Archive for November, 2008

Citizens in Governance

One of the areas where some of us have been thinking of late is how to increase awareness of citizens regarding policy and administration – things like which new bills are being introduced in parliament or state legislature, and what options are being considered? What are the relative merits/demerits of the options? Which way are our representatives inclined? What impact does it have on us? or, How has the local administration performed? Where can I go if I need to get something done? How do I participate in improving my local infrastructure and administration? What progress has really happened over last few years? How does this apparatus work?

It is interesting that several initiatives already exist at the ground level which seek to answer these questions for different stakeholders. Yet, these don’t seem to reach the general public. Perhaps, digital media can seek to bridge that gap and increase awareness of citizens about governance. Over a longer period of time, awareness drives participation and a healthy democracy.

It would be great if you can participate in a survey we have created to assess people’s need and willingness to engage in the above, as well as to get your suggestions. Please click here to take survey – even if you think this is useless, we’d love to get that feedback.

US Health Care IT: Big Opportunity for Indian Entrepreneurs

The US spends $250 billion in health care administration. Indian entrepreneurs can very well look at solving various problems within this vertical and build nice businesses. Read my Forbes column for some pointers.

Lessons in Customer Service – Power to the frontline – Sucks, Kool, Amazing

In continuation of looking at my own experiences for learnings, this post tries to identify a common thread in four different recent experiences. Let me describe them briefly:

  • SOTC: In April, I booked a trip for my parents on SOTC, where the sales guy offered a minimal cancellation fee upto 30 days of departure. Unfortunately, my mother had to undergo an operation, and I asked for a cancellation. It was a nightmare – the guys just didn’t want to settle, and held our passports as ransom. Everyday, they would come up with a different demand (obviously, higher than the promised cancellation fee) and then would back-off when I would agree. The police got involved, but to no avail (apparently, they cant do a thing if you don’t have the passport receipt, which none of these guys give). After weeks of torture, I dug out the CEO’s email id from the internet and wrote him a mail. The matter was resolved in 48 hours. Why could he do what his sales rep couldn’t?
  • Kingfisher: I was returning via a late flight, and on this airport, KF doesn’t have its own lounge but a shared one. The lounge had no food/drinks that were listed on the menu. I went out and bought food. A KF employee noticed this, came up, and took me to a restaurant. The lounge manager was there – the two had a 10 second chat, and served me food from the restaurant. All, unasked for!
  • Amazon: In fact there are too many – my favorite is when a book got double-ordered (don’t know how), and the customer service rep immediately acted to not only provide refund on one of the orders, but also refund international shipping charges on the same. What was the decision support system available to the rep?

I was thinking about these, and I think the common element was to devolve authority to the frontline. Leadership is more and more like herding cats. Customer service organizations are inverted – the layer closest to the customer is the bottom layer, and they have to be able to make decisions correctly and swiftly. Keys to getting it right:

  • Map out exception scenarios: Customer service is all about exception handling. Apply a lot of thought to mapping them out, and how each scenario should be handled for each kind of customer. Apply rules of fairness, but don’t expose yourself to exploitation.
  • Customer service is not about negotiation – provide clear and full authority as close to the customer as possible. Provide full information that the rep needs to provide a great experience.
  • Keep sales and customer service separate – it was obviously hard for the SOTC sales rep to reverse his own sales – perhaps the disincentive on sales front was higher than incentive on customer service front.
  • Treat every new exception as an opportunity to refine the system.
  • Hire smilers – you can’t train people to smile!

Any other experiences and learnings? Does customer service belong to the frontline in your organization?

Racing under the Yellow Flag

Great article on innovation in tough times. Caution: ensure survival first, then read this.

Introducing – Startup Ecosystem

Reaching out to Venturewoods community to share an update from pluGGd.in

Am glad to introduce the Indian startup ecosystem – a neutral entity that serves as a platform for startups to connect to other startups/VCs/entrepreneurs etc.

We launched the startup directory around 5 months back and based on the feedback we received from users , we have revamped the entire site with the following:

Like any new launch, we are in the initial phases (theta mode!) and in the process of adding more data (more UGC, less editorial).

What we are essentially trying to do is to be the platform that connect startups across the country to help and benefit from each other – for instance, startups can share their updates/new launches, share resources (like office space) etc.

Request Venturewoods community to give the ecosystem a spin and share their feedback/comments.

Global Entrepreneurship week 17-23Nov2008

Global Entrepreneurship week 17-23 November 2008
http://www.kauffman.org/entrepreneurship/international-celebration-of-entrepreneurship.aspx
and
http://www.unleashingideas.org/

Murli Thirumale’s SDBS Formula for New Ventures

Here’s a discussion with serial entrepreneur Murli Thirumale on how he comes up with new ventures:

“I have a phrase which I have coined,” he says. “SDBS. It stands for sell, design, build, sell. SDBS is in contrast to designing something, building it and then trying to sell it, which is the model most big and small tech companies follow.” 

Do Great Startups Really Solve a Problem

After a long long hiatus (ie been far to busy working finishing a startup) I decided to write a post. My own blog is still lacking in posts due to work, but will get back to that this week.

Anyhow have been thinking about this for some time. I have looked back at several startups, we all know of Google, Yahoo, Indiatimes, Facebook etc etc, but I am wondering all these which got funding, did they really solve a problem, I mean isn’t that what all VC’s really want, or maybe they did and it was just me that didn’t have that problem in the first place.

Lets look at Google, everyone says it solved the problem of being a better search engine, or rather it was a better search engine than those that were around during those days (I was a fan of Lycos). But how did we know we needed better search, I mean you can only tell you need better search if you know what else is out there, and I for one dont recall comparing search results everytime between google and lycos to see which was better. Hence was google a success because of search or simply because of speed. Lycos was full of ads, we all had 28.8K modems or some of us have the V90, K56Flex modems, but speeds were still slow, when google came along it just returned the results quicker…not sure if they were better.

Now lets look at Facebook, If I was do come to a VC with cap in hand and say “Please sir can I have some more…funding that is” and my idea was to build facebook. I am unsure as to what problem I would actually be solving, is it to get people to communicate, or to waste time at work, or to connect. I am talking about seed stage funding here, not the 3rd rounds where VC’s just follow others. What problem did/does Facebook solve.

What did Skype actually do that Yahoo Voice chat could not (agree quality at that point was better), but did it solve a problem that people just needed to solve.

What about twitter, did we really have a problem with telling the world when we get up out of bed :-)

Did we really need a Zimbra, didn’t email just work before.

Did these companies and other really successful ones solve a problem, or are they just things that we use because out friends use them, and so we must also, and if that is the case, how would you ask a VC for money for something like that :-)

Iqbal

P.S Next post – How does a company like minglebox ask for $ 8 million …and what does it spend it on

Rare Specie: A Bengali Entrepreneur

Okay, don’t chew me for saying this, but a Bengali Entrepreneur IS a rare specie. Let me introduce you to one that is both quite successful, and also generous about contributing back to the cause of promoting entrepreneurship: DimDim CEO DD Ganguly.

And if you do want to chew me, do so by proving me wrong and becoming great entrepreneurs!

“Something is wrong in Venture Capital”

An interesting presentation from Adeo Ressi, founder of TheFunded:

I’m not sure this is specific to the VC industry – the same thing happens in PE, hedge funds and other managed asset sectors. Money goes to those who don’t need it.

How much of this is relevant to India? I don’t mean the facebook wannabes that did not get funded; the internet is an overhyped model catering to an extremely small population in India. I’m asking about sectors that are promising but have not received any serious (equity) funding because of VC affiliation to the internet, telecom, media and lately, alternative energy sectors. I know of the odd kaatizone that has gotten funding; but in general, what sectors are starved of cash?

And is it a problem of too much money? Businesses, in India at least, seem to need either way too much or way too little. Power plants and energy projects are part of the former and they’ve got their place in the sun. But “way too little” has been common too – starting a company and growing it today requires a lot lesser capital than it ever has, and the micro levels of funding, with similarly micro levels of exits, seem to be non-existent. As an example in the US, take Wallstrip which was funded by Howard Lindzon for $500K, and was sold for $5 million in a year. Yes, this selling ecosystem needs to happen here, but is this kind of deal totally absent or have I just not heard of any?

I think this will be a very interesting space. Perhaps the reduction in available money, and reappearance of “risk” capital will make way for path-breaking VCs who’ll invest in places where you didn’t know there were places. Venture Capital to Adventure Capital, in a way.