need to bridge (probably through partnering).

So lets please find those Indians, learn from them. The sweeping generalizations will not help. A, amongst a gazillion similar examples, sucked as much, so the nationality tag doesn't help at all!

If we all become a little more straightforward, show a little more honesty and humility, and focus on the solutions, we might yet create an ecosystem. Judgmental generalizations, though, will probably not be part of that...

Why Kawasaki at Nasscom ?

Bangalore played host to the Nasscom Product Conclave over the last couple of days, and it was a brilliantly organized event. The best part of it, imo, was the cross section of participants the event was able to pull in. Such major industry events usually get a little intimidating for the smaller, just starting out guys - but this conclave easily avoided that. The sessions were useful, deeper than usual, and because of these reasons, packed. The networking was very very active, and I pretty much caught up with everyone I've met and come across over the last four years!

Amidst the relevance, interactivity and focus of the event, Guy Kawasaki - as a keynote speaker and twitter specialist :) - added the superstar draw for many folks. Guy's a great speaker with ready wit and humour, and very, very approachable. He's also a persistent marketer.

However, I do think he wasn't the best choice for the keynote. Also, the session he conducted was as much a distraction from the theme of the event as it was an attraction for many. Why do I think so?

  • The keynote presentation above was not the most relevant to the ground reality in India. At all.
    • We do NOT get people for free here - not that much of a resession after all.
    • We also are awesome "value" creators and it often makes sense for a large chunk of startups (especially as they learn about business) to start in the lower right quadrant - a small chunk of startups can shoot for uniqueness, and especially building a business around it. Execution, value hold they key to getting a shot at stage 2.
    • Twitter as a marketing tool in India ? Hmmm. I'd almost say a large chunk of active Tweeters were actually in that room :) I exaggerate, but you get the idea.
  • We need a couple of home-grown superstars who, like Guy, are great speakers and approachable, and are less jargon-laden than anyone who gets to some level of success has a tendency to become. Entrepreneurs building products need stellar examples they can relate to, as well as understand!
  • The Twitter 101 was a little too basic for a lot of the crowd. Some of the ideas shared both in the keynote as well as the sessions would be very very useful in a college, or what-do-I-need-to-know before I start out crowd, but a lot many attendees have progressed beyond that. We needed Marketing 102, or Sales 102, etc. more than this.
  • I'm completely guessing - but it must've been expensive :)
  • The Indian product space needs a little more grunt and grassroots and less superstardom-aspirations - and getting a major star like Guy can reinforce the wrong message. Too many folks already confuse the superstar dreams for passion.
Apart from this, though, I had a terrific time at the event. Made connections, and started out on my journey to understand the fascinating world of real world marketing and sales (I'm still in Kindergarten wrt those, especially sales). The CIO session was very useful (wow, people who really spend money on software :D) though one always would love more direct, straightforward and precise ideas about how the real world operates (no discussions on size difference related issues, kickback-demand handling, etc)

Nasscom has taken a very conscious step towards supporting product creation out of India. And from the evidence at hand, its at most an iteration or two before the geeks really connect with the biz folks, and magic happens.

Personal Finance Software

I was at a small town in Coorg day before. We - a local friend and I - were sipping a cuppa in the evening - when a guy ambled buy with a rather bulky handheld device. My pal greeted him, and took out a 500/- from his pocket and handed it over. The guy greeted him back, and immediately gave him a printed acknowledgement for the cash received.

Obviously, I was terribly curious by now!

Turns out, the District co-operative bank has a go-to-where-they-are scheme to create a small savings habit. This is a special account, and people can essentially hand over whatever little money they want to - 10/- or above - whenever the guy comes along. The smaller businesses there have managed to save a lot, and the saving habit encouraged this way ensures a little less is spend on 'god-knows-what'.

This is a fabulous example of the primary task of a personal finance tool/service! Not just provide fancy tools to those who've converted, but provide encouragement and some discipline to those who're open to develop a savings habit. The investment habit follows soon.

The bank offered a very small return on this saving, but I guess this idea is more about capital building than about growth. The collector also got a 2% or so share in the monthly pickings. Win, win, win!

Execution : What Use Is An Imaginary Business Plan ?

We covered this a lot in the recent PM Workshop we did.

Now, as part of a business I'm trying to setup (and am very very new to), there's a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet which are what is popularly known as the business plan, and what I would rather think of as a rough draft :D

Investment ? How much ? When ?

There's a certain amount of seed capital, obviously, as the idea starts taking shape. What I'm doing is a little capital-dependent, so the initial 'sunk cost' is key. [ Notice I called it sunk cost since I do not want it weighing down the operation with numerical pressure just yet. ] Of course, in the sheets, and in life, there's more that can be done for greater returns. Its very very alluring to try and start just a little bit larger so it can start paying for itself soon.

But wait, do I trust that sheet ?

There are a bunch of revenue-side numbers in that spreadsheet that are key. Tweak them around a bit, and the end results change dramatically! And a lot of tse have been based on certain assumptions that produce a wide enough range of outcomes from hardly managing to break even to unbelievable levels of profitability. Obviously, the numbers are somewhere in between.

Re-examine your assumptions as you go along.

Then there are costs. And hidden costs accounted for as a percentage factor. Assumptions, and assumptions about assumptions :) The whole model is one big fairy tale, or so it seems.

So why build a model at all ?
  • Getting familiar with the assumptions. Play around with the sheet a bit, and you'll start getting the hang of the assumptions you're making in there. Make a note - at least a mental one - of the bits you're tweaking a lot to understand outcomes. I would not be surprised if over half your real-world numbers are what you might consider wild guesses :) Its important to know what you do not know.
  • Getting comfortable with the worst case, and then some. Taking risk is a major part of being an entrepreneur. Understanding these risks is even more so. Learning how to manage the risks, eventually, could help you become a successful one! The spreadsheet does help understand risks better.
  • It helps to have a reference as you execute. Since you're testing a bunch of hypotheses, you need to be measuring against something - perhaps ranges if not precise numbers. And its not just the numbers you might get wrong - but the assumptions about the bits and pieces that define your model itself - this needs to be validated before you start taking your numbers too seriously! Say, your business is a quick turnaround, low margin one - if you leave out - for lack of effort or knowledge or change in business scenarios - one variable that jacks up your costs by, say, 4% for every cycle, you've had it! Having this reference will help you understand how much you still need to figure out before you try and mesmerize the world with words like "scale" and "growth" and sink in a gazillion into this.
So there, this is coming from my experience-as-I-experience it. Will keep this blog updated with the aftermath, and how effective the fairy tale was in making my dreams possible.

I'm the User. Find me ads for my blog :)

Who's ever made money from ads ?

A large majority of people who write blogs (note: I do not say blogger) do setup adsense and keep the big G fed with below payment thresholds, and never make anything substantial themselves.

Most individual blogs (like mine) do not have a huge set of readers. Yet, some percentage of these blogs are very focused in terms of the topics they touch and the geographies they are in and write about. My tag cloud would mention cycling, bangalore, carbon, entrepreneurship etc.

Is there a case for a more targeted monetization for these ? Its like the hyperlocal (or hypertopical) of the online space, but isn't there a case for certain high value transactional ads (actual sale, or coupon download, etc) on a site like mine ? Of course, I do not want random ads from across a gazillion advertisers with a really remote chance of being of any interest to my readers. I'd rather pick and choose and get a few onboard that I think I would not be embarrased, and possibly even happy, about promoting, and that might have a better shot at actually interesting the readers I obviously know better (demographically, behaviourally) than some clickstream analyzer sitting a few continents away.

Sure it will not scale and is not appropriate for large sites with lotf of content and/or traffic, but conversely, for the huge set of small fries like us, a shaper, cleaner set of advertisers, or promotional content might just make a lot more sense!

// this post goes against the "I as a user" thumb-rule of product management. But many an opportunity is found in suchlike. Of course, the followup discipline for evaluating the opportunity is critical, and out of scope for this blog ;)