Category Archives: Startups

The App World is Flat!

The App World is Flat

With Apps / Mobile growth, things are changing at a fast pace in the eCommerce / mCommerce space in India & around the world; for purpose of simplicity – calling it eCommerce without bothering about on which platform the transaction happens on.

The world is fast discovering web on smartphones, gets on-boarded to services like WhatsApp & Facebook, doing their first online transactions on Mobile Recharge services like FreeCharge & Paytm, and evolving to eCommerce, On-Demand Services & Travel. Unlike the previous predictions made in 2011/2012 – which were very company specific, this time the focus is largely around the trends in the Mobile App world.

 

The (App) World is Flat!

In old days of Internet Marketing, there were strategies to acquire users / customers by categories through multiple marketing channels – Adwords, SEO, Email, Display advertising, etc

The App World is flat. Be it large commerce startups like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Ola, Uber or the ones that were launched yesterday in any space, the common ground for everyone to get started today is exactly the same – getting the App Installed. This is disruptive in many ways – if someone has $1 Mn to spend on user acquisition – no matter at what stage / scale a startup is, the cost to get the app installed now remains the more or less similar for everyone.

As other core functions of eCommerce like Logistics, Merchants, Payments get more organised & commoditised; and User Acquisition starts with getting the app installed – a new ecommerce marketplace startup that launches today with $5 Mn Series A investment has much better chance to succeed than ever before or give existing large players good competition.

That puts everything in a interesting perspective – As cost is exactly the same, what are the differentiators? Its the core value proposition of the startup – the one communicated before user installs the app and one actually delivered. This change makes every startup focus a lot on building a great product and an awesome consumer experience than ever before!

 

Discovery, Marketing & Product Experiences:

In the ‘web’ world, Google allowed marketers to reach ‘users with intent’ through Adwords (or SEO) and so did Facebook to reach a certain demographic of users on its platform. This has changed fast. For high growth mobile startups that are scaling up in India – Google & Facebook’s share of marketing spends is shrinking when compared to others.

App Installs plays a level playing field in User Acquisition today; networks & affiliates are able to drive App Installs at better volumes with very competitive rates when compared to Google, Facebook or Twitter. Discounts, cashbacks & user driven growth form new means of acquiring users at a exponential rate. Share of wallet from marketing spends for Google & Facebook is going down.

Any consumer app like Flipkart / Snapdeal or Google / Facebook can now read multiple signals off user’s phones – apps, locations, contacts, texts messages, and so on and redefine how users are targeted for advertising. Flipkart’s plans to build online advertising business are well known; could be huge opportunity if kept independent.

Mobile App capabilities can also translate into building relevant product experiences for end users. For example – a Cleartrip trying optimise its Hotel Booking Offering for users when it reads a Flight Booking SMS from Airline website on user’s phone; Housing showing financing options for house from HDFC knowing that the user has the HDFC Bank App installed on phone; or Flipkart showcasing user products based on how quickly they can be delivered; of a Finance App recommending user investment options based on his Account Balance and so on. In one of my recent conversations this came up – today a user’s mobile phone location is his delivery address.

Till now, Ecommerce products today have just transformed from web to app, not essentially unlocked the value the mobile platform brings. If existing players don’t innovate, some new startups will. Focus on building awesome products.

 

App Discovery will evolve:

App Discovery and Install today act as the top of the funnel for every User Acquisition effort. Visiting a App Store to download any app is a redundant step; its not required if app is discovered through other channels. Expect Google Play to take the Install button (or trigger) outside the Google Play Store and let users install apps without explicitly visiting the Play Store in background. If that happens, expect APIs that will trigger app installs for publishers & advertisers making user acquisition & advertising dollars more efficient. Yes – that possibly kills ASO, App Discovery as we know of today on App Store, and Google’s Adwords product for Play Store.

Mobile Apps ecosystem is cursed with high uninstall rates. Users & Marketers would want to move towards the philosophy – you acquire user only once, does not matter through which channel – App Store or Browsers. Users would want the product / service on-demand on every platform – Smartphone or Desktop Browser whenever they want without hassles of user / account management. Expect browsers integrations & enhanced capabilities on Chrome with App Stores (Google Play to start with) that enables users to access the Apps installed on their smartphones on desktop or any other platforms without having to log-in separately.

App Stores like Google Play or Apple iTunes will also evolve from their current stage of ‘enabling discovery of mobile apps’ to ‘authentication of user credentials’. App Stores will retain user information – personal details, payment info (saved cards or wallet), delivery details and so on to transform into 1-click authentication platforms. Example – Users while shopping on Snapdeal, Flipkart or Amazon Mobile App can do 1-click checkout with App Store authentication that gives the Ecommerce service all user information w/t payment information data that is required for Ecommerce sites to fulfil the transaction.

This is something similar to what Facebook did earlier where Apps & Games on Facebook Platform received user information on Login-with-Facebook. Its still early days for Mobile App Stores, they will evolve in big way going forward.

Note: Google is already working in this direction to distribute Install action with App Invites (Beta)

Engagement v/s Instant Gratification:

As consumers get habituated to transactional & on-demand services – social products & social commerce products (like Wishberg – my previous startup) or any other would find it extremely difficult now to scale up or grow without providing the instant gratification experience.

Existing large companies in this space are picking up clues and started to move towards a transactional experience with Buy buttons. To ecommerce companies, working with large networks for such 1-click transaction experiences is a big win.

Expect focus of large social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) & discovery channels (Google, Pinterest, etc) to move from top of the funnel (i.e. product discovery or media spends) to bottom of the funnel (enabling transactions or margins). They are currently driving Mobile Installs or Traffic for their current advertisers, going forward may be looking at driving customers. Such products or services know more about users than anyone else.

Products like Facebook, Google will retain customer information (delivery, location & saved card details) and move towards enabling the one-touch buy experience.

 

Frequency is all that matters now!

This topic itself calls for a longish post (may be for some other time), for now the point to note is that Mobile App makes perfect use-case for a high frequency consumer behaviour. There are already many studies that have concluded that consumers prefer to have only few apps on their smartphones – ones that are frequently used.

Apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram etc which see extremely high engagement (and frequency) are less likely to be uninstalled by user while an app that is not used for few weeks (or even days) is very likely to get uninstalled. Ecommerce products would not be able to match levels of usage demonstrated by Social Apps.

Transactional apps that have a daily / weekly use case like Cabs, Food Delivery, Grocery, etc would see better usage compared to others. As that gets discovered, expect Ecommerce apps to expand into multiple categories / segments that could be completely diverse – Paytm moving to eCommerce or Travel, Ola moving to Food Delivery and so on to drive frequent usage.

This strategy works well with two big motives – increases app usage as users have more reasons to open & engage with the app and also adds up to their topline. But for vertical commerce players like Home Repairs, Home Furnishing, Jewellery, Footwear or others – surviving in App World with infrequent usage will be extremely challenging.

Today, Success or Failure of any startup is just an uninstall away!

 

OnDemand Services may disrupt eCommerce forever.

In past few months, many on-demand services have raised massive Series A rounds, the ones focussing on infrequent use-cases like Home Repairs, etc will start struggling with user retention and other ones who are driving high frequency use-cases like groceries, food delivery will start bleeding because of poor unit economics.

Ecommerce today as we know it has its own challenges – relying on third party logistics, depending on unverified sellers & products, deep discounting of products to drive volumes and their attempts to move from cash on delivery to cashless transactions.

On other hand, offline retailers in India are up in arms against online players but have little competition to offer. If OnDemand services like Groffers, Swiggy and others in this on-demand space started delivering users Ecommerce products partnering with your offline retail giants and local stores – eCommerce changes in this country forever.

No more waiting for even for 24-48 hours, the product that you want, from the trusted store of your choice, in the payment mode of your choice, in your hand – in next 30 minutes. The Amazon Prime or Flipkart First experience delivered to you, every time. This changes everything we have learned or known about ‘traditional ecommerce’.

Concluding Notes

Mobile app & growth story is just getting started. Its too early to declare winners because the App World is Flat!

14 Ways to Emotionally Engage users with your Product

Most conversations with entrepreneurs and product managers who want drive engagement and bring viral features to their products are answered as ‘We will gamify our product through features’. This post is about clearing some nuisance around the topic of gamification in products.

Gamification has nothing to do with building features. In fact, even Product Management has nothing to do with building features. It is not a rocket science, product managers usually figure out the ‘building features’ part of it with time and experience.

“People don’t buy products. They buy better versions of Themselves.”

So how do you ‘connect’ users with your product? Not through features, not through gamification, but by triggering certain emotions with your users.

Gamification = Getting People Emotionally Engaged with Product.

Below are some of the most powerful emotions people have along with few examples that will help you figure out how get users to emotionally engaged with your product / startup.
PS: The number of emotions could be more, I have referred to only 14 here.

1. Expression

Expression – People love to express themselves. Enable it.

Products that allow users to express themselves:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook
  4. Medium

Products that allow users to express themselves anonymously:

  1. Secret
  2. Whisper
  3. FML

Tip: ‘Expression’ is used as a core use-case in product.

2. Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment: People love getting acknowledged. With interactions & endorsements.

Help people getting acknowledged. They love it!

  1. LinkedIn – Recommendations & Endorsements are social acknowledgments which users love.
  2. Twitter – Retweets and Replies on tweets are great way to be acknowledged.
  3. Facebook – Likes & Comments are acknowledgments to status messages users shares
  4. Quora – Upvotes & Comments is acknowledgment to your answers.
  5. Tumblr – Love & Reposts are acknowledgments to you posts.

Tip: ‘Acknowledgments’ lead to ‘User Notifications’ which further lead to Engagement. Always build features that enable acknowledgments in products that use ‘expression’ as use-case in product.

3. Exclusivity

Exclusivity or Privilege: People love being privileged. Make it exclusive.

Make it exclusive. No one likes the feeling of being left out.

  1. Gmail – Gmail invites were exclusive to few users. People were ready to buy invites off Ebay.
  2. Quora – Only existing users can invite new users.
  3. Pinterest – Users need to apply for access. After few days they were granted it.
  4. Mailbox – Users were in queue to get access to the app.

Tip: ‘Exclusivity’ works best for initial referral program for driving sign-ups.

4. Being Cool

Being Cool: People want to be Cool. People want others to know they are Cool.

Make your users look cool when they share your product.

  1. Frontback – Share a snap along with a selfie. Lets users be cool.
  2. Vine – Short cool creative videos.

Tip: ‘Being Cool’ will help you drive sharing on Social Networks.

5. Nostalgia

Nostalgia: People have memories. Sweet Memories. Remind them about it.

Remind users about some of the best times they have experienced.

  1. Timehop – Complete product is built around Nostalgia. Reminds users of special moments from the past.
  2. Facebook – 2014: Year in Review videos
  3. Twitter – 8th Anniversary: Which was your first tweet.

Tip: ‘Nostalgia’ helps get back old users and revives their interest. Can be only used once in a year on special occasions.

6. Curiosity

Curiosity: People want to know. They fear on losing out. Keep them curious.

Keep users curious. Keep them looking for more.

  1. LinkedIn – The feature ‘who viewed my profile’ tries to keep its users curious, and engaged.
  2. Twitter – Catching up with Timeline, mostly is the fear of losing out.
  3. BuzzFeed / UpWorthy / ViralNova – All try to trigger curiosity of readers through their post titles.

Tip: ‘Curiosity’ in products helps you increase repeat usage.

7. Competitiveness

Competitiveness: People love to compete with others. Creates a sense of achievement. Make it happen.

Drive users to compete with friends / others.

  1. Foursquare – The leaderboards between Friends was a great way 4SQ ensured people kept checking in.
  2. Quora – The feeling of ‘I have a better answer’ or ‘I can answer this question in a better way’ keeps driving engagement.
  3. Fitbit – Leaderboard that tracks your fitness with friends.
  4. Hackrank – Programming challenges.

Tip: ‘Competitiveness’ leads to greater engagement. Though its novelty in private group is lost after some time.

8. Stay Organized

Stay Organized: People love to organize things. Organize everything. Make it happen

Give users stuff that they want to sort / organize. Keep them busy.

  1. Pinterest – Lets you organize pins / interests/ stuff you love.
  2. Evernote – Organize all your notes.
  3. Wanelo – Organize fashion stuff. Ask girls how much they love doing this.
  4. Calendar / Contacts – They are always in a mess. Its a never-ending struggle to organize this. Google Contacts & Google Calendar help you keep them in place.

Tip: ‘Staying Organized’ helps your users spend more time in your product. It soon becomes a habit.

9. Importance

Importance: People love to feel important. Its about them. Their identity. They want to show off.

Make your users feel important about themselves.

  1. LinkedIn – My professional achievements., that is how a user sees it.
  2. Twitter – My views. My opinions., that is how a user tweets.
  3. FourSquare – Checkin is telling the world – I am here.
  4. About.me – This is me. This is my identity.

Tip: ‘Importance’, everyone wants to be important. The product usually ends up being shared, talked about – and results in others wanting to do the same.

10. Authority

Authority: People love to display their authority on a topic. Give them opportunity to do that.

Help create authority for users. Users want to be acknowledged as influencers by others.

  1. Quora – Authority by Topics. Asked to Answer is being authoritative.
  2. StackExchange – For programmers.
  3. HackerOne – For hackers.
  4. Hacker News – For Geeks.

Tip: ‘Authority’ is the importance others in a community or forum assigns to select users. Users want to be acknowledged as being authoritative, it helps increasing engagement and spending time on the product.

11. Visual

Visual: People love stunning visuals. Its a powerful emotion.

Visuals create impact in product. Don’t miss on it.

  1. Instagram – Personal Emotions.
  2. Flickr – Professional Emotions (yes unfortunately for Flickr).
  3. 500px – Photography community.

Tip: ‘Visual’ is a substitute to all unsaid emotions. Use well when your product is build around pictures and photographs.

12. Freebies

Freebies: People love Freebies. Badges. Credits. It all works.

Freebies work. Make use of them correctly.

  1. Quora – Credits users get when other upvote their answers.
  2. FourSquare – Badges for Check-in.
  3. Uber – Credits to Refer Friends.
  4. Facebook / Twitter / Google – Regularly use Advertising Credits to on-board new advertisers.

Tip: ‘Freebies’ – use it only for one purpose. Can be used for activations, sharing or driving engagement. Use it for one use-case that can measured.

13. Money

Money: People want to make Money. People want to receive Money.

Money is one of the strongest emotions. Portray it positively.

  1. Google Adsense – Opportunity for bloggers, individuals, publishers to earn money online.
  2. PayPal – Receive money from anyone.
  3. Elance – Get paid for free-time work.
  4. Kickstarter – Raise money for your projects.
  5. Gumroad – Make money by selling digital goods.

Tip: ‘Money’ – Receiving Money / Making Money is a positive emotion. Giving away is negative.

14. Sex

Sex: People want Companions. People want Dates. People want Sex.

Keep it simple, keep it safe.

  1. Tinder – Helps you find date.
  2. Match.com – Helps you find date.
  3. OkCupid – Helps you find date.

Tip: ‘Sex’ – It is more about selling the Hope. Keep the product simple. Don’t over engineer.

Concluding Notes:

When you build any feature, try to trigger a emotional engagement with user. If you are in early stage of your product development or in process of making your product roadmap, spent some time with this methodology – 15 Steps Towards Building a Great Product.

When it comes to including emotions in your product, ensure the following:

  1. Use max 2-3 emotions per product.
  2. Gamification is not about building features. It is about emotionally engaging a user.
  3. Don’t exploit users. Be subtle. Be good.

Good Product Manager v/s Bad Product Manager

I recently read – ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things‘ by Ben Horowitz. This book is a practical guide for Founders & CEOs about running a business, handling tough situations, a must read! 

Ben Horowitz is currently the co-founder and general partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of Opsware which was acquired by HP for $1.6 billion in 2007. At Netscape, Ben was Director of Product Management where he share this note with his team.

The note is from Ben’s book where he writes about difference between a Good Product Manager and Bad Product Manager. I believe this is a amazing guide on what Product Managers should focus on. 

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Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. A good product manager is the CEO of the product. Good product managers take full responsibility and measure themselves in terms of the success of the product.

They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails. A good product manager knows the context going in (the company, our revenue funding, competition, etc.), and they take responsibility for devising and executing a winning plan (no excuses).

Bad product managers have lots of excuses. Not enough funding, the engineering manager is an idiot, Microsoft has 10 times as many engineers working on it, I’m overworked, I don’t get enough direction. Our CEO doesn’t make these kinds of excuses and neither should the CEO of a product.

Good product managers don’t get all of their time sucked up by the various organizations that must work together to deliver right product right time. They don’t take all the product team minutes, they don’t project manage the various functions; they are not gophers for engineering. They are not part of the product team; they manage the product team. Engineering teams don’t consider Good Product Managers a “marketing resource.” Good product managers are the marketing counterparts of the engineering manager.

Good product managers crisply define the target, the “what” (as opposed to the “how”) and manage the delivery of the “what.” Bad product managers feel best about themselves when they figure out “how”. Good product managers communicate crisply to engineering in writing as well as verbally. Good product managers don’t give direction informally. Good product managers gather information informally.

Good product managers create collateral, FAQs, presentations, and white papers that can be leveraged. Bad product managers complain that they spend all day answering questions for the sales force and are swamped. Good product managers anticipate the serious product flaws and build real solutions. Bad product managers put out fires all day.

Good product managers take written positions on important issues (competitive silver bullets, tough architectural choices, tough product decisions, markets to attack or yield). Bad product managers voice their opinion verbally and lament that the “powers that be” won’t let it happen. Once bad product managers fail, they point out that they predicted they would fail.

Good product managers focus the team on revenue and customers. Bad product managers focus team on how many features Microsoft is building. Good product managers define good products that can be executed with a strong effort. Bad product managers define good products that can’t be executed or let engineering build whatever they want (i.e. solve the hardest problem).

Good product managers think in terms of delivering superior value to the market place during inbound planning and achieving market share and revenue goals during outbound. Bad product managers get very confused about the differences amongst
delivering value, matching competitive features, pricing, and ubiquity. Good product managers decompose problems. Bad product managers combine all problems into one.

Good product managers think about the story they want written by the press. Bad product managers think about covering every feature and being really technically accurate with the press. Good product managers ask the press questions. Bad product managers answer any press question. Good product managers assume press and analyst people are really smart. Bad product managers assume that press and analysts are dumb because they don’t understand the difference between “push” and “simulated push.”

Good product managers err on the side of clarity vs. explaining the obvious. Bad product managers never explain the obvious. Good product managers define their job and their success. Bad product managers constantly want to be told what to do.

Good product managers send their status reports in on time every week, because they are disciplined. Bad product managers forget to send in their status reports on time, because they don’t value discipline.

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This article is posted on this blog with permission. You can download the original PDF file shared by Ben Horowitz.

“The Hard Things About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz is a must read book for Founders & CEOs. Buy it from Amazon.com (Worldwide) or Flipkart (India).

Building The Next Disruptive Startup

The most disruptive word in Startup Ecosystem is ‘disruption’. Its used / abused / misused by almost everyone – entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, mentors, press and so on.

Founders love to call their product / startup as disruptive and so do investors who keep saying they are looking for disruptive ideas, both have very limited explanation of what disruptive startup actually means for them or they run out of examples or ideas when you ask them what exactly is disruptive about it. Most of the answers are – ‘If this becomes big, it could disrupt the market’.

Disruption

This is a random post, not intended to draw any conclusion or summary but sharing few things I have learned about disruptive startups and ideas. Probably also on how to get ideas to build your next big ‘disruptive’ start-up.

Circa 2008

Early 2008, I moved in my new role at Rediff as Product Head for Ecommerce. This was still the time when Ecommerce was extremely small in India, concentrated with some players – Rediff, Indiatimes, Ebay and couple of others; and the other side of Ecommerce was Travel which was growing steadily. At Rediff, we had 3 ecommerce products – Rediff Shopping, Rediff Books and Rediff Auctions (We shut down auctions soon after).

These were the early days of Ecommerce and to say we were not innovating then would be wrong. To bring up more users to Ecommerce, COD (Cash On Delivery) was introduced. To expand reach beyond (limited) online audience, experiments like Reader’s Offers (in Newspapers) were attempted by many. We introduced real-time customer support calls to users who dropped out during checkouts and assisted conversions via IVRs. Debit Cards were integrated. Top 20% products in top 20 cities were delivered in less than 3 days. Back then, all major players were marketplaces – that involved a lot of co-ordination with vendors / sellers for inventory, logistics, deals, order status and operations.

Few days into my new role a colleague mentioned to me about a new service – Flipkart. It was selling books. I loved what I had seen on Flipkart. The product was good if not best, but for a site that was launched just few months back – it did all that it was supposed to do perfectly with attention to detail. Prices were comparable if not the best; what blew my mind was the shipping times – awesome 4-6 days of delivery time.

In 2008, books sold on any ecommerce service took 6-10 days to dispatch (most of them had common vendors) and books that required procurement from US took 25 days on a minimum side (and customers used to wait!). Flipkart was quickly dismissed as a niche website, and books contributed to a smaller percentage of overall business. In fact there was a time that competition was more worried about Futurebazaar for its blistering marketing budget (oh, btw its in dead-pool now).

By end of 2009 I moved out of Rediff. And over time I started ordering books (and then other products) much frequently on Flipkart and was never disappointed by its service. I knew friends and colleagues were admiring loving it too. Flipkart kept growing and so did the word of mouth for them. Flipkart was rejected not just by many Investors, but also by its competitors. Over a period of time, all its competitors lost out on Flipkart as it emerged to be the face of Ecommerce in India.

So what did Flipkart do differently to disrupt Ecommerce? Instead of marketplace approach, it started off as a self-managed service. It picked up Books – the most under-served category then (under-served, but large – in 2008 Rediff Books had 1.2 Million Titles listed). It used most simplest channel for $0 marketing – Search Engine Optimization. Adding a million books to Google Index (this is in 2008) in a category that had less than 10 players helped them rank up well. And they rarely did goof up on delivery, dispatch or customer experience.

That was Flipkart. And the story about ‘disrupting a industry’ by a startup or underdog remains similar across the world. Startups / Entrepreneurs don’t disrupt a industry or vertical by ‘launching just another product’ in existing market. There needs to be a remarkably different approach, addressing a large market which is loved (or appreciated) by its initial users / customers.

So how do you get ideas for a disruptive startup?

Another example in Indian context is Housing.com – picked up real estate as a vertical that had more or less no differentiation and existing players were hardly innovating on product and consumer experience over years. Everyone was a copy-paste product of everyone else. Housing launched with a better product from day one for discovering real estate properties, focused on verified data, authentic photos and awesome user experience. While its competitors were serving advertisers, Housing started serving users. It is still in its initial days, but I am hoping Housing.com will become big someday (PS: its product is now bit more complex that it was in the initial days).

Coming back, a existing market / vertical, a large category, that has not changed for a long time are prefect for disrupting with a product that brings a fresh approach to it. While existing players keep thinking that their ‘yet another feature’ will kill this new startup that is making a dent, unfortunately this never happens. ‘Yet another product’ in a large market does not really disrupt a industry.

This probably is true for almost every big startup or product that is out there today.

  • AWS for Hosting:
    Huge market, frustrating times to set up & costly infrastructure, disrupted by on-demand computing and pay-as-you go.
  • Gmail for Email:
    Huge market, competition offering 4-10 MB inboxes, disrupted by 1 GB mailbox and of-course better product.
  • Square for Offline Payments:
    Huge offline payments market, under-served, simple product to accept payments with a phone.
  • Dropbox for Syncing Files:
    Huge need; users mailed files to save on multiple PCs or used USB drives. Simple & fast web storage.
  • Stripe for Online Payments:
    Huge need; developers where busy doing complex PG integrations. Simple to use payment APIs.
  • Uber for Transport:
    Huge market, demand > supply; Under-served market. Cool product that made the customer look smart.
  • … and so many more I can think of…

So where do you go looking for big markets to disrupt and build large businesses?

 

1. Look for market segments that have not changed for years.

In India context, Flipkart and Housing mentioned above fit in this example. We are (probably) done with phase of getting most of the products / services from offline world to online. Some of the verticals are still broken despite being online for so many years.

Examples that come to my mind are – Travel (Vacations – it is still an broken and under-served market), Matrimony (Nothing has changed in this vertical for more than 10 yrs, however people and culture has changed a lot), Classifieds (Largely served by few players and the model hasn’t evolved much) and so on.

Some markets are so big that there is room for multiple big players – Fashion being one of them. Some of the verticals just came online (Online Grocery & Vegetables) but are struggling to grow, maybe they need to approach differently.

One of my favorite examples here is Stripe and how it differentiated itself from others in Payment Gateway vertical. Or even Quora that came up in QnA space that had sleeping products like Yahoo! Answers or Answers.com

 

2. Look for large products that are ageing fast.

Look for large products that are ageing fast and its early users are complaining or it fails to provide value to them.

Some of the examples, LinkedIn (The product has not changed much over years, its early adopters are not using it as they did earlier or now they have other ways to connect with them) or Facebook (Its evident that the engagement levels are dropping and instant messaging has taken over Social Networking). Twitter (Yes, Twitter is ageing. For new users its complex to use, to understand).

More directions – Facebook was default private product; then came Twitter that was default public product. There is lot of opportunity for both products to reverse privacy. For example, Twitter is a public identity to many people, its private aspect ie. direct messaging is massively broken. Forget private product, even Twitter as a public conversation platform is also broken or difficult to explain to new users. Twitter itself is experimenting with removing @ replies to appeal to new users (while existing users will miss the feature most).

 

3. Look for large products that serve multiple purposes.

Look for large products that serve multiple purposes. Perfect one of their use-cases.

Best example here is Facebook. Large products like Facebook serve(d) multiple purpose – Status Updates, Messaging, Photos, Staying in touch with friends, etc. WhatsApp took up Instant Messaging, Instagram took up photos, perfected the use case and in turn made a big dent with their products. Since usage on a large product already validates the market need, build something that makes it work for users.

One of my favorite examples here is Vine how it figured out a niche for itself in the online videos vertical owned by YouTube. Though Vine was not the first to start off (there was Viddy and Social Cam who focused too much on spamy growth hacking techniques on Facebook), it was Twitter’s push that built this one up.

Also recently Zuck announced ‘Un-Bundling of Facebook‘ which serves similar use-case.

 

4. Look for missing components in daily used products that are ignored

Look for broken / boring experiences in the products around you that are in daily use. Broken, because you can fix them. Boring, because you can make them cool (or add value).

This probably over laps the above mentioned use-cases. Mobile OS features like Camera got replaced by Instagram, Text Messaging got replaced by WhatsApp, Mobile Phone Book got replaced by Gmail Contacts. There is a big opportunity if you can identify and replace basic utilities around you with products.

PS: The biggest broken experience on phone or devices today is battery / charging. And this is a tough one!

 

5. Look for big news or market changes around you

If you are too much into technology news look for changes around you and a need for product that you could build because of market changes and opportunities that come up.

Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011. Ever since (and even before that) there have been tons of connectivity issues with Skype. Its time for a reliable Skype, one that works as it should. Big opportunity! There is Google Hangouts, but it still doesn’t make a cut and unfortunately Google still treats this product as a part of Google+ and/or Google Talk. It requires attention as a independent product like Chrome, YouTube or Android.

Another big blow was when Google decided to make Gmail for Business a paid service for all. There are other paid business service providers, I tried a few myself when I recently was looking out for a free / alternate solution, finally giving up and settled for a paid Gmail account. Its a great opportunity to build a awesome product here.

My favorite example here is AngelList, Naval is an angel investor in 100+ startups – sensed the opportunity of creating a platform that connects startups to angels much before anyone else did. Another one is how Admob discovered mobile advertising when the world started making mobile websites (WAP sites then).

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Concluding Notes:

How to find Disruptive Ideas for Startup?

Listing down the 5 methods mentioned above:
1. Look for market segments that have not changed for years.
2. Look for large products that are ageing fast.
3. Look for large products that serve multiple purposes.
4. Look for missing components in daily use that are ignored.
5. Look for big news or market changes around you.

Wait, your existing startup does not fit in the above criteria? Nothing to get disheartened with, this is just a reference point. In fact I also realized that my own startup does not fit in this :)

Some takeaways,

  • The above 5 pointers all lead to a large addressable market. So next time a investor tells you he/she is looking for a large market, you fit in.
  • Just another startup or just another feature in large market does not make a cut. It should be a differentiated solution / product.
  • Disruptive ideas are plenty, it is the execution and team behind that matters most.
  • Most importantly, don’t build a product or startup in a market that is considered hot. Instead build something that you understand (or understand it well before you start).

And Flipkart, you have my respect for life!

PS: All notes referring to Rediff are expressed as my personal opinion. Most details mentioned here are in public domain already.

2014 – India Startup Landscape

Overview of India Startup Landscape – 2014

Building Global Product? List of Technology Sites & Blogs for Global PR

When Wishberg got TechCrunch’ed and had its share of Global PR two months back, many people asked how did we manage to do that! I am not answering that here.

Getting featured on top technology sites “should not be considered success”, there are miles to go for us. If you are building a Global Product, getting tech coverage from around the World helps you get the word out for your product.

So below is the cheat sheet we built for this – its the list of the top technology sites & blogs you should consider.

Of course I have contacts of all these websites and reporters. Not sharing as I don’t want them to get spammed! If you still want them, send $10,000 :)

If I missed any, please tweet them to me on @beingpractical or email to pj (at) beingpractical.com

Few Things I Learned As A Entrepreneur in Last One Year

About this time last year, I wrote about my experiences as an entrepreneur. Another year has passed and also that Wishberg completes a year, I am sharing some notes I scribbled thinking about the time that has passed.

  1. Having your own product roadmap is one thing. Building what users ask is another. Choose what the user wants.
  2. Most successful products have very similar characteristics. Here are 15 Steps towards building a Great Product.
  3. Scaling up is much simpler problem to solve. Concentrate on initial growth and traction. When you come to a stage where you want to scale, there will be enough money in the bank.
  4. Ship Fast. Let things break. Often.
  5. A bug is bug only when its noticed.
  6. Focus on doing one thing right. That is enough. We decided to drop everything we did and focus on ‘wish’ for Wishberg.
  7. Chase a vision, not an idea. When you have a vision, you will get 100 ideas to achieve that.
  8. For success you need to try 100 things, one at a time. Make sure you have enough runway to try those. One of that will work. If you are lucky, that would be your first; if not then start-up life will test your perseverance.
  9. Break your long term strategy in to multiple short term targets.
  10. Spend over 30 minutes in shower everyday. You will never run out of ideas.
  11. Concentrate on doing one thing right. You may still fail, but its far more better than getting distracted by trying 10 different things.
  12. Growth hacks that have worked for other startups will not work for yours. Startups can’t be so easy. Find your own hacks.
  13. Success is not easy. Don’t expect it to be.
  14. Every week try to use your product as a new user who has not used it earlier and knows nothing about it.
  15. Doing a startup has a huge personal opportunity cost, no one talks about. This too shall pass, I tell that to myself. Everyday.
  16. Entrepreneurship is not sexy. I personally discourage people from taking it up. Specially the ones with a family to support.
  17. Anyone can take decisions with data. And data may not be available always. Nothing new or ground breaking was ever built based only on data available. Trust your instincts / guts to do build something new. 
  18. Try and fail, don’t fail to try.
  19. Luck is important factor. Wishberg got funded the same month I was about to run out of money. I already ran out of my funds and savings long time back, I refer to the personal loans I took up to keep it going.
  20. Startup as early as possible in your life. Debts, Loans kill your ambitions. Everyday.
  21. Everyday will give you 100 reasons to close down. You need to have that one strong reason to keep it going.
  22. Delegate. But be hands-on. You should know more about your business than anyone else.
  23. Team is your family. Choose wisely whom you want to add. Genuinely love your team and be concerned about them and their well being.
  24. Fight. Argue. Debate. Discuss. Don’t carry things outside office. It all should get over by the day.
  25. Ignore 99% advice you get. The 1% that comes up again and again – think about it.
  26. Funding does not make you rich. No matter how much you make others understand it, they will not. Stop wasting your time.
  27. Everyone struggles. Even a start up without funding. Even a start up with millions of dollars of funding.
  28. Funding just gives you a little more runway. To try out multiple things. Its just a little more runway.
  29. Unfortunately funding is perceived as success. I received invitations to speak at conferences just cause we got funded. Damn! And no one ever called me for any discussion or debate while I predicted Indian startup scene so accurately. tl;dr – I’m not going.
  30. Investors who take over a week to come back to you; who say keep us posted; who say lets keep in touch and so on – will never invest in you. Don’t waste time on it.
  31. Investors who really want to invest in your startup will not take much time to do it. One of our investors committed to us over a Twitter DM in less than a minute. Another one on WhatsApp again in about 1 minute.
  32. Investors fund / invest in you. You. And your ability to grow the product / company.
  33. Don’t say no to money when it comes knocking your door. I said no to it twice (rather my ego said no it). Cash in hand is much better than perceived valuations.
  34. Don’t choose investors based on the valuations. The best investors bring in value. The worst investors bring in just cash.
  35. Build feature products (unlike what investors / advisors say). But build that simple feature as a freaking awesome product that everyone wants to use.
  36. Check the history of acquisitions by Facebook or Google. Your feature product is more likely to be acquired if you build it right.
  37. Choose team, advisors & investors with whom you can talk about life over couple of drinks.
  38. Build something that you understand and believe in. Don’t build what will get funded or is generally considered hot.
  39. Never understood why using foul words in startup ecosystem is considered cool. I don’t think its cool.
  40. Let go of ego.
  41. Anyone who says they will disrupt are just talkers. Just be willing to change and adapt.
  42. Disrupt slowly. Unannounced. Feature by Feature. Before anyone realizes what happened.
  43. Competition will exists, don’t be afraid of that.
  44. One fine day Facebook, Amazon or Google will try to build what you are building. Its sounds scary, but its fun. Btw, I almost cried when Facebook launched a ‘Want’ button or Amazon started Collections or Pinterest tried to position itself as wishlist from a online pin board.
  45. Meet lot of users, lots of people. Get their ideas on your business, product. Some simple things will amaze you.
  46. Be Humble. Be Genuine. Its not very difficult.
  47. Smile. Have fun. As many times as you can.
  48. Build relationships. Specially with other startup founders. Some of them might be at the lowest phase in life, be there. At times they just need someone to talk with whom they can relate.
  49. With more power, comes more responsibility. With more responsibility, comes more stress.
  50. Do something to de-stress you. I try blogging, driving, and observing people when I travel by Mumbai Locals.
  51. Spend at least 1 hour reading up everyday.
  52. Spend one day of every month with your family and friends. Try to be away from the Internet on that day.
  53. Every mistake should be made only once. You don’t have time to repeat it.
  54. ‘Fail Fast’ is a buzz word. Failure comes with cost – money, time and spirits. So you can’t really fail fast.
  55. Value money. Think 100 times before you spend even a single dollar. Negotiate hard. Every dollar saved adds up to your runway.
  56. Don’t do anything or spend time behind anything (feature, update, task, product, or anything) that does not personally excites you.
  57. The single most difficult task of a startup founder is setting priorities. If you get it right, your job is done. 9 out of 10 times you will go wrong. Don’t regret, keep moving.
  58. Simple, short and sweet updates to your product bring the best results. Don’t over think or focus on too many big features.
  59. Focus is about saying No. Stop agreeing too everyone and everything.
  60. You learn most not from blogs or advisors or investors. You learn most from other founders. Connect and share your learnings with each other. We organized a #FoundersMeet in Mumbai.
  61. People around you are smarter than you think. Learn from them.
  62. The most important thing in life is not knowing everything, its having the phone number of somebody who does.
  63. Stay away from events, conferences and pitching events. It takes up a lot of time and energy. Both are precious.
  64. Be passionate. Be enthusiastic. About every new day.
  65. Not just your startup, even you as a person should grow yourself every day. Learn at least one new thing everyday.
  66. Have a bucket list for life, here is mine. Check it every morning, if you see things / wishes that are yet to be achieved, get back to work. Wishberg helps you build and manage your bucket list.
  67. Plug-in your startup in every possible way. I just did that in above point. But no kidding, having a bucket list is actually very inspiring, I have one since last 6 years.
  68. Every morning make a list of things / tasks you plan to finish in that day.
  69. If you are out to achieve something, achieve something big. Don’t set mediocre goals.
  70. Content or Commerce doesn’t go hand in hand. Most startups trying to do both get confused on what they really want to achieve. They really do. Focus on one.
  71. MVP is More Valuable Product. Everyone wants a more valuable product, no one wants a minimum viable product.
  72. Build your startup for growth. Not for exit.
  73. Ask questions. Lots of them. No matter how silly they are to you or the person you are asking for.
  74. Execution is everything. All ideas are equally great on paper.
  75. Startups are not easy. Neither is life.
  76. Build something awesome. Something that people will love to use.
  77. Be thankful to everyone you has helped you in this journey. Make sure you help others in their journey so that they can say thank-you to you. It feels great!
Done. Let’s get back to work.

100+ Startup Directories to Submit your Startup for Free

Day 1 of Product Launch is a mix of joy & disappointment. Joy because you launched your product after days (or weeks or months) of hard work and disappointment because those first 1000 users did not join on day 1.

In the last post, I mentioned about reaching to startup and tech influencers to spread a word for your product when you announce the launch. Next step is spreading word to get those initial beta users beyond your circle of influence + taking steps towards SEO through first 100 backlinks for your product. How? Submit on all important startup directories.

I have shared 100+ directories (startups, beta users, search engines, etc) here to begin with. If there are more that I might have missed – please tweet to me on @beingpractical or email me on pj (at) beingpractical.com to include in this list.

List of Startup / Tech Influencers in India

Many founders struggle in getting a word out for their products or startups – its crucial, something that makes or breaks your startup in its initial days. While tech press and coverage for startups is one thing, its important to have early adopters talk about your product and suggest them to potential users / customers.

India ranks among the top 5 countries by users for global products like Facebook, Twitter, Quora and so on. Clearly we have enough early adopters, question is who?

Below is list of people that I have compiled and consider tech influencers whom you might want to connect with to get a word out about your startup. Good luck!

Things to note –

  • List excludes VCs or people directly associated with Accelerator or Incubators. Their tweets reflect vested interests in portfolio companies. I don’t consider them influencers.
  • People mentioned here frequently tweet / talk about startups and new products.
  • I don’t know many of them personally or follow many of them myself; however they keep appearing on my timeline again and again.
  • I plan to keep this listed updated, if you have any recommendations – drop me a email on pj (at) beingpractical.com

Disclosure: This list is not compilation of users who tweet about Wishberg (my startup). In fact many of them don’t even have a account on Wishberg. But this includes my name somewhere in between :)

Dear Accelerators

2 years back I wrote that India has a premature incubation model. Things have changed now – Accelerators / Incubators is the new trend here. Simply too many and too much buzz around it, its all smoke without fire. I had a unfortunate encounter with one of organizers of an accelerator who claimed that its program is more beneficial for startups than YC or 500 Startups. That incident still makes me laugh, wrote about it last year.

This post are suggestions to Accelerators and is based on my personal interactions with many startup entrepreneurs, investors and enablers in ecosystem.

1. Stop looking for startups with traction. 

Accelerators start by looking for startups with traction. Its puzzling, because startups with traction are looking for investors, not accelerators. Wouldn’t it be simply awesome if accelerators start saying – ‘Join us and we will ‘help’ you gain / build traction!’.

Unfortunately, since there are too many startups, the competition and market dynamics will not make this real. But seriously, can some accelerator stand up and say – ‘Join us and we will ‘help’ you gain / build traction!’. Entrepreneurs will have more faith & trust in you.

2. Be a little transparent.

Your metric for success is simple – success of the startups that have graduated from accelerator. Tell us that story, maybe you could learn a bit from TechStars that lists detailed performance of its portfolio companies.

No matter how flashy personal brand you manage to build for yourself, all that any entrepreneur really cares about is his / her own startup. So let startups that are applying to your program judge you ‘only’ by performance of your earlier startups.

And if your startup performance report is bad, here is some ‘free’ advice for you – pivot!


3. Prove your worth before asking too much.

With exception of few top accelerators, most startups end up applying at other accelerators after they have failed to raise investment from angels or failed to get through the top accelerators (yup, I am being practical – this is the reality!).

The top accelerators take between 5% to 8% stake in a startup for $20K to $50K. You be the judge how much equity should a startup give you, in my opinion it should definitely not be more than 5%. Don’t act too pricey, you will have to prove your worth before you ask for anything more. There are also bootcamps and acceleration programs that offer similar benefits for startups at no investments / no equity.

Also from perspective of founders, 8% to 15% dilution at accelerator (some startups go through 2 accelerators), 15% to 25% dilution at seed / angel-round, 20% dilution at Series A. By this time with a 10% ESOP pool, entrepreneurs are just left with their skin-in-the-game.

PS: And if you are adding clauses like permanent non-dilution; offering your (little) cash in tranches or after several ‘gentle reminders’ from founders – there is a special place reserved for you in hell.

4. Startups are not one night stands.

No matter how much accelerators would like to think they can change the fate of startups in matter of few weeks – they are wrong. Startups take years to grow, they are not overnight successes as many people perceive them to be and most of the growth comes once they face the real world (which is after the demo day). It takes time to find the product-market fit and it comes with multiple iterations on product.

Your so called focus on batch after batch, this sounds like one-night stand with startups. Founders have trusted you, please get into a long term relationships with the startups. Be there when they need you (and even when they don’t).

5. Your partnerships with Investors means nothing to startups.

Many accelerators ‘flaunt’ their partnerships with venture capital firms to startups and also occasionally drop names of influential angel investors. First time entrepreneurs are often misled by such talks and tend to think it as an assurance that they might be funded on graduation day / demo day or their chance of getting funded is higher through a accelerator.

Honestly – these partnerships mean nothing. Venture Capital firms are always on a lookout for their deal-flow; the word ‘deal flow’ explains almost everything in this industry. Any partnership that any VC has with any accelerator is only for the purpose of deal flow, they do not want to miss out on any hot startup but this partnership is definitely not a investment commitment (unless it is on lines of YC – $80K on convertible notes).

6. Be more transparent on utilization of time (and funds).

Not many accelerators (and also many entrepreneurs) realize that the biggest resource startups should be worried about is not money, its time. Time runs out fast, for everyone.

While there are programs and activities that directly add value in building product, any time that is gone outside of that (relocation, attending events, visiting places and so on) means staying away from building product which decelerates the start-up. Make founders aware of that well in advance – so that they can make their plans accordingly or alternate plans like one of the founder stays back and manages day-to-day tasks.

Same with funds, if there are any programs, costs (legal, travel, etc) that will require startups to pay the accelerators – please be transparent about them and mention that to founders well before they join the program.

7. Mentoring the Startups

The kind of startups entrepreneurs are building today did not even exist few years back. The skills startups required today are – design, data, distribution, product and technology. Unfortunately, we do not have great talent for these verticals in India.

So accelerators are getting investors to mentor startups, this is where the model starts falling apart. 99% of time the investor will be advising / mentoring the startup without using their product or experiencing its service! I don’t mean to offend anyone here, but the fact is – Investors should be investing, not mentoring! (unless they have skin in the game).

Take a break, read this post – Great Entrepreneurs will listen to you but will follow their own instincts.

Read 2: In 30 Days My Startup Will be Dead

Be valuable to the startups in your accelerator and get mentors who can really help them grow. Get Entrepreneurs or Senior Executives (who are entrepreneurial or proven achievers) and have skill sets that startup needs to mentor them. Alternative suggestion – get founders or executives from known Silicon Valley startups to mentor!

Mark Suster said few days back at PreMoney conference – ‘Networks of entrepreneurs helping each other are significantly better than board meetings for learning.’

8. Your over-extensive focus on demo day kills few of your startups.

If I were a part of any accelerator, I would have opted out of the demo day. Simply too much focus on demo day! Of the 12 week acceleration program, 3-4 weeks (effectively 33% of time) goes in its preparation, that is not all since you get in to meetings, introductions and so on, the chances are you will spend next 4 weeks on those follow-up meetings.

Mark Suster says it best – Demo days are showcase of who is best at on-stage presentations ~ coached and polished. They produce too much hype and too little value. Also in another post (more from a VC perspective), Mark explains the importance of proprietary deal flow for investors.

If you are observing this space – you would realize that even the startups graduating out of top accelerators are struggling to raise investments. Not all of them are getting funded or are able to close their investments quickly. Probable reason – too many startups? too much hype? could be anything else.

Elad Gill wrote a brilliant post on VC Signaling last year. I believe similar sort of signaling happens with startups in any accelerator too. In a batch of 20 – 40 startups, investors are bound to choose the best – the top 20%, or the best 4-6 startups that stand out on demo day, rest 80% startups will not find it easy to raise investment.

Worst is negative signaling effect, if any of the startups from that batch are unable to close investment in next 4-12 weeks post the demo day, it will be bit tough for them to close it going forward unless they get some significant traction.

So instead of flashy demo days, accelerators should focus on getting one-on-one interaction between startups and investors. Although it is apparent that from every batch there will be few standout startups., as an accelerator you need to give a fair and equal chance to every startup in your batch. For raising funds demo day works for few startups, but makes it difficult for many startups and unknowingly kills few.

Treat demo days as a demo day – show what product you have built! Not just to investors, but also to influential early adopters and potential partners.

9. Help startups with distribution. Not pitches.

Because of these demo day pitches, there is a certain glorification of startups – even before they are worth glorifying. Companies need to be glorified by their traction, revenue, customers etc not because of a nice punchline and a great deck. Demo days are setting a wrong precedent in the very first place. Pitching has its own importance but most founders today believe that’s the only thing to do.

I have said this multiple times – the easiest thing a startup can do is to build a product or pitch to investors. Toughest thing is – finding product market fit & distribution. Unfortunately, most accelerators are trying to help startups with easier tasks, not the critical ones. Startups don’t fail because of lack of money, they fail because of lack of product adoption.

If it is a consumer startup – accelerator should help it achieve its first 25K-50K users. If it is a enterprise startup – accelerators should make introductions to potential clients and help them get their first 25-50 paying customers. When a startup succeeds on this – they will not require to pitch any investor at all!

Concluding Notes:

Most accelerators ask startups on what they are innovating on, while they are trying to replicate the success of YC. The intention of this post is not to criticize accelerators, but a feedback for them on how they can start being more valuable to their customers – the startups!

Credits: Thanks to Kulin Shah (Co-founder at Wishberg) & Avlesh Singh (Co-founder at WebEngage) for reading the draft and their suggestions on this post.