Dec 30, 2013

The Orange County experience

The only vacation we took this year was a trip to Coorg in early Sept. Finally I managed to pen down my experiences. Husband and I had been planning for a vacation for quite some time since it's been 3 years since our last one at Swaswara. We wanted to go to a place which is toddler friendly in terms of food, space and distance from Bangalore. D is 2 years now and she loves being outdoors. We enquired a few places in Kerala but the thought of taking a flight or a train was scary with D screaming within a few minutes after we board a flight/train.

So we decided to go for a drive nearby which is not more than 5 - 6 hours. We had earlier went to Mysore and it was comfortable, driving down with a toddler. We called up Orange County and bookings were done for a 3 night package. Since I had mentioned to them that this is our wedding anniversary special trip, they wanted to make it special.

The day before our trip, we were packing our things and D was quite curious and interested to see all suitcases being brought down from the loft. My travel checklist came in handy, especially when packing all the essentials for D.

On the morning of our trip, hubby and I woke up quite early, packed some sandwiches and got dressed. It was a pleasant surprise that D also decided to wake up early at 5:30 AM that day. Guess the excitement of a vacation caught up with her as well!

The drive was smooth, with some new songs added in my iPod for company. We followed the ritual of having our breakfast at Kamat. D was quite calm and slept through most of the journey. Except for the last 20 odd kms where we had to drive through bad roads, the drive was mostly smooth. We reached Orange County around 1 PM and we were welcomed with traditional music and glasses of cold coffee.

The resort is vast, nestled inside coffee plantations and with 3 different restaurants inside the estate. We were taken to our "county cottage" through a buggy ride (just like a golf cart). D was highly impressed with the ride and started calling the buggy as "auto" (like an auto-rickshaw).

The cottage was spacious, with a huge bedroom opening up to a balcony, along with a clean bathroom. After a quick shower, we headed out for lunch at the "Granary". It was a multi-cuisine buffet with an elaborate spread. The heavy lunch and the long drive pushed all three of us towards a nice afternoon siesta. We then roamed around the resort a little and had some snacks and tea. I just loved the ambience of their reading room - perfect location overlooking the paddy fields, comfortable chairs and they also serve coffee. Too bad, I couldn't spend much time there. With an active toddler who wants to explore all the time, there's no way to sit and relax with a book :-)

We had dinner at the "Pepper Corn" restaurant that night. This place serves some nice continental spread, along with barbecue starters. For a vegetarian like me, it wasn't that impressive. Also the candle lights and darkness was a little spooky for D. This is ideal for a couple but not for parents :-)

There is also a South Indian vegetarian restaurant "Banana Leaf", where we had a sumptuous lunch the next day. More than the food, I liked the location of this place, with nice views of plantations. The waiters also ensured D got a separate bowl of kichdi, wherever we had our meal.

In terms of activities, we started for a plantation walk in the evening but since it was for 2 hours, carrying a toddler around didn't sound like a good idea and so we dropped off in between. The village walk in the morning was really good, where our guide took us to a nearby village and a coracle ride across Cauvery, followed by some hot chai. D also loved this walk since she got to see many goats, dogs and cows.

The pond inside the plantation has a lot of fishes. We grabbed a bag of puffed rice from the restaurant and fed them. D was excited to see so many fishes but her main activity was to create a mess by spreading the puffed rice all over the deck and wiping them with her hands.

Hubby and I also went for massages, taking turns and baby-sitting. There is a small nook which is a play area for toddlers, with teddy bears and other soft toys. There are also other indoor games like caroms, chess and ludo which the older kids might enjoy. In the evenings, there were some dance events by native Kodava dancers which we loved, including D.

The team had arranged a surprise for our wedding anniversary, with a cake and a gift. When they came to know it was D's 23rd month birthday (yeah, we celebrate month birthdays too!!), they surprised her with a cake too. D got quite excited to see everyone singing for her.

Being our first vacation with D, it was a memorable experience at Orange County. Everyone was very courteous and friendly. Perfect location, peaceful atmosphere, pleasant weather, excellent food - what more do we need in a vacation!! I'm sure we would go there again, after few years once D is old enough to appreciate the trees, birds and nature.

Nov 15, 2013

Notes from Nasscom Product Conclave - Oct 2013

I participated in the Nasscom Product Conclave event from Oct 28th - 30th. It was my first professional networking event in the past 3 years. It was a good experience, interacting with industry experts and peers. Also, it was great to catch up with many of my ex-colleagues from Yahoo! and Cleartrip.

Though I was there on all 3 days, because of the distance, I couldn't spend as much time as I would have liked to. Here are the notes from some of the sessions I attended:

Day 1:

Growth Hacking workshop by Ravi Trivedi - one of the best sessions I attended. He was extremely clear and focused on the topic. I only wish we had more time. 1 hour was just not enough.

Growth hacks

- are short-lived

- Requires limited spend

- Focused towards rapid growth

Three ways:

- Inbound marketing - customers convert better

- Conversation marketing - make sure to check if the customer is ready

- Organic customer acquisition (organic search)

3 step marketing plan:

- Identify your target market

     - Get as niche as possible

     - 18-35 years old => too broad a definition

- Create your messaging

     - For your target audience

     - Create messaging based on what the customer care about

     - broad messaging => drop off rates are high

     - good benchmark for Bounce rate - < 40 to 50% of traffic

     - bounce rate impacts SEO

- Pick 3 marketing tactics

     - Criteria to use => Highest ROI and volume

     - Vanity metrics - don't track (good to have but not actionable)

     - 90% of Google analytics metrics are vanity metrics, especially if you are in SaaS

     - "If you want big improvement in results, be ready to make big changes"

- FB returns - measure by CPA, as the audience can be targeted extremely well

- Twitter acquisition costs - lower than Adwords or FB (case study - for a travel company)

- Running contests in twitter - very effective

- Share compelling content at relevant moments

- FB PPC - greedy algorithm, will exhaust the budget quickly

- App store optimization - Google+ +1s have an impact on search results on app searches in playstore

- Microconversion v/s Macroconversion

- LinkedIn groups => quite effective to reach B2B target audience

- Goal of Initial marketing spends - to figure out CPA and filter out noise. Spend in short bursts

- similarweb.com => research tool that has traffic data similar to Alexa. Can also do keyword research

- Look into getclicky, hittail

- In Adwords, do add sitelinks to increase CTRs

- Google has 97% of search market share in India

- 53% of clicks go to first rank in Google organic search results => focus on your SEO

    - Target long tail / mid tail keywords where competition is less

    - Use FAQs to target SEO keywords

Design workshop by Sunit Singh - Though I have worked with Sunit in Cleartrip, we haven't collaborated together on a product. Having seen the magnificent user experience in Cleartrip's mobile app recently, I definitely wanted to hear more from him.

He took us through two case studies to illustrate the basics behind good design -

redesigning a boarding pass and redesigning a credit card statement. It was an interesting and collaborative exercise with other participants, though it could have been a little shorter on time.

Some of the points I jotted down:

- Reduce the effort to find information

    - Who needs this info? (Passenger in the case of a boarding pass)

    - What is most important? (Requires gate number, flight number, boarding time and seat number in that order)

    - What is the context? (Passenger needs to know which gate he needs to board the flight from, needs to know the seat number once he is in the flight)

Once these 3 questions are clear, from a design standpoint, we need to link business objectives with user needs

    - What do you want the customer to do? (Could be a promotion or an ad displayed in the boarding pass)

Design process:

- Set design goals

- Group the information

- Start the design

Day 2:

Panel discussion on the art and science of building successful product teams

- Hire people for attitude, not skills

- Find out why they want to join your team, what is the overpowering reason?

- For outbound effort like talking to customers and investors, experience is important

- Very strong ICs can be strong team players

- A product manager has a good idea of who the customer is, lives and breathes customers, see how they solve their problems currently

- Consumer product - attention for 30 sec

- Product culture is extremely important

- Identify your dominant trait - new idea to conception, scaling the product, maintain the customer base

- Product person -

     - notices good products, competition, user experience.

     - Understands how customers use the product.

     - Tries to validate with proxy experiments.

     - Focuses on scaling and sustainability at a later stage.

- To scale, you have to delegate => have trust in your team => then let go of the ownership

- Communicate / network with transparency

- Should have strong points of view to conduct experiments and be accountable for results

Discussion on Start up product management - MVP and hypothesis testing

- Define hypothesis in less than 7 words

- Assumptions => Hypothesis => Data needed to prove the hypothesis => Minimum work needed to get that data (loved this point !)

- Social Q& A => Aardvark => used email to test the MVP

- What can you do without a line of code?

- Build => Measure => Learn => Listen

- MVP resistance by pilot customers

    - Remove friction

    - Champion the customer with 2 weeks of trial

Tips and tricks for building a successful mobile app by Rohit Singal

- Brainstorming phase

    - One line description of your app

    - Excitement (Others should contribute to your idea and not just say "It's good")

    - Impact

    - Name of app

    - team

- User experience and specs

    - Focus

    - Friction

    - First minute magic

    - Design guidelines (Follow Android / iOS7 design guidelines)

    - "Mobile apps should not come with a help menu"

    - Use unique features of the mobile OS

            - G+ login necessary for Google app reviews for featured list

            - Actions within notifications (Android specific feature)

    - Gamification

    - Invite hooks (Make the incentives contextual)

    - Social hooks

    - Notifications - meaningful, customized / personalized

- Development

    - User acquisition and analytics SDK - plan ahead. Look at Mixpanel, swerve, chartboost

    - "Listen more to your happy users"

    - In app rating form - when you should display, what should be the message?

    - In app user feedback form - very important. give a channel for users to vent their frustration

    - Pivots and iterations

    - MVP or 1.0? Apps are unforgiving

- Prelaunch marketing

    - User acquisition and building a community

    - Temporary and launch website

    - Twilio - sent SMS of app download link

    - App video

    - App store screenshots

    - App store description and app store title - very important

Mobile app showcase event:

We demoed our HealthifyMe Android app and it gave us a good opportunity to share what we do in the health and fitness space.

Day 3:

SaaS startups showcase event:

Among the many startups that demoed their app, the ones that caught my attention were bookpad (document management software) and DoCircults (online circuit simulation).

Small screen, big impact:

Three startup founders (awaaz, sound of silence and janacare) talked about how they are leveraging the power of a mobile phone to create social impact.

The afternoon sessions were more for the entertainment factor and not much of real value, especially the panel discussion on scaling your startup.

Traveling from South to North Bangalore, battling the traffic in Outer Ring Road was such a pain. Wish the next year's event is somewhere closer.

Nov 5, 2013

Nutrition for infants and toddlers - Part 1

At the beginning of the year, I set out a goal for myself to share with other moms on what I have learnt during the last 2 years, when it comes to feeding my little daughter. I'm neither a doctor nor a nutrition expert. So please use the tips shared below at your own discretion and consult with your pediatrician.

I plan to write this topic in a 3 part series. In the first part, the main focus will be on nutrition in the first 6 months after your baby is born. I can complete the post in a single phrase - "breastfeed exclusively for 6 months"

But to reiterate the importance and to share my experience, I think a few more lines is necessary. Even before my daughter was born, I made a commitment that I will breastfeed her and I was quite strong about it. Since I decided to take a break from work much earlier than delivery, it gave me time to read up and understand the benefits of breastfeeding. Towards the middle of the third trimester, I started to include oats, bottlegourd, fenugreek leaves (methi), spinach and masoor dhal regularly in my diet. These foods have helped me maintain a good supply of milk for my new born.

Once my daughter was born, the nurse at the hospital helped me to give the first feed within an hour after delivery. This early feed helps the baby to feel the mother's warmth and also learns to latch on quickly. The lactation consultant clarified a lot of questions around breastfeeding. The initial few days were extremely painful but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature to you as well as your baby.

After we brought our daughter home, for nearly a month, I couldn't sleep for 2 hours at a stretch. She would wake up for feeding many times in the night and I used to feel extremely exhausted due to lack of sleep. Though elders in the family suggested that I should start bottle feed, I resisted that temptation. Once the baby gets used to the bottle, I learnt that it becomes very difficult for the mom to nurse the baby. Thankfully, my supply was also good enough to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, without the need for bottle feed.

Regarding my diet, my doctors advised me to take normal foods that I would eat anyday, with no excess ghee, no hard lentils (channa, rajma) or vegetables (cauliflower, potato) that can cause bloating. I also used to take a tsp of roasted ajwain seeds after lunch and dinner. That was quite helpful to prevent my baby become colicky.

When my daughter was around 4 months, there was pressure from elders in the family to start introducing other foods. Though I resisted for a month, I eventually succumbed and started other foods when she completed 5 months. Wish I was more strong and continued exclusive breastfeeding for 1 more month !

To other moms, please bear in mind that there's certainly no hurry. Your child has his/her whole life to eat solid foods. So there is no need to rush into introducing other foods. Wait for the completion of 6 months, be strong and do not give in to pressure from others.

If you need to get back to work after 3 months, you can still use a breast pump. Talk to your doctor / lactation consultant and understand how you can continue to nurse your baby. Keep formula milk as the last resort.

Breastfeeding also helped me to reduce my pregnancy weight easily. As for my daughter, she didn't fall sick many times (touchwood!) and she has been an active and happy child. Until she was 22 months old, I continued to breastfeed her, along with regular foods.

To summarize, start preparing your mind and body for breastfeeding your baby even before delivery. It's the best gift you can give him/her. Be strong, believe you can do it and most importantly, do not take stress. The post partum period will have an upheaval of emotions. Keep yourself calm without any stress or tension. Get your husband to support your decision to breastfeed your baby.

In the second part, I will talk about the next exciting and challenging phase - introduction of solids.

May 9, 2013

Build a useful product in four steps


With the amount of noise and hoards of information consumers take in everyday, it's quite a challenge to stand out and get noticed, especially in consumer markets. No amount of loud marketing or jazzy advertising will give you the reach unless your product adds some value in the life of a consumer.

Flipkart advertisements are cute but if the state of their customer service, delivery processes,  inventory and their shopping interface aren't what they are today, the ads wouldn't have much of an impact. In consumer behavior terminology, we call this as "attitude towards the ad" which inturn triggers the "attitude towards the brand". We might like the ad but the brand/product wouldn't gain much from the ad.

I would keep referring to this book again because it's one of my favorites. Marty Cagan talks about three important attributes of a product in his book "Inspired" - valuable, usable and feasible. Usefulness of a product is a factor of value and usability.

Valuable - the product adds value by solving a consumers' problem in a novel way or a better way than the available solutions and so the consumer is willing to pay a price for such value.
Usable - the consumer might find value but unless if the product/solution can be easily comprehended and understood, he might not be willing to invest his resources further - time, money or effort.

How to increase the usefulness of your product?

I would like to suggest four steps by which the usefulness of a product can be increased.

1. Focus on the "one" thing that the product is expected to perform remarkably

Recently, I started using "Workflowy", a list management application to track my to-dos/tasks. It's a simple and intuitive product that completely focuses on tracking tasks in a flow structure, similar to bullet points in a Word document.   The tasks could just be a single liner next action item (a GTD concept) or a project that involves multiple levels of subtasks. The product is so simple that it looks like an empty Word document. 

This product conveys a powerful message - Do the one thing that the user expects the product to do extremely well. Ignore the "bells and whistles".

2. Involve customers early in the product conceptualization stage

I firmly believe that any idea has to be validated with the market by talking to potential customers before taking the shape of a product. No amount of secondary research, prior domain knowledge/experience or just gut instinct will help unless you hear directly from customers. Elicit more details from customers on the specific problems you want to solve through your idea. Observe the body language, the environment where he lives, works and where he will be using your product.

I had the opportunity of going for a customer visit for a product that was in the initial conceptualization stage. Along with a business development manager, we went to different regions of New Delhi and interacted with varied groups of potential customers for a couple of days. It was a truly insightful experience, as a product manager. We were able to have casual conversations over tea, observe their work environment, take a look at their PCs and get a demo of the existing systems they use. These personal connections also come in handy while you want to get pilot customers' feedback before launching the product to the market.

A deep insight that came out during this visit was that we might develop a cutting edge product that performs brilliantly in high performance desktops and mobile but is that what customers actually use on a daily basis is something to think about. They might still be hanging onto Windows XP and Internet Explorer while the world has gone too far. Such kind of customer interactions help to unravel the ground realities.

3. Reduce feature clutter


More features doesn't translate to improved usefulness of a product. It might have a negative impact to the consumer, similar to the diminishing marginal utility concept in Economics.

We purchased a Bathla cloth dryer stand for our home a year ago. Our requirement was a bigger stand and the flexibility to move it around (wheels). The product met these requirements and so we found it to be of value while purchasing it. However for the sake of adding more features, the manufacturers have designed a complex product.

Two features that are unique in this product but totally unusable are
Adjustable hanging rods - It's quite difficult to move the rods and adjust the position. The designer of this product hasn't given a thought of where this product is going to be actually kept and used - which would be the balcony, terrace or garden. Dust accumulates near the edges, causing friction while moving the rods. As a result, the adjustability feature causes more irritation and I wish it was a normal, fixed set of rods
Socks holder - there is no way one can pin socks to the grooves provided. These grooves cannot be clipped together for them to hold socks tightly in their place.

A few years back, I was assigned the work of evaluating cloud based CRM products for my organization's sales team. One of those products was Zoho CRM, a complete CRM solution that covers lead pipeline, tracking your existing customers, exporting/importing contacts, issues tracker, dashboards etc. It was a feature-exhaustive product that satisfied most of CRM requirements. However, we found that the actual users i.e. the sales team members found the product to be extremely complex and unmanageable. When we enquired about the training costs, the quote was very high for a 2-3 day training program. Though we went ahead with the product, I'm not sure of its actual usage now.

In summary, more is not merrier.

While thinking of a new feature to be added to your product, think of these questions:
  1. Does it contribute to the core value of your product?
  2. Does it give you a competitive edge or competitive parity?
  3. Will this add more complexity to the existing feature set, from the point of view of the user/customer? (I'm not referring to the technology/architecture related complexity here)
4. Simplify the design

One of the ten principles of good design as given by Dieter Rams is that a good design makes a product useful. Design processes and principles should strive to keep the product as simple as possible.  The first three steps if taken care of will help this step immensely.

Simple products always win the race when it comes to usefulness. Coincidentally, as I was writing this article, I came across this tweet from @vijayanands

Dropbox solves a simple problem of sharing content across multiple devices and with multiple people. There were many solutions available earlier. I was using Yahoo! briefcase for a while and then tried Google docs before switching to Dropbox. The idea of creating a simple folder which is quite similar to other folders on our PC and syncing the contents automatically, without any manual intervention makes Dropbox an intuitive product. There is not much of a learning curve for any user and that's the beauty of it.

One of the underlying concepts of interaction design that I came across recently was that an interface need to behave like "magic".

"best interaction designs don’t exist: they don’t take a long time to load/respond; they don’t make users think; and they don’t give users cause for grief."

Do share your views on these 4 steps in building a useful product. I would also love to hear other relevant examples.



May 7, 2013

Collaborative solution seeking


Problem Statement

A business problem doesn't have a right or a wrong answer. The solution depends on various factors - context, environment, dependencies, principles/ethics, goals/objectives, available skills and many more. Solving a business problem requires a collaborative effort within the organization. Often at times, because of past mindsets, conditional thinking and groupthink, business managers might not be able to visualize solutions from different perspectives.

A third person's view point or a casual chat with an ex-colleague or a friend might open up new avenues of thinking and expand our scope. Sometimes, while attending a seminar or a discussion forum, new ideas might spark which could have a great impact at our workplace. Such is the importance of interacting with people from different backgrounds - be it education, work experience, thought processes or even ideology.

In the current scenario, if we want to seek answers to certain business problems outside the organization, the following are the options that we most frequently use. Please feel free to comment if there are any other options that you choose to reach out.
  • post a tweet on twitter
  • start a discussion in a relevant Linkedin forum
  • ask a question on quora
  • call your friends/ex-colleagues/acquaintances
These mediums are great platforms to get various perspectives across the globe, for your business problem. But I see a fundamental missing piece - interactions that enable collaborative solution seeking in a group.

If I have a query on a technology/programming language, a simple google search or posting/searching on quora/stackoverflow will give me an answer immediately. In case of business problems, one might have to understand/analyze the situation and suggest a possible solution. Such kind of interactions will be elevating and inspiring only if they happen in person or through a collaborative medium like a chat forum.

Solution

This is the idea I'm proposing. What if there is an interactive video chat platform where people in the business world can enroll, describe a problem situation and ask for a virtual meeting to discuss and gather solutions collaboratively with other interested business folks?

Users
  • Anyone in the business side of things - business development manager, product manager, marketing manager, business analyst, CXO, VPs etc
  • B-School students
  • Techies interested in business
Process
  • Users register themselves and add their areas of interest - digital marketing, valuation, cost accounting, product strategy, design etc
  • Any user can post a problem statement and tag with the appropriate area of interest. Let's call this user as "Conversation Starter"
  • All users who are matched to that area of interest get a notification about the problem statement
  • A possible discussion time is scheduled 
  • Some of those users can volunteer and prepare ahead - jot down some notes, quick data analysis, a powerpoint presentation, useful links/articles to share or just participate, thinking aloud during the discussion. Let's call such users as "Conversation enablers"
  • Other users might just be interested in the problem but do not have much to contribute. The discussion will be a useful session to enrich their knowledge. Let's call such users as "Conversation listeners"
  • During the discussion, 
    • the "Conversation Starter" summarizes the problem
    • Every "Conversation enabler" gets a chance to bring forth their views and ideas
End Result 

This would be a collective virtual brainstorming session that happens outside the workplace and with people who are ready to share their views. It's a win-win situation for all parties - 
  • "Conversation Starter" gets different perspectives to solve his/her business problem
  • "Conversation enabler" gets to ideate and think through varied set of problems in his/her areas of interest and build their expertise
  • "Conversation listener" gets to learn something new through such discussions
Next steps

I'm sure there are lots to think through regarding this solution. Most importantly,
  • incentives for the enablers (it's like consulting with no pay)
  • privacy concerns (why would I share my company problems with others?)
Let's leave the "what-ifs" and "oh-but" for now. My questions to all those kind souls who have read so far
  • Do you see value in such a product?
  • If you are in the business side of things, would you be interested to participate?
Please share your thoughts as blog comments as it would be easy for us to track and discuss further.

Apr 13, 2013

Role of emotions in product success


Marty Cagan in his book "Inspired: How to create products Customers love" talks about the characteristics of inspiring and successful products. Apart from the popular ones such as usability and visual appeal, one specific characteristic that struck me is the importance he has given towards human emotions and the role they play in creating a winning product.

Being a key enthusiast of marketing strategies driven based on consumer behavioral aspects, it felt like a "aha!" moment while I was reading the chapters on the role of emotion in products.

Marty says, "People buy and use products largely for emotional reasons".

It could be a positive emotion that is triggered by the product or a negative emotion that has been wiped off by the product. For example,
  • Facebook users might feel friendship, love and pride by being part of their social community and being in touch with their friends
  • Anyone who had to make an urgent phone call might have felt irritated if he couldn't locate a PCO/STD booth nearby. A mobile phone has helped to ease off this negative feeling.
The potential consumers of a product can be segmented based on the different emotional needs that will be addressed through the product. For example, an online travel booking portal addresses different emotional needs such as annoyance, frustration, apprehension, trust, amazement etc. Each of these emotional needs are addressed by means of various benefits offered by the product.

A mapping of such emotions and the corresponding product benefits are listed below:
Annoyance - higher product performance, usable interface, seamless booking flow
Frustration - booking from the comfort of one's home, transparency in the display of travel options available
Apprehension - secure payments, quick processing of refunds
Trust - booking receipts, confirmation calls
Amazement - discounts/cashbacks, loyalty programs

While ideating on a product, we should list down those emotions which are to be addressed. Personas can be helpful in segmenting the different emotions of potential consumers.

As part of product definition and conceptualization, we should work towards identifying how these emotions will be addressed through user experience, interaction and visual design, customer support etc. Prototype testing can be used to check if test users were able to feel such emotions (both positive emotions being triggered and negative emotions being shunned) through the product.

As humans, we are in a constant state of oscillating emotions and moods throughout the day. The various products we use / depend upon can also be a source of trigger for such emotions (ask anyone who tried to book a Tatkal train ticket through IRCTC first thing in the morning and how their day went after that experience). So it is important that product managers should focus on identifying and addressing these emotional needs during product ideation and conceptualization process.

Apr 6, 2013

Perspectives on organization culture

I was going over the recently published HubSpot's culture deck a few days ago and was mighty impressed and inspired by it. Many points resonated with my thinking in terms of building and maintaining organization culture.

I always believed that vision/mission/values statements shouldn't just be something that a firm creates for the sake of it, with some jazzy words and jargon laden phrases, stuck on the walls of every conference room in the office premises. It has to mean something and represent in everything the firm does.

I highly recommend you to go over this deck. Some of the points which I noted down for my future reference:

"Solve for the customer, not just their happiness but also their success"
This statement is relevant not just for organization culture but also while envisioning a new product. Understanding customer's problems and creating a solution through your product is just not enough. We should take a step forward in empathizing with the customer and understanding how the solution can help him/her to succeed in his various walks of life.

 "Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it"
Quite true. I have seen many people, especially veterans in software development teams who wouldn't want to share/disclose knowledge that they have gained over the years to a new software developer in the team. It could be an architecture overview, high level code walk through or simple tasks like setting up your development environment and build processes. Hoarding information doesn't make one superior or indispensable to the organization. Many man hours get spent when a new developer has to learn everything related to a product from scratch. If organizations incentivize senior developers/technical leads to share knowledge, it helps new developers to come on board faster and pushes the team to perform effectively.

 "We don't penalize the many, for the mistakes of the few"
This is exactly how I felt, when Marissa Mayer announced a ban on work-from-home policy for all Yahoo employees. There could be a few who might have misused work-from-home options to take care of their personal work and not even logged onto VPN. But there could be many who seriously had to be at home to attend to their sick child or elders in case of an emergency.

I agree that collaboration and interactions happen when teams are physically present in the office premises. But there could also be days when there are so many ad-hoc meetings and random discussions that prevent any focused attention needed for some tasks like research, coding a piece of complicated functionality, designing wireframes or writing product specs. Under such circumstances, I usually prefer to work from home the next day to get some quiet, peaceful time to make progress. A change in environment also helps if one is stuck with some issue or a nagging bug that needs to be fixed.

"Results matter, more than the hours we work"
"Results matter, more than where we produce them"
These two statement echo my hatred towards "clocking" certain hours everyday irrespective of whether you have work or not. Software development is not like a machine assembly line where work steadily keeps coming in from one side. Sitting in office just for the sake of getting through 8-9 hours is so unproductive. Most importantly, rewarding people who stay in office based on the number of hours they hang around is even more disastrous. Individual productivity should be measured based on the results they produce and the positive impact they have on the team and the organization.

One of the five attributes that HubSpot values in people is being humble. I'm glad that humility is still being valued in the world. This statement in the deck perfectly describes what humility actually means - "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less"

The other interesting points worth noting down are
"Don't hire to delegate, hire to elevate"
"We would rather be failing frequently, than never trying new things"
"Remarkable outcomes rarely result from modest risk"
"Simplicity is a competitive advantage"
"Influence is independent of hierarchy"

Mar 18, 2013

Trial in e-retail

In my earlier article on product trials, I briefly touched upon how product trials happen in the online world. This is something I'm really interested, especially in the case of e-retail and personal goods such as clothing, jewelry and perfumes.

Consumers would always choose to try out these personal items before they make a purchase. Apparel brands and retailers satisfy this expectation by providing trial rooms with full length mirrors in their retail outlets. Jewelers also help consumers to try out their varied designs before a purchase. In the case of perfumes, one actually experiences the fragrance and the feel when the customer care executive sprays the specific brand of perfume on your wrist.

Clearly, the different dimensions of experiential marketing come into play while we decide on these personal products in a physical store. Many e-retailers have been trying to recreate a similar experience while you shop online.

Appealing to the sense of sight, most of these e-commerce stores display the product offerings in bright and eye-catching pictures which make them look very appealing to consumers.

To experience the physical touch and feel of the product at your homes, many of them offer a try and return policy. Myntra and Jabong provide a 30 day return/exchange policy which help consumers to try out the offerings (clothes, shoes etc) at their homes and can exchange (if it is a size mismatch) or return the product.

Yebhi has recently launched the "Try-n-Buy" option where consumers can first try the product and if they like it, they can purchase it using cash-on-delivery. 

Their marketing efforts are focused around the same theme, with their latest TV ad campaigns emphasizing the trial-ability of the products.

Apart from trial-at-home, e-retailers have also started to provide virtual trial options. Zovi has a virtual trial room feature named Zovi Eye, through which consumers can virtually try any outfit using their webcam. 

There are also platforms available such as Imaginate's TRIALAR and Zugara's webcamsocialshopper which e-commerce stores can leverage to provide virtual trial benefits to consumers. If consumers are concerned over privacy issues, then such virtual trial feature will face resistance. Even if the resistance is lower, the bandwidth related issues will prevent wider adoption of such feature.

Innovative ways by which e-commerce stores can help consumers to try out personal products BEFORE making a purchase decision can be a sure shot differentiating factor. Return/exchange policies are good but because of the logistics and upfront payment, consumers feel the perceived risk and may not want to proceed further.

I was thinking of ways by which virtual trial can be implemented without privacy concerns. Instead of asking the consumer to allow access to his/her webcam, he/she can be asked a set of parameters to describe himself/herself. The parameters could be based on appearance, size and age. Based on these parameters, an appropriate mannequin can be used to wear the outfit. This would actually help the consumer to visualize how he/she would actually look rather than a perfect skinny model wearing the same outfit. Fitiquette's offering is similar to this idea.

E-commerce firms can also use the help of fashion designers to match right parameters with possible outfit options and can recommend mix-and-match combinations during virtual trial.

It would be interesting to see how the story unfolds in the next few years in the e-retailing scene in India, with a combination of the right technology, working around the bandwidth related constraints and helping consumers to experience their choice of clothing before they make a purchase.

Feb 15, 2013

Exploring the mobile app landscape

The recent trend of burgeoning mobile apps has piqued my interest in the last few weeks. Though I'm late into the smartphone segment as a consumer, it's quite interesting to observe the market dynamics, especially in India.

First, a few statistics that might be of interest:

   * 70% of India's population has mobile phones
   * According to the latest Mary Meeker's Internet trends report, the smartphones user base is just around 4% of overall mobile phone users. In China, the smartphone user base is around 24% and globally, this segment is around 17%.
   * Though the previous data point may not be encouraging, the smartphone subscriber base in India has grown by 52% in 2012 as compared to 2011
   * Only 12% of India's population are Internet users
   * Mobile Internet usage has surpassed desktop Internet usage in May 2012

From a demand perspective, the smartphone user base is growing and as a result, the need for innovative and useful applications is also on the rise. From the supply side, a lot of action is already happening in the mobile application development space. Android's marketplace Google Play has around 675,000 apps and Apple's app store has more than 700,000 apps available for download.

This supply-demand situation poses quite a few questions and challenges:

  1. Do users get what they want?
  2. Are users aware how they can leverage the apps that are available in the marketplaces?
  3. Are app developers able to market their idea/app to their target segment in an affordable way?

The first 2 questions are from the consumers' point of view. There is a problem of app discovery that has to be solved. Sifting through the loads of apps that are available in the marketplace and finding the one that you want might seem like a horrendous task.

These two statements that I came across summarizes the problem clearly:

From cnet
"both consumers and application retailers need to figure out a better way to surface the best content and weed out the useless stuff."

From Tim Bray's blog
"there are nuggets of gold among all the dross, things that would enrich buyers’ lives and developers’ wallets if they could only get noticed. "

Will an app search engine solve this problem? There are a few such mobile app search tools that are available such as quixey, appsfire and uquery
Will a business model similar to that of Google search evolve in this case? Sponsored apps similar to SEM? Mobile app optimization similar to SEO?

The third question is from the developers' point of view - the problem of app distribution. Presently, most of the smartphone users choose an app based on editor picks in their respective marketplaces, top downloads/ratings or based on third party reviews.

For a new developer building a niche mobile app, the only way to get the first few downloads is to take the viral route and market it through his/her social circle. Word-of-Mouth has been the main source through which consumers share their favorite apps with friends/family. In most of the social apps (Instagram for instance), the virality is built into the product. The most popular categories of mobile apps fall under games, music, social networking and productivity. The app development teams are incorporating collaboration, sharing, interaction and other gamification aspects into the apps to spread the word and thereby, increase the visibility for their respective apps.

I plan to explore further on the app distribution aspect which is the crucial element in app discovery from a consumers' point of view. This seems like an interesting and challenging problem. I'll continue to share my thoughts and learnings as I read up further on the overall landscape. Meanwhile, feel free to share your comments or thoughts on the whole mobile app eco-system.

Feb 8, 2013

Paradigm shift in learning

The last decade has seen a tremendous shift in the way we learn, just about anything. I remember vividly during my Engineering days (not so long ago) when learning meant picking up a text book or a reference book, sit down with a pencil/marker and read. There wasn't much collaboration, interaction or discussion during or after class hours. It was a one-way source of communication from the lecturer to the student. Internet was still at a nascent stage and neither accessible nor affordable (browsing centers were few and used to charge anywhere between 30-50 Rs per hour).

As I look at the way things have changed for the better, I feel inspired, excited and at the same time, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff one can learn in a lifetime. Being in the technology sector, I spent the initial years of my career, googling for tutorials and learning programming languages along with the skills needed at my workplace related to databases and data warehousing. It was still mostly text based where you read online instead of a book. But there was one distinct advantage. Given the need for practice when it comes to programming, you can immediately fire up a terminal/text editor, try out problems and code right there. Learning became much more involved because of this flexibility.

The next shift was interaction through various tech forums where one can post questions/doubts and someone would voluntarily help out from somewhere in the world. At one point of time, searching through such forums is sufficient to get answers to just about any queries.

Then came the videos and podcasts where demonstrations and structured sharing of views/theories enables anyone interested to pick up a new skill. The combination of visual and auditory learning has enhanced the overall experience.

Today, there is a proliferation of numerous learning platforms - Khan Academy, Code Academy, SkillShare, MIT open courseware, Coursera to name a few. And there are audio books, TED talks, e-books and much more. All one needs is commitment and passion towards continuous learning.

I'm a firm believer of the thought "Learning shouldn't stop with education. It should continue till you are around". This whole paradigm shift in the learning opportunities is exciting and it would be interesting to observe how my daughter goes about the whole learning curve once she starts school.

Jan 7, 2013

2012 in review

2012 was a special year to me, primarily because I saw my daughter grow from a tiny, innocent infant to a naughty, active toddler. She rolled over in Feb, started crawling in July, standing in Aug and cruising in Sept. I was there at home to witness all these special first steps. We are waiting for the moments when she starts to walk on her own and run around the apartment. We are already chasing her everywhere as she crawls at high speeds.

At the beginning of 2012, I didn't know a thing about what to feed my daughter once she is ready for solids. When the introduction of solids phase started, it was scary. Thank God to the power of Internet, I learnt so much on what to feed babies as they explore the sense of taste. As I decided to be at home to take care of her, I took the time to prepare home-cooked food, noted down her food log and introduced new foods gradually. Though a scary phase to begin with, it actually became quite interesting and challenging. I definitely would want to share what I have learnt during this phase so it can be useful to other new moms as well. This is one of my to-dos for 2013.

The key lesson I have learnt is that taking care of a baby requires effort and patience. Yes, there were times when I felt helpless and lost. But dear husband has always been there to give the much needed support and encouragement. In the busy year, I also managed to lose 5 kgs of my pregnancy weight (3 more to go!).

Ever since the pregnancy phase of my life, I have started to become very conscious of what I eat and what I feed my family. Nutrition is one area which I got really interested in, in the past 2 years. I have been exploring new recipes and expanding my knowledge of food. I can't imagine how much of junk food I used to eat in the initial years of my working life, blaming on the lack of time. Now when I get back to work, I'm sure I wouldn't be tempted by all the packaged and ready-to-eat foods in order to save time.

On the professional front, I did pretty much nothing in terms of actual work. There were times when I missed going for a job, the morning rush-hours, meeting and interacting with people at work, the challenges and the satisfaction of accomplishing some interesting work. But I kept telling myself that this is a temporary break that I'm taking for the benefit of my daughter. I started learning Python programming just for fun. I tried to do some work-from-home consulting work for a couple of startups. But the logistics and schedules didn't seem to work well. It's difficult to schedule and organize interactions only when daughter is taking a nap. I had to cut down on phone calls in between as soon as my daughter woke up. In 2013, I'm hoping to invest some time and get some traction on the work front but unlikely that I might restart a full time job like earlier. Maybe, a year later once daughter starts going to pre-school.

Reading books was completely on the back-burner for the most part of 2012. I had to make sure that daughter doesn't grab the book from my hand and tear the pages apart (BTW, tearing papers is one of her favorite activities). I managed to read 3 books, though.
- Don't lose your mind, lose your weight by Rujuta Diwekar - Highly recommended. Lots of useful information of what we should eat and how we should care for our stomach
- Revolution 2020 by Chetan Bhagat - Not as good and witty as his previous "2 states" but can read once
- How I braved Anu Aunty and cofounded a million dollar company by Varun Agarwal - Interesting fun read on how the author went about setting his e-commerce company

Wishing everyone a very happy new year. Hoping to write more and keep my blog active.

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