According to Hindu religion, a soul takes an year to depart the world. It is said that it is not an easy journey, so we perform a lot of rituals to help the soul transition to another world, to say “good bye” and to bid “farewell”. But I think such rituals are more for the living than for the dead. Because it slowly prepares you for the rest of your life.
This day, an year back, changed my life for ever.
When a storm hits, boat take a couple of bruises, but if the sailor is willing he can steer through the storm and make it to the shore. And the sailor would’ve learnt the lessons worth a thousand sail in just a few hours and the boat would’ve known its true strengths.
My story is quite similar.
It came at a time when I was finishing my studies. With job secured and grades taken care of, I was celebrating graduation 3 months in advance. I was having a blast – playing, reading, travelling, cycling and celebrating. Nothing could’ve shaken the grin off my face except a call from my mother when she said “your brother is no more.” I didn’t believe her. Asked her 3/4 times. I wanted to be sure. So I called my dad. Until my dad told me to book tickets, I didn’t truly believe that Vishnu was dead. Even while I was travelling I wished it wasn’t true while mentally preparing for what waited at my house.
What came after this dreadful call was as series of conflicts in my mind and disapproval of the world. I didn’t care about graduating any more. I couldn’t care about how my parents felt. I hated the world. But thanks to friends I got to travel, play and dine and eventually get back to my own senses.
Fast-forward 12 months, I am sad and yet I am at peace.
You cannot control what happens in your life but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
It took me a long time to understand death. Death has always been a mystery to me and I have done quite a bit of reading to understand it. But this one year, has been a revelation. My understanding of death has changed my way of looking at my life. Just like the first step I took by looking at my brother (I don’t remember, but mum says I always looked up to my brother for everything), my brother seem to guide me even in his death. Here are some of the things I learnt.
1. To recognise and appreciate love. I have always looked at a persons’s interests and intelligence more than the person him/herself. Last to judge, but never understood their emotions. I never new that waking me up everyday with a cup of tea is an expression of love or for that matter, ignoring the new year party, or even sending messages that read “how are you, how are your parents” every now and then. Recognising love in my daily life has made me appreciate the meaning of life even more. Suddenly a lot of things (even the annoying things) I took for granted was in fact an expression of love..a gift we must treasure.
2. To empathise with others. Till now, I often mistook empathy for pity. I used to feel bad for the beggars and the kids who stand all day at signals selling something. Now, I just give them money so that they can at least enjoy their next meal. Being able to understand others pain is impossible because pain isn’t transferable. We can only superimpose their pain on one of our experiences to even begin to understand them. And dealing with the loss of a dear one could just open up a bank of experiences. You just don’t deal with loss, you deal with frustration, love, pain, despair, guilt, disapproval, aversion and more. So, the emotional radar gets a little better. And when you recognise someone is mourning you just shut up and be with them and not to try to make sense of it. In the beginning, I tried too hard to get my parents to stop grieving and then one day I just shut up. And I found this had helped them (I can never be sure, but seems like it).
3. There is always some trace. Ancient Egyptian left their name on their grave so that when someone calls their name, they are believed to “wake up”. That way even after they die they could live. In a way all of us leave a trace in this world. Sometimes it’s E=mC2 or sometimes it’s simply the way you lived life. We pick up a lot from the ones we love such that a bit of them still live with us. This is probably the biggest lesson I have learned in the last one year. At the lowest points, I usually tend to scrutinise every inch of my room searching for something express my feelings (read: to throw at). As the time mature you run out of things to throw at, but have face the “feeling” on its face. That’s when I noticed the guitar, then my laptop, then my wardrobe, then my books. And I saw a pattern. Vishnu had encouraged me to buy guitar (basically to do what I want). Vishnu had showed me to keep desktop clean and wardrobe organised. Vishnu had planted the seed that grew in to my love for finance. In a way, I felt my brother can never not be a part of my life, then how can I ever miss him. So, when I have the biggest dilemmas I simply have to tune in to my life and dig a little deeper. All of us leave traces of ourselves especially on our dear ones and if we are keen enough to look, we can never be “apart”.
4. Celebrate the ordinary. The home you go to every day, friends you chat with, the extra rice dad served you, the dhal mom makes, the Monday morning blues, the weekend movies. Celebrate the ordinary cause however ordinary they might be as individual elements, the make one helluva extraordinary life and experience. My brother was an ordinary guy with an ordinary family but until he died I never knew that he made my life (and a few others) extraordinary. Sometimes it’s best to stop looking at the extravagant glory and simply look at the simplest things.
These are my humble experiences. I am just starting to discover the meaning of my experiences and I am sure there is a lot of exciting things to uncover. But right now, I am thankful for the support of my family and friends who helped me get through the toughest year of my life.
This is the Holy Bible of Advertising. You would think a book that was written in 1985 have no significance in this social world. But the fact is, every single person who works in an advertising industry start out with this book. Hence the name.
This book has loads to offer for anyone who is thinking of writing content.
I have summarized my learning from the book below. Or You can download it here.
What your competitors are advertising
Dove – for women with dry skin vs for men with dirty hands
Personality – name, packaging, style of advertising, nature of product,
Consistently project the same image
People buy the Image
Unless the advertising consist of big ideas, it will pass like ship in the night
Comes form unconscious – it has to be well informed else it will be irrellevant
“Humility in the presence of a good idea” Albert Lasker
Horribiliy difficult to recognize a good idea.
Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
Is it unique?
Does it fit the Strategy to perfection?
Could it be used for 30 years?
Make the product the hero
There are no dull products only dull writers.
Positively Good – You don’t have to convince your customers that your product is superior to competitors, but positively good.
What is good about your product – clearer, more honest , more informative job of saying it
Repeat your winners – repeat until it stops selling
You aren’t advertising to a standard army but to a moving parade (new prospect who fit in to the image you propose)
Run it at regular intervals – repeat till the research shows its worn out
Word of mouth
Campaigns enter culture
Tag line (just do it yaar), Darke aage jeet hai
Research & Analyze
Copy writer who knows his factors (the triggers which make people read advertisements) can reach many more readers than the one who doesn’t
Direct response – Advertisement contributing to sales (time,#buying)
Style vs what sells what is important
If doesn’t sell it isn’t creative
Advertising reflects more of society than influence them
Long time for women to advertise smoking (social influence)
More explicit sex on novels not in ads
Sense of humor
Curiosity for products
Intersting post & tv campaings
Power of analysis
Sense of reality
Helicopter quality (birds eye view)
Containing news – sure-fire. (announcement of a product, improvment, new version)
Donot put in in the background. Let it stand out and cry out loud.
Include brand name in the headline (80% wont know what product/company it is other wise)
Specifics (asthma..women..children) work more than generics
If you put it in quotes it increases recall by 28%
It’s the time of the year you shop for the next one year. Yes, Diwali is just around the corner!
With Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal leading the online scene, it’s raining festival offers all around!
(Side note: Look beyond these e-commerce giants you might find what you are looking for at a cheaper price!)
The background story
(Skip it if you already know)
If you call the e-commerce game in India as a battle between David and Goliath, Amazon would be the Goliath and Flipkart the David. They have been at each other for quite a long time. When Flipkart started Big Billion Sale in 2014, Amazon came up with Great Indian Festival. And every (not only, but especially) Diwali season, they have been eating off each other’s plate. It all started because, they wanted to get people online to shop. In 2015, Flipkart even tried to get people on mobile to shop. And this time around they wanted people to make big purchases online* by promoting home electronics.
Let’s get to Now.
Despite their efforts to get people to shop online,
Right now just 1% of Indian retail is online, compared with 10% in China. (Source: Live Mint).
So, yes there is a room for a lot more players and many such sales.
Fundamentally what e-commerce companies are trying to do is change customer behavior and all of us know it is not an easy thing to do (if you don’t try changing your own habits!). By offering deep discounts, the e-commerce sites are triggering(discounts) a behavior(buy online) but if the trigger is needed every time to observe the behavior are the efforts even worth? And this bring us to,
Elephant in the room
So, who is paying for it?
As a consumer you are not. The sellers may be, but not much. The reason I say not much is because, some sellers might markdown if the volumes are high. Then who has to?
E-Commerce Companies (Duh!)
Surely, they cannot do that with the Venture Capital. I mean how long before VCs realize that their cash is burning their own pockets?
So how do they do it?
Building the ecosystem
Throwing such a big discount party takes quite a lot of effort. As a consumer you might be aware of ads popping up everywhere. Surely, there are invisible anchors that support the great purchase tsunami . I mean, we are looking at a temporary surge(quite huge) in volumes of traffic, transactions, deliveries and customer support calls. So, each of these big giants have to ensure that they have the proper ecosystem to support such huge numbers.
Data centers – to support the traffic and the applications
Supply Chain – to make the products available on time to the customers at the lowest cost ie. have partnership with the sellers, warehousing and delivery
Payment System – to ensure trust and easy of transaction
People – to support systems for whole 24 hrs for 5 days
Both Flipkart and Amazon learned their lessons about having data centers (the website crash in 2014), partnership with sellers and false pricing. But more importantly, getting people online doesn’t mean getting people to their website. (Hence, the eating off each other’s plate analogy.) So the real story?
Let’s get to numbers.
(But not the ones you hear in the news.)
Over 70% Discounts. Over 1.5 million units sold. Rs. 1400 Cr in one day.
Such fleeting numbers indicate very less about the value of the business. I mean with the big marketing budget you might expect a big number such as these. But it really doesn’t talk about the impact. Impact in terms of new customers, revenue (or loss) per customer and many more.
In order to understand the value we need to try and look at it from different perspectives:
Consumer – I care about discounts and sub-consciously care about units sold (behaviorist calls it confirmation bias – everyone’s buying it).
E-commerce – Never seen such huge numbers in my life! I am doing awesome! (That’s what I will tell the media, but secretly how far are we down on our cash flow?)
Venture Capitalist – I worry about discounts but give me more data!!
That’s right. No VC would take any of these numbers to the face value because they do not give the whole picture.
Every campaign has a goal:
“What we want to do during Big Billion Days is provide incredible NPS (net promoter score) experience—one of the things we’re trying to do without increasing costs dramatically is how to keep the NPS incredibly high during the event. I primarily view this event not for revenue, but for customer experience,” said Ananth Narayanan, CEO of Myntra. (Source: Live Mint)
NPS is a very good measure. But that is not all. Especially if you were to look at campaigns at this scale. Here are a few metrics that will help us understand the impact of such sales better:
Customer Interest – # of searches
Customer Experience – NPS
Customer Engagement – Time taken for purchase decision
Customer Adoption – # of New Users, Average Value of Purchases (are they buying costlier products online)
I have been chasing a dream for what it seems ever.I am nowhere close enough to achieving it. Nevertheless I do not have any doubts about it and therefore I hustle every single day.
The thing about chasing the dream is you tend to live in the future most of the time. It is almost like you are trying to catch something that doesn’t exist.
You tend get lost in the time continuum and forget your way back.
The way to a familiar path (past) and what made you dream (gift).
The past here is your experience.
The gift here is everything that you took for granted.
For a moment set your dream aside, get to the ground and look around.
A place to live.
A bed to relax.
Water to drink.
Cloth to wear.
Food to eat.
People to love.
Internet to connect.
Mobile phone to entertain.
Do you know people who do not have all/most of these?
My parents didn’t have many of these when they were growing up.
I come from a typical middle class Indian family. My brother and I were fed at the expense of my parents.(I didn’t know until recently when my mother shared her stories) We were brought up with all of the above because my parents dreamed to raise their children who were well provided and didn’t want their children to suffer from hunger, thirst or cold.
The irony here is:
I am chasing a dream forgetting that I am a part of someone else’s (my parents).
And the only reason I have my dream is because I never ever had to dream about making both the ends meet. Or putting a roof over my head. I am well provided.
My point here being:
It is very easy to get lost in your dream world and forget the sources that provide a friendly atmosphere to enable such dreams to become a reality.
Spend a few moments today to be grateful for people and situation that let you dream.
Next post is on the about Flipkart, amazon and Snapdeal. I have been working on it for the past few days and I cannot wait for your thoughts. But it will have to wait till Thursday.
I write on every Monday and Thursday on topics such as life hacks, startups, strategies and books. Subscribe if these topics interests you. 🙂
People will ask me questions like “How do I get into the New York Times?” or “How do I get a meeting with that CEO?”
My reply? One is better than zero.
You need to be thinking about the steps it takes to actually get to the biggest places in the world. Before you get that meeting with Zuckerberg or Mark Cuban, or whoever you want to meet with, you need to have a lot of little meetings. You have to build up your cadence.
I’ve been on Conan. Ellen. The Today Show.
But I also did a thousand interviews that got one or nineteen or 137 views on YouTube. Max. Why did I do blog posts for so long that only had six readers? Why do I guest on shows with a smaller audience base than my own? Because I’m all about depth over width. I want to go deeper with my community. I want to give back to people who support me.
You see novel ideas everywhere and there are a plenty of inspiration for new ideas around us. You often make a mental note of several such ideas. But when you sit down to write ideas in detail, the ideas become a little murky. Coming up with an idea that your sparks your interest and passion is not easy. Therefore the first step to great product design is to generate a lot of ideas.
The course introduces you to different types of ideas. There is a good chance that you might have come across them while reading books or articles. For you reference, here are the types of ideas:
Simplify — Layout by Instagram — It simplifies combining photos.
Me too — Flipkart — It is an e-commerce platform just like Amazon but in a different market — India.
Remix — Slack — It combines chat, email, messaging in to one team communication tool.
Virtualize — Lyft — Cab services virtualized.
Mission Impossible — Project Loon by Google — Aims to provide connectivity to the world by sending baloons to remote areas.
To do: Idea Gym: Using the above types of ideas evaluate the existing ideas and then create some more. This makes up for a very good warming up for the next task.
Look at Problems
A good way to start thinking about ideas is to look at problems.
List the problems in your life/work
List out possible ideas to address the problems. (You are allowed to go crazy here)
The reason to start with the problems in your life is that you become an user to the product and it becomes a lot easier to understand the user needs. This is very well explained by Paul Graham from Y-Combinator.
I made it myself. In 1995 I started a company to put art galleries online. But galleries didn’t want to be online. It’s not how the art business works. So why did I spend 6 months working on this stupid idea? Because I didn’t pay attention to users. I invented a model of the world that didn’t correspond to reality, and worked from that. I didn’t notice my model was wrong until I tried to convince users to pay for what we’d built. Even then I took embarrassingly long to catch on. I was attached to my model of the world, and I’d spent a lot of time on the software. They had to want it!
The danger of an idea like this (pet social network) is that when you run it by your friends with pets, they don’t say “I would never use this.” They say “Yeah, maybe I could see using something like that.” Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don’t want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users.
When you have an idea for a startup, ask yourself: who wants this right now? Who wants this so much that they’ll use it even when it’s a crappy version one made by a two-person startup they’ve never heard of? If you can’t answer that, the idea is probably bad
When you find the right sort of problem, you should probably be able to describe it as obvious, at least to you. When we started Viaweb, all the online stores were built by hand, by web designers making individual HTML pages. It was obvious to us as programmers that these sites would have to be generated by software.
Another way to start looking at problems is to think about big problems in the world. Y-Combinator has put out a great list of big problems which is available here. Use them, if you are finding it hard to list out the problems you have.
Big ideas generally
Solve a Novel Problem — Google Search
Extend an current solution — Coursera, Udacity (similar to idea types)
Disrupt an Industry — Uber
Questioning the Problem-solution the Idea:
Do startups only solve problems? Facebook doesn’t solve any problem, neither does twitter, then how are they successful?
Facebook didn’t not start out solve a problem. As Nir Eyal puts it, Facebook started out as a Vitamin – nice to haves. But then again, can you do without with?
How often do you feel the need to update your Instagram? How long do you look at Facebooks news feed?
In Nir Eyal’s words,
Pleasure Seeking (vitamins) over time becomes Pain Relieving (pain killers) by creating habits.
So yes, you still can go ahead create the next social network for pets, but make sure you are able to form habit around the product that would prompt users to keep coming back to your network.
Step 2: Evaluate idea or Research
Once you have a couple of ideas on your list, you should start researching on:
Similar product ideas
You can use Similarweb, whois.net to find out similar ideas and details about existing players.
A good place to look for the market demand online is to use Google tools such as Google Trends, Keyword Planner, AdWords.
Step 3: Validate an idea.
You can talk to people, but the best way is to put out the minimum viable product (use deadlinks if need be) and let users interact with it.
Step 4: Value proposition
Value propositions serve to inform a customer what problem are being addressed and how the product is a solution to that problem.
It is quite common for value propositions to specifically define a pain point present in the customer’s life. Essentially, the Value propsition could look like this.
For (target customers)
Who are dissatisfied with (the current alternative)
Our product is a (new product)
That provides (key problem-solving capability)
Unlike (the product alternative)
Example provided in the course:
Grocery shopping is often a time consuming and frustrating chore. With the Super Duper Shopping App on your phone you can find a store near you, pick out your groceries, and have them ready for pickup or delivery to your door.
To know more about value proposition, you can refer this deck.
UX and UI
I am going to be honest here. This portion of the course was a lot about user experience design and of course it had a lot to do with “UX design”. This is probably the first time I am learning about the topic. So, I do not feel comfortable about putting out the notes. However, I will leave a list of topics that was covered so that you could just google them. (If you are a UX designer, you may skip this part)
Interaction Design – Basically talks about all the tasks that the user would perform on your application or product. Then you dive in and describe the sequence of tasks the user performs.
Design Flow – From interaction design you know what tasks that user is going to perform, so how do you make it easier? That is, begin with the sketch board and start creating connections between the tasks.
Material Design – About continuity of usage across devices and bringing the element of motion to provide a intuitive direction to the user (read: after effects).
Accessibility Design – How to make your product accessible to say users who are color blind or users who prefer high contrast screens? I would’ve never thought about this before. But given the google’s customer base, such issues become quite important to solve.
Apart from this it had pointers to:
Home Page Design
Payment Forms Design
Design sprint was developed and popularized by Google Ventures (now GV) to provide a quick idea to launch cycle. According to the website:
The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.
The sprint gives you a superpower: You can fast-forward into the future to see your finished product and customer reactions, before making any expensive commitments.
Essentially, Design Sprint Consist of 6 stages:
The best introduction to design sprint is available in the deck below. (Wait for the slideshare to load..)
I found the material in Google Ventures library very comprehensive. In a series of 6 posts, the author Jake Knapp, Design partner at GV, describes design sprint along with various methods for every stage. I highly recommend you to read them.
Metrics is one thing that is so easy to overlook. But in fact this is probably the single most important thing that has the potential to jet-pack or bomb a start up.
This reminds me of Silicon Valley episode in which Jared buys signups from India for their video compression application in order to keep the investors interest. Sure, the investors were delighted by the numbers (and then Richard of course breaks it to them that the sign ups were bought) but the real problem they faced was user retention. The app was simply too complicated for people to use it.
Therefore having the right metric is quite important. Otherwise you may end up solving unnecessary issues and wasting the little resources you have as a startup.
Said that, a metric to a start up is as unique as the idea itself. So you are at your liberty to choose the metric that reflects your success. Here are some of the metrics that you can use:
Net Promoters Score (NPS)
According to Wikipedia, NPS is a management tool that can be used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships. NPS can be as low as −100 (everybody is a detractor) or as high as +100 (everybody is a promoter). An NPS that is positive (i.e., higher than zero) is felt to be good, and an NPS of +50 is excellent.
The Net Promoter Score, itself, is calculated based on responses to a single question:How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague?The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale.
Every day, in every Apple retail store across the world, all the employees gather to talk about the net promoter scores (NPS) collected the day before. If someone gets a high NPS, the manager calls it out: “Hey everyone, Jenny got a great NPS yesterday.” The staff members clap. The manager then wants everyone to know how this was achieved: “Jenny, can you share with us what happened with that guy who came in with the iPad mini?” So, Jenny tells the story of the great service this guy received.
Because Apple’s employees are regaled every day with stories of great customer service, they all know what it looks like. They are not forced to remember so-called inspirational posters with corny customer service acronyms. Instead, they get praise from their managers—and they get the chance to tell their colleagues the details of what happened.
As the name suggests, it is a measure of number of customers who continue to use your product or service. This is also known as churnor attrition rate. A simple way of calculating retention rate is:
However, Abhay Vardhan takes a different route of not only calculating the retention rate, but measuring it as a function of habit by using cohort analysis i.e. study users as a group. He provides an interesting argument as to why this should be used. It’s a little statistical (read: graphs) and therefore I haven’t included it here. Hey, if you right brain itches to know more, head over to the blog.
This one comes in handy when you are particular about UX.
Kerry Rodden, UX Reasercher at Google explains the HEART Frame work as follows:
Happiness: measures of user attitudes, often collected via survey. For example: satisfaction, perceived ease of use, and net-promoter score.
Engagement: level of user involvement, typically measured via behavioral proxies such as frequency, intensity, or depth of interaction over some time period. Examples might include the number of visits per user per week or the number of photos uploaded per user per day.
Retention: the rate at which existing users are returning. For example: how many of the active users from a given time period are still present in some later time period? You may be more interested in failure to retain, commonly known as “churn.”
Task success: this includes traditional behavioral metrics of user experience, such as efficiency (e.g. time to complete a task), effectiveness (e.g. percent of tasks completed), and error rate. This category is most applicable to areas of your product that are very task-focused, such as search or an upload flow.
These can be applied at a number of levels — from the whole product to a specific feature. For example, in Gmail we might be interested in adoption of the product in general, but also in adoption of key features like labels or archiving.
Of course, there are many other metrics that you can use. It could be as simple as Click Through Rates, Average Daily User (ADU), Average Weekly User(AWU), Daily Active Users (DAU), Monthly Active Users (MAU), Installations, Sessions Per User, Session Duration, etc. Based on the type of product you build, choose the metric that measures your progress.
According to Josh Elman, the only metric that really matters is
How many people are really using the product?
He goes on to explain that,
You need a metric that specifically answers this. It can be “x people did 3 searches in the past week”. Or “y people visited my site 9 times in the past month”. Or “z people made at least one purchase in the last 90 days.” But whatever it is, it should be a signal that they are using their product in the way you expected and that they use it enough so that you believe they will come back to use it more and more.
Well, I cannot agree more! The ultimate test for a product is do customers use it?
Once you have chosen the metrics, you need to choose your goal because no matter what you think as a CEO, ’cause numbers don’t lie.
Hope you found this post useful. My intention to write this blog post was to share what I learnt with like-minded people. Help spread the word! Tweet about this post!
Many of the things I shared here are those that requires time to assimilate. So, I welcome you to come again and share your thoughts on the course, or the methods shared. I have already started thinking about a couple of products. I made a list of tools that could be used at various stages of process, hope that helps you get started with your dream startup!