Thursday, March 26, 2009

If you like this, you might also like...

Not sure how long Border's been doing this, but found it refreshing that they at least tried implementing a recommendation tool in their stores.

Not sure if this is the best way to do it though. Any ideas how you'd make it better?

Front Men

Every boss has one guarding its office. These front desk guys are trained to act as terrible filters. They default to saying "No", since its much easier and is less risky. Kinda like baseball - they will swing only if there is a sure home-run, but most time they will give it a miss. No points lost for missing a shot. The boss is happy to make them do the dirty work. They are happier to believe that they are the de-facto boss. What a bunch of jerks!

Ever met front-desk people who assume by default that you are unimportant. They feel empowered that they have the right to say "NO". Rather than asking smart judging questions and hoping to say "YES", they continue to ask dumb questions and hope you get stuck in their filter. And they continue doing so for decades. And stay as clerks!

Same thing for a watchman manning parking spots, a cashier serving customers in a super-market or a plumber who just got asked for an additional piece of work than what was initially asked for. The NOs go on, productivity continues slipping and less and less work gets done!

Middle Men

We put a bid on a house recently, but it was rejected by the sellers who thought it was far lower that what the house deserved. The problem is, it didn't. The house is worth lower than what the sellers think it is. The recent sales data in the market says so. The disclosure documents of the house say so. But the sellers hallucinate about making far more from the house, even as the market slumps further.

Which brings us to the seller's agent. She acknowledges that the house is over-priced but the seller wouldn't listen. Put another way, she - "the expert" - who stands to make close to $30k from the house has not been successful in explaining to them that the most important element about the house is not set right. Neither does she have the wherewithal to opt out of the listing and give it a pass. What a terrible job to have? You are forced to do something that you know is doomed to fail, is not going to pay you and yet you cannot bring yourself to say no.

Seriously, Who are these agents serving? Not themselves, not her clients. They don't do anything special by way of marketing or staging the houses. No fancy documentation too. If all agents are the same and all they do is execute our our whims, why do we need them? We don't - until we reach a point where these middle men interview us and choose to reject us. Not much of a future here, is it?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Innovation vs. Improvements

Lately, I've found myself in several debates with various people on what exactly constitutes innovation. The debate has largely been around two areas - (1) improvements cannot be classified as innovation and (2) not all technology successes have been due to a technology innovation

Per wikipedia, "Invention that gets out in to the world is innovation". In other words, if it's already out "there", it cannot be termed as innovation. The key here is the word "there", which could mean the entire world or just your country or may be your neighborhood. If a phone is unavailable in your city, and you make it happen, its an innovation - not technological, but business innovation for sure.

However, if a feature is missing in your product and your competitor has it, then adding it is far from innovation. Apparently, not every thinks so when they say we have brought in a couple of innovations - and then they talked about how you can now search hotels by a hotel chain name. wow! - that's awesome and its only been 10 years since Expedia has it.

Second, most successful technology companies have been wildly popular thanks to marketing innovations rather than technology innovations. Twitter, for example, is a viral innovation done at the right time (many people attribute SXSW as the tipping point for Twitter), Youtube was a widget marketing innovation, Google was more of a usability innovation than an algorithmic innovation and Facebook's innovation was the walled university driven social network that provided exclusivity to its users (admittedly though, Facebook's second tipping came from its applications which was a technology innovation), Dell's was a business model innovation, Apple is a master at design and buzz innovation and Microsoft has been largely successful for its execution innovation.

As much as we'd like to think that cool propreitary technology would make a strong barrier to entry, the reality is that marketing, execution and infrastructure edge provide much stronger barriers than technology. We observe it all over, but we refuse to see it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Indian business strategy: Eat until we burst?

Have been wanting to blog this for a while, but never got around to doing it. Sanjeev Bhikchandani, one of the most candid, outspoken and entertaining speakers I have heard, said something that almost made me fall off the chair. A reporter, apparently disturbed by their incoherent assortment of investments so far, questioned what their growth strategy really was. A normal answer would have been to actually explain what it was, and argue convincingly why it all makes sense together, even though it looks disconnected on the surface. Sanjeev, however, is different and his answer was that he doesn't spend much time on most businesses since they have strong leaders, and his time is only consumed on the larger ones, ex. naukri. And that they would continue expanding as long as they have time on their hands. WTF?

If spare time is really driving growth strategy, how about picking up a hobby or two? I think that'd serve their share-holders better.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fuckin' tabs

Wide or Deep? Is the question...

Everytime a product manager comes up with a product feature... it goes up as a tab on the home page. Mere mortals like us land on the page, scratch on our heads, bend over backwards and finally leave not knowing where we are supposed to go.

Tabs, to me, are the bane of product management. If you have a new feature for me, tell me when  i need it, don't stick it up on my face and expect me to make a decision. Give me one thing, suck me in, molest me and then show me around to other new cool stuff ya got. 

A naive little search box shows me the world wide web; A tiny cute bird keeps me connected to hundreds of friends feeding me breaking news by the second. And yet, the collective might of 40 tabs put together on a Y!, CNN, Nytimes or FirstPhera (yeah, we too - sigh!)  just turns me off. A book is linear, so is a movie or a track of music. Newspapers aren't, hence they suck and are dying.

Next time you put a tab, think! Who's problem are you solving?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Call me antisocial but

I am getting really sick and tired of people (bloggers & consultants, especially) who talk about social media, social networking, social graph - basically, everything social.

Other words that make me puke - tagging, collaboration, monetization, revenue model, web 2.0, strategy, execution, viral, unique, branding, marketing (strategy)

Here's some words that we use internally, might be meaningless for you, but are quite refreshing for us...

participation instead of social

currency instead of monetization or revenue model

direction instead of strategy

implementation instead of execution

distribution instead of marketing

interesting instead of viral

useful instead of unique

What makes you puke?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some excuses I have heard lately

- "Uncle fell sick, so had to visit him in the hospital"
- "One of our employees has met with an accident. But we'll definitely deliver by next week"
- "Sent you three emails, but never heard back from you"
- "The person who does this had to visit his village"
- "Have too much work come up. I promise this will be done by tomorrow"
- "Have a friend's wedding to go to"

Heard any lately?

In a country of more than a billion people, getting work done from people is still the most challenging task. What's wrong with us?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Whisper of Mouth?

Nothing's more powerful for marketing than the Word of Mouth. When you reach a point when a single user recommends your product to more than one of his friends, your business tips. But not all words of mouth (or is it word of mouths?) are created equal.

Some are pushy ones - like a person using a "Tell a friend" feature. Its like selling Amway products, more like "Spam an Enemy". All social networks are guilty of these.

Next up are sneaky ones - seemingly innocent but highly disgusting. Most photo sites are guilty of these - "Sign up to see your friend's pictures". The user invites a friend to see photos and you gotta sign up to just see them (and in turn give them permission to spam you for the rest of your email life). Facebook apps, Plaxo's spam - are all great examples. Its like inviting a friend to your wedding and charging a cover fee at the door. No shit! The sad thing is, they work... but are laden with risks.

Next up are actual word of mouths. Its the "real" deal. A user loves your product, talks about it, endorses it and almost sells it for you. Everyone wants a word like this, but they are inherently risky. Users hype up the expectations and the friend can only be disappointed. Ever got a movie recommendation that was just not as good as it was hyped up to be?

And the last ones are "whispers" - these are not active referrals. In fact they aren't referrals at all. You just see your friend using it and love it. The iPod is a classic example. Blogs are another. Evite, FirstPhera, your new shoes, your shirt, your car - are all great examples.

While building a product, don't go for the bang. Try get the whispers!