What Inspires Your Startup?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Along their entrepreneurial journey, some entrepreneurs constantly think of better and simpler ways to describe their business. This is an evolutionary process, as their business model undergoes refinement. So, when they meet new people or investors, they can often quickly describe what their startup exactly does.

Then of course, there are others, who build their business identical to another already-successful startup. Or, their business model is similar to a successful startup in another domain.

While taking inspiration from innovative businesses is one thing, it is dangerous if you only look that far. It is amusing and unimaginative to hear things like, ‘my startup is an Uber in the ABC industry’. Or, ‘ours is an Airbnb’d Samsung.’ Wait what!

Or the fact that Ola has invested/committed a little fortune towards the acquisition of food delivery service Foodpanda’s India business from DeliveryHero to be able to compete with UberEats. While Uber would have understood (hopefully) a customer need, and worked to build it into their business model and possibly the very soul of what they do, seems like Ola simply reacted and followed suit. Something that could prove disastrous in the long term, considering all the financial burden Ola already bears.

But there is a deeper concern. While your business or the revenue model takes inspiration off of another business, it can lead to a short-sighted strategy approach. Because your focus remains that startup or company you take inspiration from. You might not have much of an idea about where that company is getting is inspiration from, and therefore innovating toward.

For instance, am sure a lot of startups must have taken inspiration of some sort or the other, from Netflix, a visionary entertainment company. But who would have guessed, till when its co-founder and CEO, Reed Hastings announced that Netflix doesn’t exactly compete with the likes of Amazon, but rather with with their customers in general, and specifically with their customer’s sleep. How cool was that!

Which means Netflix has far greater clarity on present and future strategy, compared to companies who are simply modeling their growth strategy based on what they see or read about Netflix.

It completely transforms how you see the customer and therefore, how you evolve and grow. Better than being reactive with something like, “Prime’s launching a show around XYZ, what can we do ASAP!”

What inspires your startup?

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Tata Sky

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Image: source

This is a heads-up for Tata Sky satellite television provider customers.

Here’s something Tata Sky has been doing as standard procedure, that I find questionable.

If you’re subscribed to an annual plan, and say  you cross your billing deadline by even a day, they automatically switch you to either a 6-month billing cycle, or worse, a monthly one. Like all things bulk, obviously, the 6-monthly and monthly plans are incrementally costlier per unit than the annual plan. Only, they don’t tell you about the switch.

For the main connection and one add-on connection at home, I just found out the main one was on an annual billing cycle while the add-on was on a monthly billing cycle. They’re not two separate connections, but part of one connection. So it makes you wonder who at Tata Sky thinks of devious schemes like this?

So next time you recharge on their site, it will tell you prices of different packages, but on the recharge page, doesn’t have specific package options you can select. Instead, they just give you an empty box to fill in the amount you want to recharge for. You might probably see the cost of the annual package on their site, and enter that value. But, because they moved you to a 6-month or monthly plan because of the delay in renewing the plan, you in fact burn through the ‘annual plan’ much quicker than 365 days!

What you’d want to do, is each time you need to recharge, call them before and after you’ve recharged, to make sure you’re signed up on their annual plan.

I’ll be referring to them as ‘Tata Sly’ for now.

On the lighter side, here’s how my last call with them went:

Customer Support: sir, your main TV is on the annual plan, the second TV on a monthly plan. Main plan is actually valid till May. The add-on pack expires tonight.

Me: Eh. How does that happen? Anyway, I’d like both on the annual plan. What would the total fee for that be?

CS: sir, total annual recharge amount will be INR 11140/-. But you have INR 1042.88 balance, so what you can do is, when you are going to expire, you can recharge it after that.

Me: but it says today is the last date (for one of the two, I’m getting confused now)

CS: ok sir, then you deduct the existing balance (probably opens calculator app, calculates) sir, you need to pay INR 11000 only, after deducting existing balance.

Me: but deducting existing balance of INR 1042.88 from INR 11140 means I need to pay only INR 10097.12.

CS: yes sir, I just rounded off the amount for simplicity.

Me: how do you round off by adding INR 900+!

CS: err (calculating again), oh sorry. That’s right. You can pay INR 10100, rounded off.

Me: 😐

Sharpen your Business Focus

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Image: source

When starting one’s business, a set of people will advice you to keep a sharp focus when it comes to offerings or purpose. Another group might suggest offering as many products or services as possible, to minimize risk. And both groups could defend their views till the cows come home.

However, in most cases, it is most prudent for you to start your venture with a relatively sharp focus, ideally with 1 offering. So that means, you can’t start an eCommerce site and try to rival Amazon’s breadth of categories on day 1. But it also doesn’t mean you start with offering only women’s’ jackets on your e-store. It could mean a focus on selling the latest European fashion online, in which case, that, is your focus. It’s what your customers should know you for.

It doesn’t mean the company should not diversify. What it does mean, is it should diversify within the sharp focus. When you need an app built, will you remember the person who builds apps? Or will you remember someone who builds apps, does web development, content development and social media marketing among other things?

Being an automotive company that builds premium sports cars is memorable. Being a auto manufacturer who builds low-cost hatchbacks, premium sedans and rugged SUVs on day 1 will not register in a customer’s mind.

While a lot of startups struggle to sharpen focus, a lot of older companies too, lose focus with each passing year. And it affects growth, whether or not they acknowledge or even realize it.

A scene from one of my favourite movies, Andaz Apna Apna perfectly captures the thoughts an unfocused mind.

Work to be Hired

Reading Time: 2 minutes

One of the early screening processes to make it to the defense forces, is that of physical fitness. It is one of the more fundamental requirements of the job. Of course, subsequently, those who make the cut are broken down and rebuilt to be stronger, both mentally and physically.

In the corporate battlefield, potential candidates are put through interview boot camps which are at best, spread over a few days. But are these processes measuring the fundamental requirements you need from the candidate? Skill, while ever-changing, can still be taught. But what are more long-term character traits you’d want your next hire to have?

Once you’ve identified those traits, what if you took the hiring process and turned it on its head?

What if you then shortlisted applications based on simple initial screening criteria, and on gut feel? And then, have them come and work with your team for a week or two, or more. At the end of the period, both parties can decide where to take things from there.

One of the bigger concerns might be the transition and uncertainty, especially for people already in jobs.

Compensation is the easy bit. Even an approximate pro-rata salary-type compensation given to the candidate if rejected, would be far cheaper than the cost of hiring a wrong candidate.

From the point of view of ‘interaction time’, interviews, case-studies and other hiring processes can only be so effective. In comparison, working on a live project, albeit factoring in necessary confidentiality, might be a better way to assess a candidate. To assess traits like integrity and mettle, among other important qualities, which go far beyond a quick and temporary display of skills at an interview. The little I’ve watched of the mentally disturbing Big Brother and Big Boss, it is evident what a short amount of time spent in the same reference (a common project, not an interview) can reveal.

These are times when many MBA students and even experienced professionals focus more on being interview-ready, rather than on cultivating a curious mind. And it is partly because of the illusion of limited time.

Instead of hiring people to work, having people work to be hired might be a better way to build a team that is more suited for one’s company in the medium-to-long term.

Your views are welcome. I will revert at the earliest. And if you liked this post, do follow or subscribe to my blog (top right of the page) for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Did Tata Know in 2012 that Mistry Was Not The Best Fit?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

"Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons along with Cyrus Mistry (who will succeed him in December 2012) at the Auto Expo being held at Pragati Maidan" *** Local Caption *** "Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons along with Cyrus Mistry (who will succeed him in December 2012) at the Auto Expo being held at Pragati Maidan on Thursday. Express photo by Oinam Anand. 05 January 2011"

Source: link

The aftermath of ousting of Tata Group Chairman, Cyrus Mistry was probably not what the Tata Group, or Mr. Ratan Tata would have anticipated. Then again, could there have been sufficient signs even as Mr. Tata was looking for the next Chairman for the group many years ago?

A little short of 4 years ago, the challenging task of identifying a successor for Mr. Tata was completed. Cyrus Mistry seemed like a strong and obvious fit. A strong choice, given his qualifications and abilities. And from purely a cold, financial angle, it probably felt obvious too. After all, Cyrus’ father, Pallonji Mistry, is the single largest shareholder in the Tata Group, with a whopping 18.4% in the holding company, Tata Sons. In that sense, no other individual or family was as incentivized to want the group to grow and prosper.

However, Mr. Tata’s task was to identify someone to surpass his vision, dedication, and passion toward a large conglomerate and its home country. And in such a scenario, lending disproportionate weightage to the most financially invested individual or family, while seemingly a no-brainer, was not particularly prudent or without risk.

Mr. Mistry had initially demanded a free hand and little interference, as conveyed by his recent letters to the board. Those requests, while reasonable, could have been a little too much to expect. After all, he wasn’t merely handed the keys to one of the biggest conglomerates, or a group of profit-making companies. He was handed the keys to 148 years of vision, passion, rich culture, traditions and practices. It takes a lot more than business acumen to run or improve on that.

The business world thrives on profits, loud marketing, overwhelming sales pushes, and frequent deception or misrepresentation. But while the Tata Group may have its shortcomings (read this insightful article by The Economist on the mess facing the group currently), I’d even go a step further and call the Tata Group a religion. Few people in India feel as strongly about any other Indian company.

842199449-ratantatacyrusmistry_6

Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry in more cordial times | source: link

In his eagerness and urgency to find a successor, many years ago, Mr. Tata probably made a critical mistake. Perhaps forgetting that passion and intention always beat qualifications and skills. Recent emails by Mr. Mistry suggest that he was offered the position back then, which he declined on more than one occasion. While Mr. Mistry is probably as capable as anyone else shortlisted for the position, the fact that he needed much convincing was perhaps a clear sign he was not the right fit for the role.

“Passion and intention always beat qualifications and skills.”

So in the Tata Group’s search for a Chairman, did they underrate important qualities in favor of someone most financially invested, assuming such a person would be naturally inclined to do his or her best for the group? Passion, however, is not an easily replaceable or interchangeable quality.

The unfortunate result was best described by Oogway‘s  subtly put pearl of wisdom to Shifu – ‘one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.’

oogway

Source: link

Feel free to share your views. I will revert at the earliest. And if you liked this post, do subscribe to my blog for similar topics that encourage reflection and discussion. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Bubble Telescope

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Bubble Telescope

Is there a bubble forming in the Indian startup scene?

hubble_in_orbit1

The Hubble Space Telescope

Is the Indian startup space fast becoming a bubble? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

At the Goldman Sachs technology conference earlier this year, leading venture capitalist of Benchmark, Bill Gurley expressed concerns to attendees, of a possible bubble, caused by some over-valued startups in the US. His concerns were directed at the young companies that had almost magically reached over a billion dollars in valuation, which according to him, was largely fueled by investor fear of missing out (or FOMO, as the VC community knows it). He said that investors were making investments of sizes previously reserved for listed companies. Aptly, he said “a founder pursuing a $40 million IPO offering takes the process more seriously today than a founder raising $400 million in private capital.”

Another reason for his concern, was the presence of public market investors like hedge funds, etc., investing in the space earlier catered to only by venture capitalists. Bill isn’t wrong in saying that hedge funds, mutual funds, etc., have traditionally had a different investment appetite and strategy. FOMO, clubbed with this new blend of different investor classes and styles of investing, is perhaps what is fueling his growing anxiety of a possible bubble. Benchmark has funded numerous industry-altering young companies since 1995, including Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Uber, and around 250 other startups.

The Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club saw at least 73 young private companies valued over USD $1 billion this year, compared to only 41 last year. Nearly half the investors in some of the most invested startups too, were institutional and strategic investors, with Tiger Global (TG is an international firm that manages hedge and private equity funds) leading the pack with 12 investments in private billion-dollar companies. TG also raised the most money last year, $4 billion to be more specific, amounting to nearly 12% of all venture capital raised in 2014. (source)

Coming back to India, should this over-investing and over-valuing in US startups be of any concern to our booming Indian startup scene that is currently fueled by online travel, e-commerce retail and logistics, classifieds, online food ordering, radio taxis, etc.? Let’s find out.

Firstly, one of those aggressive investors that Bill Gurley mentioned, Tiger Global to be specific, is also the most aggressive investor in Indian startups. In 2015 alone, TG disclosed investments in over 17 companies, investing in rounds totaling to about $1 billion. Some of its investments include a $150 million round (series H round!) with other investors in Quikr, India’s largest online and mobile classifieds portal. Then there was a series D round of $ 100 million in Shopclues, an e-commerce portal. We could argue that the exact investment exposure by Tiger Global is not known, and could be somewhat small. Or that perhaps these startups are actually worth the millions or billions they are said to be worth.

Tiger Global, among others, may have helped inflate a startup bubble in the US. But that is a significantly different market than India, with a more mature and aggressive investor community. Therefore, a race to get a piece of what is hopefully the next Google or Uber in the US might have led investors to try and outbid each other with sweeter deals to promising startups. But is TG’s strategy or tendency to overvalue being carried to India too?

In February,  a reasonably well funded ‘mom and baby’ products portal, BabyOye, also a Tiger Global funded company, was acquired by Mahindra Retail for an undisclosed sum; in the hope of boosting their own brands Mom & Me, and Beanstalk, that have not been too strong online. BabyOye raised $12 million in 2013 from investors, partly used to acquire another company (Hoopos.com). After an earlier round of funding in 2011, BabyOye spent extravagantly on TV advertising using a former movie star in the ads.

Mahindra’s acquisition to gain online strength seemed concerning, given that such a large group felt the need to acquire a small company with only 1500 followers on Twitter (now up at 2003 followers), to bring in the capability of selling online, even if the acquisition didn’t cost them much. And at a time when a lot, if not most of those products were already available on Amazon and Flipkart. Did that make good business sense, or is e-commerce happening so fast that even the heavyweights of Indian industry are feeling the pressure to jump on this bullet train?

US’s popular classifieds service, Craigslist, only had one known investor ever; eBay. And that too not for too long. And was Craigslist popular enough? More than it perhaps ever expected. In comparison, a similar service in India, Quikr, has raised upwards of $350 million so far, and we can only wonder why. To buy and sell other companies, maybe?

And just then, in comes news of a possible acquisition of the nearing-a-billion-in-valuation Housing.com, by none other than Quikr. If the acquisition does happen, it might be a progressive step for Quikr. But it also leaves me wondering about the vision of these startup promoters. With growth strategies and business direction that seems to be going all over the place. In many ways, this startup mania is turning out to be more of an exit ground for investors, rather than an effort to give the world the next great company that’s made in India.

Looking at the magnitude of investments themselves, a layman could argue that ‘the more the funding, the better’; after all, is there anything like too much money? Or for that matter, even a sky- higher valuation. Imagine the pride and respect in your social circles when they read in bold, the value of your young company. But venture capital and investing isn’t as simple. If one funding round happens at a significantly high valuation, the next round becomes that much tougher to raise, as does getting a suitable exit for your existing investors. Of the $51 billion worth of private equity deals in India from 2000 to 2008, there have been only around 30% exits, according to a McKinsey and Co. report.

Over-investing in companies brings with it, the tendency to spend it, whether it makes perfect business sense or not. As the world, and more importantly India, is getting increasingly interconnected online and socially, it is worrying to see the amount of money young online businesses are investing into expensive traditional media, with the likes of Amazon’s catchy ad, or Flipkart’s loud and confusing one, everyone’s on TV and on billboards, trying to push their way into the heads of prospective customers.

About 5-8 years ago, it was comparatively tougher for companies to scale. Building capacities, adding servers, fleet, manufacturing capacity, manpower, etc., took a lot more time and more money.

So, while salaries are much higher today, many services and business functions can also be outsourced efficiently. This allows companies to focus on core activities and scale faster. There is the evolution of analytics, contractual manpower, hired CXO’s and everything in-between available. Basically, the seemingly impossible tasks that earlier needed a small army, can now be pulled off with a small team.

All this brings us back to “how do we make sense of the heavy investments into these, still nascent startups?”  And more importantly, will such heavy spends only on marketing guarantee a successful future for these young ventures? And, is any funding being spent on better listening and understanding of customer needs? Or on empathizing with problems customers are currently facing?

The notorious, multi-billion dollar Uber for instance, has an extremely light operating model, asset-light, limited overheads, and is highly scalable. But has it done anything to address woman passenger safety in countries where it operates? Not so far. Even Indian taxi aggregator Meru (2 years older than Uber) had a panic button on the app long before Uber decided to put one there. Uber waited till after unfortunate incidents occurred, before putting a feature that was so logical and obvious. All that funding seemed to be spent on technology and marketing. Then why do customers still shower so much love on services that don’t feel the same way about them?

Between aggressive promoters and aggressive investors, focus has gradually shifted from the customers’ best interest. It now seems to be more about startup and investor’s best interest. Online food ordering businesses too, for example, have built strong websites and apps. And they have been advertising like there’s no tomorrow. But their internal processes remain shockingly primitive. Back in 2008, I had toyed with the idea of starting an online food ordering service, and had listed some concern areas that needed figuring out, in an effort to shape the idea better. While I eventually didn’t pursue it, online food ordering startups today, surprisingly still live with those same problems, despite the advancements that have happened in the interim.

The possible risks of overvalued and over-invested startups are many. From VC firms going bust, to startups not being able to raise the next round of funding. Or for that matter, those being made redundant by other startups. And with every startup that shuts shop, it also affects a large number of other individuals and businesses. Everyone from logistics businesses to small suppliers to even home businesses and employees. Anyone who has come to serve these super-valued startups.

And finally, in an effort to boost entrepreneurship, India has considerably relaxed rules for listing startups in the recent past. But this bold step will take its time to see benefits, especially since there is poor liquidity in this space. And the experience in valuing new age businesses isn’t anywhere near accurate.

The sky-high valuations of startups would make for interesting conversations with friends and a few rounds of beer. However, lack of clarity in funding and growth strategy in these heavyweight startups could be a matter of concern. For young stars of a new and emerging India. And India’s big startup contributions to the world would hopefully be those that are highly profitable and scalable. And most importantly, solely focused on delighting its customers.

Originally posted here: http://yourstory.com/2015/07/startup-bubble/

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

The Up Side of Consulting

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Up Side of Consulting

Here’s a post I had drafted for submitting as a resource to MosaicHub, in response to their call to members for ‘the Top 5 things businesses need to know about your area of expertise’.

Here are five top thoughts that we at the A-Team, believe would be beneficial for businesses who engage consultants, for those wanting to start a consulting business, as well as for people seeking a career in consulting. They are based to a large extent on the A-Team’s experience and focus. It will however, provide a certain insight into consulting in general.

To begin with, here’s a thought: The purpose of consulting, is not consulting, but the client.

1.  Never does a one-size fit all – industries, products or services and even markets may be identical. However, our solutions take into consideration even the less conspicuous factors. Factors like promoter aspirations or management vision for a business. Thus, no two solutions to seemingly identical business problems are exactly the same. Never let consultants sell you solutions that you feel aren’t in the best interest of your company

2.  No silver bullets here – you’ve heard of ‘easy come, easy go?’ We at the A-Team strongly believe that is exactly how quick-fix solutions are. We might be able to quickly patch up urgent problems with a tactical outlook. However, our strategies essentially apply for mid-to-long term growth of the company, which is akin to laying a strong foundation before a huge building comes up. Only strong foundations make for lasting results. If consultants promise you magic potions, you’ll know something’s amiss

3.  Who wants ridiculously expensive ‘paperweight’ reports? – We have heard numerous stories of larger companies spending fortunes on consulting assignments. And at the end of what seems like eternity, they’re often left with an attractive, painstakingly prepared report. One that no one at the company knows what to do with. The A-Team, since inception, decided to stay away from merely fancy reports and focus on simple, effective and implementable strategies.

We ensure that all our strategies are broken into logical, step-by-step tasks that are easy to understand and implement by the respective persons or teams at our clients’ company. Our retainer-based engagement model allows for our close association with businesses during implementation of our solutions. Do remember to ask your consulting firm ‘how easily implementable will your solution be?’ at the initial negotiation stage itself

4.  Grey haired scholars are a lot, but not everything – The bigger consulting firms normally look at recruiting fresh graduates or postgraduates and train them on the job. And respected consultants advising large businesses are people who’ve spent decades seeing cyclical patterns of those industries. With Small & Medium Businesses, the problems aren’t similar. Cyclical industry cycles apart, SMBs deal with smaller but way more critical problems than MNCs do.

And unlike MNCs, where efforts and effects can take long to show, it’s do-or-die several times a month for younger businesses. Young businesses might need more nimble and creative types of solutions, requiring a younger breed of people. Planning the vision and long term journey of the company, on the other hand, would benefit greatly by having some seasoned advisors to build stronger foundations on which growth can be built

5.  Stop at nothing – this one’s for aspiring consultants, nothing should stop you from becoming a consultant, if you have all of these – a logical and analytical mindset, and a transparent, ethical and unquestionable intention to do all you possibly can to add value in one or more areas at your client’s company. I had cleared most rounds at consulting firms I interviewed at. But never made it through their final interview round.

General feedback was that while my analytical skills were really good, my oral communication was not as concise and crisp as your average consultant [go figure!] The learning for you is, if you can solve problems logically and analytically, and have the noblest of intentions for your clients, nothing in the world should stop you from realizing your consulting dream. And this comes from someone who, 19 months down, has a few grey hairs of his own, to ‘show’ his distance run.

If you are interested in reading on, this is a little background story about A-Team Business Consulting.

A-Team Business Consulting is a Management Consulting service committed to working with enterprising young businesses globally. We operate in areas of Medium-to-Long term Growth & customer delight strategy. The aim is to be the Growth Catalyst of Choice for our clients.

Back in 2012, prior to starting A-Team Business Consulting, I sought the advice of some very senior and experienced persons from industry on my intention of working with deserving small & medium businesses [SMBs] in areas of growth and customer-focused strategies. While I saw a huge unaddressed demand, I wanted their perspective too. The overwhelming advice I received included a considerable amount of optimism, acknowledging a huge need for growth consulting for SMBs.

The advice, however, had a heavier share of forewarning. For reasons ranging from the fact that it is an extremely difficult space to establish a sustainable business model; or that younger companies are reluctant to pay high consulting fees, and that consulting was best left to the grey-haired stalwarts of industry [indicating those with over 20 years of experience, and who had ‘seen and lived through all kinds of industry cycles’].

I still felt strongly about my intention to help SMBs. So, taking their suggestions and warnings, I dived right in.

I’ll admit, it has been the roughest 19 months ever. And unfortunately most of the business is still operated single-handedly by me. But I have built a highly capable six-member external consultant team. And with over 16 assignments to our credit, things only looks optimistic. More importantly, a smooth-functioning and scalable model, and more importantly, an established brand in consulting, now looks achievable.

And has it been worthwhile? When an extremely driven entrepreneur is delighted enough with your work to offer you to come aboard as co-founder. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me going. Or when you complete a a small assignment for the company of a visionary 40-year old industry veteran. And he sits beside you and expresses interest in having the A-Team partner with them for the long term. Reasons like this are sufficient for us to endure and grow, to help more deserving businesses grow.

If you believe you are building a great company, do get in touch with us. We would love to be of assistance, in areas of Growth Strategy, Customer Delight Strategy, and Ideation. Now, we’ve graduated, and operate on the cusp of design thinking, strategy and human behaviour. We help companies understand their customers and customer needs, and then innovate and grow.

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Carry This

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Carry This

Last afternoon, I was lucky to chance upon some great customer service.

I was at a station in Karnataka, heading back to Bombay with my mom. The indifferent railway staff hadn’t been clear about which platform the train would arrive on. After a long wait, the platform was announced. The person at the info desk said that coach and seat numbers (which we didn’t have at the time) would be put outside the coaches 15 minutes before the train left.

We had one heavy suitcase to lug, so we asked a porter to carry it across to the third platform (it meant crossing an overhead bridge). The few porters around, were all carrying luggage across the tracks (an extremely unsafe practice) instead of using the overhead bridge.

This porter took the bag across while mom took the long route via the bridge to get there. Once she’d reached the bag, I took the overhead bridge too.

The train had just entered the station. About 15 mins before the train was to leave, the porter waved out from nearby. He informed me that the charts had been put up on platform 1 (where we had just walked from) instead of on this platform. Not surprising, if you are familiar with the limitless extents of human stupidity.

While time on hand was about sufficient, it was still a walk you’d reconsider in that sweltering heat, and the fact that you had just done that stretch a few minutes ago.

I put our bag in the train and prepared to head to the other side to check the coach and seat details, unsure of when I might need to run back to make it to the train. As I started walking, the porter was there, just having crossed the tracks with someone else’s bags. He asked me to give him my ticket printout, which I did. He darted back, checked the charts, and came back, telling me both passenger names, coach and seat numbers. Impressive.

IMG_20140210_140400

Sujit, the porter, unknowingly taught me a few things about what I call customer delight at the A-Team.

There was no haggling when trying to fix a price for carrying the bag. He said we could pay him whatever we felt like (Lesson: Enjoy what you do, and focus on the work at hand, and not too much on what you’ll earn from it). When I insisted on a specific fee, he said people usually give INR 30. (Lesson: Charge reasonably). Checking tickets wasn’t part of the deal. He could have as well gone looking for the next few customers (Lesson: offer increasing value to existing customers instead of constantly looking for new customers).

When I acknowledged his assistance, the chap just smiled and said it was his job. He even wished me and mom a happy journey. Now that isn’t something you hear often. (Lesson: You can never be too polite) And once I’d paid him, he took it with a smile, not bothering to check or count, and he vanished into the crowd to find more work.

PANO_20140210_140029

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Hope you don’t have a Rolled Model?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Hope you don’t have a Rolled Model?

We all have role models? Well, at least most of us do. And can we ever admire them enough?

While it’s great if you have idols or role models, something I suggest to friends and acquaintances is that you should not be amazed by your role models. Instead, find out what it is about them that amazes you and earns your respect and admiration. Identify those specific characteristics in them, instead. We  don’t need ‘rolled’ [all-inclusive] models.

Why we admire someone could be something as lame as for their looks or acting skills. It could be their perseverance, or selflessness, truthfulness or their ice cold negotiation skills or the ability to win consistently. But whatever it is, instead of just staring with dropped jaws at a poster of your role model, sit and think about “why” you admire about them.

I’ll safely assume that your role model is human. That said, we all have our flaws; even our larger-than-life role models most probably do (perhaps with the exception of Mother Teresa). And therein lies the problem. People are a sum of their different characteristics, habits, behavior traits, etc. And some of those are excellent, some horrible.

So, whenever we admire a person, it is usually for one or more good traits they have. But since the selection happens on a slightly unconscious level, we tend to admire the person in their entirety, often accepting their negative or less desirable traits as part of the acceptable.  You’ll probably agree if you thought about the last time you argued with someone about why a public figure is liked, admired or hated so much. Blind admiration could cause us to unconsciously inculcate negative traits too; after all, our role models are just so great.

If we admire people specifically for certain characteristics they possess, we identify directly with those qualities in them; qualities that we perhaps desire to have. That, then lets us allow ourselves to be inspired and shaped by specifically those characteristics. 

While I was growing up, many of us dreamed to be like the classy and flamboyant Vijay Mallya. But after he denied his airline employees their salary for months on end, he suddenly didn’t seem so respectable. Tiger Woods will probably never get the admiration he once enjoyed, even if he were to play better than he ever has. Lance Armstrong is a classic example too.

Tip: Whoever your role model, also make a mental note of what skills or character traits make them your role model.

‘Details’ don’t complicate things. Instead, they provide a simpler view of how and why things are. Don’t avoid details, go look for them.

people-man-characteristic-attitude-pictogram-27880388.jpg (800×800)

Image: link

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Are you Sold to the Idea?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Are you Sold to the Idea?

Here’s a first post under a new category called ‘Management Mumblings’.

I recently addressed and interacted with about 70 really smart MBA students, with whom I was sharing experiences from my corporate career, and about starting up and growing, with the objective of encouraging entrepreneurship.

In comparison, I’ve always found it easier to interact with people from industry, comfortable with discussing anything from industry problems, current affairs, new ideas, etc. Interacting with freshers, often makes me a little nervous. They are highly impressionable minds after all, often easily influenced. That leaves us with a great responsibility when advising them on matters such as career, ethics, values, etc.

One popular concern among these students was fear of the possibility of landing a job that might involve sales. 

A lot of us are not too fond of marketing, and many detest sales. Selling has always been that inhuman task of lowering ourselves, often to the point of unimaginable desperation, to close a deal, before moving to the next one.

Salesman

Source: here

I attempted to change their impression of marketing and sales with a simple change of perspective. I hope you too find some benefit in it that helps in some aspect of your career or business.

We have come a long way to the times we currently live in. From times when we had a limited set of friends, and everyone knew what was going on in their lives. To now, when friends are in the hundreds or thousands. Mostly online, many strangers, some we’ve never met, and most we almost never interact with.

Given this reality, whenever we want to convey events, achievements or updates about us, we post things online. We tweet it or blog about it, or convey it in some such way. Be it selfies with a Starbucks cup, a new job, a marriage, loss of a family member, a holiday, a new pet, anything. We convey it online to our friends.

If you have done one or more of those, ever, don’t you think what you’ve been doing is a form or part of marketing? As is with our resumes and the confidence with which we speak at interviews. Which means we are already marketers to some extent, and have been doing a decent job with marketing ourselves. How cool is that? 

Now all we need to do is extend that skill to our jobs if it demands so. Identify what differentiates the products/ services we are trying to sell from that of our competitors, and convey the same to prospective customers with the logical and convincing points that we’d like to hear, were we being convinced to buy that product/service.

This won’t make you a killer salesperson just yet. But hopefully it will warm you up to the concept of marketing and selling.

Qualities of Salesman

Source: here

***

Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.