All posts by Sameer

Biker, entrepreneur, cyclist, explorer, traveler. Part of the echo-chamber, yet forever seeking to build connections to the real world outside. Twitter : @zenx

Stop Working On That Feedly Substitute, Facebook now Saves!

Facebook now lets you Save for later.

FACEBOOK'S SAVE FEATURE
FACEBOOK’S SAVE FEATURE

This is for links shared on your timeline (and more). Which is perfect, because a majority of content discovery happens on social media anyway, and then you don’t always have the time right then to read that long form article the headline of which, coupled with the comments from your friend, have already aroused your curiosity.

Thus opens another tab that stays open for a while before you either manage to get to it – choosing from the many open ones – or decide to kill because the laptop’s slowing down or you lose interest, given other priorities.

FB'S SAVE FOR LATER
FB’S SAVE FOR LATER

There have been other read-later apps and extensions, and some that help socially share the link as well.

But given how “social” double equals “Facebook” for a lot of the audience, this, as they say, is it!

RSS feeds were already dead. And Feedly etc were managing to just about stay afloat. This might well be the proverbial last nail in the coffin for some of those. Especially given how this works across devices – go ahead and save on your phone and read at leisure on your iPad, or your laptop, or smart TV. Remember, they also own WhatsApp – the other place on the phone where a lot gets shared!

The update also mentions the ability to save places – and it does!

FACEBOOK'S SAVE PLACES
FACEBOOK’S SAVE PLACES

That’s a pretty good start of a personal local directory of places I end up seeing on my timeline. I don’t necessarily have to Like or Follow these business, I can just make a little note for later.

Right now you can merely share the page/location/link shared with an audience, but Facebook can  easily extend this to shared resources and directories, to be part of shared Saves on groups, for instance. Remember, they also own WhatsApp – the other place on the phone where a lot gets shared!

That will open up a veritable Pandora’s box of businesses it starts to step on the toes of. Given how much of a habit Facebook is, and how deeply integrated into our social lives, commentary, discovery and recommendations it has become, ignoring it is not an option.

Zomato, Justdial etc better start thinking now, not later! And if you’re building “the next Feedly” or some such, please spare yourself the pain.

Dear E-Tailer/E-Trader/E-Seller, Here’s ONE Metric You Should Watch

Small time retailers and traders work at overall margins between 5-25% on various goods. Is that number a good indicator of business health? Online ones these days flaunt turnover, or in the case of marketplaces, GMV. Is that any good at all?Give Take Idea Money

Well, finally what any business cares, or should care, about is profitability. But that’s an “eventual” goal and as we’ve heard often, even Amazon keeps pushing out that “for later”. So what should you track as a retailer or a trader? The answer might just be something that traditional ones have known and worshipped for years!

Inventory Turnover

Or, how many times do you sell or “turn around” your entire stock (and of course, the cash you invested into it) in a month? It’s what matters to traders and retailers.

This one metric encapsulates many other things that you might need to track – inventory or “holding” costs, the ability to find enough market quickly, whether or not a price point and level of margin works in the market, and even the efficacy of marketing efforts. It also brings focus on moving fast – and on the costs associated with each cycle. It’s not surprising that for many a retailer or trader, this is the metric to track for a sense of how the business is doing.

Capital then invested in such a business is then just a variable that helps grow business – if the turnover’s good and the margins sustainable, it’ll grow.

If you sell, keep an eye on this number. If you’re a marketplace, help track and grow this for your vendors. It’s the core of their business model, and that, hopefully, is aligned to yours!

These 35+ Aged Entrepreneurs Don’t Get this!

There’s something many 35+ year old entrepreneurs seem to NOT get.

+35
35+ and 35%.

We aren’t talking about any malfunction or a missing cool factor.

We aren’t talking about the battle against beer bellies.

Well, we are talking about.

Mobile.

Mobile First.

Mobile Only.

Mobile.

From a general observation we have had over the last few months, we believe that 35+ aged entrepreneurs don’t really get mobile. There, we said it.

And the reason is very simple. They think in terms of the desktop web laptop web!

- They are still used to laptops.

- Still used to *laptop web* and the audience which lives online.

- Still can’t put all eggs in mobile-only basket.

Take a look around – some of the startups we have profiled over the last few months are actually much better off in a mobile/app-only avataar. For instance, Tinder (which again is app-only) is disrupting dating. A similar launch in India is only about desktop web. You run into “We will soon be launching an Android and iOS version of our service” every now and then.

India’s internet story is largely a mobile one. We saw a primarily internet-only audience a couple of years ago, and since then the user base has been growing, and mobile data usage has just exploded – easily over half the number of internet users are mobile only, and many more access it way more often on the phone than over a desktop or laptop.

The Phone is Everything. To Everyone. Everywhere

Be it task management, sales, CRM, ecommerce, music, information, entertainment, banking, and obviously communication – all of it is consumed on phones. Despite the challenges of payments on the mobile, e-commerce has grown rapidly on the mobile phone (thanks to C.O.D.?)

When Idea made that ad about the mobile representing an individual and everything in their life, they were closer to the truth than they probably realized. WhatsApp did, and that’s what made it so valuable to Facebook.

The mobile phone is also truly ubiquitous. Everyone, across geographies, languages and economic lines has one, and more and more are finding a reason to have a data connection live on their phone.

“Responsive” doesn’t cut it

It’s not merely about being available on the phone. It’s about thinking mobile-first. For starters – in terms of user behaviour on the device – the desktop or even the laptop was never this personal a tool for most individuals, and you never had the level of attention that a phone commands from practically all users.

Even in terms of functionality and integrating with the user’s life the mobile affords you a lot more functionality that gets you involved a lot more deeply – in what they can do, when they can, and who with. The mobile, in fact, is a trigger for decisions that the desktop never could become.

That one change in itself is extremely important to recognize when you create a service or tool for the mobile first audience.

Think whether you need to build for the desktop at all!

Yes – for many a service and many an audience, you can get away with a totally mobile focused approach to product or service design and UX. Think whether you’re better off as an app that the user will need to “invest” into to download – the decision is a barrier given the couple of steps it takes, and the premium users place on both storage as well as real estate on their screens – or as a lightweight mobile aware site.

There are numerous instances of pure play mobile focused services having worked where equivalent desktop versions never found any traction – Newshunt comes to mind as a great example vis-a-vis earlier desktop based local language news services.

It’s a tough transition to make. And to some of us who grew up with the early days of the internet, especially in India, it does not come naturally at all to think mobile first. But it’s where the users already are, and the future of digital services is certainly headed.

Train yourself to think right on this. It’s not an option any more.

[With Inputs from Ashish Sinha. Image credit : shutterstock]


» If you are somebody who falls under this definition, definitely make it to bigMobilityConf.

Healthcare startups : MedReach finds you a doc, Healthians finds health checkups

Healthcare is a recession-proof market. While big corporate healthcare has occupied the branded healthcare space – even beyond the big towns – startups have woken up to to the opportunity and possibilities fairly recently. We keep getting submissions from a bunch of these and have covered many in the past, but are starting to see a larger variety of plays in this space.

Here’s two.

MedReach – Find A Doctor In Your Area (in Chennai)

medreach

It seems fairly comprehensive for Chennai and has a wide variety of specialists you can pick from. It’s intuitive to use as well. We did not try making an actual reservation, and a lot will depend on how that’s integrated with the Doctors’ current scheduling mechanisms and how well it’s honoured.

The bigger problem that we see is that there’s little help for you in picking a specific doctor. One goes a lot with recommendations when it comes to selecting a doctor – it’s more important than proximity, for instance, except for emergencies! Social proof or community recommendations, even “hidden” and just from one’s own neighbourhood or contacts, would have helped this a lot. As it stands, there’s little to differentiate this from a local directory service. Most clinics and hospitals do the bookings over the phone in any case, and that’s not a compelling enough reason to use this in itself.

Healthians – Finds The Most Appropriate Health Checkup For You

healthians

This is similar, except it let’s you find an appropriate diagnostic service/package rather than a doctor. The use case is a lot more compelling since they solve an information problem about what test you should take, and what’s included and excluded. Of course, many of these tests are usually recommended by doctors, but preventive healthcare is a market that’s growing as people become more aware and manage their health proactively. This is spread wider, across the Northern and to a lesser extent Western markets.

These are basic services that seek to connect you with healthcare service providers, no different from restaurant listings and suchlike. There’s surely many many more opportunities that are integrated deeper with healthcare problems, services and systems. We will continue looking out for the same over the next few months – it’s a space that’s bound to see a fair bit of action.

Barter.li : Sharing, Mobile, Books, Community, Hyperlocal. Done Right.

If you’re like me, you have at least a few dozen books lying around at home that you’ve already read. There are ways you can sell the books to a used books store, or even on a classifieds site or community, but it’s usually too much effort to take a pic, upload it, and then you’re never sure about selling it.

barterli Most book lovers wouldn’t mind swapping books. And that’s what Barter.li was started for (download the app).

Short take on Barter.li

The service is not mobile first, it’s mobile ONLY! Seriously works. Why? Read on

  • Because it’s aware of where you are as you Facebook/Google-login,

  • And gets you to pick a favourite landmark/cafe around where you’d prefer to do the swap/deal

  • You can upload books manually, or scan the barcode. Adding a book is very easy!

  • You can chat (in app) with someone who’s listed a book.

  • You can choose to sell/barter your books. Lend would be nice to, since it’s to a trackable user.

  • The entire transaction is totally p2p.

  • It’s not clear what folks would like to barter in exchange – this would be good to have. A mechanism to be able to make offers in exchange would be cool too.

  • The search is basic right now. As the list of books (decently seeded, though small) grows, this will be critical to fix.

Pretty awesome (again, I love books, in fact pre-worshipped books, so please excuse the bias)!

Loved the ease of getting started with it, as well as the lowering of barriers to actually putting up one’s books up for bartering. If they add lending, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be using this a lot.

Now, here’s who and what they are in their own words:

“The idea – barter.li is a community-based android app through which we aim to create libraries in every corner of the world and share a billion books. We want to create a Global Community, a library in every corner of the world, access to which you can carry around in your pocket.

Our repo on github.com has over 1000 commits from double digit developers. others have been contributing on our FB page.

People can upload their books in the app and see which ones others have uploaded in and around their preferred location. Then they can have a private chat within the app itself, meet up at a convenient location and buy/sell/exchange their books.”

Download that and give it a spin. Might be very useful.

PickParcel Aggregates Courier Services. And Picks From Your Doorstep!

pickparcelScenario One:

There’s one, or at most two, courier companies around where you live. The last one you sent reached in 7 days. And perhaps could’ve been cheaper to send. And that guy randomly shuts shop in the afternoon and you have to go check again….

Scenario Two:

You’ve just set up a small store on Shopify or suchlike. The local courier guys do not handle perishables. Or do not handle them well. You also have calls to take, the site to maintain, payments to collect and make, and you’re the only marketing team you’ve got. Heading out to the courier guy to send those is yet another task you could well do without.

This is what PickParcel – an online aggregator of courier services – is trying to solve for you. Do it from home/office, and do it cheaper.

The founders – Ayush and Akshat Agrawal were earlier involved in ecommerce – selling products on different marketplaces like ebay, amazon, tradus, etc.

“We had to arrange our own logistics, but since we had very few parcels to send, no courier company was signing up with us. At that time we researched a lot but didn’t find anything like this so we decided to start this service and help people like us who face such problems on a daily basis.”

It helped that the last generation in both their families had been involved in logistics!

PickParcel covers 10000 pin codes right now thanks to tie-ups with all major courier companies across the country. This gives them a reach much bigger than most other entrenched players! They have their own setup for pickups and deliveries in a few major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, but for other places where they are not present, they rely on their courier partners. They are also trying to expand in cities like Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, etc. There are both formal and informal arrangements that courier companies or their franchisees provide for home/office pickups, but those themselves aren’t always reliable right now. PickParcel’s dependence on their partners for pickup reliability, of course, is a challenge they will likely face in the days ahead.

They negotiate special rates with courier companies to offer their services online which and in return offer reasonable rates to the users. They do liaise between the consumer and the courier company as needed for service issues, and process refunds at their own end directly.

Pickparcel1

The service is straightforward to use – enter details of the parcel, pick a delivery option, enter addressee details, print your label and await parcel collection from your location. It’s early days; the web interface seemed a little slow, my home’s pin code was missing and the 1-3 Days’ Express Delivery was way cheaper than the 5+ Days Economy options – but we’re sure they’ll figure these issues out with better QA as they grow. Right now you can book one parcel at a time, though there’s a “contact us” offering for bulk couriering.

The core offering is definitely useful (though they do expect folks to measure each parcel strictly in centimeters – all three dimensions!) both as an individual or if you run a small business – give this one a shot. We expect to see this service both improve and grow over the year, and will keep you updated on their growth.

Does Yo Make Sense? At $1 Million It Must.

Unlikely that you haven’t heard about Yo.

Perhaps even tried it.

Yo App
Yo App

Like most people, my first reaction – especially when I heard about its million dollar funding – was disbelief. Such things are plain wrong. There are cancer researchers looking for computing power who could have used that million, went a tweet, and rightly so! Sure, it’s gotten initial traction – very likely out of perverse curiosity than out of genuine interest. Interest in what, really, anyway?

All reactions were pretty much in that vein.

But then I stepped back and thought some more.

Whyever did it get the million!? I mean, nobody’s that stupid. And folks putting a million on this bet must have seen something. What?

Missed Calls! Now those are popular….

You Free?

“Yo!” – that grabs attention. It says “Hey, I’m here if you’re free”. It could easily become an asynchronous trigger for initiating ad-hoc communication – the exact mode of which is left to the responder. Exactly what missed calls achieved.

Missed calls also let brands get back to people, and Yo can fit right in! It can also easily ping people in a location appropriate context to remind them, in case they’re already “friends”. Not that tough to see apps integrate to let brands incentivize adding folks to befriend them.

Acknowledge things with a single Yo!

Say you’re tracking a delivery. You say Yo, and they know you got it. Yo + geocode and you can let folks know you’re ok, and at a certain place as you travel. Yo can easily become – especially through its API – an acknowledgement protocol for a lot many use cases.

Just like missed calls have become a very valuable tool and business in India, Yo could in the realm of apps. With deep linking, it’ll become trivial for apps to use this to ping folks, send acknowledgements and even get a show of hands from within a group. Depending on how they iterate, Yo could even become the start of most ad-hoc communication on the phone, and maybe even the default app that serves as a communication nerve center.

It’s still incredible that this app was made, AND got funded. But somewhere, the one million – not a very big sum of money in the valley anyway – seems like it might just be a fairly decent bet.

Yo-ur thoughts?

Related : The Desi Yo Is..Oye!

Startup Pickcel Want To Be The Cloud Based DIY Digital Signage for Communication & Marketing

You’ve of course seen those TV sets in restaurants, doctor’s waiting lounges, railway stations, airports, coffee shops – the ones where regular TV programming is interspersed with informational or marketing messages.pickcellogo

Pickcel.com, less than 6 months old at the time of writing this, has a technology solution that lets you do that, and much more. A few corporates (like HUL) are already using it, and more might be signing up soon.

What is Pickcel

Bangalore based Pickcel is a cloud based content delivery platform – both public and private options – and a device (Pickcel Player) before the TV set that syncs, stores, schedules (alongside DTH content)  and plays content as asked to on the TV, even when it’s offline.

Pickcel : How It Works
Pickcel : How It Works

In their own words:

“Pickcel is a simple cloud based digital signage solution and offered as a service. Pickcel deployment is hassle-free, quick and without any additional IT overhead. Just four steps, and you are up and running with your Digital Signage Solution.

  • Connect Pickcel Player with Display

  • Get Online Account at Pickcel.com

  • Create Content Online

  • Publish Content to Targeted Displays”

They also have an interface that allows you to create content. We didn’t try that out, but it’s an important feature for a DIY communication platform.

Thanks to the Pickcel Player, there’s granular control of what to play per TV set, or a group of TV sets. The player can connect to the cloud based service through 3G as well.

Pickcel : Use Cases

This is the big challenge for Picksel ahead. They’re currently pitching it – and indeed selling it – as an internal communication and in-house marketing. That’s a good use case, but there’s a lot more that can be done with this technology offering – location specific advertising being one. Also, Picksel has chosen to go to market with the technology offering thus far rather than with a specific set of solutions or a service packaged around it. The acceptance of the solution at a wider scale might depend on how well they do this.

Mobile

Pickcel also has an app based approach for mobile devices, both for in-house communication using customized apps as well as for location based advertising using their own generic one. This, of course, is delivered directly by the cloud based content delivery service.

Pickcel was launched on February, 2014 and has been deployed successfully in FMCG, IT & Healthcare unit.

“Our endeavour is to partner with System Integrators to widen our market reach to Financial Institutes, Hospitality, Healthcare, Retail and Government sectors. Our Vision is to reach 10,000 node implementations by end of two years. We also envision leveraging our technology and diversifying towards revenue generation through OOH model. In this regard we are first attempting towards building a network of screens which will promote neighbourhood advertising.”

This is an interesting play, and early days. Monetization will be a challenge as a pure play internal tool that has no direct revenue or efficiency impact for businesses, even as enterprises find it very useful and adoption increases. But we’re guessing the solutions and business model will evolve over time, and we may see interesting services on offer as well, either independently or in partnership with other media agencies, OOH vendors and the like.

Is It Fishing?

A while ago, I was having a long, candid conversation with a startupper who has very passionately bootstrapped a small and very unique business. The discussion veered to finances, being at crossroads, motivations, and passion.

“Thinking of it purely financially, and based on what’s visible right now, I could invest <amount X> into the business to grow it, or put it into equities, get at least the same return, and go fishing.”

Fishing

Of course, the difference is that when you’re driven by the need to solve a problem or create something – it is fishing! It’s what you would rather do even if you had the money to burn on it and expect nothing in return. Entrepreneurship, at some level, is also a very expensive hobby.

It is why seriously passionate entrepreneurs seem to go on against seemingly impossible odds and conventional logic. It is why it seems worth it despite making no monetary and financial sense at all. It is why thoughts or talk of “opportunity cost” should trigger alarms in your own head about what you thought was passion but is most likely just a hot opportunity you were chasing.

It’s not logical at all.

In this context, here’s a couple of good reads from the past:

That Thing called Passion

Pick your goal.

It needs to drive you. I mean, truly, persistently drive you. So much that rain or shine, you’re enthused enough by the possibility of that one moment and will take a lot of downside to get there.

Shameless Passion.

A lot of people haven’t put in their 100% into it. They still want to save onto something for the swim back. They don’t know why they are running. They don’t know where they want to go. They are not trying because they don’t believe it is good enough to pursue. It’s like they are running for the cheer but what they don’t realise is that people actually cheer when you run passionately.

When you realize is isn’t what you thought it was.

I didn’t burn out from the hours (the work was challenging), but after a while I knew my soul was no longer in it. I didn’t spring out of bed or have the same energy in the office, and I started walking to work instead of biking because I wanted more time alone. My resolve to go the extra mile for the customer was diminishing, and so was my zeal for the music industry in general.

After the novelty of entrepreneurial ‘firsts’ wore off, all I had left was that eroding resolve to fight.

Yes, this has been told – and read – often. By many who understand this much more, much better than us. But it’s something you understand one little bit at a time, and hopefully reiterating it will help.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Travel Agent Industry is Broken. Ripe for Disruption!

I run a chain of vacation properties. While building this up, and carefully crafting the brand around the rather niche offering we have, I have run into the travel agent industry very often, with a couple of good experiences and a lot of lousy ones. The industry does not, by and large, seem to be working for the producers of the services that they’re representing.

Let me explain.

This is roughly how the travel agent industry works – both online and offline. Say, you, P, are the property owner, and A, the agent says they will represent you.

P finds/buys a place, spends effort/time/money to set it up

P finds staff, trains them, ensures service levels

P services guests, plays host, helps create the guest experience, manages emergencies

P gets the bouquets – mostly offline, and brickbats – mostly online!

P frets about empty weekends, lean seasons and rising costs

Forests

It takes effort to run properties out there!

 

A finds consumers, connects them with the property, sometimes with sketchy details

A runs no risk, no costs for the experience, takes little responsibility

A sometimes mis-sells, and doesn’t care about the health of the property

Incredibly, A asks for 15-20% of the whole revenue!! Oftentimes, this is more than what P makes on a transaction, counting all costs! Isn’t that a little unfair, and perhaps even parasitic?

In most businesses, you’re either a producer or a trader. Profits range from 2 – 20%, depending on what risks you carry. If you carry inventory risk, or capital risk, the latter end of that profitability range is fairly justifiable. In this case, if the travel agent were pre-buying inventory in bulk, it might make sense for the property to share 12-20% depending on the deal size in return for guaranteed sales.

disruption

 

But A has none of that risk!


As a pure connector – a role which real estate agents play at 1-2%, the travel agent adds very little. The value would come from solving a real problem for either side. Here’s some ideas that might make sense.

  1. Aid discovery : Low fees, high volumes : 2-4% of the transaction from the property, and work hard to get volumes across many properties. A fixed fee might do wonders! This could also work with hurdle rates.

  2. Guarantee volumes : pre-buy inventory in bulk and make 8-20% on it.

  3. Fill lean periods – differential fees : Solve the lean season/weekend problem for properties. And charge lower/nothing for the times that they would have had a flood of guests anyhow.

  4. Get niche audiences : If you have access to an audience from a specific geography, or around a

  5.  specific interest area, you could bring them in for a premium – these usually end up solving both the volume and lean period problem for properties.

  6. Solve property grading for guests : Kinda like Tripadvisor, except there’s a lot more personalization possible. Play serious consultant/matchmaker for guests, and charge a fee on top for that. A fee of 4-8% should be acceptable.

  7. Be an affiliate : There is a parallel in the e-commerce world that can be replicated for travel – travel agents as affiliates. It automates tracking, sales, reduces the need for information hiding and keeps the focus on building audiences through whatever value the agents provide.

  8. Provide back office services : Reservation systems, CRM, centralized stores, guest interactions, call centres – properties need multiple such services as they scale up their offerings in size as well as quality. Many would gladly pay for these services.

  9. Get involved : Own the experience at the property, underwrite a few costs, fund development. This is probably a pure hospitality model which only a few should attempt at a few places.

It is quite amazing that the tech enabled OTAs haven’t disrupted the agent model yet – they’re all mostly playing the same information access game – that is not something that will continue to be defensible as a business model too long. Both search engines, as well as social, are making it possible for even small, well run places to connect with their audiences directly.

The travel agent industry is one that’s very very ripe for disruption!

5 Evil Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Facebook : Show No Mercy

Facebook has world domination plans.

Of course, you’re not surprised. They ought to. Especially now being a publicly listed company, they owe it to shareholders! They sure need to monetize their real use case and its beneficiaries – brands, causes and their communication with their audience like we mentioned earlier.

Mark Zuckerberg : Show No Mercy!
Mark Zuckerberg : Show No Mercy!

In their march towards this goal, however, they’ve crossed many a grey line. Scratch that. They’ve gone outright bad pretty often.

And yes, we think startups should learn from some of this. Scaling and growing isn’t always about playing nice and being good.

When You Know You Can Stop Listening to Users

Timeline changes, live news streams, and a dozen others. There’s one being rolled out as we speak! And each time, there’s been a huge, very vocal protest from users. But Facebook knew better – it never gave in. Including when it regularly changed terms that impacted users’ privacy.

If you’re selling a habit stronger than some addictions, you can play around with its ingredients a fair bit. The thing is to know for sure how strong a habit your product is in the users’ lives. The need must be strong. The changes themselves – they will learn to live with, soon.

Postman Gone Evil

It’s a social network. Which means you can keep in touch with all your friends. This is how it was supposed to work –

a) You sign up and connect with some friends
b) Facebook finds you many many many more friends, except you’re thinning that friend-line all the time
c) Facebook lets your friends know about what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling and all those great pics you have to share that advertise your awesomely cool life.

Except, sorry, Facebook decides. The postman isn’t delivering all your letters to your friends. It decides – based on its own whims, fancies and algorithms.

Lesson : When you’ve got them hooked, it’s ok to change your mind. If you can, align your users to your product metrics, not necessarily the other way round! The postman decides which letter to deliver and users don’t care so much, as long as they are making new (pen)friends, getting likes and seeing cat videos.

Promises? Sorry, We Changed Our Minds

Ha, you PAID for those Likes? Tough luck. Sure, you were told Facebook advertising is a better, longer term payoff since it gets you engagement over the long term.

The badguy
The badguy

But they gotta try and squeeze you more. And that means, first, you gotta pay to reach those folks who you thought you had in the bag because hey – you paid for the likes!

Sucker.Born.Every.Minute.

“But they can’t!” Sorry, they did, already.

So if you’re big, muscular enough, contracts – explicit or otherwise – aren’t that binding, we guess.

Ignore Those That Built You, and Need You

Well, like most of the internet, it’s the influencers who made the platform what it is. The fact is that Facebook needed these folks as much as they needed Facebook – except now that the numbers are so large that individual influencers – many created and enabled because of the platform itself – have no choice but to conform (and that’s what Zomato has learned?].

These are both individuals as well as brands – an Amul was iconic before Facebook came around, and it sure helped keep my timeline interesting! Facebook can clearly afford to ignore the needs of these influencers and risk making timelines less interesting – the volumes will probably ensure there’s enough distraction at any point of time to keep the users from noticing what’s gone missing.

It also hurts the many small brands – such as this NGO, Kalap – and causes that depended on Facebook to reach out to a large audience which cared about them. Many wouldn’t mind paying a small annual subscription for the brand pages – and we quote Anand Sankar, a travel entrepreneur who works with Kalap – “rather than pay by post, which is blackmail”, but Facebook has other plans and isn’t listening.

Well, show no mercy!

So – if you’re seeking the big prize – aim to be more interesting – or at least more distracting – than your early adopter-cum-influencers lest you become dependent on them. Outpace, outnumber and drown them into individual irrelevance. And yes, show no mercy!

Kalap

Own or Destroy. How To Deal With Competition.

Okay. so you are pissed off with Facebook and you move to a real-world friend network like WhatsApp? Or image sharing network like Instagram?

Facebook acquires you again!

Of course you’ve been reading up about those fantastic valuations at which Facebook has been buying out companies. All the high value ones are very very likely to be ideas and platforms that might have threatened Facebook in the near future. Instagram and Whatsapp, at least, were clearly taking away a large chunk of newer users even as Facebook was struggling with its mobile strategy early on. Many of Facebook’s acquisitions seem to be pre-emptive strikes, and attempts to co-opt the brains that could either help it build its own platform, or challenge it one day.

In the early days, Facebook grew because Orkut and MySpace just couldn’t visualize its growth. Facebook is mad about user affinity towards it and Mark Zuckerberg will do anything to get you under “Facebook network”.

While it remains to be seen if they are able to pre-empt, absorb or annihilate every idea or team that could challenge their status as the world’s most popular social platform, it’s a good strategy to remember when you’re big, have loads of cash in the bank and serious valuation muscle to go after any creative spark out there.

Ok, we went a little sarcastic there – and not without reason. But overall, it’s clear Facebook’s acquired enough muscle, critical mass of interactions and behavioural dominance over its very dependent users that it can afford to not care about what it fundamentally delivers!

It’s a little like going to a party – if it’s quiet you can talk to people, if it’s noisy you’ll probably just smile/laugh and dance.

Awesome if your product can get that party going…

[Image credit/shutterstock]

A 100 Countries’ GDP Vs. The Value of Fickle Users’ Attention

19 Billion. Dollars.

More than the GDP of about a 100 countries.

Justification?

Oh – rapid growth, LOTS of users, and very high activity levels.

WhatsApp Growth Curve
WhatsApp Growth Curve

Agreed, agreed and agreed.

Still, nineteen _______ billion Dollars!?

The Fake Shark?
The Fake Shark?

Something’s not right in this valuation. Something smells of a bubble, or two. Especially when you consider that these users are fickle (they moved from Yahoo Messenger to GTalk to Facebook to Whatsapp to hey-what’s-next?), produce nothing of real value and do not even enable that many transactions in a real economy of any sort, and monetization is always more hope, or some form of trickery, rather than reality.

It’s probably fuelled by the growth in valuations over time that’s made it easy to splurge. After all, speculative trading lives off such sentiment.

Is this healthy? Personally, I’m going with “no comments”. Only because popular perception is overwhelmingly in favour of this being a worth-it valuation. And yes, WhatsApp is indeed valuable, and it’s just a question of degree.

But nineteen billion? Just not quite adding up in the context of the planet we live on.

Maybe I’m just too old?

[Image credit : shutterstock]

Pi of Life : Not enough time for…life?

Life’s gotten truly, overwhelmingly interrupt driven. There are always a dozen P1 things-to-do that demand your attention and fill up all available time. We’re go-getters, ambitious and seek to maximize our potential and make the most of our time – all the time.

We end up ignoring the P2s and P3s too often – those “not critical now” priorities that then start to add up real quick and the quality of your life and living deteriorates. Those are often the little things that make life worth living.

Finding time to exercise is a big casualty. You have multiple meetings to attend, things to carry, errands to run that need the car, so the planned cycling-to-work gets pushed out one more day, and continues to – over months. Going running or to the gym takes even more commitment and often does not sustain beyond the first couple of enthusiastic days.

Hiking

Then there’s all those relationships you need to invest into. Those are what will be with you long after the pain or the glory of success and your daily battles are long gone. The time you spend playing Scrabble, or a game of cards with your significant other and the kids. Or discussing nothing at all over coffee with a friend. Or that short vacation you should have taken a few months ago – sans the connected gadgets.

Reading books is another big one – whether it’s the dead-tree editions or digital ones. The sheer ‘opportunity cost’ and pending emails to respond to, spreadsheets to update and huge list of ideas to pursue ensures that reading is an early casualty of your battle-mode life. This is a major loss – reading both calms you, improves your attention span and expands your thinking. It’s a habit that’ll be a friend for a long long time.

There’s a gazillion other things – going to a movie with the gang, exploring a new restaurant in a new part of town without necessarily having read the reviews first, participating in the running of your apartment complex and even your local government – walking a dog – indeed, keeping one at home, starting those yoga lessons or breathing exercises you’ve been meaning to start as you get to the wrong side of 30, and so on and so forth.

There’s never enough time.

Just remember that in a decade or so, you’ll have lost the time to do a lot of this when you were younger. And all these lower priorities are what make your life so much richer and better, much more worth it. It’s not about a work-life balance, it’s about having a life altogether, or not.

Seriously, try doing at least one less-useful thing everyday.

We’re Killing #MobileLife; So Long and Thanks for the Fish

We started this column – the #MobileLife – as an experiment a few months ago to bring a different viewpoint to how these ubiquitous devices are otherwise treated in tech and online media. We wanted to avoid the jargon heavy, features-driven view of mobile devices and focus on user needs, everyday scenarios and real issues folks come across as they use smarter and smarter phones, tablets and soon, wearable tech.

From the response thus far, we’d say it worked brilliantly well! Many posts resonated a lot with real device users – after all, we wrote them as end users ourselves.

We wondered whether basic feature phones were as irrelevant as the buzz around would have you think, or if you needed a camera now that you carry a smartphone everywhere. We reassured you about that cracked smartphone screen you’ve been sheepishly using for a while now – you’re not alone! We tried addressing the very real anxiety most of us have around the battery charge status on our phones. We also dug up some cool ways to upgrade your Android’s feature set.RIP Mobile

We compiled many useful lists of apps – those for eating out that were relevant to Indian users, a list of event apps that would matter specifically to a Mumbaikar, and a list of top news apps that folks actually use. Also, a list of must-have apps for entrepreneurs, and one of great e-book readers.

We paid homage to the awesome Nokia 3310 - that was big one! We questioned all the hype around the gazillion use cases of the smartphone, called out gadget reviews for the usually irrelevant information they provide, and even wondered if the tablet was a useful device at all!

It’s been a fun run. It forced us, and me personally, to look at gadgets through the lay person’s eyes a lot more, beyond the hype and marketing.

But we have realized that while one of our more popular columns, this is a pretty huge distraction for NextBigWhat. We asked ourselves if this was what we wanted to do rather than focus more, dig deeper and harder into entrepreneurship and technology products, and have decided to discontinue this.

There may be the odd gadget review, or industry insight around devices, but the #MobileLife will no longer appear every Tuesday.

So long, and thanks for all the fish, folks!

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Pi of Life : Important – A Heartfelt Thank You!

Of course you saw, remember Sachin’s farewell speech, probably even got teary-eyed about it. Notice how many people – some of whom didn’t really even contribute directly to his cricket – that he thanked?

Thanks!

Say Thanks

It’s a big word. It’s a tough one to say seriously, in a heartfelt way, for many of us. Especially as our sense of self and of entitlement grows, it gets even tougher.

The server at a restaurant who got you your food is just doing their job. But a nod of the head and thanks wins them over and costs nothing. Everyone likes being appreciated, even if their job anyway. They might just be inspired to do it better. Ditto for your employees – forget the carrots and sticks – acknowledgement is a much ignored motivator. Sure, you’re paying them, but the difference between folks just about doing their job and those making a difference in moving the needle is something you should genuinely be thankful for, and express as much.

Then there are those who connect you with someone, those who go out of their way to meet you and listen to you, those that share your brand on Facebook, and so many people who help you in so many little ways. It’s an amazing, helpful world!

Yeah, it doesn’t come naturally to all of us to be expressive. We become a little awkward, tongue-tied and then it feels its become too late to say it. But do remember it’s something you almost owe to others. It helps you, but it helps everyone else around you too.

This is  especially true when success comes our way. It is easy to get carried away and good to recount all your efforts, your wins and your brilliance, but it is even more important to remember all those little things that enabled that to happen. We are the sum total of all the little coincidences and efforts that happen around us, and must remember every now and then to count your blessings and let those who play a role in those.

Even when success eludes you, people are still doing things that need to be done. Even as you feel low and pessimistic, the way forward becomes easier when people continue to rally around you. That’ll happen only if they feel good about what they are doing for you. And being thankful for that is a major way to get them to feel that.

This is true in all your relationships – work or personal. We do need people we can take for granted, but be careful about letting the taking-for-granted-ness not go too far. A simple – “Hey, thanks – it was really useful/helpful/life-saving when you ….. “ goes a long, long way.

So open that chat window, start composing that mail or text message, or just pick up the call and thank a few people that you should right away. It’s never too late, and the embarrassment you might initially feel is worth it.

And seriously, thanks for reading the Pi of Life regularly and even writing in. Encourages me to think and write regularly, candidly and freely.