Posts Tagged ‘India’

How I hired in India

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Bangalore Team watching cricket teams sparIn 2010, Bitzer Mobile’s Bangalore R&D centre came to life in a living room in Marathahalli. Ravi (first team member in India) and I wrote much of the first version of Bitzer’s governance console on our respective couches and coffee-tables at Cha Bar in Leela Palace, before we moved into our own office.

In a year, we got a team of kick-ass engineers in place. They built critical parts of the product. However, the first few hires were not easy and was rife with people who kicked tires without joining us. Apart from engineers, QA, office boy, accountant, office manager positions, I also on-boarded an amazing head of engineering which took 12 months!

In 18 months, reviewed close to 2,000 resumes, conducted roughly 400 phone calls and code-jam sessions, followed by approximately 50 on-site interviews, leading to the 15 people we have in Bangalore. I am lucky to work with them.

Here is some gyaan about hiring your first 15 key team members in India:

Always be hiring

Hiring is the other full-time job of a founder, apart from writing code, doing sales and marketing or speaking at events. Most startups start the hiring process, do a few critical hires and then get bureaucratic. I have seen startup founders who start it well and then delegate it to their direct reports or to “managers”. There is a single rule for always-on hiring process–The founders and the first five hires should hire the next 500 and be part of every freaking hiring decision making process.

Use the tools

We started using Recruiterbox from the get-go. I can brag that we were one of the early adopters of this application. We got close to 3,000 resumes in 18 months. Every resume reviewed, annotated and passed around within the application itself.  In the first 12 months, every candidate who submitted a resume and was not a fit got a response. However, we stopped the response due to increased spam and sheer volume, but made a point to respond to anybody with whom we had a call.

Most hiring managers fail at the tools. They continue to rely on e-mail for managing the resume queue. Moreover, there is no context if the resume moves around and gets passed as a solitary reaper. The interviewer has to start all over again! Wastes time and energy.

Go deep beyond the interview

Go beyond the technical “chops”. Discover the person you are hiring — pose him left-handed questions, personally take the candidate out for lunch/dinner, let your team take him out for lunch/dinner, have casual conversations, spend time with the candidate away from office. Get as much facetime as possible before pulling the trigger.

You are a startup, find a right match

Just like there are rules of marriage (some archaic), there are rules for early startup hires. It’s difficult if not impossible to get an engineer from top R&D organizations in India to come and join your founding team.  We were lucky to have applicants from these companies but a match could not be made. These were some amazing engineers, and to my surprise they were ready to take a massive pay cut. However, based on my gut feeling, as an early stage startup, we were not ready for them.

Don’t boss the interview feedback

We lost couple of solid candidates, which the team felt otherwise, whereas I wanted them on-board. The rule was simple, if there is one negative and the argument cannot be one in favour of candidate, then it’s a NO. In one situation, I rescinded a verbal offer, because we jumped the gun as the fifth interviewer went out for a walk and we did not take his feedback into consideration before making a verbal offer. The candidate was shocked that we changed our mind in less than 60 minutes. It was a tough conversation. This one simple thing gave me a solid trust with the team. I lost a few good candidates (well, I still think they were good!) but that built a foundation for the hiring process.

Hiring senior talent–Not everybody can build Adam’s bridge

Head of engineering is one of the toughest position I filled. I had an odd criteria in mind viz. 10 years of experience, hands-on, startup-guy, big company guy, product experience. Combine this that we are an unsexy reasonably funded startup, and that too in India, this made the job of finding the right person even tough. An engineering manager who is responsible for people’s career has to be humble, full of empathy and a kick-ass developer himself. Three things had to be ensured around his happiness and outlook (a) Not a boss (b) Keeps his family happy (c) Still hungry. It took me close to 12 months to fill this position. The CEO still chides me whether I was really hiring for this position or my progress reports were “cooked-up”. A wrong engineering manager is like arsenic, there are no visible bruises, but gnaws the company from inside, slowly. The engineering leader could make or break your company without anybody knowing about it. Compared to a developer, there are no straight-forward objective tests for a engineering manager.

There is one new rule I followed–Evaluated if the person continues to amaze after the third meeting (maybe a dinner at candidate’s home), fifth meeting (maybe a lunch with my family). Candidates who moved beyond my filter were then interviewed by pretty much everybody whom he is going to work with. Took time–But, I think, I got the best guy on board.

Count the intent (or rather lack of it)

In one situation, with the offer, I had to send our incorporation certificate, proving that we are a real company! In another, a candidate wanted to talk to the CEO, before doing a technical round. None of them joined. Whereas, motivated candidates would pick-up the phone, follow-up, show up on time. The biggest data point I have–from interview to offer, if the candidate has been punctual in taking calls, coming for onsite interviews, turning back the assignments, etc., it’s likely that he would accept the offer. Whereas, candidates who continue to move things around are just plain kicking the tires with you!

There are a lot of tactical things which cannot be disclosed publicly on this blog–without context it would misleading. However, there is only one goal–hire the people who like working with each other and can solve any problem given the right motivation and tools.

Happy hiring!

10 e-commerce related ideas to work on instead of creating another e-commerce vertical

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Diapers, babyfood, wipes. Lipstick, powder, doll-house. Gucci, YSL, <i-can’t-pronounce-this-french-name>. Refrigerator, mouse-pad, USB cable. The list of e-commerce sites sprouting in these verticals and raising equally obscene amounts of money is babylonian. I like the fashion gears selling online and have been trying to convince my wife to splurge on one of the e-commerce sites instead of toting me along in her shopping jaunt. She is not convinced, yet.

That’s the problem with all these e-commerce sites. Customers are not convinced, but yet they are raising venture money like crazy, assuming that they can build yet another vertical online. Most of the entrepreneurs are nice guys, well-mannered, well-behaved, well-educated geeks who somehow jump into dealing with all the bullshit an e-commerce operations job has to offer. Anyways.

If I were the entrepreneur looking to do “something” in the e-commerce domain, I would focus on smaller ideas with nuances of deep technology or maybe some amount of reuse from what has been done elsewhere and heavily customize it for Indian operations. Here are some of the ideas I would fund, if I was still investing. Some of these ideas may already be in execution by startups in niches and filling a void with a hole-in-the-wall operations somewhere in Jayanagar 4th Block, Bangalore or near Orbit Mall in Mumbai. These ideas are broad, can be further broken down/morphed and up for grabs, however, I’m personally attached to two startups who are doing something from this list.

  1. Payments. Talk to an entrepreneur about e-commerce pain-points, payments is at the top. Call up the Director of Technology of any star.kart and he is going to tell you that he has a 25% drop rate. Number-wise, there are fewer payment startups. I feel that there are enormous opportunities both in offline and online payments. But there are few doers and even fewer investors taking bets. Payment is a big-freaking-enchilada, which requires a high capex, opex and deep domain expertise. As a result, very few companies are building anything from ground-up. Most new payment startups being built in India are just a wrapper around someone else who has something already working.
  2. Vertical ad-networks. As India’s consumption story grows, both offline and online stores would push their ad inventory at highly targeted real-estate. Though, the number of niche content sites is still small, but they are surging. People are creating content, traditional newspapers are going online. What’s needed are few vertical ad-networks which aggregate the inventory of automotive, education, electronics, women & fashion, etc.
  3. e-Warranty / Warranty services. Warranties and coverage of items under warranty suck in India. Just figuring out the details of the coverage is challenging. There are multiple opportunities in this area. Consumer-oriented, wherein management of warranties, purchase and front-ending the consumer for all warranty needs. Business-oriented, such as risk management, under-writing, coverage, settlement, aggregation, extended warranty services. This could further go offline with models around network of providers servicing the products which are under warranty and out of warranty.
  4. Music & video-on-demand platforms. Although, the technology of VOD is mature but the logistics of royalties, payments, licensing is still a challenge. A potentially large industry for commercializing already ran TV shows is yet to emerge. Music is big, more than main-stream SRK, KK, SK dose, the money-spinner could be the long tail. Imagine  a native of Jharkhand whose Oraon folk songs could barely do more than 10,000 cassettes sales in last 5 years, does million from an online store doing pan-India. Flipkart recently launched a service for mp3 downloads, but that’s just a cornerstone; the whole side-walk has to emerge such as online radio-stations, monetization services, personalization, etc.
  5. Entertainment content site and data mart. For the current net natives, the only source of gossip, social exchange, discovery of content is either the traditional media sites or facebook. A few pure play bollywood sites tried but went out of business. IMO, a new generation of content site has to emerge to satiate the needs of a person who is a smartphone-native. Data marts have to emerge which provide the authentic database of movies, music and their graph of associated people and everything related to them. In some cases it looks like an IMDB of India, but again, IMDB is non-local. There are a lot of simple ideas to work on, for example, I want every Amitabh movie ever made to have his personal annotation, voice-over commentary. It has to be done now, other-wise, we all don’t live forever and it would be gone!
  6. Photo-sharing (a la Flickr reborn). For the current internet generation Flickr and Facebook are de-facto photo sharing sites, former as a repository and latter for sharing. But for people who are just getting online, there is a  gap. There is an opportunity to build a brand new photo-sharing site from ground-up. Case in point is my household help. She has a 5-year old daughter and all of their family pictures are on pen-drive somewhere (transfered from the phone by the local recharge-walla). Her price point is 40-50 rupees/month (along with her husband their monthly income is 15K) for unlimited photo and storage. If you can build, brand and promote this, a next social network in India can come out of this after 5 years.
  7. Pan-India SKU aggregation. As more and more retailers and ordinary businesses come online, ensuring that each product has the correct meta-data is not easy. Companies going online have an army of data entry operators who punch text, numbers and images from a printed document or illegible PDFs. Apart from books there is an opportunity for agencies and businesses to aggregate meta-data, pictures, usage, nutrition information, etc.
  8. Virtual betting destination (and service provider). We are a nation of gamblers. A betting site done right for real-world events for fun and little bit of profit maybe a big opportunity. As a service-provider to other sites a betting engine has a potential to change an abandoned cart to a converted lead.
  9. E-commerce sales optimization and demand generation tools/services. Currently, the e-commerce companies are busy managing the demand with an astounding success. However, we’ll hit some plateau at 200m actives based on the current intersection of literacy plus banking/credit-card penetrations, etc. The first 200 million net users have to pull the remaining 800 million in India. Various tools and services facilitating conversion and generating demand such as affiliate/referral programs, co-browsing, loyalty/rewards, thank-you page lead capture, etc. need to emerge. There are tried and tested models in mature markets but India is a different beast.
  10. Search. I am ready to lose another bet on search. A separate corpus has to be built for india-specific content. Many tried earlier and failed. Searching on Google simply sucks. Based on my personal search history, I strongly feel that because of Google’s mixed corpus the Indian e-commerce sites are not getting a fair share of more than 20-25% of organic keyword traffic. I think now is the time. India is at an inflection point where content creation is just about taking off. There are many signs pointing to that, such as volume of comments on main-stream media sites to activity on facebook. Bootstrap a small search engine and you have a small portion of my little money. Organic search traffic has deep intent buried and drives conversion. Start small, don’t get worried about catching up with fancy UI/UX. Start with a curated corpus and let the spiders slowly inch up.

Updated Mar 4th. Revised. Fixed the grammar, several errors. I was also thinking of adding a kickstarter-style marketplace as #11, but it’s too early. If India’s manufacturing industry evolves in the next 5-years, a local kickstarter and a local manufacturing hub can outpace any innovation. We are not ready for that, yet.

Merry Christmas. Give India some more ballsy angels

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

I’m mostly a spectator investor since last 8 months, with less than two personal deals post Morpheus. Writing this as someone who knows a thing or two about investing in India.

Only 15? That’s how reacted when I saw’s list of the most promising consumer Internet startups out of India. Why not 50 to watch? or even 25! India has plenty of raw talent, desire to not fail and kick-butts. What’s lacking is a light which shows them that entrepreneurship is yet another career option.

A quick analysis of VCCircle puts the count of angel deals this year to less than twenty-five. Let’s double the number to account for un-announced deals, that brings this to fifty. Freaking 50. That’s it. I’m sure Indian Angel Network alone has more than 100 members!

That’s my wish to Santa for India’s tech venture entrepreneur ecosystem–We need more angels who are ballsy and do ballsy deals. Another wish, we need more investors who really are worthy of being called angels. For me an angel is someone who does a) at least 5-6 deals every year or at least $100K in investments and b) Leads at least 25% of his investments. Hopefully, Indian angels who interacted with Geeks On a Plane travellers, follow up on their word and start closing. Rest are investors looking to double/triple the money in 18 months.

Merry Christmas.

Recent musings on hiring and an imperfect job market

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Hiring in India is not easy. Generically, it’s not easy anywhere. In perfect markets the demand side and supply side are mature and there is no hidden element. In India, just like the Bombay Stock Exchange, the buyers and sellers are in dark, few people know the right price until they get into a transaction. There are great candidates who almost never know great companies who could be a match.

I have been actively hiring people for my new gig at Bitzer Mobile. We are trying to rope smart engineers to join our Bangalore office with expertise in C/C++, Java, PHP, Android, iOS with varied years of experience. Here are some observations as experienced in the last 30 days.

  1. Imperfect job boards. I wrote about this last year. Job boards are broken, monopolistic and owned by recruiters and mass e-mailers. They are good for bean counting your overall candidate flow with most of them a wrong match.
  2. No separate board for freelancers and short-term opportunities. Unlike US-based Dice, there are none in India in the forefront. This is partly because of our Indian mindset of job security. However, Hasgeek’s job board has an opportunity.
  3. Compensation disparity. The compensation range swings ultra-wide. For a PHP developer with 3 years experience it could range from INR 3L – 9L
  4. Recruiters hold the fort. A good number of candidates swirl around recruiters. The main reason is the failure of the boards to land them a gig directly.
  5. Expected compensation is also mind-boggling. Candidates look for anywhere between 35% – 80% jump from their current compensation.
  6. Immature technology. The matching of requirements and resume is pure art. Even after 20 years there are few tools which integrate well with boards, do application tracking, give a relevance score of matching, etc. There are some high-end tools but they are prohibitively priced. I use recruiterbox for applicant tracking and I love it. But it does not integrate with LinkedIn, google calendar, skype, etc.
  7. Filtering candidates. I have been using interviewstreet for giving MCQ and programming questions to candidates. A few “good” candidates have indicated that they are not interested in taking the online tests. Knowing that resumes are always “dressed up”, it’s impossible to call and do a 45-minute verbal test and hear the answers. I would love to pay someone to administer these tests by calling the candidates and asking multiple choice and general non-programming questions to do a filter. Latent applicants would never take the test.
  8. Almost all entrepreneurs are good candidates. This is a dichotomy in my mind. Thanks to my previous life as an investor with The Morpheus and a developed empathy for entrepreneurs. Realized this recently when I called up 2 such candidates immediately after seeing their application and their LinkedIn profile. I bypassed the usual process of screen-resumes / online-test / phone-call / face-to-face. Entrepreneurs are good problem solvers, but they may not be a good fit. This is highly debatable and my recent sample set is only 2.
  9. Logistics. It’s impossible to get a candidate for a face-to-face during the weekday. Multiple candidates have cited varied reasons ranging from ‘far-away’ to ‘can’t get-away-from-my-desk-as-my-TL-is-watching’.
  10. There is no craigslist-like board for startups. Nor there are any mailing lists, nor there are any startup hiring mixers. I would suggest that Open Coffee Club/Headstart should kick-start a joint mailing list for startups to post jobs. Reminds me how successful KIT-list was during the post-dot-com era.

And yeah, we’re hiring.

The picture is of a candidate from a lathi-charge scene at an event for police hiring for multiple openings. The jobs are almost never advertised and given to cronies. Depicts the irony of India’s roaring growth and the depth of imperfection in India’s job market.

E. & O.E.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Those are the three words you will find in a restaurant bill. Errors & Omissions Expected. Good acronym for trivia buffs.

Fast Company: Built to Flip

E.O.E. These 3 words were uttered to me by an entrepreneur, whom I bought a cup of coffee. He was apologetic when I told him that’s not the way to do things and he should be building a company to scale and reach milestones–not built to flip. I narrated some tid-bits of the cover story done by Fast Company magazine which was prophetic and foretold the dot com meltdown which happened months after that article was published.

Agreed that there is more money than ever flowing in India in certain sectors and raising angel money is easier than before. However, chasing the sectors which are attracting a lot of attention is wrong way to bet things (His logic for betting on those sectors–It may be easier to raise money).

Unfortunately, a lot of entrepreneurs in India are reading too much into the Silicon Valley funding & exit fire hose, which makes sense only in the valley because of the reasons we know. India is still a parched land in terms of high-tech early stage money; only 5% of total PE/VC is in Angel + Series A + Series B. Furthermore, of that pool a very small percentage is for Pre-Series A deals. India’s early-stage money is FFI (Funnel funnily inverted or Fully f**** inside-out). Think about it. Do you still want to be an Exit Oriented Entrepreneur?

[Interestingly, @brij and I exchanged tweets on this topic yesterday morning related to @cdixon’s post]

Bootstrapping a startup via consulting gigs

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Every startup requires cash. It’s not built on thin air as early stage investors think. Money for paying the lawyer, government fees, hiring developers and more importantly paying your rent, food, fuel, etc. An entrepreneur starts with a calculated risk of investing (or burning through) his savings for that 6 months period with an assumption that either a customer would start paying or an investor would bet on it.

In reality, a startup takes longer than the original time frame in most cases. If you planned for 6 months, you’ll take 12 before anything comes out of it. A PPT or a paper napkin plans writes you cheque when you already have money in the bank or sold two startups in the past.

So what do you do? You start doing consulting gigs! Smart entrepreneurs do it all the time. Some short gigs here and there. A lot of entrepreneurs I have known do it to get started after quitting their job. Paul, Bill & Co. did the same in their formative years. The most famous of the consulting stories is how Evan Williams consulted for a year at HP while building Pyra Labs which eventually got acquired by Google. Muziboo is a good example in India where the founders did consulting to bootstrap it.

As an entrepreneur, how do you manage it; where do you draw the line as to not getting distracted completely. There is a chance that consulting gig’s sweet money just takes over your primary passion.

I have compiled a list. Also, including some interesting nuggets from a thread on Hacker News (yeah, I love reading it. More gyaan than a single post anywhere!).

  • Do a high impact consulting where a gig of 3 months can cover you for 9 months. The math is 3x.
  • Try to do a gig at a stretch instead of a 2 days in a week stint. It kills the output of your startup but then when you are done, it is easy to just do a complete switchover rather than continuous context switches
  • If you are doing consulting, treat your own startup like a client, as there may be other people working on this
  • Throttle your rates, depending on the project and desperation for moolah
  • Know your deliverable. Pick up hourly rates or visits per month Remember, you have your venture, you do not want to get caught in fixing a bug for days and goes beyond your original estimate.
  • If you know something and you want to learn more which may help your startup, maybe charge a little less. A counter thesis is that pick up a gig which you are a rockstar at and you can do in your sleep and get paid as well.
  • If you are doing couple of days in a week, then restrict it to only certain days
  • Make sure you show up at client’s desk for the work and not really do the consulting gig from your home or wherever your startup is located. This helps you keep it clean and juggle them well
  • Keep the IP clean. Good idea to let the recruiting manager know that you have other gigs. Of course, sign an NDA as required
  • Do combined gigs with other friends with complimentary skills
  • Keep your other team members informed or at least they know that you are not available certain days in a week
  • It’s easier to do technology consulting than “strategy consulting”

India is a tough place to raise money for your venture — though it gets better by the day; the number of ‘pre-series A’ venture deals are still in double digits every year. Consulting is one way to bootstrap it.

Have you done consulting gig while bootstrapping your startup? What are the things you did to keep it clean? What else?

The state of career networks in India (and the pain of finding a right job)

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Around 10 weeks ago, I started an experiment to assess the state of affairs of the online career portal market in India. More than that I was experimenting to get the state of affairs for ‘getting a job using online career portal’ in India.

The objective of the experiment was to assess a few things viz. (a) whether a candidate gets connected to the right job (b) are the recruiters or the companies contacting the candidate with right job openings (c) Guesstimate the missing workflow & technology pieces around matching / follow up, etc. (d) get a general pulse of the career portals around usability, experience, bugs, design, quirks, etc. (for private consumption)

I started by:

1. Creating a brand new Gmail account

2. Updated my old resume (excluded the current experience at Morpheus)

3. Created new accounts on a few popular career portals (not gonna name them here).

3. Uploaded the resume and made it searchable / visible– Tried to complete the profile as much as possible, except activating my SMS (one portal nagged every time I logged in to allow them to send me SMS!)

Fast forward to today and man it sucks! Most of the career portals are living the dot-com dream. However, I’m not going to do any comment on their usability, workflow and various issues/bugs I have found.

The moment I activated my resume, spam was the first one to get into my inbox — In various forms, including spam from management institutes & colleges which wanted me to do an executive course or two.  There were a few direct phone calls of recruiters who were really interested in hiring me, whereas most of the recruiters used a standard template asking the current CTC, notice period and never actually bothering to read my resume!

Here is the analysis of the contact points (email & phone calls):Inbound touchpoints

In the total 10 weeks, I got around 130 readable emails and 7 phone calls. The good part was that largely, the recruiters who called actually bothered to read the resume and were interested in hiring rather than shooting emails to complete a bean count. Around 10-15 emails per day is not all that bad, but what I found that a majority of the recruiters never read the resume. Here’s another graph which tells more (click on the image to see hi-res version):

Content analysis

The analysis of charts & the emails tells a few things:

1. The recruiters, especially the agencies outsourced to hire people for “consulting” gigs, do not even bother to read the resume. They want people for their software factories using plain vanilla keyword search

2. Extending to the above thought — I presume (haven’t seen the recruiter interface of any of the career portal) that there are no matching tools being used

3. A large number of recruiters fire & forget — There were certain instances where I responded to the email asking them to send more information, but went unanswered. Infact, a recruiter who called me for a VP role at a larger company never followed up with a job description of that position.

4. The number of job openings which actually matched what I wanted was around 6. This is because the right tools are missing.

5. I also felt that recruiters use the career portals as pure lead gen ignoring the fact that the resume has more data then the discussion with the candidates back and forth.

6. Even if you are the CEO of Google and mention Java in a project which you worked on 15 years ago, you may still get an offer to get hired for a Sr. Java Engineer position.

7. Recruiters seldom personalize the emails — Just BCC everybody and their dog who had Java in their resume.

There are other fine nuggets which I’ve kept it with me and revolve around quirky issues with specific portals. Recruiters are definitely the culprits, but my fingers are pointing towards the career portals who lack proper tools and are monetizing heavily for the lack of viable “branded” alternatives.

I think there is a lot of room for brand new, green field innovation in the hiring / career segment in India. Do you have ideas? I have some.

Publicly apologizing to a few recruiters who are good friends and nice guys, they were surprised when I posted my resume on these sites without calling them first. Now you know. Yeah, I would call you back when I’m looking for a change 🙂

Poor customer service in India: Will Social Media solve the problem?

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Customer service in India? Hardly go together.  Pick up a company and there is huge amount of anger flowing in the social media channels. Let’s look at Airtel, arguably they provide one of the best customer service in India. Here is one angry customer tweeting about his bad experience:

Airtel angry customer

This is just a small sample of the overall dissatisfaction around poor customer service. Go to and try some popular names.

All the anger goes un-noticed (at least for now) as companies hardly follow up and close the loop. Even if the companies are active in social media, their presence is just a charade, as in this example:

Tata Indicom bad customer service

In the above conversation, Tata Indicom (using @tataphotonplus) regularly talks to customers and asks them to send an email / call their customer service, which probably starts a separate thread in their CRM. Probably, they do not even have the tools to research the issue. I can guess that it’s being managed by a marketer.

On the other side, young companies like Cleartrip are doing a much better job. They take some time but put some effort in resolving the issue. Recently I found a bug on cleartrip’s site related to how they calculate dates for a railway booking. It took me 5-6 high pitch hollers before cleartrip acknowledged the bug (I haven’t seen my lost money yet as they booked me on a wrong date!)

Cleartrip Railway booking bug

The anger being spewed on the web is nothing new–There have been scores of websites, forums who aggregate the data centrally and nothing happens unless the companies have presence. Very few such forums have a model to engage with the customer. Tripadvisor does it a bit; Getsatisfaction was built on the same premise. However, the fragmented open channels provided by twitter and other social media streams allows companies to tap in easily.

The technology to connect the social media dots with the regular CRM is also coming together and most of the vendors have now started offering ways to complete the customer service loop.  The company can keep a customer happy if they are able to connect it’s customer id & the twitter username of it’s customer. There are a lot of initiatives for a separate Social CRM, but an existing CRM would work best if it’s connected to the social channels where customers are present rather than reinventing.

On the flip side, I see that it is a good start. The customer service in the above case is most probably being done via the marketing channels. And when a marketer gets a negative feedback about the brand/service, it gets escalated. Not every company is on the social channel, especially the government run companies who have a history of checkered customer service.

Companies provide good customer service when they have the fear of god in their mind; fear of losing the customer or lawsuits taking the company down. However in India, where there are few laws to “really” protect the customer nor the companies fear about losing a customer or two–The only way companies get attentive is when they fear that a large number of people would read about other people’s bad experience and the dilution of the brand.

Good thing that people have a vent and companies have started noticing and the new channel is able to connect them publicly with the footprints left all over.

Your 1st venture? Are you waiting for the right idea/team/conditions?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

In the 5th grade of my Hindi class, I learned this:

जिन खोजा तिन पाइया, गहरे पानी पैठ

जौ बौरां डूबन डरा, रहा किनारे बैठ

It’s a popular saying recited by many and written originally by the famous Indian poet, Kabir. My own translation reads:

Unless you jump, the oysters are found deep.

Continue to wait on the sidelines, busy counting sheep.

Entrepreneurship is risk free, as Sameer wrote in a popular post a while ago. No point waiting for the right idea or the right time, or the right set of market conditions. The ideal time is for analysts to conjure the future which already exists in an entrepreneur’s eyes. Bike rusting on the shore Unless you write a manuscript and revise it multiple times and get rejected by at least 5 publishers–how can you write one of India’s best-selling book? Unless 20 VCs label your ideas as stupid, how can the 21st get it funded?

Unless you take the plunge, you would never know, what you are doing is right. Planning is required–Accumulating a small buffer to support your personal life is a good idea. But, being a wannabe entrepreneur forever kills your self-esteem slowly.

A lot of entrepreneurs wait for the right team, right set of market conditions and getting validated by the investors before starting them. If you are an ecommerce upstart in India, would you start right now and run a few experiments or wait until the big guys have already muscled into the market.

Team is you, when you start; people follow you when you have jumped. Unless you put your everything into chopping block, no body else would. Product is what you create the demand for, idea is the seed, consumers often do not know what they want. Of course, market conditions are never right. If it were right, you’ll have to worry about competition rather than creating products.

Unless you fail in your first venture, how would you do the second one which may turn out be OK and then the third one which may turn out be a success. You don’t have to give it much of a thought if this is your 1st venture. You learn from the mistakes and plan better in the next one. For this one, you just have one option–Jump and try collecting the oysters, at least you’ll find fish.

The pic is of a bicycle rusting on a sea shore.

The status quo of payments in India

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

I still do not have a valid credit-card in India. The KYC (due-diligence mandated by the government aka ‘Know Your Customer’) norms require that Coin of Alupas of Udipiyou have an office (or fake it) but must have a land-line at office. If you work from home then you are out of luck! Does not matter how much money you have in bank or a few international credit cards to carry around. I have a debit card which is not accepted by any online portal (Thanks to Hongkong bank).

Net, net. I’m just like the other 88% Indian population which does not have a debit card or the other 98% who do not have a credit card. But, the good news is that I’m part of the 500m population who has a mobile phone.

As a result, I’m not able to show my purchasing power to the various portals selling books, gadgets, t-shirts and other trinkets online. I’m not able to show my fickle mind by making a purchase of Rs. 300 and being happy about it.

Prepaid or “stored value” card (or cash card) may be the solution, but they have a very poor distribution and I have to go out and buy a card from a travel agent; if you are lucky to find an agent carrying the cash-card.

Banks in India are busy in shoring up their mobile banking offering a la check your balance, make fund transfer, etc. I don’t know why there is so much push for mobile banking as the urban population; the users of mobile banking via a GPRS connection, already have access to ATM and Internet which can be used to do the same functions in a larger form factor.

Though Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been raising the transaction limit of moving cash from the mobile; the problem is that the whole thing is tied to a bank or a credit card, which makes the installed base the same 2% for card holders and 12% for debit card holders or netbanking customers. So much so that RBI has allowed transactions to happen without using the traditional encryption techniques used in issued card-based transactions, but there has not been much uptake.

RBI does not want the operators to become banks, which is very valid as it would give rise to money laundering and of course operators then would disintermediate the banks. However, most operators are already making tonnes of money on VAS like premium SMS, ringtones, downloads and such. Why there aren’t any instruments which allow me to do a payment transaction which is not attached to a card or a bank account for things which are not sold by the operators? The lack of the same led to the downfall of mchek, they are on 100m phones but then only a fraction of the owners have a credit card or a bank account.

What is needed here is innovation to allow purchases to The mud road aheadbe done through the phone directly and billed to my monthly statements or debited from my top-up.  Banks are too big to be worried about longer tail of small value transactions, operators do not have the teeth, nor the desire to deal with the complexities of 3rd party purchases flowing through them. The laws are falling in place, consumers are ready to make those purchases — missing is the technology piece and a desire to experiment in these areas. This is a space to watch. The potential is beyond imagination when convergence of commerce and owners of mobile & users of internet takes place.

PS: So how do I buy tickets for the travel I do? I call up a few good friends to get it done and pay them cash later.

The coin shown above was used by a minor dynasty in coastal Karnataka called Alupas. Pic courtesy of Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Pic from the road to startup gurukul.