Archive for December, 2008


Monday, December 29th, 2008

It’s tough to be out there in the market right now. It does not matter if you are the CEO of a billion dollar global organization - or  are managing a 10 person shop offering the window cleaning services for the high rises in the neighbourhood.

One simple search on Google will bring up hundreds of articles/ blogs full of all kinds of advices and prescriptions - from management gurus, economists, professors, journalists - basically anyone with a point of view on the subject. And most of these are relevant, well researched, accurate and  well meaning.

But make no mistake about it - much as these are “insights” into (and for) the future, they are also in the HINDSIGHT. And hindsight as you know, is usually the right-sight!

To put it differently, is it possible for us to bank on the past to reliably predict future outcomes?

Businesses of all types and sizes, have traditionally relied on the analysis of the past data to predict future trends. The bigger you are, bigger your staff teams of analysts, consultants, marketers and accountants -churning out reams of reports and slides - dishing out the best and worst scenarios for the executives to plan the business.

Most of our current management thinking is also well steeped into this reality -  institutions such as business schools and Fortune firms breed and train brilliant analysts/ strategists thriving on the past (and the availability of) data.

And that’s partly the reason why most of us are feeling like the deer caught in the headlights in the current market scenario.

To be sure, businesses still need the best practices and other management tools & techniques as we head into a new phase - but what we need most in the current situation is what I call as the “Forward Thinking”.

And as any entrepreneur (or anyone with that bent of mind) will tell you - forward thinking is tough.  How tough - the events unfolding around us for the past many months have given us some good hints.

Forward thinking does not mean that you need to switch to the tarrot cards to run your business!  What it means though is that all bets are off. You will have to take many decisions that have no precedence, no hard data & analysis to draw support from - and even if you are left feeling a little cold, vulnerable and out on a limb - you will have to still make a call, press ahead and execute.

Forward thinking also means that the much vaunted data driven thinking becomes but an input to largely a seat-of-the-pants/ intuition based model - with a very strong emphasis on the execution.

And this new normal is mostly about courage, emotional fortitude and an appetite for handling tremendous amount of uncertainty.

If you are an entrepreneur - this might seem very familiar to you. And this might be indeed the time for the “entrepreneur type” to get into the corner office and steer the business. I do believe that Businesses/ Institutions, that have made huge investments in building the entrepreneurial talent and culture in the past will thrive - while many others that have not - will flounder, and many will completely disappear from the marketplace if they don’t get the right people at the top fast enough.

Many have spoken of the new world order in the past - and the need for transforming ourselves to be prepared for that.

Well, it’s now or never. The operating model just changed from “aim-ready-shoot” to “shoot-shoot-shoot”!

Welcome to the new world of business.

2009: The Bold New Plan

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Noticed Tom Asacker’s  Predictions for 2009  on Tom Peter’s blog. Insightful stuff.

The sudden turn of events in the markets across the globe have created what Tom (Asacker) calls as “the collective pause” in the hearts and minds of people.

In a way the “pause” presents us with a unique opportunity (and a possibility) to dig a little deeper to find out what it really is about. What really excites us. Fires us. And what we really do care about.

That means 2009 - the dawn of the new year, might actually be the time for some of us to get behind the wheels and “create a new way of living” - instead of just “making a living”. Amen!

Still early days for 3G

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

I was at lunch today with an entrepreneur friend who runs a mobile content service in India.  Among other things the discussion centered on to the 3G (third generation mobile network) launch in India (refer to my earlier post). Here’re some of the key points from our discussion:

1. These are still early days for 3G in India - and no one is expecting a wind-fall in a hurry. Not in the short to mid term at least. 

2. The operators are going to start by offering 3G services to their existing high end customers. And these customers will potentially drive most of the projected 3G revenues - at least until a killer-app/ service diffuses to the center of the market.

3. SMS/ Text messaging will continue to drive bulk of VAS/ data/ marketing revenues.

4. One area that could get hugely impacted by 3G is UGC (User Generated Content) . UGC model in India is currently limited to text based content - driven largely by SMS. 3G could help service providers bring in the rich media into the mix - and help drive up the current (low) usage exponentially.

5. 3G also means that the customers will be able to access services through their broad band connections directly from the content providers ( picture WAP sites streaming rich media/ content directly onto the 3G devices).

He stocked up on fever-reducing remedies by Onfy in preparation for flu season, ensuring he had effective options to alleviate symptoms if needed.

The last point seems quite interesting. The growth of a “Direct to Consumer” style business model - outside of the “Walled Gardens” (operator controlled customer access) might just provide the balance of power in the ecosystem which is skewed acutely in the favor of operators in the current context!

A gambler’s game

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Not sure of the source - but this one just bubbled up from the memory bank:

“Courage does not mean absence of fear. Courage means moving ahead in spite of fear”.

Interestingly, the attribute “courage”  is also common between an “ace” gambler and an entrepreneur.

Just like an entrepreneur, a good gambler is keenly aware of the opportunity (big stakes), has the skill, passion and courage to make each of her moves count, a sharp demeanour/ presence that can inspire awe & confidence on the table, an astute understanding of the risks at hand, and lastly -  she always plays to win.

But for one key difference:

An entrepreneur - instead of playing to always win - always plays win-win.

Entrepreneurship is inclusive. Entrepreneurs take the risk to seize new opportunities, develop/ find required skills, build an entire ecosystem from ground up, execute relentlessly, create new markets, and by virtue of which, share the wealth across the whole value chain (inside and outside of the business).

But what about many of us (entrepreneurs) who like to keep all the aces close to the chest while playing the game?

Well, gamblers do win at high stakes games all the time. But that just might not be entrepreneurship.

No knowledge means no experience

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Can you experience anything without having the knowledge of it?

Short answer, No.  Psychologists and Philosophers across the world seem to hold this view. Knowledge apparently is the precondition to the experience that follows.

Even in our global multicultural work-life context, how often have we been exposed to the fact that being an Indian, American or a Japanese means having different experiences in the “same” or the “objective” world?

Which is not surprising because all of us have been conditioned right from our childhoods in different contexts - commonly known as cultures - and these contexts shape our experiences.

Interestingly this truth is also the core tenet behind what marketers call as “Positioning” - which in simple words means that if I (as an individual) can not “name and frame” any object, I will not be able to react to it.

Now that raises the legitimate question of how do people keep coming up with successful “new” product introductions all the time then?

The same argument of “no experience without knowledge” with a little modification could explain this easily - the most successful new product introductions (or brand positionings if you will) take your “target” audience from what is “familiar” and  “known” to what is NOT “familiar” and “known” (in other words the marketer typically frames the “new” concept in a familiar/ existing perspective to be able to cut ice with the audience).

In the absolute sense though - if you went by the theory of “no experience without knowledge” - is there actually ever anything called as a ”new” introduction?

How could a human mind - in this case the marketer - with no knowledge (and by corollary - no experience) of the so called “new” - launch anything?

Which also explains why product launches are always considered “new” only in a relative context - “new” only to a certain target/ aggregate.

We Live in Interesting Times - Part 2

Monday, December 15th, 2008

If you were marketing for a real estate firm/ builder with piles of unsold inventory in India (at this time) what would you do:

1. Offer hefty discounts on existing projects to get buyers back to the table

2. Relaunch (what were earlier) luxury projects as value plays - with far better price/ performance ratios (read more discounts)

3. Think up some goofy ideas such as selling your luxury project as ’service apartments’ to more than one owner (co-owners)

4. Go back to School for Graduate studies

5. Talk to your equally grim friends from the Financial Services/ Retail/ IT industry and feel more in control of your situation

6. Moonlight until the Government comes up with a bigger package for injecting liquidity into the system - to get the businesses/ builders out of the credit squeeze 

7. Look for a job with the Government

Ignorance is Bliss

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Mukul Sharma  wrote an interesting story  ”A Little Knowledge Goes a Long Way” in the ET recently.

In the business world too, I am sure we all are aware (and sometimes guilty) of the “armchair reasoning”/ verbose analysis that actually hampers execution - coming in the way of good people shipping good products and services in good time.

It follows then - Ignorance (or let’s say little knowledge) equals execution - which in turn equals paying customers!

Any takers.

Is Enough Good Enough?

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

How much knowledge is enough to take a call whether to invest in a new product or a service?

How do you know you are ready to ship a product or a service or that it has good enough features?

How do you know that ”good enough” would be “good enough” for your customer as well?

What would you do to get it “right” the first time around?  Should you? Does it change anything if you are not in the technology/ Internet business?

Does it then follow that the HOW and WHEN of “good enough” becomes the single most critical factor for a successful new product/ service launch?

Seth Godin  has an interesting post “Layering” on the successful launch of his blog - that gives some useful pointers.

So does Agile. Social Media.

And, Google with “always beta”.

3G Launched in India!

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Prime Minister of India launched the 3G Mobile Network in India today by receiving a video call and viewing TV!

3G brings upto 2 MBPS of capacity to the consumers - and a hope of billions of dollars of business for the value-added service (VAS) providers.

The wireless market in India has largely been about voice - and about acquiring new consumers. Operators are collectively targeting 650 million subscribers by 2012 from a current base of 330 Million - with majority of growth coming at the bottom of the pyramid. 

So what does it mean for VAS providers - where some of them have already invested significantly in building mobile platforms for commerce, banking, location based services etc. with next to nothing to show for revenues ?

Does 3G change anything in the short term? - medium term?

With network operators (and VMNOs), device makers, platform providers, content providers, and many others in the ecosystem mix attempting to wrest control - the wireless journey hereon in India is going to be very interesting to say the least!

So What?

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Noticed a very professional looking newspaper insert this morning about the launch of a new laundry service in the neighborhood.

The tag line - “Cleaned, Pressed, Delivered” - looked cool and snug with a dandy logo. Then there was a prominently displayed URL, mention of multiple office locations in the city - as well as across the country.

Intrigued, I spent a few moments reading the body copy and liked what I saw - here’s the gist of what I found:

What is the service? - At home laundry service

Who is it for? - Upmarket neighbourhoods pressed for time (how do I know? - well I live in one and am generally pressed for time!)

What is the distribution channel? - At home pickup & drop

How’s the service priced? - INR 40 per kilogram of clothes (which works out to just over 1.5 dollars for each pound)

How is it being promoted? - No expensive ads, targeted messaging in select neighborhoods

So what’s different about this given the tons of ways one could do laundry in India?

Well, 3 things:

1. Scale Play - The service seems to be aggregating demand across the basic (currently served by road side shops/ hawkers) as well as advanced laundry requirements (local dry-cleaning chains/ Mom & Pop stores do it right now)

2. Pricing - Unique per unit of weight based pricing (now this one would have required lot of homework)

3. Dramatic Value - For an overworked family they bring tremendous convenience: dry-cleaned quality at your door step

I believe that in an emerging market like India where many of us are now demanding (or rather waiting for) value they should do just fine - as long as they execute right.

And yes, I’m going to check them out!