Category Archives: Product Management

Product Management/Strategy Related Articles

Demystified : How To Measure Conversions From Offline Campaigns

[Editorial notes : Internet companies in India are spending marketing dollars in offline (TV/print) media and unlike online campaigns, the offline ones are extremely difficult to measure. This guest piece by Deepak Abbot of Paytm demystifies the possible ways to measure conversions from offline campaigns.]

Gone are the days when Indian online companies would spend all their marketing dollars on search marketing or online display. Many Internet companies flushed with lot of funds are looking to expand the overall market to grow their business. Every one of us must have noticed big hoardings, TV advertising, Radio, full page print Advts and OOH carrying Internet companies advertisement.

We all know that how every dollar spent on digital advertising is tracked to the last cent but can it be said true for offline advertising? Answer is hidden below in various methods employed to ascertain the effectiveness of your offline campaigns.

I am listing down some of the methods which can help any brand manager to justify spends across non-online media.

Method 1: Increase in direct traffic – Direct traffic on your website is when someone type out the domain name. There can be two sets of users who will generally type your domain directly – existing users and new users. New users typing your domain in all probability would have seen your advt offline or heard from a friend (which again is a result of branding exercise)

So if you are using Google Analytics (most analytics tools will have similar paths), then head to Acquisition > All Traffic > Direct to see your overall direct traffic

Now select secondary dimension as Visitor > Visitor Type

You will see a table similar to one shown below. direct

This table tells you a lot. How many new users came, their quality (bounce rate), and time they spent and transactions they made with you. You can even calculate CPA this way by correlating transactions with your marketing spends (Note – also include new transactions from all other organic channels like search engine for finding near accurate CPA)

So in a snapshot you now know if your offline campaign is attracting right people or not. You can filter by city to see which city campaign (in case of Radio, print or OOH) worked better. Select a longer period and you can see trend graph on top of this table for giving you a visual snapshot of your direct traffic growth.

(Note: It’s extremely important to keep in mind your pre-campaign numbers to make a meaningful analysis)

Note: Create a separate filter in GA – In case you want to keep an eye on all metrics & KPI for direct new users, I recommend creating a filter in GA from your main account to only include direct new users. This will be working like a separate account and you will deep analytics for all new direct users on your website

Method 2: Increase in brand keyword search – After direct traffic, the most impact of offline advertising is seen on increase in search of your brand keyword in Google. People look at your advt, remember the name and come to Google for locating it.

To find out the increase in keyword search in Google Analytics, go to Acquisition > Keywords > Organic and locate your brand name there. Select the period before you started advertising offline to current date. If you see any unusual increase in visits through brand keyword then give yourself a pat on the back.

Another way to discover increase in your brand keyword searches across desktop & mobile, I suggest you signup for Webmaster Tools (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/) and link it to your Google Analytics Account. Check here on how to link it – https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1120006?hl=en

If you have linked Webmaster Tools in GA then navigate to Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Geographical Summary > Google Property

Here you can see split of impression between Web, Mobile & Image search for your keywords.

Positive effect of increased search for your keywords and enhanced organic traffic from Google also means that your page rank will go up. You need to keep an eye on your page rank for various keywords. I suggest you download this free software called Google Monitor http://www.cleverstat.com/en/google-monitor-query.htm and keep monitoring the improvement in your page rank in Google search engine.

googlemonitor

I would also recommend bidding for any unique keywords used in your offline advt so that someone searching for such keywords is able to find your website. Good examples are Quikr showing SEM advts on keyword “MSP” used in their TV advt and Olx showing its advts when someone searches for “Sell Phones”. Impression on these ads will also tell you the popularity of your campaign buzzwords.

Method 3: Use Unique URLs – Not highly recommended but incase you are specifically keen on measuring the recall value of your advertisements then creating a special URL for offline campaign is the best way for you. Example – a URL like yourdomain.com/go can be created for print/TV Advts and any hit there means people are seeing your ads. To be 100% sure that everyone is typing the URL out, you can block Google from indexing this page by putting this on your page <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>

This way your page wont appear in search results so only entry point would be to type the URL.

unique-url

Method 4: Offer led Promo code – For all transaction based online companies like shopping websites can include a unique promo code wherever possible. Example – Paytm is doing a campaign with Pepsi where a unique code is being carried on all Pepsi bottles, Kurkure & Lays packs. Anyone using the code is clearly interacting with Paytm brand offline and carrying the code online to transact. This is the most direct way to measure the conversion from offline. However this method is limited to wherever unique codes are possible.

For generic codes, they will find their way on numerous online coupon sites and you wont be able to evaluate its true impact.

lays

Method 5: Ask users directly – Another simple way is to collect this information as part of your regular survey sent to your users. May be 2% users will fill up that info but it can prove to be a good sample to get an idea.

source

Method 6: Missed Call or SMS Short Code – Missed call, which is termed as an Indian innovation is another interesting way to measure the performance. This is how it works – you include a number in your advt, ask people to give a miss call, they get a SMS in return which carries the link of your website or App. So any hit to that URL or calls made to the number gives you an idea of your reach. You can even use a dedicated SMS short code for this purpose

missedcall

In addition to all the above methods, if you see overall growth in your numbers, good word of mouth, and brand lift after your campaign that is higher than your earlier averages then you can safely attribute it to your offline campaigns.

[About the Author: Deepak Abbot is AVP at Paytm. He has worked in companies like Reliance Entertainment- Digital, Zapak & Satyam computers handling product, marketing & analytics. Reproduced from Paytm Blog. Connect with him on twitter @deepakabbot]

Do You Pay For Great User Experience? I Do And I Don’t

User experience is not about user interface. It’s about an experience that makes certain actions easy. The bigger picture is that a great user experience establishes trust in the brand.

Consumer Experience : Create Right Chemistry
Consumer Experience : Create Right Chemistry

Do people pay for great user experience? Well, nobody does it (directly). But, if played well (by the brand), we all end up paying (extra) for a great user experience.

Case study : Flipkart.

The Good

One of the nice features of Flipkart is the buying experience. I recently bought few books from Flipkart and had to cancel one. The cancellation experience was so good and smooth that I ended up putting the refunded money back to Flipkart wallet (and not to my bank account).

Why? Because I wanted to thank the company for a smooth cancellation process : there are no stupid forms or clarifications to fill. This is so unlike several other ecommerce companies, which make the cancellation process so difficult that you’ll probably think twice before buying the next time.

TL;DR : Due to Flipkart’s simple and friendly cancellation experience, I decided to keep the money in Flipkart wallet – which definitely translates to future purchase intent. That is, I paid for user experience.
And to put it nicely, the good user experience paid for itself.

The Bad

I am guessing that Flipkart personalizes email. So after a few days of buying books, I get an email that the company is offering 50% discount on books. I plan to buy atleast 5-10 books in the coming days. Excited that I was, I went to checkout the details and noticed that Flipkart is offering discounts on base price of 2011!!

A quick visit to Amazon and I noticed that prices aren’t different at all (hardly a difference of 2-5%). So what was that 50% discount about?

First reaction : This is cheap (attitude).

Second reaction : Never trust the goodness (by bots). Always compare.

Result? Am back to comparing prices (discounting user experience).

I was almost certain to use the refunded amount to buy more books on Flipkart, but now I am forced to rethink/compare.

TL;DR : Bad experience killed the trust. I was okay with 10% discount, told honestly.  The thing is every retail/ecommerce site is doing the same, but Flipkart definitely upped the bar with the earlier experience. But a lame lie neutralized it!

What about you? Have you paid (extra) for a great user experience?

[Image credit : shutterstock]

Want People to Trust Your Website? Do Not Overlook This Simple Tip

[Edit Notes: Sometimes we ignore simple things. But these are the things that really make a difference. Manoj Kumar, formerly of MakeMyTrip, makes a case for why you should pay attention to the humble About Us page.]

The simple truth is that people buy from other people, not companies. What is not obvious that this fact is equally true whether the business is online, offline or a hybrid.

Think about it for a moment – when someone says “I buy from xyz.com, because I trust them“, they are implicitly referring to the people behind the organization, isn’t it?

Web is a place where anyone can establish a business. A genuine business or a make believe business. Many people who interact with your website for the first time will want to find out who you are and determine that you are indeed a genuine business.

This is where your “about us” page comes into picture

Case of a purchase that you do not do everyday… like buying a guitar

I was looking to purchase a guitar online. This is a kind of purchase that one does not do frequently. This is also not a thing that you would place repeat orders for.

I Googled, and as expected the result had many websites that I was seeing for the first time

About Us1

Thoughts on first time interaction with a website

I clicked on www.guitarstreet.in, liked their selection. Immediately, the big question in my mind was whether these guys are genuine?

So, here I am, checking their about us page. It is shown below

About US2

So, I read about Utkarsh and Madhu, see their pictures and read about them. A bunch of lads driven by passion. I instantly find them trustworthy. These boys look like nice people to speak to in case your order gets something messed up.

This page has personal touch. Putting in contact information would be a nice additional touch point.

More examples – both bad and good

Another site I checked out was Bajaoo.com. Their about us page claims that Bajaoo is the largest direct retailer for musical instruments in Asia. It may be my ignorance in the field of music, but I have never heard of them, have you?. How do I verify the claim?

About Us3

Consider the about us page from Naaptol.com

About Us4

First, the navigation is buried deep down in the home page, when you get to the page, there is not much relevant content as shown below.

About Us5

Nothing human. In fact to the explicit question “who are we?” it states 2 visionaries… hmmm… would be nice to know your names Mr. Visionary and more importantly why should I trust you?
Also see “contact us at our registered office” – really? should I walk into your office in Mumbai… I am from New Delhi btw
The about us page is primarily about who you are and making it personalized has a massive positive impact on the trust factor
Here is another example OLX.in

 Olx

This is a company that has spent huge amounts in TV campaigns, so people know them. People are transacting with other people, so OLX may not have a big role in the transaction itself, so they can probably get away with a page like this!

But this is not a good example to follow for others. In fact a bit of personal touch and more information will only help OLX. What does it cost after all.

Now, consider the Quikr.com page

About Us6

It is slightly better than olx.in page. Now think about the claim of 1.8 crore customers per month – sounds doubtful. I am not questioning the authenticity of this claim, just its perception. Its a massive number of customers. Do you believe it?
Where can you and I validate this claim. It creates doubt, rather than trust in this form
Contrast the above with eBay‘s about us page

About Us7

They have put out neat details of who they are and their executive team. This is the right approach. eBay is a global brand by all counts – does not mean that they do not need an about us page.

Consider the page from Junglee.com below:

About Us8

The page is really detailed and answers all possible questions that one may have about Junglee. Its not the best of examples for personal touch, but does give you Facebook and twitter accounts to interact with the brand. Again, Junglee is a big name, but they are making all efforts to provide full information. I would certainly have liked a personal touch on the page.

Best “about us section”: Snapdeal.com

About Us9

About Us10

Snap1

This page has got personality, that reflects the personality of the company. Young and ambitious

Minus the sales pitch of being India’s largest marketplace, this is a nice and detailed section. Closest to what an “about us” page should be like. Even has section for investor relations

Summing it up

You want to show that there is a real organization behind your website backed by genuine and trustworthy people. Your about us page is a key tool in gaining this trust.

There is a lot that is required to gain trust, it is something that takes long time to build and you can loose it in a short period of time.

I do not suggest that if you get about us page right, you have done everything to win trust. It could not be farther from truth. My point is that a bad about us page can ruin a new business, any why would you not do such a simple thing perfectly, especially if it can make such a big difference?

So go ahead, make your about us page personal, give ways to contact you and talk about who you are. You never know who is browsing your about us page, they could be your next customer or first investor, what would you like them to see?

[About the author: Manoj Kumar has spent better half of last decade at Makemytrip.com, handling product management/ revenues and technology for some of MMT’s critical lines of businesses. Most recently he held the position of Director – Product Management at MMT. He is now an entrepreneur, working to launch his first mobile based product.]

Embarrassed To Launch (Ugly) First Version? Take A Look At These !

Entrepreneurs often worry about launching ‘that perfect product’ – which is full of features and of course, has a great user experience.

Talk to any failed venture and one thing that they will tell you is that they took too much time to launch the product. How minimum should your MVP be?

What shall you compromise on? The battle is always between beauty (UX/design) and the beast (feature set/use-cases).

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman

Today, we bring you the first version of products and how ugly (and dysfunctional) they looked.

The truth about great products is that they evolve. Continuously.

Then..And Now

What did the original Macintosh look like? Boxy! It looked like the picture on the left. And the new one? A beauty!

 

Mac - then and now!
Mac – then and now!

What did the first commercial cell phone look like? The DynaTAC by Motorola was priced at $3995 and started selling in 1984(left). Nothing like the new Moto G isn’t it?

Motorola - then and now!
Motorola – then and now!

The Ford Model T, 1927, regarded as the first affordable American automobile used to look like this (left), not a bit as pretty as the new Ford Figo!

Ford Model T, 1927, regarded as the first affordable American automobile
Ford Model T, 1927, regarded as the first affordable American automobile

The first flight was a bare bones glider that the Wright brothers put together (some great engineering but no fancy stuff). Nothing like the swanky airplanes we see today.

First Flight ..And Now?
First Flight ..And Now?

One of the earliest television sets?

Television : Even Idiot Box Has Evolved!
Television : Even Idiot Box Has Evolved!

Air conditioner?

 

Air Conditioners : Then and Now :)
Air Conditioners : Then and Now :)

Why are we taking you on this trip?

To make a point: Don’t get stuck on perfection, the first version of your product doesn’t have to be pretty (ugly is cool!)

Just launch!

The Magic Of Personas on Selling Online [A How To Guide]

[Editorial Notes : Defining user personas is extremely crucial for any product. Manoj Kumar, ex-product manager of MakeMyTrip (and now an entrepreneur) takes a deep dive into personas.]

Let me assume that you agree 100% with the following statement:

Whether you are creating a new website or app or improving something already existing, you want your online experience to be really driven by your customer’s voice and by not yourself or your team.

Truth be told- I have never come across anyone who disagrees with the above. But it’s equally true that I have hardly ever seen this being practiced in real life. The irony!

Why is there such a big gap between theory and practice in this regard, especially in Indian scenario? I think where the ball gets dropped is that most either do not know the answer to the following question

How do you bring customers at the center stage of all design and content thinking?

What is the trick? Well one trick is called personas.  Sounds familiar?… have heard this before.. may have tried this before… err… sounds like a boring concept… well I bet 9/10 chances are that you are doing it wrong! I have done online product management for a living for many years and have worked with some of the most experienced product managers in India… and I can tell you from personal experience that most of us do not get this stuff right (and that’s saying it nicely. Most of us have no clue about our website persona’s is the fact). Hang in there a bit while I explain.

To understand this better, I’ll use UrbanLadder as the context in this post (they have been in news recently in India and I like a lot of things about them, though they need tons of improvement as well).

I like the space they are in (in India) – furniture is huge, but semi-organized market with I believe generous margins and great opportunity to create differentiation through product quality and service standards. Now, when want to sell furniture online, we have to think about the different people who will buy… here is where persona’s come into the picture.

Ok, let’s determine the relevant persona’s

FIRST Question- most of us will begin by asking “who are the most common type of people who will come to Urbanladder?

Short Answer – WRONG FIRST QUESTION!

Eh… digest that.

WRONG QUESTION! WRONG QUESTION! WRONG QUESTION!

OK, hope you are finding this interesting now. BTW, if you did not catch my point – here it is once more – the FIRST question was WRONG. Go grab a coffee.

Sip…

Now a few questions that will explain the above statements.

Question: what kind of people move houses?

House Shifting Paul KellerImage by Paul Keller

Answer: All types – young and old, married and single, male and female, urban and rural, small town and big town

Question: what kind of people build new houses?

House Construction Owen JenningsImage by Owen Jennings

Answer: All types – young and old, married and single, male and female, urban and rural, small town and big town

What has this got to do with personas for Urbanladder?

Well, in both the above situations, you are highly likely to need new furniture When you are making a new house, you may order new furniture for all rooms, but when you are moving houses, you may just need a few pieces.

You see the right FIRST QUESTION is

What mode are you in while buying furniture?

Mode Renjit Shenoy R

Image by Ranjith shenoy R

Stereotypes (like young/old, urban/rural etc.) are not the right starting point in determining personas. Persona is not ‘type’ of person rather, mode in which a person interacts with your website (of course you will also define the personality, but the mode of interaction comes first. Confusing? stay with this thought, it will be clearer as you read on.)

Some buying modes for furniture that we can easily relate to

Buying mode 1: You have bought a new house, that is about to be handed over… you need new furniture, all of it.

Given the fact that most builders and interior designers slip on the timelines, you may like to have flexibility in delivery dates (one situation in life when you may actually want a late delivery!). If you are married, your spouse’s buy in the decision will be a must – in fact you will look forward to discussing the options with your spouse. The purchase requires high degree of agreement. Both the need and risk (of getting is wrong) are very high here.

Buying mode 2: You have been thinking about replacing that old Sofa

While you are looking to replace your old sofa, your need may not be urgent. You may replace if you get a suitable deal.  It’s like that Laddakh Holiday that you want to take – always desirable, never urgent, you move if either you get a discount or your best friend takes that holiday. Moderate need and moderate risk here.

Buying mode 3:  You have thoughts of adding a book rack to your room… but are no too sure

While adding a book rack for which you are not even sure of the need, a really attractive piece of furniture while you are on the website with nothing specific in mind may sway your decision. Low need and low risk for you.

Buying mode 4: You have just moved to Bangalore from New Delhi (from your parents house). Your wife is joining you 2 weeks from now, you need to order all new furniture

When you have your wife joining you in 2 weeks, the most critical thing for you may be the timeliness of delivery. Urgent need and high risk for you

Sip… (oh! you didn’t grab a coffee, grab it now :-))

What do buying modes have to do with design and content?

Everything! different buying modes have different content requirements – for example, while buying all new furniture for your new house, you are highly likely to want to see the furniture placed together in a setting so that you can figure out whether things gel with one another or not. If you are replacing old sofa, you want to sign up of the discounts newsletter… and so on.

Starting to make sense?

Now, to give more colour and complete the personas, layer the personality type of a person on top of the above interaction modes. I am demonstrating 2 examples below for UrbanLadder.

Persona 1- Rahul SinghRahul Singh

Rahul is 30 years old and is newly married (just 6 months ago). He is a bank manager with a fortune 500 company. His wife  Pooja is a QA engineer. Rahul is a very confident person. He is a natural leader and usually is at the forefront of decision making when in group situations. He considers himself a smart person and takes pride in his decisions.

Rahul has just moved to Bangalore from New Delhi where he was staying with his parents. He is currently staying in a company guest house which he needs to vacate in 7 days. He has rented a house for himself. He is looking to buy furniture and definitely needs to furnish his house within 6 days. He came across urbanladder.com website on facebook.  He decided to check it out. Lets see how Rahul’s persona impacts the design and content he would love and hate.

Rahul is checking out UrbanLadder and immediately likes the “Delivery by” date mentioned against the product items. This is a reassurance for him that he can find and order items that meet his delivery schedule. Screenshot below:

In fact he would also love to provide his location (Bangalore) upfront to that he gets precise delivery time indication. He does not have time to waste! something like the example below.

Furniture.com has an option to take you zip code on the product page itself (in addition to the checkout) so that more relevant content can be served upfront.  In the Indian context, city/ area names can be used instead of the zip codes.

You can easily imagine Rahul Singh has no interest in seeing “Sold out” items, given that he wants the stuff in next six days.

He would love it, if there was an feature to see only “In Stock” items.

Now, here is something seemingly small that will literally drive Rahul to the road looking for furniture in the “offline world”. Notice the text in red.

“Special discount for delayed delivery”. Oh no! he thinks… “thanks for the offer, but I cannot expect my newly wed wife to sleep on the floor for a few days.”

Now, to appeal to someone like Rahul (in his present situationthe below option by furniture.com is nearly perfect

Furniture com

As you can see in the above screen shot, furniture.com lets you browse “collections” by room type (for example you can browse a full collection of furniture for bedrooms). You can see items by by fastest delivery first. Oh how much Rahul would love such an option now. It would be an AHA! moment for him

Here is a collection in detail from furniture.com

For Rahul, landing a collection to his and his wife’s liking and with a discount on top of that is a real ‘aha’ moment. He would love the experience.

Persona 2 – Smriti Joshi

Smriti Joshi Druh ScoffImage by Druh Scoff

Smriti is a 55 year old college professor. She teaches Hindi literature in Mumbai university. She stays with her husband and mother in law in a 2 bedroom flat in Colaba, Mumbai. Her kids are studying in college and they stay in a hostel.  She is an easy going person by nature, and has lots of friends.

Smriti is an avid reader and has a big collection of books. She has been considering purchasing a book rack to neatly stack her collection. Considering space is rather limited, she is keen on a design that fits well. Size, looks and durability are he main criterion. She has been looking at a few furniture shops and has not liked any design so far and has almost forgotten about the idea when someone mentioned urbanladder.com to her.

What does Smriti immediately like on urbanladder.com? the following feature immediately helps in solving the size issue:

Urbanladder - a great feature that is hidden from the users
Urbanladder – a great feature that is hidden from the users

But she found this feature by chance! for some reason, this feature is hidden as one of the images in the image slide show. There should be a visible link to this feature, right above the fold.

She has not ordered a lot of stuff online in the past so another thing she finds reassuring is the free delivery, installation and cash of delivery option mentioned below the buy this now button

urbanladder - 360 degree view is another great feature that is hidden
urbanladder – 360 degree view is another great feature that is hidden

Another feature that Mrs Joshi likes is the 360 degree view

This again is hidden from the view like the size example above.

She does not mind seeing sold out items (unlike Rahul) and would definitely like to wait for something she likes to become available rather than compromise on her choice

urbanladder - sold out shelf
urbanladder – sold out shelf

Being a social person, she is looking for some testimonials from other people to get more confidence on urbanladder.com. Something like the following would be something she immediately appreciates:

schwans - even one social proof in context makes a big difference
schwans – even one social proof in context makes a big difference

schwans - even one social proof in context makes a big difference

Even one social proof in context is incredibly powerful for Smriti

Urban ladder does have social proof.. however it is not yet specific to a product (hope they will add it soon) and it needs to be above the fold!

Urbanladder.com would need at least 2 more personas to design and validate their website and content

Get your personas right – follow this method

In the above examples, I have demonstrated two possible personas of online furniture buyers. Here is the simple technique for developing personas:

Step 1: Identify circumstances (mode) in which people can buy from you (modes of buying): For example for furniture we identified that new furniture is frequently bought on moving to a new house or to a new location. It is also bought to replace old stuff and so on.

Similarly if we were selling Guitars online, we could identify that a new Guitar may be bought by a complete novice or by someone who is a master looking for a masterpeice.

This sort of stuff can be thought for selling anything – from medicines to Golf gear

Step 2:Identify four factors for each mode: Urgency of the purchase, how risky the purchase is for the buyer (financially or emotionally), does he or she need to consult others in the purchase and the amount of information required to complete the purchase.

Thus in the above furniture examples, it is quite risky (convenience wise and financially) and urgent to buy furniture for whole house by a certain date when you have moved to a new city without any furniture. The impact of delivery slippage is very high. Contrast this with a book shelf purchase, which is relatively a low risk and far less urgent item

Step 3: THEN think of personalities behind these purchases. Like an emotional and impulsive person versus logical and calm person. Both will have very different buying styles.

Step 4: Weave together personalities and buying modes to get your persoans. Such that you have a vivid description of a person AND a buying situation

NOW, think what CONTENT and features are needed for each of the above personalities and situations. Look at your website through their lenses. Leave empty chairs with these persons names in your design meetings (crazy, but impactful enough to try). Come out of your own shell

THIS is the foundation of designing a great web experience and a great business

Powerful, isn’t it?

Summing it up

The issue with personas has been use of stereotypes like young, old, rich, not so rich, big city/ small town (pfuu). You can see from the above that this is not the right way of doing personas.

Personas, when done right are incredibly powerful. They help you break the trap of your own thinking and step into customers shoes. Content or design without personas is direction less and you may end up building stuff for yourself or for your HIPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) as Avinash Kaushik puts it.

So, begin by identifying the personas for your business. If you are a running business and do not have personas identified, do so now. Remember to speak with your customer service staff while doing this exercise, they are the ones who speak regularly with your customers.

Introducing – Growth Hacking Training Series [Part 1: Understanding SEO]

All us know why SEO is important, but do you know that 90% of people are still doing their SEO wrong?

In the first part of growth hacking training series, we’ll look at how to do SEO in an effective manner, what you should never do and we’ll also talk about link building. We also look at how to do website and content optimization. What’s the ideal content length of an article (did you know that very large majority of pages which took the first 10 spots in Google SERP were all more than 2000 words!).

What are the bad link building practices? Pro tools? Check out the first episode on growth hacking – understanding SEO (and recommended SEO tools).

The Ecommerce to Marketplace Pivot : What More Should Flipkart et al Do

All the e-commerce stores are now marketplaces. Snapdeal, Yebhi, Flipkart have all pivoted over the last year.

Which means they don’t own inventory, don’t store it, and don’t deliver it themselves, at least not like they used to when they were direct sellers themselves. And that means less consistent user experiences in terms of product quality, deliveries and returns.

The effect is already very visible on social media and online fora where one’s started hearing of many more less than happy voices about even those such as Flipkart, which had an unblemished history of perfect service and delivery. Perhaps Flipkart has suffered the most in terms of image owing to the very high standards it set in its inventory model avatar and the very high expectations that have come to be part of the consumer’s mental image of the brand.

To be fair, most of these marketplaces make a fairly serious effort to offer, for any product, multiple seller options to the user, with ratings and scores, stock availability and estimated dispatch and delivery times. However, one hears of cancelled orders, changed prices and delivery delays every now and then, and even the odd instance of the wrong – or in extreme cases, no – product delivered inside the packaging!

Almost inevitably, the marketplace bears the brunt of the consumer’s ire. After all, it is their brand and often inducement that draws a buyer in and ensures a purchase happens.

So given this new reality of the marketplace, what else can the e-commerce players do so that they both continue to be seen as preferred destinations, yet do not bear the complete burden of their vendors’ actions?

Be a Mall. Not a Store

Malls are marketplaces!

Be a better version of this!
Be a better version of this!

They manage infrastructure and common services, manage the variety of choices for consumers at the level of the brands and types of stores, attract and track footfalls, enable vouchers and coupons, even participate in revenue in some cases. But the retailers run their own show, manage their own inventory, customer experience, display, etc.

An online marketplace is essentially the same.

They need to focus on getting folks on to the site, ensure a wide variety of attractive  charge real estate and providing common services and infrastructure that help selling. Essentially – be a very valuable pipe and support system to sellers. Provide analytics.

Drive shopping festivals. But let the selling be led and driven by the retailers – very visibly. Right now the landing pages make the brand seem responsible for the selection and display of the products without any reference to the actual “store”. This obviously buttresses the image that the site/brand is responsible, and not just a conduit.

There might be more than one design solution that fixes it – and it’ll surely help set the expectation right upfront.

Offer Convenience. Variety. Safeguards. Transparency. Conflict Resolution. Not Price

As part of the baggage from their earlier avatars, and owing to the unsustainable price wars as e-commerce sites proliferated, “deals” have become the primary selling point and customer acquisition mechanism online.

Online shopping e commerce saleBut marketplaces need to worry about more than that! They’re not segmented enough – how site-1 differs from site-2 in terms of it’s positioning is not very clear. In the real world, some marketplaces are about value, some about a wide variety, yet others about premium offerings and some offer a good relaxed time with shopping as a by-product. Indeed, window shopping is a major activity, and a very key part of a shopper’s pre-purchase behaviour. By and large, these nuances do not exist in the online world.

Online marketplaces can build their brands around convenience – pick a particular set of user needs, personalize experiences and offer browsability options that let the user peek into various stores and options. Provide tools to stores to keep the consumer engaged over visits. Ensure transparency of vendor quality, reliability and reputation both for the products as well as for logistics very visibly and obviously. And manage disputes and conflicts as those arise. Collect feedback about various stores in terms of product quality and shopping experiences, and act on the feedback very visibly.

These might help consumers see the marketplace as a curator and enabler of good stores and services rather than a peddler of goods themselves.

Messaging. Marketing. Be Seen To Be On the Consumers’ Side!!

Snapdeal and Flipkart have been spending a fair bit of cash on advertising. Most of the messaging do nothing to change the belief in consumers that these sites sell directly to users rather than manage a bunch of sellers.

A lot more clear messaging about the marketplaceness of the sites will go a long way in helping dispel this notion. And if you’re essentially the infrastructure guys that help users pick a good product from the vendor who can provide the most reliable buying experience and also pick as an appropriate, dependable logistics option, you’re already seen to be batting for the consumer.

It’s not an easy change to alter one’s design and operational DNA, and even more challenging to ensure consistent quality and reliability from a large, assorted set of vendors. But over time, these e-commerce players will hopefully learn to improve not only theirs, but vendor-end processes much better and fix a lot of these growth pains.

What they right away do need is to understand very clearly is their role as a marketplace.

Scott Cook’s Recipe For Lean Experiments : The Intuit Experience

We’ve all heard about the Lean approach to creating a startup, launching a product and solving customer pain points. But it is seriously something else to think  in terms of a large company doing it, and not just a small experiment in a quiet corner but as a company culture across its core and non-core functions!

Scott Cook, Intuit Founder
Scott Cook, Intuit Founder

Last evening, Scott Cook of Intuit conducted a workshop where a small select audience interactively explored much deeper the nuances of the lean experimentation mindset.

So what does it do for organizations (and of course, for startups)?

Be Right more often. Quicker.

Intuit soon realized that market research, focus groups and other theoretical methods of arriving at product and business decisions could be as wrong as they could be right.

And often times, in such a case it is just the highest paid opinion that wins.

Obviously, experimenting it with real users in real life situations got the most relevant responses and led to the most successful products. In one particular lab-test, ALL users rejected an option that almost 60% users eventually picked in a real life situation!

Sometimes, a great outcome of experiment driven decision is the unimagined, unexpected inputs from the market as expressed through these tests. And these often become visible when the original hypothesis fails!

Cheaper.

Lean experiments have to be lean. 2 week cycles, 404 pages, fake screens on live apps that merely exist to gauge user preferences in the real world – these are some innovations that help achieve this. There are many instances of product teams first manually ‘faking it’ behind the interface of an automated service – Intuit tried this too to test the response to their Fasal product for farmers in India.

Done right, this sure beats expensive and ineffective market research, and even more expensive product development that may need to be thrown away.

Harnesses Entrepreneurial Energy And Risk Taking

The biggest risk for many product teams and companies is that everyone just plays too safe. The decisions are left to a few, and most just continue to hide in the cracks. You can’t be wrong if you’re not trying anything.

The experimentation approach to product and business development and decision making create space for entrepreneurial minded folks to stick their necks out and try out new ideas, products, features that could open up a big market for the company.

And it’s a great hiring strategy if you’re keen on getting and retaining the best folks.

The Role of Leaders

The biggest impact is on decision making. It’s a huge cultural shift for the leaders to let go of decision making (‘except in emergencies’ – as Scott emphasized multiple times)  – indeed most have grown up on the ‘fact’ that leadership is primarily about being decisive!

But in truth, with this approach leaders can actually breathe easy that they are not required to be superhuman and perfect all the time! They instead need to play the role of a coach, enabler and help lay out and manage the policies and culture that encourage cheap, quick, relevant experiments and ensure that these are data driven.

Of course, this big a change is also scary for some leaders and managers to abandon their traditional role and play in a more equal field. Toyota ensures that the ideas from leaders are subject to the same kind of experimentation and validation that ideas from anyone else in the company would need to go through. Intuit is built around the same philosophy.

Even tougher is to take away the downsides, and fear of failure from the whole team. This is very deeply ingrained in a culture that lives for the appraisal cycle, and where the admission or being wrong is something to fight back against, and the possibility of doing so to be avoided. Visibly ensuring that the focus is on learning from mistakes, and indeed encouraging those who made them and learned to experiment more, can help mitigate this mindset to a great extent.

Intuit actually goes as far as to incentivize a few top experimenters – and part of the incentive is to take a few weeks off their day job to pursue something!

There were other insights Scott touched upon that are worth considering.

Core competence is limiting

As long as you are attacking real pain points with solutions you’re equipped to create, and where you have durable differentiators, restricting yourself through the notion of a core competence can limit what you can do for the market.

Be restricted only by the needs, and the opportunity to exploit or extend your strengths, not artificial constructs of any kind.

Ensure Learning

Experimentation without measurement against a clear, precise hypothesis is merely a random shot in the dark. If you succeed, you won’t know why, and worse, if you fail, you’ll have learned nothing for the future and definitely not recognize surprises that the market might be suggesting to you.

Experimenting doesn’t eliminate Judgement

Even as the team and company move towards experimenting more freely, judgement still plays a role, and leaders need to figure out even the unpopular ideas that might need their support and protection. There’s the determination of how much cost still keeps the experiment “cheap” vis-a-vis it’s impact on the market and the top/bottomlines. And most importantly, the decision around when to call it quits.

It’s an art that gets better as it’s practiced, not something that can be bound in rule books right from the word go.

We hope to see many more organizations and teams embrace this as a philosophy and approach to creating products and solutions. Workplace cultures, business outcomes and positive leadership can all benefit from this very open minded culture of experimentation.

Try it out!

Why Samsung still isn’t a Leader. Lessons for us all.

By Kailas Shastry

Here’s the thing about being a leader – you have to think like one, feel like one – only then can you act like one and eventually become one.

Leadership is more than a marketshare game
Leadership is more than a marketshare game

Samsung has become the world’s largest smartphone maker, measured by number of devices sold, as Apple’s market share dipped to a three year low. This should be good news for Samsung. But it isn’t yet time for the company to celebrate (for one, archrival Apple’s last two launches have been relatively lacklustre and that’s a significant reason for the market share as it stands, but this is another article for another day). Is this leadership a result of what the company does or is it despite what it does?

The problem with the Korean company is that it continues to think like the underdog and therefore will remain one, current market share notwithstanding, unless the company begins to feel differently about itself.

Leaders usually stick to a plan

When a leader does something big, people expect him / her to follow through. Now take the case of Samsung’s most recent flagship, the Note 3, priced as atrociously as it was, saw a straight 10%+  price cut within three weeks of launch [think: when was the last time Apple cut the price of its flagship model in any category, soon after launch?]. When a market leader launches a flagship, everything around it should mean something, it should exude confidence, give its customers an impression that it has figured the marketplace out… you get the drift. When the launch price is just a number that isn’t to be taken seriously (because invariably it’ll drop soon), the company is not much different from a trinket seller throwing random numbers at tourists as price for his wares. The Note 3’s isn’t an exception – Samsung’s done this with nearly all of its flagship launches in the recent past. A price cut soon after launch is indicative of poor response (which in turn is indicative of poor market research) or a case of milking the early adopters before rationalizing the price. Both cases are very un-leader-like.

The point here isn’t just about price revisions, but about a lack of sure footedness.

Leaders need to lead in something

Leaders, by definition cannot always copy or be me-toos, for, if they were, then they would be followers. Selling greater number of mobile phones may qualify the company as leader in analysts’ books, but to customers, leadership is more than number of units sold. One big problem for Samsung is Apple and that’s not because of the latter’s products. It is because Samsung is obsessed with Apple and doesn’t seem to be able to operate on its own. Think high school, and think wanna be macho boy taking on the alpha male by imitating him, time and again, no matter how pointless the original act is. That’s the Samsung story.

Apple does a gadget obscenity with a gold version, and guess what Samsung does? Couldn’t they have at least called the damned thing platinum or plutonium? No, they had to copy the overused moniker too.

Leaders should stand for something

A leader has to have their thing. Apple – great design (UI and exterior), feel good factor, features that just work. Nokia – rugged build, longevity, function over form, uncompromised basics (call and text). Blackberry – sheer brilliance of true push mail and at its time, ideal business device complete with encryption and what not.

What is Samsung’s special thing? Anybody find anything? When you play me-too and copy-cat, you have no identity and little following.

Leaders are leaders because there are followers

A leader invariably has to have a following – a fan base. When Apple launches something, many people buy it because it is an Apple. When Nokia (re)launched Lumias, fans bought them because they were Nokias, even though the platform was unproven. But nobody buys a Samsung because it is a Samsung, do they? They buy it because of Android and because it is cheaper. To repeat and restate, not because of brand association. Stretch that logic and you’ll see why the Indian rebadgers/resellers – Micromax, Lava, Karbonn – are so successful.

So, dear Samsung, you could give the following a try:

Understand that the devil is in the details. For instance, figure out why 4 inches on the iPhone works perfectly fine for most tasks and better it (not copy) instead of playing the big screen game – at some point, a phone becomes a tablet (you get that, don’t you, Samsung?). If it means more painstaking UI work and field testing, so be it. Similarly, do something about battery backup, even if it means hundreds of code tweaks to the kernel. Better the camera, not megapixel wise, but fundamentally – if Nokia can do that (with the 808 or the 1020), so can you, Samsung. Make your premium devices nicer to hold – if it means more man hours with your industrial designer, so be it (Apple not being sorry about plastic does not make it ok).

Take a cue from Apple’s customer service – offer on-spot replacement for premium devices. As for the rest, give a one business day assured service guarantee. Not the usual ‘sir, we will call you when it is ready’ nonsense. Do something to make people trust you and pay a premium for your products (relative to the much higher VFM Indian brands).

If you want to be a leader, Samsung, you and your consulting firms have a task cut out. As far as the copying game goes, clearly you aren’t the only one who can do it. The Indian rebadgers are already eating into your pie – it only takes some softening of their rough edges, and you may just end up on their plate. Think that won’t happen to you? At some point, RIM and HTC too thought they were infallible and you ate them for breakfast, didn’t you? Someone else may be thinking of you for lunch.

[About the AuthorKailas Shastry,  has been in the media & communications field for 8 years and is also a freelance photographer. Most recently he was Executive Editor at a consumer technology portal.]

Wondering If You Really Need a Pre-Sales Role in Your Product Startup? Answer These Questions

Pre-Sales is a very widely appreciated team in the IT/ITES Services sector for all the back end help/knowledge they build for winning large scale bids. The Business Analysts talk to the customer and capture the requirements. Both teams function in tandem and contribute significantly to win big deals. In Contrast, when you look at a product company (We are talking of B2B ) the BA/Pre-Sales is clubbed into the same team and not necessarily separate functions. Especially in early stage firms, when the product is new and you are building a process to sell, Pre-Sales stands to be the most important function to stabilize Product Management, Product Delivery, Training & Product Support with a role in all these functions and much more.Pre-Sales
Now coming to the most important role of Pre-Sales – To Support Sales, Here is a quick check on what your Pre-Sales need to know or the skill set they need to have:
  • Can you show and explain any and every feature in your product?
  • Can you explain to the customer in simple terminology how your product works?
  • Can you differentiate between must have requirements and good to have requirements of the customer?
  • Can you explain customer requirements to your product team ( if they are already not available) in the language they understand?
  • Can you listen to the customer requirement and then show how it can be fulfilled using your product?
  • Can you improvise on what the customer wants and show them how to do it in a better fashion using your product?
  • Can you help your sales team win a deal with your strong industry knowledge & product experience?
  • Do you know what goes in the backend to enable a customer?
  • Do you understand the architecture of your product and its limitations it has?
  • Can you estimate how much time is needed to deploy the product based on the requirements?
  • Last but the most important part, are you in line with the company vision on the product roadmap?
If most of your answers are Yes, then you have a very strong pre-sales person else the other way. Quite often, your team will be a mix of people who can cater to only part of these questions – that is when you have to segregate the team into Business Analysts and Pre-Sales ( proposal building,solution document etc).
Most often than not Pre-Sales needs to also get involved in Delivery so that you deliver exactly what is discussed at the time of sale, Also Training which is done mostly by Pre-Sales for a considerable time, Product Management –  so that the road map of your organization is not peddled with the requirements of customers, but at the same time you create a balance where customer / market requirement is given priority and is delivered in the product version releases. Product Support –  If pre-sales is involved in the above 3 functions of delivery,training and management – the number of queries to support will be considerably less and also customers will be more reasonable since they understand the product and also know its limitations.
But till your product becomes a hit, you will need a strong pre-sales who can manage customers, train them, support them (even if you have a support team, still the personal touch matters a lot in India) and also manage your internal product releases in sync with the market requirements.

Also, with a strong Pre-Sales in place, your delivery & customer support will face a lot less issues / complaints since there is a dedicated person who hand holds the customer from Sale to Go-Live and takes care of any minor changes,configurations etc needed.
As the company grows and you scale up, the following roles can be removed or diluted from Pre-Sales in the order of priority
  1. Support - Support definitely needs to be a dedicated team and multi-tasking is definitely not the way to go when you scale. More on this in our next blog.
  2. Delivery Management - A separate team is needed to manage the huge deliveries you will get when you scale up
  3. Product Management - A dedicated product manager is definitely needed by the time you are ready to scale to manage the large list of product requirements.
  4. Training - This can always be under Pre-Sales but if you can afford, definitely a dedicated team to build and maintain product documentation.
In short, your Pre-Sales will be the “Sun” of your Organizational System and all departments supported and backed by it after you scale up. But unlike the Sun, it will never be a role to be in lime light and will always remain the backbone system. Your customers will Love it and so does your Sales team.
[Guest article contributed by Prashanth Kancherlaof CloudAgent.in (a Kookoo product)]

Why Ecommerce Startups Need to Go Beyond Eric Ries’ Lean Model

At NextBigWhat, we receive a minimum of 8-10 startup submissions per day, out of which 40% is still ecommerce.

Ecommerce industry is currently going through its own settling period and while there are very few Series A rounds that are happening, the truth is that a lot of ecommerce startups are shutting down.

So why are entrepreneurs still willing to do an ecommerce startup?

Taking the leaf from my reply to this Quora question, here is why early stage entrepreneurs are still gung-ho about ecommerce:

  • Simple. It seems easy to start off (get an open source product and you are good to go).

  • It satisfies a nerd’s vision of the world : sit in the room (or office), but don’t go out and sell. All digital.

  • Building a transactional play is much more gratifying than building a product that brings revenue (hopefully) after 2 years.

Plus, Ecommerce early stage ventures fit beautifully into Lean Startup Model.

That is:

1. Build a MVP.

2. Have Actionable Metrics.

3. Do Customer Development Early in the Cycle.

4. (3) will validate the hypothesis behind (1) and (2).

And this is precisely why Lean startup model isn’t applicable to Ecommerce companies. Why? Because Magento install gives you a nice MVP implementation and a few 1-20 customers in the first 3 months of the launch gives you a sense that the hypothesis is validated (tick mark *customer development*).

Ecommerce (in India) currently is running in a different gear and is a lot about scalability. Being a niche player (which sells only one category) is a good fit to plug one’s product into an already existing marketplace, but you can’t build another destination site like Flipkart/Snapdeal/Infibeam by following the same model.

So if you are an ecommerce entrepreneur, please don’t get overwhelmed by 100 customers buying from you in 4 months of your existence. The game has changed. It’s no more a lean model for ecommerce in India.

Get ambitious or Go Home. The in-between status is already taken.

For reference, do watch Sachin Bansal talk about the NextBigWhat for Ecommerce Industry in India.

The Other Side of Being An Early Adopter

I am a super early adopter. Any given day, I’d rather use/share feedback to a startup product than the one coming from established companies.

earlyadopter

But then, not all is well being an early adopter especially if it involves family. Read on.

<start>
I went out for dinner with the family and the moment I entered this restaurant, a person walked up and introduced this latest app (let’s call him app evangelist). He mentioned that ordering from the app is cool (of course, we have profiled this app on NextBigWhat). I was super excited to see a startup coming out of the *office echo-chamber* and doing real life implementation.

And yeah, they had an app for Windows devices as well (I use Lumia 920), which is fairly uncommon. I installed the app, registered and started ordering. The app was extremely slow and ordering 4-5 dishes took almost 25 minutes time. By this time, my family was losing the patience and they wanted to skip my appy behavior and wanted to order directly from the waiter.

Somehow I managed to finish the order and the moment I was about to click on ‘Order’ button, the app evangelist told me ‘Did I tell you that if you order for more than Rs. 1,500, your dessert will be free’. My order was for Rs. 1,480 and the impatient look on my family just made me skip that offer.

The order, surprisingly took more than an hour to deliver. We were surprised that those who ordered after us got the delivery much before us. I convinced myself that ‘maybe, we ordered complex dishes’.

Well, after an hour – all we get to see is a set of dish which we didn’t even order!. By now, we were totally frustrated.

We ate what’er was served and left the place. After a while, I thought I might check the bill (normally I don’t) and realized that we were charged for extra items which we didn’t even order.
</end>

I called up the manager, he apologized and said ‘Sir, All this happened because you were using the app. Please don’t use the app from next time onwards’.

As per the manager, order from the app was breaking the restaurant workflow (it’s easy for the waiter to tell the dish name/details/numbers to chefs). I also noticed that the restaurant waiters were a bit hostile towards this app evangelist as the ordering time was almost being quadrupled (plus if the app is super successful, restaurant might let go of the waiters).

Note to the app startup: Understand the food chain. Maybe, you don’t need not disrupt the workflow, but focus on bringing in efficiency. Maybe, in-restaurant ordering via tabs will pick up, but ensure that the backend is as robust as the frontend.

As far as I am concerned, can I dare to be an early adopter when with family? Well, I don’t know!

Recommended DiscussionTrusting Startups as Vendors [Few Bad Case Studies]

Of Startups And Creating A Non-Scalable System : Why It’s Worth it

Paul Graham recently wrote an essay encouraging startups do things that don’t scale. His essay has got me thinking about one recent startup on how they approached the problem they were looking to solve.

The Problem: Rental classifieds on the web are only half useful as you still have to visit the location before you can make a decision. There are enough data fields for the user to add property info and pics but users don’t bother filling them. The data is either entered by an owner who does this once in couple of years, so its difficult to train him on best practices or by agents who are not always looking to rent out a particular property but are only interested in getting a contact made with the potential clients. As a result, the potential tenant is left with a half useful site that has most data fields empty and most filter options become meaningless.

Enter Housing.co.in – The great UX of this site would have fallen flat for just one reason – listings without pictures. The site would have been only as useful as incumbent players had they not had that the property pics. They have taken the pain of making sure every listing has pictures. From what I’ve learned, this wasn’t easy for Housing. They have about 60 employees in Bangalore only for engaging with brokers so that the data quality doesn’t suffer. I am sure that number is similar for other cities. It might look inefficient but hey, that’s their hare in the hat.

We have seen this happen in the past. When Flipkart thought of growing eCommerce faster, it set out to setup its own logistics system. At Freecharge we realized that retailers are yet to adapt to electronic coupons. Instead of hoping for them to change, we setup a whole system of distributing paper printed coupons. Even Google had people checking the quality of pages manually in the initial days.

Amazon had issues with clustering offers from different sellers under one product. The tool they made to solve that problem, Mechanical Turk, is now a product by itself. These steps are expensive and face a lot resistance from investors but with time, these become your biggest differentiator.

I am not sure what VCs mean when they say ‘it’s not scalable’. I don’t even know if that is a criticism or a compliment. What I do know is that it’s completely worth the pain and it’s not replicable over night.

[Guest article by Naman Sarawagi, Founder and CEO of FindYogi (has earlier worked with Zipdial and Freecharge).

Naman adds : At FindYogi, we are solving a small part of our problem in a manner that most people don’t approve of. We are collecting product data sheets manually. When we started, we believed that we could easily scrape content from ecommerce companies or sites like GSMArena but we were wrong. We still see that a lot of competitors and ecommerce companies who adopted to such practices have wrong/incomplete data. They will also change soon.]

Of Yatra, ICICI and Dependency on Internet Services [Dear Product Startups: You are in ‘Services’ Business]

 

Internet Services : Let it Flow!
Internet Services : Let it Flow!

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I just noticed that BESCOM (Bangalore Electricity Supply Co. Ltd) has cut off  electricity connection of my house

Guessing that it was a mistake, I reached out to BESCOM to understand the issue, as I was 100% sure that the bill has been paid.

And not just mine, but almost 50% of flats in the apartment had similar issue. Interestingly, we all had a common root cause : ICICI.

That is, we all had automated the bill payment using ICICI bank and due to some reasons, the service was facing disruption for the last 2 months (as confirmed by BESCOM guy) and none of us even noticed.

Note to Internet Services

Internet services should work like a utility service  – switch ON and it’s there. Switch OFF and it’s gone (ofcourse, things are different in India :) ). When a breakdown happens, inform the user. Because over a period of time, they will get totally dependent on your service and will assume that ‘it’s gonna work’.

And it’s good for the service – in fact, this dependency gets people to use more of utility services and creates value for the Internet service businesses.

Respect that dependency. Enjoy that dependency.

There is nothing like a customer totally dependent on you to perform certain activities. It’s the most nirvana state for any business.

But..

If ICICI was facing a major issue with BESCOM integration, it’s their job to notify the end user. Post this issue, I logged into the service (after 3 months) to check out the integration and did notice that there was an issue (ICCI was carrying the alert on the homepage for logged users).

But here is a problem – ICICI expects me to visit the site to view the notification on their site and uses no other outbound channel (like Email/SMS) to inform the customer. That’s a #fail because a banking service’ most important metrics (ideally) should be the usage and moolahs being transacted (and not returning visitors/pageviews). And if users have bestowed ICICI with the responsibility, they better live up to the same (FYI: now, I removed all the connected billers from ICICI).

It’s the same issue with Yatra – imagine if you had booked tickets on the site and traveling on the same day when they forgot to renew the domain. Say at the last minute, you wanted to take a printout of the ticket (which I always do using the PNR number) and all you get to see is a parked domain page! Would you trust the service again?

——

Note to Product Startups : You are a Service Company

You are building a product, but what you are selling is service. A service comes with SLA and predictability level.

Repeat this 100 times ! Read : So what exactly is a product?

“Okay, let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we DON”T CRASH EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other dominos go, don’t you get that?” [Mark Zuckerberg, ‘The Social Network’]

Put BIG POSTERS in your office that you are actually a service company. You are serving a customer. This is something which geeky minds don’t relate to, especially those caught up in the superior world of “hey! we are a product company”.

Remember that one bad experience is what it takes to put an end to the relationship.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” C.G. Jung

What are your thoughts?

[Image credit: shutterstock.]

The Product Lesson Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Medium? Soul Matters

Twitter cofounders,  Evan Williams and Biz Stone’s new gig, Medium is a success.

Why do I say so?

Because of the sheer amount of great content* that’s being found on the site.medium

After Wikipedia and Quora, if there is a platform that is contributing to the amazing reads (often lost in the world of pageviews), Medium surely is right at the top of that list.

I am not talking about pageviews, but the number of amazing reads that the site has managed in such a short span of time.

Medium : What is it?

For those who just came back from the cave, Medium is a publishing platform for sharing content that, I’d say, defines the ‘slow web’ movement.

It’s designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world. It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say. [Medium’s official About page]

TL;DR:  great, insightful pieces that make for a good read.

Lessons for Entrepreneurs

So why is Medium slowly becoming a platform for doers/thinkers to share content, which they could have otherwise shared on their personal blog or Quora’s blogging platform instead? Medium surely doesn’t offer any mega distribution! Importantly, how did Medium pull this off, when other media houses were even ready to pay for such content?

Is it a function of product attribute? For example, the neatly thought WYSIWYG editor tool?

medium_wysiwyg_editor

“ I see the page I’m going to publish, which looks just like the version you’re reading. In fact, it is the version you’re reading. There’s no layer of abstraction. This is a simple (and old) concept, but I haven’t seen it in any other publishing tool—unless you count Google Docs and the like, where you’re basically always in editing mode (versus always in viewing mode). And it makes a big difference. Having to go back and forth between your creation tool and your creation is like sculpting by talking.” [Ev Williams]

Or, maybe it’s a function of Medium’s great typography?

Of course, you have to give it to the GTM (Go-to Market) strategy of Medium – they produced great content and set the standards for others, plus strictly controlled rollout with limited access.

And every week, the bar keeps moving. Upwards.

So.. Why Medium?

We often tend to respect products that surprise us .. consistently.

Look around and you will notice that some of the most awesome products that you treasure are the ones who have delivered consistently. And more so, consistency in the world of ‘alpha/beta/MVP’ release cycle is super amazing!!

“Sometimes, we’re so focused on being consistent that we also lower the bar on amazing. After all, the thinking goes, if we can’t be amazing all the time, better to reset the expectation to merely good. Which robs us of the ability to (sometimes) be amazing.

But amazing is what spreads.” [Seth Godin]

Like Quora, Medium consistently manages to bubble up amazing content, ensuring that the brand attributes remain intact.

Product attributes are derived from that one thing that drives product definition (and pretty much everything surrounding it) – The Soul.

What is a product’s soul?

Definition #1 : The non-negotiable part of your product (Read Entrepreneurs : Define What’s Non-Negotiable. Define a Soul.).

Definition #2 : That moment when you mask the logo/brand all the products in front of your customers (or users) and they are still able to identify your brand (among the 100 clones).

The definition #2 is derived from definition #1, but if you think deep enough – you will note that it’s much more than what meets the eye.

SOUL is?

It’s the founder’s vision (which is often not documented). The vision that doesn’t talks of $$s, but what the product will stand for irrespective of whether it’s a success or failure.

It’s the team’s boundary limits which is often not documented, but is known to each team members (i.e. when to stop and not mess with the experience).

Note that Medium doesn’t have a search box! A content site that doesn’t have a search box? How cool is that?

Well, you read what you see. Makes editorial team’s job super tough – but is it worth it? Yes, if you believe in slow web!

Soul is much more than what shows up on the surface.

It’s the ability to say NO when everybody around you is saying YES and milking the immediate benefits of the easier path.

It’s that thing which the product will always be known for. Attributes that you will be identified with.

When you write on Medium, chances are that you are thinking positive, thinking awesome. You don’t want to do a cheap job of marketing your gig, but you somehow want to spread something amazing.

That’s what great products are all about! The ability to influence user behavior by the sheer virtue of a great soul.

That’s what Medium teaches us about a product – i.e. Have a soul. A great soul will show up in all aspects of the product.

*Some of my fav Medium pieces:

Formula for Entrepreneurial Success

Raising Entrepreneurs

Creative People Say No

The Zen of Usability Testing

McDonald’s Theory