Monday, August 20, 2007

While You Are Waiting

“My mother always told me I wouldn't amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said 'Just wait.'”~ Judy Tenuta

Idea of this post is based on a simple premise that In Life we may not get what we want in the first time or may be not in the second or third time around. Job, Friends, ideology, Business Partners, deciding on a holiday destination, choosing a restaurant, ordering a dish, playing stock market , going out on DATE, deciding what to study , choosing a Book at Airport , you name it. It's true for all aspects of life .chances are that you will screw up for the first few time .

First case is rarely the Best Case .No one get it right in the first time .We have to kiss a lot of frogs, before we find our prince. So what we do while its not the right time yet, while we are stuck in less than perfect situation. Sometime its as easy as to move out of it. If you don't like a Movie you can move out of Multiplex, if you don't like a Dish, you are not forced to eat it. But in some cases it becomes a little more complicated. If its your JOB, House, Friends, college, Neighborhood, Business Associate, It's somewhat difficult to move out just like that. So what we do in that condition .We wait.

My Question is

"What do you do while you are waiting ?"

"कह के गये हैं ख्वाब में आयेंगे रात को, खुशी के मारे नीद ना आये तो क्या करु "
[She has promised me that She will come in my dreams, I am so happy that no sleep is possible to me tonight ]

“All good things arrive unto them that wait - and don't die in the meantime” ~ Mark Twain

I don't know if it happens to you, but many a time I have seen people giving up while waiting. Often we think that the fact that Fire in us died means it was not strong enough in the first place or our fuel is spent. We try to convince our self that perhaps this was not what we actually wanted; we thought we wanted it but in reality it was just a passing dream. Maybe it was meant to die like this.

I disagree. I think intensity of Fire is not the issue here. Every fire start with a spark, a tiny spark . This spark turns in to flame and flame turns to Fire. This fire can destroy the forest. Problem is that if it's raining dirt around you than it's somewhat difficult for ANY fire to survive. You need to FAN the spark till it turns in to FLAME; Fan the Flame till it becomes Fire.

So here is my Answer to the Question "What do you do while you are waiting? " .Answer is " While you are waiting You should FAN the Spark and Protect it".You may ask How Do I Do That ?

Well I don't know , Answer is different for every one . What I can do is to tell you a personal experience so that you can draw your own parable from it .

Manali Trip .

Last month I went to Manali for a trekking and camping holiday. I started preparing for the trip two week in advance. . it was Saturday evening and I was standing at ISBT . My room mate Jitu had dropped me there. All my life I never went on a trip alone. The moment I long cherished was right in front of me . But you know what? I developed cold feet. I felt like the HERO who waited for his Heroine all his life and when finally She was right in front of him somehow he was not able to run and give her a Big hug.

Why? Well I didn't had Ticket for Volvo Coach to Manali & Person on the window told me that all seats are already booked . I bribed the guy to adjust me. I got a good seat and I learned my first lesson

Lesson #1: Buy your Ticket to Game while you are waiting

Now, Ticket can be different for different scenarios, if you want to do a startup learn the skill, or work on your strength and hone them . If you want to work for a particular Company find out the technology they use and master them, if you want to check out a specific restaurant find out if they are open on the day of visit, if you are dreaming about dating a particular female in your neighborhood, try to find out if she is seeing someone else , if you want to do a certain type of project at work [say redesigning company's website ] tell your Boss about it, so that if some work of that sort come his way he doesn't outsource it to some vendor or worse hire someone else to do it .

This seems to be so obvious, but time and again I see folks [me included ] who doesn't "Buy the Ticket" . why?? I am not sure why. May be the reason is our [flawed] tendency to start waiting for Bus /Opportunity right after buying the ticket. This tendency of getting frustrated and expecting spot result stops us from buying ticket.

By the way in my case bus was late by 3 hours :)

No one in my family has been to Manila. I was a bit afraid. I didn't knew much about the place when I started planning for it .I googled for the Manali Travel Plans and come across a post by Ritesh Nadhani. That was exactly what I wanted.

My friend EKTA asked me to join Lonely Planet Discussion group. I followed her advice and it was far more beneficial than I could have imagined. Member of Lonely planet gave me tips about Food , Room Rent, Timing of Trip ,Links to Pics and right time for photography , Precautions, Price range of stuff at Kasol Market ,Protocol for interacting with Israeli Tourist etc.

I learned my Lesson #2 Talk To people.

Talk to people who have been there done that. You will be surprised to see how much these guys are willing to share and help. This is something I have discovered on more than one occasion. Go see Yahoo Answer, Email list, Discussion forums, Open source Software, Counseling sites, Look at the behavior of people and notice there co ordination in the hour of crisis. It indicates that most of the folks are Nice and want to help.

But I have noticed that most of the times my friends shy away from seeking help. They fear rejection, they fear being judged and hell of other self made, self validated assumption about the way the world works.

It's the biggest frustrating bullshit I have seen. People ask me why this guy would help you. What in it for him? Till recently I had no answer to this point, but one day during my trip to Manali I was thinking about this. About why those unknown guys at Lonely Planet were so eager to help me? What was there for them? No I am not going to tell you that they are altruistic sage. They are Vanity users. Helping someone also help themselves. It boosts their vanity and makes them happy that their learning, experience and wisdom is being used and someone is being benefited from it. Whether it's good or bad is a different debate.

My point here is that even if you stumble upon some rude responses one or two times , still if you look at over all "Potential" gain you will find that its a risk worth taking . Lack of initiative is bad. “A shy failure is not nobler than a failed attempt”.

Finally I reached Manali and I was in my 3rd day of trip. I bought a Tourist map on the day one and I was visiting all the spots mentioned in it. It was good but something was missing. than one day when I was on my way to pula via manikaran. I decided to take a road less traveled [literally].

I went down in woods in a deep pit, down from a Hill top, I crossed 10 KM by walk, reached a road side tea stall near a village which was not in map. A small settlement with 20 houses. my destination PULGA was approx 6 Km away , it was 4:00 PM in eve , I was late by 3 hours , I had already walked 5 Km extra ,there was no bus after 5:30 . Nearest bus stop was 4 KM in opposite direction to pulga. It was very tempting to walk back to Bus stop and go back to kasol. But I decided otherwise, I begin to walk toward Pulga. I said to my self that at the worst what will happen? I will have to ask for shelter in village somewhere, or sleep on rock near road. Big Deal! I have sleeping bag and a bottle of water , there is an apple tree everywhere . And if I keep walking I will reach somewhere. I will not die for sure. So I kept walking. 7:30 PM I was dead tired and I was sipping hot tea at Pulga . 8:00PM I got a room.

It was hell of fun. I was feeling victorious as if I have conquered Mount Everest. but truth is I had just covered a road stretch of 6 KM , where I was having population around me and I was connected to whole world by my Cell phone [ I use Airtel ] .

You may ask what's the big fuss is about? Well, let me tell you what the big deal about it? Even though I didn't conquered Everest, I conquered something else. I conquered [albeit temporarily] my fear of uncertainty. Today I am more confident to take risk and I know I will not die of risk .I can take plunge, get in to trouble and come out of it. I don't think it would have been possible if I would have followed tourist guide. I learned my Lesson #3

Lesson #3 : Buy a Map but throw it away after a while,

All our answer lies inside us .Our most important journeys are always inward and no one can chart a course for it. We have to discover and create our path .if you want to find your own unique solution and answers to your questions then it's a must that you stop confirming and take risk, mild risk.

Trust me even if this approach fails to give you all the answers. It will give you a faith to believe that there is an answer and someday you will find it. if you find it a little cryptic than I suggest you should go on a wild Adventure trip or do an easier thing, go from Noida to Gurgaon and come back after staying there for whole day with only Rs.50 in your pocket . You will probably understand what I am talking about .

After a week of living in jungle like a hippy and walking 10-20KM-per-Day in mountain I came back to Noida. Next day it was usual routine. Cab came to pick me up at 9:30 AM .I was ready and eager to tell my colleagues about my trip and show them photos.

One of my colleague asked "How was the trip sir ? " I said "Too Cool, I was at ...."

He interrupted me and asked "How much does it cost you ?" . I was shocked. Because I didn't counted that and I was surprised why he is more interested in Expense and less in my experience of trip.

Truth is that this guy makes approx 2 times more than me .His wife is also in a decent job . Still he is more interested in financials of trip. Whatever is the number I am sure it was not outside of his reach . At that moment i realized that he is looking for reasons to believe that its not a good idea. So that he can justify or glorify his boring life and his inertia and his inability ot take risk and explore .

If I would have talked to him a little more he would have blamed it on House Loan EMI, Wife, Tax Planning, Global Warming, Food price, etc. But I didn't i stopped the discussion and I didn't shared the pics with most of my colleague. I learned my fourth and last lesson

Lesson #4 : When you are surrounded by Bozos ,don't explain your vision to them , just hibernate and protect your ignorance .

I may sound idiot saying this but trust me my friend that your ignorance of all the worldly wisdom is your biggest strength. People will give you all the solution to problem with which they are still struggling themselves. You don't have take them as final word. Follow your heart. Remember those who danced were considered to be fool by those who were not able to hear the music.

Thanks for reading a long post . I hope you will benefit from my experience and will be able to protect and fan your flame. Good luck and Godspeed .

Image Courtesy : JCuerva

You can see Photos from my Manali-kasol Trip here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

State of Internet Marketing In India

The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax-- Of cabbages--and kings-- And why the sea is boiling hot-- And whether pigs have wings."

Some recent events in Indian Consumer internet market .
  • launched a "Search and Win " challenge where they are trying to lure user in to using their search engine by giving iPod , Pulsar and holiday package.
  • A virtually unknown company called mGinger, created a lot of news by offering Money to customer for reading SMS advertisements on their mobile phone .
  • MIH ,a Gurgaon based startup launched IbQash and Great Indian Blogger Hunt , a contest to promote their blogging service. They plan to give cash reward to user.
  • appoint student representative in major colleges in india and abroad and pay them to bring user to signup .
  • 's dubious plan of offering $5 Million over 40 year .[ i seriously think byindia guys are smoking dope] .
Not enough ?? well there is mgarlic ,algoco,sms2india etc etc .All trying hard to out bid each other by giving money to user .

What on earth is happening ?? why suddenly everyone in Indian internet space is desperate to "Buy " users ? and why they are not giving a damn about ensuring user's "Buy in " for their application . I am no expert in Online marketing but still i think that this is internet marketing at its worst . you are already giving something for free to user now on top if this you are offering them bounty to use the application . Its true that all these bounties and prize money can attract some users . but i think no startup in world wants that type of users . those who are on your web page only till you are giving the money away . The moment your cash reserve is finished they move on to next sucker in line.

No Matter who fund you or how much they fund you , you will eventually run out of cash .
But still this is being done why ??
Poor Marketing :
Not content to slink off the stage without some revenge , this sullen and resentful crew of failed startup cast among them self to find a scapegoat and whom do they light upon ? with unfailing consistency and unerring accuracy all fingers point to - The Vice President of Marketing . its marketing's fault .Oracle outmarketed Sybase . Cisco outmarketed Bay, Intel outmarketed Motorola .We too have been outmarketed by our competitor .

Firing is too good for this monster .Hang him .

If you ask people in HiTech about the reasons why software companies ,specially startups fails ? than Marketing will be on top of it . Marketeers are blamed so many time that it becomes a fact of nature . but this is only one side of story . surprisingly most of the conversation ends there and we start whining about incompetency of marketing team without further realizing why ?? Is there a reason for it or is this so called incompetency is intrinsic to the profession of Marketing . i don't think so .
While there are many factor like lack of supporting environment within the organization , pressure from VCs, Half cooked Technology, Market crash and of course Intrinsic Incompetence of some people , which may lead to a fail startup but I think there are two main reason for marketing 's failure here .
  1. Marketeers are operating under a wrong set of assumptions
  2. Most of the Marketers are not right guys for the job .
I am giving more importance to these two reasons because most of the time these reasons goes unnoticed .Teams are oblivious to them . Lets examine them one by one .

Operating under wrong set of assumptions :

Problem with marketing is that it follows or rather forced to follow something called

"Market Research " .

Market Research give them numbers ,estimation , usage pattern ,segmentation,purchasing power ,Life expectancy and sexual health of prospective users [you name it and Market research will give you that ] . All marketing plans are supposed to operate within that premises . When it comes to Online consumer market specially in India ,Market research is little more than a WooDo Art or Witch Craft . Often i come across studies which consider Ringtone download as Mobile internet usage and Job hunting as a way to ensure loyal and ongoing relationship with your users . Till date i didn't come across a report which takes in to the consideration the fact that most of the internet usage in India is through Cybercafe . user reaction or behavior @ Cyber Cafe is a function of lot of things, how many folks are sharing the bandwidth ,privacy, whether the right pluggins are installed in browser or not , how much do they charge per hour, annoyance of registration . These are some real constraints under which an Indian internet user operate . how many times these factor are considered ? not much . what we see is a number.Indian broadband subscriber base is XYZ Million . does that gives you any real insight ? i doubt .

Another sore point is that MR fails to capture and estimate is that how far a user can go to adopt when value offered is good enough . when i started using internet in early 90's i used to pay 100/Hr for a dial up connection with 6 PCs sharing the bandwidth and i used to pre-compose the email messages on Floppy disk . I never read an article on line i used to take backup and read it in college lab . In US a lot of old people learned to work on computer and internet so that they can use Ebay . In India a lot of folks bought high end phone and enabled MMS functionality when there was DPS MMS case . I seriously doubt if any market research or study could have predicted it . even in mature categories like FMCG Market research has failed badly to predict the user acceptance of any new product Think of Vanilla Coke , research said it will be a big hit in India and Aeron chairs market research predicted that its destined to fail .

I request these Market research guys to please move out of their Focus groups/ survey questionnaire and spend some time on road . Its not hard to see the hunger for meaning full internet and hi tech product . look at the way online marriage portal and Chat rooms are going great in India [ ever been to Delhi global chat room on Yahoo ??] but dating sites fails terribly in providing the solution . look at the usage of Reliance's R World Mobile Data service portal , R World usage is very high if you consider the profile of average reliance phone user . i think no one can deny the potential here .

Indians are hungry for more application . these are just few of the example . i can list 5-10 more cases. the point i want to make is that Market research is just like a map and these symptom are like actual road . when there is a difference between road and map i think we should choose road . but sadly most of the guys choose to follow the map . go figure .

Marketers are not right guys for the job :

[caveat : this is my personal opinion based on my observation .this is no golden rule i agree there are exception and i know few of them ]

Sometime back i read that HDFC has made a conscious choice of hiring Fresh graduate from Level B Business school only . Why ?? their idea was that ,since most of the students those Tier B colleges are from Middle class family they can connect to them more easily because they understand the value of House for their clients better than someone from Top grade B school . very insightful isn't it ?

I think that first and foremost requirement for a marketer is that he should be a common man to an uncommon degree .but look at the marketers in most of the tech startups [specially the one which are funded ] if you do a statistical study you will find out that more often than not the marketing guy is an high flyer ,fast talking person , who has been to Top school and read all the right books and speak latest bullshit.

Do you see them as a common man to uncommon degree? i don't think so .Not by any stretch of imagination . these guys are a social outcast [ in a positive and progressive manner ] and we give them the responsibility of running a social network .

Result ?? 100th MySpace and YouTube clone and these marketing campaign.

Point is that paradigm under which these guys live and operate is totally out of sync from the paradigm of their users . Mostly these guys are clueless and don't have insight to break new market ,they don't understand the pain point . for example DATING SITES . we all know that dating sites attracts the maximum amount of funding . we also know that dating sites sucks . there will always be room for one more dating site. why ? Because no one is addressing the basic problem with dating sites . May be no one in their team felt the frustration .

Another aspect of this problem is that wide spread assumption that Marketing is a generic function .Its not domain specific . thats why its very common to see an Ex FMCG Marketers or an Ex Advertisement Guy working with DOTCOM as Head of Marketing .what do these guys do ? they buy links and banner Ads ? they focus on distribution and revenue split . How many sugar water sales man world needs before they learn that Hi Tech is totally different ball game?

Marketing in online world is not like FMCG [ mostly Distribution and pricing ] or its not purely about Creative advertisement . it s not even about Desktop Era stuff [ Making better mouse traps ] . For the most part its about nurturing a Community,evangelism,PR and keep your user base captivated. Wonder how it can be done ?? Look at Signal Vs Noise by 37signals . Every startup should have a guy like Jason Fried .

Jason is not alone , look at Mark Zuckerberg Founder of Facebook .He looks and live like a college guy and his site is a SocNw of College . Look at Kevin Ross , Founder of Digg . He looks like your Typical Neighborhood Techie ,his site is a Tech news site .

You can find many such examples . In online world your spokesperson should inspire a sense of connection in your targeted community . your user should say " He is one of us" thats the key.

Thanks for reading a Long post .

Photo Courtesy : Eva Ekeblad