Highlights from the TiE Business Of Sports event

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/8650764769

Attended a TiE Bangalore event recently where the panel discussed the business of sports in India currently and where it is headed. Here are some highlights from the evening:

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  1. No avenues for sports management training or courses.
  2. Education & research in the sports industry lacking
  3. Global practices for sports management need to be adopted
  4. If you fail at sports it does not mean you need to look for a career outside of sports. There are many careers around sports.
  5. Success of the sports business depends on the ability to get at least 10-15% of the population to play sports.
  6. Is there a business in sports beyond cricket?
  7. Technology can play a role in overcoming the many obstacles in sports business and enable better efficiency in its operations.
  8. Sports can’t sustain only on consumerism. It needs quality sportsmen and heroes.
  9. India is now in a position to create sports properties for not only India but for other countries as well.
  10. There’s not enough marketing talent working in the sports industry. Even the IPL, for all its glitz, fails to fill up every stadium for every match. And it only takes 3 million people to fill up every cricket stadium in India.

 

 

Notes from the panel discussion on ‘How to build core technology companies from India’

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/redisdead/12000508814

Nexus Venture Partners held a panel discussion at Novotel Tech Park yesterday on how to build core technology companies from India. Here are some interesting points made by some of the panelists:

1. Don’t read too much into trends reported on blogs. Get out and talk to the customers.

2. Don’t shy away from building a field sales team. If there is demand for the product and it requires a sales team, build it.

3. Sales folks are motivated mostly by monetary incentives. Perception among people is that Indian companies don’t pay well. If you find great talent, pay  them really well. If you can’t afford to pay an extremely high salary, then compensate for that with a higher percentage in commission.

4. Building relationships is key to getting customers. Please your initial customers to the extent that they become your torchbearers.

5. Think global. It’s easier if you think it through and plan for it. Inorganic growth through M&A in foreign markets is a good option.

 

7 Things To Learn From The Lean Startup

Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop
Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop

 “If you are an entrepreneur, read this book. If you are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, read this book. If you are just curious about entrepreneurship, read this book” – Randy Komisar, founding director of TiVo

 

1. Leap-Of-Faith Hypothesis

Every entrepreneur starts with an idea. That idea is usually based on assumptions. One assumption is about the value that one hopes to provide to the customer (value hypothesis), and the other is how to grow that value will grow into a sustainable business (growth hypothesis). The hypothesis is an ‘leap of faith‘ because there is no empirical evidence to suggest it will benefit the customers yet. It maybe based on intuition and market research reports. But it is important to identify and articulate the value and growth hypothesis as it forms the foundation on which the rest of the business is built. Lean Startup talks of a fundamentally different approach to testing whether the hypothesis was correct or not.

2. Validated Learning

Learning from failures is meaningless if it can’t be measured. So the question is then, how do you measure what you have learned from your failures, while executing your startup idea? Lean Startup advocates the use of a feedback loop called Build-Measure-Learn. The idea is to create a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) with just enough features to test your hypothesis by interacting with your early adopters of the product. And to run through this loop as quickly as possible. Validated Learning is the process of using good metrics to measure the progress made with respect to the hypotheses identified earlier. By building rapidly, and testing it quickly with a small section of customers we are able to measure using a rigorous method, the progress made towards achieving our goals

Learning is the essential unit of progress for startups. The effort that is not absolutely necessary for learning what customers want can be eliminated. – Eric Ries

3. Innovation Accounting

Tradtional methods of measuring progress use vanity metrics, which is generally based on cumulative growth (Eg: total number of hits, the total number of customers etc). These type of metrics hide the real progress and therefore give you a false sense that everything is going well. The idea behind innovation accounting is to use metrics that help startups make decision quickly on which direction they need to spend their energies on. That is were actionable metrics come into the picture. Using tools like the cohort analysis, A/B split test and customer interviews one can measure the real progress of the startup.

4. Pivots

When you start to measure using metrics identified under the innovation accounting process and comparing the numbers against the baseline established by your value and growth hypothesis, you might realize that either you’re not moving towards that goal, or have been stagnant. This requires a course correction and restating of your hypothesis taking into account the lessons learned through validated learning. This, in essence, is a “Pivot”. Pivots can be of many types – Zoom-in Pivot, Zoom-out Pivot, Customer Segment Pivot, Customer Need Pivot, Platform Pivot, Business Architecture Pivot, Value Capture Pivot, Engine of Growth Pivot, Channel Pivot & a Technology Pivot.

5. Lean Manufacturing

This book draws heavily from the lean manufacturing techniques invented and perfected at Toyota. For a startup to be able to respond to challenges quickly, it needs to run its operations efficiently. Lean manufacturing works on the concept of just-in-time production that focuses not on individual’s productivity, but looks at the productivity of the system as a whole. By breaking down work into small batches, products can be built and tested quickly. Continuous deployment is an extension of this where releases happen on a daily basis.

6. Growth Engines

Growth is meaningful only if it’s sustainable. And sustainable growth is characterized by this simple rule – New customers come from the actions of past customers. There are four ways in which past customers influence growth – Word of mouth, side effect of using your product, advertising for new customers funded by profits from past customers, and repeat purchase/use. The engines of growth provide the framework that allows startups to focus on metrics that matter. There are three types of growth one can pursue based on your market and product – Sticky engine of growth, Viral engine of growth and Paid Engine of growth.

7. Adaptive Organization

For an organization to be able to execute some of the ideas mentioned above, it needs to be receptive to change. This would allow it to adapt to changing environments automatically and adjust its processes accordingly through experiments and revisions. Training, mostly looked at as a ‘big company’ activity would become an integral part of a lean startup for training new hires and existing employees to the new system of working. The Five-Whys problem solving technique can be adopted throughout the organization to help analyze problems and make quick decisions.

As Eric Ries puts it, the lean startup is a framework, not a blueprint. While it is a fantastic framework to help you think in the right direction, it requires significant effort on one’s part to adapt it to an organization and implement it effectively. Thankfully, the lean startup has spawned a global community with plenty of resources and case studies available on the internet. I hope to dig deeper into them in the coming months.

 

Six things I learned from reading ‘Crossing The Chasm’

Crossing The Chasm written many years ago is still as relevant today as it was back then. It is a must read for any entrepreneur. It takes you through the journey of a product and the company from early stages of adoption until it achieves mainstream success, highlighting all the challenges one faces and gives you a broad framework to think through these challenges and come up with solutions for them.

Here are 6 things I learned from this book:

1. Technology Adoption Cycle

Crossing the Chasm adapts from the technology adoption lifecycle and includes chasms in between different phases of the adoption. This forms the basis of the book which holds that, particularly for disruptive products, there is a chasm between phases that should not be ignored. Each phase is characterized by different types of customers (Innovators, Early Adopters, Visionaries, Pragmatists, Conservatives and Laggards) and market conditions, requiring completely different approaches to how you position and sell your product. Being aware of which phase your product is currently in will help your focus energies in the right direction.

2. Be a big fish in a small pond first.

Geoffrey. A. Moore advocates the idea of being a big fish in a small pond first, before you decide to cross the chasm (scale up);  your main customers at this stage are visionaries. To do that, one must pick a very specific target segment, which can be dominated resulting in a leadership position. If this market segment was chosen carefully, the benefits of holding the leadership position can be leveraged to gain traction in a newer target segment.

3. Create your competition

If you position yourself as a company with no competition, you will find no market. Customers (pragmatists), in the mainstream market, look for competitors to validate your product. They also pay importance to your market leadership positions you currently hold in the smaller target segments. Therefore, you must find competitors in your market with whom your product can be compared to, thereby allowing you to articulate clearly the benefits over them, in the minds of the customer. There is always a market alternative to your product, one that is widely used by customers, albeit with different use cases and not solving a specific problem that your product does. Then there is a product alternative, which is a similar disruptive technology alternative that exists either in the same market or another market. By using these two as comparisons, it allows you to create your own competition.

4. Understand the shift in focus from Product-centric to Market-centric

In the early phases of the adoption, the customers are more interested in the product and the underlying technologies. These are geeks, early adopters who do not mind spending time reading manuals and trying to figure out how to use your product. They give you great feedback on your product. As you move long the adoption cycle, the buying decisions are motivated more by efficiency, cost effectiveness, reliability and other market factors. Therefore, it requires a gradual, but eventually complete overhaul of how you approach customers, market your product and also develop your product along the way. Restructuring of product development processes, leadership positions, management structures and marketing departments must happen as you move into the mainstream market

5. Whole Product concept

The whole product concept addresses the “gap between the marketing promise made to the customer… and the ability of the shipped product to fulfill that promise”. As you move into the mainstream markets, the focus shifts more to the services that you can offer along with your product to provide a complete solution. This requires setting up support and partnering with other companies to fulfill these services. The product takes a backseat in terms of adding new features and attention is shifted towards providing the whole product (generic product + services + plugins etc).

6. Elevator pitch

A very useful structure to create, refine and articulate your elevator pitch.

  • For (target customers, beachhead segment only)
  • who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternatives)
  • our product is a (new product category)
  • that provides (key problem-solving capability).
  • Unlike (the product alternative)
  • we have assembled (key whole product features for your specific application).

Links:

Good summary of the book: http://bizthoughts.mikelee.org/book-summary-crossing-the-chasm.html

On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-Marketing-Disruptive-Mainstream/dp/0060517123

The Chasm Has Evolved (Youtube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LHnFsqpzMM

“Timelessness” Of Design

An excerpt from The Vignelli Canon:

“We are definitively against any fashion of design and any design fashion. We despise the culture of obsolescence, the culture of waste, the cult of the ephemeral. We detest the demand of temporary solutions, the waste of energies and capital for the sake of novelty.

We are for a Design that lasts, that responds to people’s needs and to people’s wants. We are for a Design that is committed to a society that demands long lasting values. A society that earns the benefit of commodities and deserves respect and integrity.

We like the use of primary shapes and primary colors because their formal values are timeless. We like a typography that transcends subjectivity and searches for objective values, a typography that is beyond times – that doesn’t follow trends, that reflects its content in an appropriate manner. We like economy of design because it avoids wasteful exercises, it respects investment and lasts longer. We strive for a Design that is centered on the message rather than visual titillation. We like Design that is clear, simple and enduring. And that is what timelessness means in Design.”

Source: http://52weeksofux.com/post/832646183/timelessness

Customer feedback overdone

A rare case of customer service and customer feedback being overdone.

The email I sent to Hyundai customer service (cr@hmil.net):

I’m writing this email to bring to your notice what I believe is a case of overdoing customer feedback. I understand it is important for dealers/showrooms/service centers and the company to collect feedback from its customers, but there is a fine line between being attentive to customer needs and overdoing it to the point of annoying your customers.

Let me explain what I’ve experienced in the last few months of owning the car and having it serviced at the above mentioned service center. After the first free service, I was asked to fill out a form at the center; which I did. Soon after, I received a call from Trident Customer Service, asking me about my experience, to which I patiently responded, and gave my rating. The customer feedback process must have ended there after you had managed to collect my feedback, twice. I’m assuming that is plenty of data for one instance. But to my surprise, and eventually, annoyance, I was called repeatedly over the next few weeks and months to ask the same questions over and over again.

I begin to wonder what is actually being done with the data collected from customers. My understanding is that customer feedback enables a company to collect enough information, process it, and make improvements to their business processes. Instead, what I notice is, data being collected, repeatedly and redundantly. An inefficient and ineffective way to engage with your customers.

I must also bring to your notice, the few instances where, I have been subtly told to give good ratings when Hyundai calls for feedback. Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of customer feedback?

P.S: I hope I’m not bombarded with multiple calls asking me about this complaint. Just one will do, if you think it’s necessary

Examples of poor customer service are aplenty. We’ve experienced it first hand, the lines being read to us from a script, the incompetent representative unable to understand your problem and downright rudeness. But the above experience is something I don’t see too often. It’s either a case of an overeager customer relations department or a crack in the customer feedback loop. How does one strike the right balance? You want the customer service to be quick and nimble (Bufferapp is a great example of engaging customers well). But you also don’t want to spam your customers with too many feedback emails, surveys and calls.

 

Rewind post

I seemed to have made a habit out of this – not updating the blog/website regularly. So here is another lazy attempt to do so, by combining images from my recent trips and photo-walks into one post.

 

In October last year (2011), I had a chance to visit the shop floor of an industrial workshop that prints labels and decals for various products.

 

Shot at home during last year’s Diwali when I had a few friends over for dinner. Yes, we did burst a few crackers. (Sorry tree-huggers!)

 

The New Year was spent on the beaches of Goa. Ahhh…that was good fun!!

 

I’ve made quite a few trips to Delhi recently, on work and for attending weddings. Here are a few images from those trips.

 

I purchased a Westcott Apollo Softbox recently, and tested it out with a few product shots. Also met up with a couple of photography friends for a strobist session.

Shots from Abhinav and Veeresh from our strobist meetup.

 

Grover Vineyards, located close to Nandi hills, just outside Bangalore, offers a day long tour of their vineyard and wine making facility.

And…That’s all folks!!

Hesaraghatta, Bangalore

Hesaraghatta, a man-made reservoir, from the pre-independence era, is now unfortunately a dry lake bed. But it still remains an ecological hot spot. Steps to revive have been attempted, but it’s been a lake in decline for many decades, and would require significant investment of resources to bring it back to its former glory. According to its wiki entry, people wind surfed at this lake. I can only imagine how awesome that would have been!

 

This was my first photowalk of 2012. And it’s been a while since my last, as is evident from my lack of posts on this site and other photoblogs. There are numerous blogs explaining how to get there, so I won’t go into that. It’s fairly  easy to reach the place, and the roads are pretty good. When we (Sumeet & me) reached there, it was still dark. We waited for a bit for till it became brighter, and took a walk on the tank bund. The fog was dense and it was chilly. Thirty minutes later, the sun was out, but the fog still blanketed the entire area. We drove out towards the grasslands area. It’s picturesque to say the least, even though it was all dry.

 

We drove through this area for about an hour. There wasn’t much activity so we headed back towards the lake area. By now, the biting early morning cold had given way to warm sunshine. We went towards the north side of the lake  area and followed the road and paths created by numerous cars and SUVs that frequent the area. The bird activity had now picked up. I had quite a few lifers given that I’m still a noob at this. Here are some of the decent pictures I managed to get.

Blue-faced Malkoha
Bay-backed Shrike

 

Long-tailed Shrike
Black Kite
Oriental Skylark

 

Siberian Stonechat
Ashy-crowned Skylark
Black Drongo
Pied Bushchat
Eurasian Marsh Harrier

 

 

Entire set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/teknicsand/sets/72157628983108757/

Winter in Delhi & Workshop on ‘Technology In Education’

I was in Delhi last month on work. It was my first experience of the bitter Delhi winter. Thankfully it was not as windy as NYC. The city always throws up some interesting sights. I was amazed at how many people were out sleeping on the roads in that cold. Not surprising then to read about people dying due to the cold weather.

So the reason I was in Delhi was that with the help of an NGO, we had organized a workshop on ‘Using Technology in Education’ in Delhi and invited over 100 schools. We got great response with over 70+ principals and teachers showing up. The idea behind our talk was to pose a few questions on some of the serious problems faced by our education system today, talk about how technology could be one of the tools to help us solve those problems, and finally show them what our product, XPlore, could do to improve the quality of learning in school environments.
We also got covered by a delhi newspaper, The Sunday Guardian, our first mention in the media.
After a lot of running around to get things organized for the event, with great help from family members and the NGO, we pulled off a successful event. And to top it off we got excellent feedback with most people being very positive about our presentation and our product.
If you want to know more about what XPlore does, see here: www.dreamnotion.com/xplore
See here for our entire slide deck from that evening:

Book Review: Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal

Reality Is Broken – Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change the World is written by Jane McGonigal, a well known game designer. She’s a strong proponent of using games to solve real world problems which is what this book mostly talks about. I first heard about her when I was reading up on Gamification while during our ground work for XPlore. Her TED talk garnered a lot of attention and got me interested in what she had to say. The book is well researched and has plenty of references to positive psychology and games. If you’re a hardcore gamer, a casual gamer or just interested in solving real world problems, then this is a must read.

Jane talks about the history of games and why they are such a powerful form of recreation and have been played for centuries. To understand the why, you need to look past your biases against video games and games in general. Most of us consider them as “time pass” and not being productive. In fact some even consider them to be harmful, which of course is true for anything done in excess, not just games. Most games have four basic traits – a goal which gives you a specific purpose, rules that set limitations, a feedback system that is real-time and voluntary participation. If you think about it, these four traits can be applied to so many fields – education, work or any task. So what makes games fun and work boring? Voluntary participation perhaps?

Games can be defined as a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. You put challenging obstacles in front of you, set rules, and have a specific goal and the whole activity becomes much more interesting to the human mind. Well designed games push you to the edge of your ability and when you’re performing at your peak, a win, or an epic win in gaming terminology, leads to what Jane calls a “fiero” moment (Fiero is an emotional high you feel when you triumph over adversity). Games induce stress, not the kind of stress that weighs you down, but positive stress called ustress (positive emotion). And that’s why, when you fail in games you are motivated to try again as opposed to feeling terribly demotivated when failing in your exam or at work.

Now combine this with concepts like flow, happiness and intrinsic rewards from positive psychology and you have a powerful combination for motivating people, making boring environments more fun and productive. There are four categories of intrinsic rewards that she talks about in the book. Satisfying work – work that is clearly defined with demanding activities and visible results. It turns out that to be happy at work we actually need activities that challenge us. Less or no work actually makes Jack a dull boy. The craving for success is something we all aspire for and is a strong intrinsic motivator. Social connections we build through sharing experiences contributes to our happiness. And when the work we do or tasks we take part in has a context, a larger meaning, or is part of something bigger, or epic scale in gaming terminology, we feel motivated and happy to be doing it. And this is what games do. Playing games is actually very challenging and demanding and yet we seem to enjoy them.

Games can be looked at as a form of escapism. To run away from reality. To switch off from the real world and immerse yourself in the virtual world. But there are a new category of games that have emerged called ARGs – Alternate Reality Games. They don’t just exist in the virtual world. They connect the virtual world with real world activities. They combine what we love about games and what we want from our real life. There are many kinds of ARGs as well – Life Management ARG, Organizational ARG, Conceptual ARG, Live ARG and Narrative ARG. ARGs are being used my marketers, educators, and NGOs to create awareness about a product, or create collaboration projects on an epic scale. Check out the following games, some of which were designed by Jane McGonigal, that empowers individuals all over the world to work together and collaborate on real world issues. World Without Oil, Superstruct and Evoke were designed by Jane McGonigal. More information on them can be found on her website.

The book was an inspiring read for me. Using games to solve real world problems is a great idea. It’s an entirely new way of looking at solving some of the teething problems we face today like poverty, diseases and conservation. If you’re still skeptical about games and gamers, you should read about Foldit. What took scientists and supercomputers ages  to decode, gamers with the help of the Foldit game were able to decode complex protein structures in months.