Saturday, April 25, 2015

#Startups: Know your #Customer, #Consumer and #Client

All begin with C. All sound similar - customer, consumer and client.  Most people use these interchangeably.  But these are distinct, and a clear understanding will help not only the usage, but also identifying the roles better. 
Consumer: A consumer is normally a person who 'consumes' your service.  He is the person who realizes the actual experience of your product or your service. How good you are, what value you are adding - he or she will tell.  Quality of product or service is always got from the consumer.  So, is it right to call it 'customer service'?  Think!
Customer:  Customer is the one who pays for your service.  He/She holds the purse strings.  For example, a mother buys a toy for her kid and pays for it at the counter.  The consumer here is the child, and the customer is the mother.  In enterprises, the consumer establish the need for a product or service, and the customer recognizes and pays for or 'buys' it.   A company is a customer, and its employees consumers.  Customers are the people you do business with.  Loyalty, discounts, negotiations are with 'customers'.   It is important to keep 'consumers' happy through 'experience', while 'customers' retained and satisfied through 'relationship' and 'incentives'.  
Client: Let us assume that the mother is going to meet a lawyer or an architect.  Then she is the lawyer's client.  Clients by definition are people who get professional services - normally one to one.   These services are normally personalized.  The needs are understood better and deeper, and customized solutions and services are offered.  Chartered Accountants, doctors, architects, lawyers have 'clients'.  
A customer and consumer can evolve as a client.  Even in consumer driven businesses, high customized products and services can secure a one to one, highly personalized service provider-client relationships.  Clients are normally the best referrals as well.   With clients, stereotyping is the first to disappear.  So what are you waiting  - go get more clients!
-Ashok Subramanian 
(C) Cherunathury Tech Ventures 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

#Startup : Focus to Sustain, Focus to Scale

Over a few days of introspection, I realized that it was important to go to the drawing board.  Did I achieve what I intended to?  It was a clear NO.  I have achieved well, some 40% of what I planned.  And I listed my reasons for lack of achievement. 
Focus to sustain - Today's Cash and Focus to Scale - tomorrow's empire
  • People : People are your strength and people are your weakness.  From Founders to partners in my businesses, people had different 'what is in it for me'.  I realized that people had different ambitions, different stakes and different reasons to associate.  But nobody could relate my vision - to become a co-visionary.  That made people use my ventures as a transit point.  
  • Partnership vs employment : I ceded lot of ground and modified my plans to accommodate people.  Opportunity for co-vision was there. But people looked at this as an employment and not a partnership.  Inspite of my best articulation, I seem to have to failed.  I still coming in terms to accept this. 
  • Lack of focus:  What the biggest victim of this entire distraction because of the two points above, was the focus on the business that was growing.  I took my eyes of the ball.  So, I missed many opportunities.   I did not focus enough to sustain and scale.  So, I had to reboot. 
  • Focus to Sustain:  If you are feeding yourselves and others from your business, and paying bills, it is important to focus to sustain.  The business exists because it feeds and vice-versa.  This means that the people who are working as a team, will have to do while talking about growth to scale. 
  • Focus to Scale: This is the future - you have to plan and prepare, and make efforts to scale - else you will be paying bills forever - I mean sustaining.   As the leader and the person responsible, you have to build a separate focus on that.  
As I realized that there has to be two distinct tracks - my plans changed, and therefore aligning people began accordingly.   Focus to scale is long term and hence plans and people choices are based on that.   For sustenance, it becomes imperative you have a team that just puts its head down and deliver - to earn today's cash. 
A hard learning, worth passing on.

- Ashok Subramanian
(C) Cherunathury Tech Ventures Pvt Ltd., 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tech #Startup - The Web and Mobile Applications Templates

Couple of blogs earlier I had written about how  'experience templates' are a myth. After launching my third venture, a Software services firm - I realize that most people have an idea - which needs a mobile or a web application.  Broadly there are three categories of these application.
  • Listing and Review - like Zomato or Practo ( in their original avatar)
  • Marketplace model - Supply-demand aggregation model - like Flipkart, Snapdeal et al 
  • Inventory Model - stock and sell model - Amazon and the likes 
Mobile and Website application - templates!
When I classify the applications like this, all you have to do this categorize and ask a few more questions to understand what is the ' business model'.  Add an optional shopping cart and a payment gateway, you are up and running.  Now, do we have template?  
Ask any founder  - there is a resounding yes.  And they are happy to add this 'business model template' into their heads easily.  Have an idea, find a developer and you are up and running on prototype.  Yes, there is a clear template here.  But this is only a macro-template.  
Two other simple factors affect the design - how to get the buyer to your website?  and how do you make him interested?  These two factors have been addressed through various solutions. 
How to get buyer to the website translate to how to get traffic to your website.  Use different techniques - business discounting, attractive offers, search engine optimization and social media marketing.  Leverage content as the powerful tool to get the user to your website.  The Google Bots have to be outsmarted.   
How to get your buyer interested or decide - again, create a 'right' user experience.  Create action points.  Create interaction.  Make them stay longer.  
You have 'responsive' templates that fit all screens.  You have plugins to address features that you want to add.  Now, ask your technical partner or the design company - how they address it. Get your answers and be satisfied before you take the plunge.
If it is a mobile application, you need to see how to attract traffic - that is how do you increase your number of downloads.  There are many ways - make it free for sometime, and then try offline promotions as well.   We will see this in detail in another blog. 
And a final point. Beyond the technical jargon, what you need to understand as a customer is that it takes time.  Patience and persistent pay.  
In my next article, let us look at what a website means now-a-days on the Internet. 
- Ashok Subramanian
(C) Copyright Cherunathury Tech Ventures 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

#Startups - The Basic Bickerings

Bickerings can be a great distraction for a startup and can even jinx the venture.  The bickerings can be of four types.
Basic bickerings can make the Startup suffer
  1. Talent is not supreme, commitment is - when you find co-founders find people who have more commitment and chemistry to your vision and you, than pure talent.   So, when commitment tapers, talent is of no use. 
  2. What is in it for them - When things go bad, partners talk about their contribution and how the startup or the founder 'owes' them.  Actually, money follow success, and success follows commitment.  If the partners are in it for only 'money', then they are the wrong ones. 
  3. Go legal, early on. Trust is good, but legal is better - When you put forth your idea to your would be partners or co-founders, you do so in trust.  In that trust is the faith that people are not in for money or showcasing their talent, but are commited to the cause.  The roles, the responsibilities, the monetary terms, the shares all should be documented upfront.  Not on an email, but a legal piece of paper.  That is what will stand good stead in the bad times.  Trust and verbal commitments can be twisted by those who are vainglorious. 
  4. Lateral shop lifting - When you get partners who you think are pure talents and are even committed.  What happens is that they are there to add value, and not distract from your original vision.  In the process, the lateral entrant can be a significant distracter to your founding cause.  More so, their claims can make the entire venture setback, even permanently.  The idea may survive because of the shop lift, while the founder may have lost heart to proceed in the aftermath of distraction. 
There are many advices to choosing the right partners and early lateral entrants.  Follow these simple rules.
  • Evaluate your partner in terms of past history, personality and fitment to the cause.
  • Evaluate your partner's commitment and longevity. 
  • Discuss terms and responsibilities, clearly make it a legal one.  Anything short of this, you will not have your answers during the bad times. 
  • Protect the Intellectual property of your business venture clearly, again defining it all clear terms possible. 
  • Finally, define the exit clauses clearly. 
Sometimes, you cant avoid these basic bickerings between the less than committed partners and committed ones.  However, certain precautions like the above can help the venture survive.  
- Ashok Subramanian
Copyright - Cherunathury Tech Ventures 2015

Saturday, April 4, 2015

#Startup: There are no 'experience templates'

Many cups of coffees later, it becomes clear that people are trying to create what is called as 'experience templates'. The success of quite a few startups in attracting funds has made the 'Silicon Value Entrepreneurs' ' dream kick in almost every youngsters' mind.
Lets understand that before 'startups' came into picture, people were still starting up. They had dreams, worked diligently, invested their savings, bootstrapped and made products - and then endeavored to sell the products - software, engineering products, cars etc., Each story was unique - from Hewlett and Packard to Walmart, in India - Reliance to Infosys.
There is no 'experience template'. Each Startup is unique
Personally, I have lived through two busts - one in 2000 and then 2008. The first one, a proliferation of the so called software portals - in the name of '.com' and another a general recession that set the clock back for many small businesses. And then from the turn of the first decade, we are seeing a new technology startup culture, as they say, emulating the Silicon valley culture.
What is so worrying here - 'proliferation'. Like the earlier bubble, lot of youngsters carry dreams of making it big - they carry ideas that they believe will solve problems. That is a great starting point. The immediate step, as they have now heard, is as follows:
  • Find a co-founder or a technology partner
  • Prepare a prototype
  • Seek an investor
  • Use funds for marketing, setting up teams, offices
  • Look for exit or another round of investments
This seems to be a simple but such an attractive template, that the young entrepreneur follows with blinds on, like moth to a lamp. The social media is rife with this 'experience template'. The experience template, as it is called, kills the ingenuity of the small business in its conventional sense. The experience template attracts more youngsters to believe that this is the only chosen path. Result - no market research, no efforts to construct a revenue model or business plan.
The 'experience template' brings in lot of value indeed - but that is, at best a guideline. There are now 'consultants' and 'mentors' who share these experience templates and try to support these startups. What is missed in this mentorship or consulting is that nobody has challenged the young entrepreneur on the very fundamentals - that not every great idea makes great business; and there are no 'experience templates' to follow.
The experience templates are like reading those 'management books' and expecting to become a Jack Welch or a Lee Iacocca. You can learn from an 'experience template' but it is your own experience that counts. Make your own thing when you convert your idea into a business.
-Ashok Subramanian
(Copyright - Cherunathury Tech Ventures - 2015)