January 28, 2010

It's a new day, it's a new place

It has been almost five months since my last blog post. Lots of things have changed now, the good news is that I am now married to Janukin [engagement news here]

In May 2009, I left the startup I was associated with [updates here] and have now relocated to Bangalore. In order to gain some stability, I have again rejoined Mphasis. The entire post is full of updates i.e Marriage, relocation, job however there is one update which is very important for me[as a blogger and for you as an end-user i.e my loyal readers].

The content of this blog is now moved to my new domain http://blog.himanshusheth.net [which is using Wordpress and the theme is developed by V.V.K Chandra [again our contact happened through this blog, not to mention "He has done a phenomenal job to design a simple & sleek theme"]. I am sure, before you move to the new destination; you would want to be connected to this blog, so go ahead and update your feeds:

Subscribe via Reader [Courtesy- Feedburner]

Subscribe via Email/Twitter etc. [Courtesy- Feedblitz]

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September 10, 2009

Let's get started ...

How many times, we feel like talking to someone but can't even take the first step. It starts with "How to approach" and once you approach "How you build a meaningful conversation". If the conversation goes like flowing water, than it is of no worry but if it does not, "the onus lies on the initiator to transform a talk into a conversation".

I had an interesting experience during my association with a startup where we handed over free gift to each person who helped testing our product. The free gift was definitely priceless for us since it would help us to spread our word [as our name was printed on the gift] but very few people noticed it. That is where each one of us started interacting with every person during the testing process[spending an extra minute or so] to explain about our product and startup through the "name" which was printed on the freebie.

It is a universal truth that "Pictures speak louder than words" and to demonstrate that we have this Twitter T-Shirt[which I ordered months back] from Pringoo

The T-Shirt contains my Twitter profile and 400 of my randomly selected followers. It is an excellent marketing tool [much more than just putting your company's name on it]. These are some of the basic things it does :

Effective story telling
As Seth Godin points out that Great story telling should capture the imagination of the audience. This is what the T-Shirt does perfectly. It not only eye catchy but also makes a person to craft his/her own story around the picture. This curiosity makes him/her to clarify whether the guess was right !!!

Starting a conversation
As pointed in the beginning, this is a great tool to make up a conversation. I was travelling in a bus and a guy came to me asking "Is this your Twitter profile" and at the end of it, we exchanged business cards and got connected elsewhere. That person was curious to know "Not only about Twitter but also about the other guys pictured on the T-Shirt"

Popularity of your service
In this case, the T Shirt was spreading the word of Twitter & to build my own brand [IMHO having 400+ followers is no big joke biggrin]. What if your service had more than XYZ followers and you randomly selected first ABC & got them printed on some medium. It would definitely help spread the word much much faster !!! Even better would be if this was handed over as a gift to some lucky user of your service.

This is just one example of so called "great story teller". May be next time when you hand over a freebie, the first question that should come to your mind is "Whether it would help build a talk or conversation" !!!

If you have any other thoughts about the Twitter picture, do share them by leaving a comment & the same would be included in the article.

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September 3, 2009

Book Review - Entrepreneur Journeys : Bootstrapping, weapon of Mass Reconstruction

Earlier on ThoughtsPrevail; we reviewed Sramana Mitra's book Entrepreneur Journeys-Volume I here & here, in this article we review her book Entrepreneur Journey's [BootStrapping : Weapon of Mass Reconstruction]

Like her previous book, Sramana follows the same format where she interviews successful entrepreneurs however this time around they are the ones who have successfully bootstrapped their business. The interviews provide vital answers as to whether a startup really needs VC funding or it can be entirely bootstrapped. It also gives some insights into why mentorship is so important for any startup.

Notably the book includes interviews of the so called sultans of blogosphere-Om Malik of GigaOm and Rafat Ali of paidContent [which was acquired by Guardian for $30M].

Though there are many inspiring interviews, the only downside of the book was that the focus was mainly on US based startups but this does not take away the core message delivered through the book i.e "How to bootstrap a business"

Some of the useful tips from the bootstrappers interviewed in the book are given below -

Greg Gianforte, RightNow
  • Find an entrepreneurial mentor, and if you are going to bootstrap, find a mentor who has already bootstrapped a business
  • Bootstrapping is a discovery process. Rather than building an ark, waiting for animals to come, and hoping the tide rises-you take an incremental approach and discover a legitimate, real world value proposition.
Cree Lawson, Travel Ad Network
  • Nothing is more expensive for a business on a personal and financial level than client and customer churn.
  • The right relationship with an experienced operator is more important than the valuation you can achieve in fund raising.
Beatrice Tarka, Mobissimo
  • You can have the best technology and the best product on the market, but without good team chemistry your business will fail.
Om Malik, GigaOM
  • I think that a lot of people do things for money, and it's the stupidest thing we can do for ourselves. Everybody thinks money is the answer, but it is not. What made me tick was writing; that's what I was born to do. How can you ignore your natural animal instinct ?
  • A lot of people make the mistake that when they outsource, they outsource it all. The reality is you outsource the physical function of it, but not the mental piece.
Rafat Ali, paidContent
  • The thing about email newsletters, which is still true today, is that you have a viral presence in somebody's inbox day in and day out.
  • I learnt that when you start a company, you need to spend money on keeping the books in order.
J.R. Johnson, VirtualTourist
  • We always knew that in the worst-case scenario, we could go into the cockroach mode and just hide out in the dark for a while and let the content grow.
  • One of the biggest experiences for me, as a first-time CEO, is bringing in smart people who are much better than I am in their fields, then staying out of their way.
Wayne Krause, Hydro Green Energy
  • I remember seeing National Geographic drawing of a big ocean device to create energy, and I kept thinking that there had to be a way to make energy out of those waves. That's how it started.
Scott Wainner, SysOpt & ResellerRatings
  • For me, being an entrepreneur is so much trial and error that I would rather make the mistakes in the lower dollar range than at the Super Bowl advertising level.
  • No matter how many businesses you start, it just takes one successful business to make up for all the other attempts.
  • If you are going to build a service and it has a good chance of becoming very popular, make sure you address the scale needs up first.
  • Everybody who tried our product wanted it. All we had to do was get into the taste test.
  • A lot of startups are based on hypothesis- they build something and start interacting with customers, but they never verify it. What they are doing is rationalizing the hypothesis rather than evaluating & verifying it.
Manoj Saxena, Webify
  • If you raise a lot of money, you are leveraging the hell out of yourself. And you probably have a lot of people wanting to grab the steering wheel if things don't go right.
  • A Lead User is typically a person who has such a strong need or pain that they go out and build something on their own to solve the pain.
Lars Dalgaard, SuccessFactors
  • I didn't care about the title; I cared about the learning.
In few words, it is an interesting as well as inspiring read for Entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping or wannabe entrepreneurs thinking of bootstrapping.Let's wait to see what Sramana has to offer in her Volume-III !!!

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August 29, 2009

Marketing in Rural India

Few days back, I just had a short chat with one of the co-founders of an IIM-A's Iaccelerator startup and our conversation diverted to an article that was published in Outlook Business. The article tells about how a simple SMS is helping the Indian farmers plan their farming better and in turn helping them generate more profits.

Just came across a very insightful presentation which talks about why rural India is so important & how one can tap the rural market. The most interesting point from the presentation is the statistics about Rediffmail -
Out of 20 million Rediffmail signups, 60% are from small towns. 50% transactions from these towns on Rediff shopping site.

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August 22, 2009

Gogola : Because it's not Google

Last week, I was holidaying in my home place - Mumbai and we went out shopping for my marriage which is due on 23rd November, 2009. We were shopping at Bandra which is considered as a very posh place & there we can across a small chat [चाट] outlet. With the scare of swine flu, customers normally avoid from going to such places and this is where it becomes important for the shop owners to win back the customers confidence.

But what if, we use a household name to brand our small product. This is what MIGHT make the customer to purchase & use the product. And the chat outlet did exactly the same. The brand which was used was none other than Google and the product - Gola [गोला] was named Gogola, some interesting pictures below:

Considering that Internet explorer is the most widely used browser in India, using it effectively would be considered as "Another feather in their cap". Just like the glass, the menu card was also shown in a very geeky manner in an IE window [picture below]:

I had a chat with the shop owner and he told that "They came out with this strategy mainly to get customer's confidence" and as Google & Microsoft are household names[no matter you use them or not, but you definitely know them] using them ignites a spark in the customer's mind. This trust indirectly builds the Gogola brand.

This is a lesson from a small time shop owner on "How a product can become a brand, sometimes by smartly re-modeling an existing brand".

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August 14, 2009

WOM is very important for startups - Amarjit Batra, OLX India

In the previous article, we spoke to Amarjit Batra, country manager of OLX India on OLX, Marketing, Online Classifieds etc. In this episode; we speak to him on Web, Startups, Entrepreneurship. Hope you enjoy the interview.

What are some of the Web 2.0 features that OLX promises to it's users ?

OLX is a Web 2.0 product and users can easily design rich colorful listings with pictures and videos and display their listings on their social networking profile [Facebook, Myspace].Some of the features that make us different from others are:
  • 100% free (forever) even in jobs and real estate
  • Ability to include videos and pictures in listings
  • A city, neighborhood and zip code database so the entire country is covered and not just pre-selected cities
  • Ajax "WYSIWYG" rich-text editor for richer listings
  • Ability to comment on listings to create a stronger community
  • Advanced search functions with sliders allowing searches at variable regional settings
  • A distance field allowing you to see postings near your zip code wherever possible
  • Ability to post listings in any language in any country
  • Ability to view the site in any country in any language
  • Global reach
  • Mobile version: The mobile version http://m.olx.in is unique as one can do everything that can be done on the web
Currently OLX is only in English, do you plan to release for other Indian languages considering the penetration of internet in India ?
Actually, we are present in English and Hindi as of today. You can check the Hindi site at http://www.olx.in/hi Going by the India Internet reports, it is evident that local language consumption on internet is on the rise and could possibly drive the future penetration of Internet in the country. We would like to gain some traction in Hindi before launching other Indian languages in the country.

There is strong likelihood that local languages consumption would be driven by Mobile internet. OLX site is already accessible on the Mobile through our WAP offerings http://m.olx.in and having other local languages on mobile would help.

During this time of recession, one important thing is Cutting/Managing Costs? How is OLX doing the same ?
OLX is a 3.5 years old company. By the nature of our business model, we are very scalable and have a lean team of 125 people managing our sites in 90 countries.

Keeping the recession in mind, we are focusing on efficiency and optimizing spends. Business wise, we are in a growth phase and we have been busy expanding our footprint across the globe. Therefore, we do not shy away from spending if the opportunity is good.

Where do you see OLX from 3-5 years down the line ?
In 3-5 years, OLX should emerge as the preferred destination and a strong brand in most markets where we are focused. We will continue to innovate and provide the best classifieds experience to our millions of users and hope to become the largest classifieds site in the world.

Can you share some tips for the budding Entrepreneurs ?
I feel budding entrepreneurs should look at the following before getting into a start up
  • Are they really passionate with the idea and willing to commit long term to making it succeed?
  • Who are they going to work with? It’s important that the core team is experienced and have complementary skills. Even the VC’s prefer ‘a good team with an average idea’ to ‘an average team with a good idea’.
  • Entrepreneurs should be clear about their business model and have a monetization plan in place, even if the initial phase is experimental and does not fetch any revenues
  • Flexibility and adaptability are traits that could differentiate between successful and failed start ups. Sometimes start ups struggle initially but adapt and tweak the model to the market conditions to succeed.
  • Keep experimenting new ideas or new ways and
  • Always ask your network of friends and acquaintances for support or ideas. Do not underestimate the strength of the weak ties.
How important is marketing aspect in Web startup & can you share some tips with us ?
Marketing is important but considering that most web start ups are constrained with cash, one cannot expect to spend huge sums on marketing campaigns.

Marketing tools that work best for a web start up would be SEO, Partnerships & Alliances, promotions, social media marketing and community driven marketing. SEM should be also be considered depending on the marketing budget.

A good product acts as a marketing tool too. The word of mouth from users takes over the job of marketing and most successful web companies have been built this way.

Where do you see the Future of Web, since Mobile & Web [Real Time Web] are converging ?
I believe that the Future of Web is mobile. It’s much more personal, convenient and accessible 24/7 and mobile is surpassing the PC penetration in most developing economies. 3G accessibility, smart phones pricing and penetration will play a key role in translating this potential into a reality. The dynamics of this market should change two to three years from today.

When do you feel is the right stage an Entrepreneur should approach a VC for funding ?
An Entrepreneur should approach the VC for funding when most of these conditions have been met
  • The Company has been incorporated and business has been launched
  • The Founding team is in place, but there is a need for addition of talent in senior and middle management to set up the team for the next phase
  • The business model has been tested with the first set of clients or markets and the expansion needs cash infusion
  • Business needs to build the critical mass quickly to get the first mover advantage, or is in a situation where the barriers to entry are low
  • Have the business plan in place for the next three to five years and the execution of the plan requires capital or manpower
In some cases, the Entrepreneur can get funding at start of the venture. This is most likely in cases when the Entrepreneur has proven experience or the business model or sector excites the VC to take the initial risk. These cases are few in number, so it’s better if the entrepreneur is prepared to rough it out on their own for the initial phase of six months to a year.

Final parting words...
I would like to share a Les Brown quote I really like

"Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars"

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August 13, 2009

Print classifieds will eventually die - Amarjit Batra, OLX India

Online classifieds has been a growing business and is expected to grow 100% YOY. Be it marriage, Real Estate etc, all of use either of these services in day to day life. In this article, we speak to Amarjit Batra, Country manager of OLX,India which is 100% FREE classifieds site.

The interview is divided into two parts, with this one focusing on OLX, Online Classifieds, Marketing etc.

Before starting off, can you give a small pitch about yourself & OLX ?
OLX is a next generation classifieds site present in 90 countries and 39 languages. We are present in India on web http://www.olx.in as well as mobile http://m.olx.in. There is an option to use OLX India site in English as well as Hindi. We are live in most Indian cities and we already have users from 900+ cities in India. OLX is 100% free to search, list and transact. We have all the key classifieds categories like Jobs, Real Estate, Cars, For Sale, Matrimonial, Services, Education and Community. OLX has integrated many Web2.0 features to the product and we aspire to be good in every vertical.

I have been in the internet space in India for the last nine years and am a strong believer in the online marketplace model. India is an important market for OLX, and I hope that we can make a difference to the lives of the Indian populace through our Free Classifieds site. I am delighted to be a part of the OLX Global Classifieds team and join them in this exciting journey.

How big is the estimated classifieds market in India ?
India is young classifieds market, but there is a lot of potential. As per estimates, the size of the online market is Rs. 800 to 900 crores.

How different is OLX from other competitors like Sulekha, Sify Classifieds etc.
First of all, we are a free site. Yes 100% free! And we want to keep our core site free forever. Our major difference with vertical category sites is that we are present in many categories- Jobs, Real Estate, Vehicles, Matrimonial [only in India], For Sale, Services, Classes, and Community.

Being a local site, we are today present in all major cities in India, whereas the rest of the sites are focusing on few cities only. The other key differentiating factor is a user friendly mobile version of the site http://m.olx.in on which one can do everything that can be done on the web version. We are also present in other languages like Hindi http://www.olx.in/hi/ that gives us a wider reach.

Being a Web2.0 product, users can easily design rich colorful listings with pictures and videos and display their listings on their social networking profile [Facebook, Myspace etc... ]

Unlike others, we are a global classifieds site network with a local presence in India. Being present in 90 countries and 39 languages gives us an international reach and we do continuous improvements on our product and features.

OLX has presence in many countries, how different is the Indian market from market in US/elsewhere ?
Indian online classifieds market is quite different from US, primarily in two ways.
  • Online classifieds in India have grown through vertical sites in jobs, real estate and matrimonial unlike US where the biggest classifieds site is Craigslist, a horizontal site.
  • US online market has been the harbinger to the shift from print classifieds to online classifieds and it’s been happening in huge way recently with many print dailies getting out of business. Contrarily to the US and Western Europe, the newspapers in India are still growing in circulation. As a result the print classifieds is also growing.
The online classifieds industry will eventually cross the print classifieds through the sheer reach, flexibility, cost effectiveness and ease of use for both advertisers and searchers, but it will take some time.

India is difficult to cover by a single medium or a single language. It was print earlier, but Internet has shown a good growth recently and mobile is going to become important in the future. Similarly, English readership is limited in our country and to fully cover the market, local language options would become increasingly important.

You have worked with EBay(India) & other B2B,B2C based companies ..What changes have you seen in the market since that time ?
Internet has changed the way we search and buy products and services. The online transactions in India might not be huge today, but the search starts on the internet for a lot of us. With Mobile internet gaining popularity a lot more people will exposed to Internet.

In the last few years, the online classifieds market has evolved in many ways. I have seen the following trends in the Indian market:
  • Increased awareness and preference for online classifieds. There has been a increased awareness among the internet users now, whereas earlier, a lot of time and effort was being spent by online classifieds players in educating consumers and businesses on the benefits of using classifieds.
  • Rise of the Horizontal Classifieds Sites. The market is moving from vertical category sites to horizontal category sites. Even the players who were earlier in one category have launched other verticals or their own horizontal sites
  • New categories becoming relevant online. Jobs, Real Estate and Matrimonial have been the top draw categories and continue to remain so, but there are other categories like Vehicles (Auto), For Sale (e commerce categories), Services and Classes (Education) that are also driving considerable interest among consumers.
  • C2C users now have a platform to trade. Online classifieds has been a shot in the arm for C2C transactions in India and filled a huge gap. If you look at US also, C2C was earlier captured by eBay but a lot of it has now shifted to Craigslist. If an individual is looking to sell his car, give his flat for rent or look for paying guest, sell old furniture, offer tutoring services etc, online classifieds is now a preferred option to advertise.
  • Boon for SME’s. As a country, India is on a growth path and the large numbers of micro and small entrepreneurs starting their businesses or facing the onslaught from competition are increasingly looking at advertising options that are free or low cost. Online classifieds provide them with a local as well as a national reach and it’s free.
  • Internet is going local. Most trades, transactions and exchanges happen within a city or town and local online classifieds have gained traction since the last few years.
  • Emergence of the Mobile Internet. Internet penetration in India has been constrained because of broadband and PC penetration where as Mobile penetration has been explosive. People are beginning to realise the ease of access of Internet through their mobiles and in many cases they are having their first exposure to internet through a mobile handset. Online classifieds on Mobile are gradually gaining traction and with the rapidly growing mobile internet users, it could be a large chunk soon.
OLX recently got 5 million funding from Nexus(India) , how difficult is it for startups to raise money at this point of time ?
It’s definitely tougher to get funding nowadays. However, if the team and the idea is good and the initial business results have been demonstrated, I am sure funding would be easier to come.

Craigslist is very dominant in US, how does OLX plan to compete with it's popularity ?
OLX is more popular in markets outside of the US. We are doing quite well in Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Latin American countries and India. In US, we have been encouraged by the response we have got.

Our differentiating factors are that we are focusing on product and business model innovation. Craigslist charges for jobs, real estate and other categories in certain cities, whereas we are 100% free to post and intend to remain free to post. We feel that charging limits the number of ads on the site which is a detriment to the user experience. We want our users to find whatever it is they are looking for.

From a product perspective, we aspire to be as good in every vertical as the best paid vertical sites. Already we have a number of innovations relative to many of our competitors:
  • We have a fantastic mobile version such as http://m.olx.in reachable from any cell phone.
  • We allow users to promote their listings automatically on social networks.
  • We have a rich WYSIWYG editor allowing users to create colorful postings without knowing HTML.
  • We support photos and videos.
  • The site is multilingual even within countries with 39 languages supported.
  • We have powerful search functions in real estate and cars.
If OLX is completely free, what is the revenue model of OLX ?
We are having text ads (currently provided by Google) as the only monetization option. Our core site will always be 100% free. However we have launched 'Featured Listings' in few countries that allows users to get prominent placement on the site. This is certainly a value add to the advertisers, without compromising on the free listings that one can still post. We do not have any immediate plans to introduce this in India.

Our mobile site http://m.olx.in is also completely free for users. The mobile site has a banner or text ad on top and bottom of each page and is monetized through ad networks.

If you have any questions for Amarjit, kindly leave them in the comments and we would add them in the Part (II) of the interview.

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August 5, 2009

What makes a winning CULTURE ....

There is a general tendency of we humans to compare whatever we can. One thing that gets compared first when someone joins a new company is the "Company Culture". Culture becomes SO very important especially if you are a startup.

Just came across quite an interesting presentation that describes NetFlix's winning culture especially focusing on it's core points which are listed below:
  • Values are what we value
  • High performance
  • Freedom and responsibility
  • Context, not control
  • Highly aligned, loosely coupled
  • Pay top of market
  • Promotions and Development
As you can see it is more for reading than for presenting; hope you enjoy reading the same.

Thanks to JoeManna for the tweet

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