Archive for June, 2010

Hemu Ramaiah – Story of an Indian Retail Pioneer

At Venture Intelligence, we recently had a great experience interviewing Hemu Ramaiah, founder of the Landmark bookstore chain (in which the Tatas acquired a majority stake in 2005). For me, the interview (which is part our Entrepreneur Podcast series “Entrevista”) served as a confirmation that a customer facing role is the best start to an entrepreneurial career.

Other key takeaways from the podcast:

* “Make Your Own Mistakes”
o Trust Your Gut (based on your understanding of customer needs)
o “Don’t let Accountants take over your business”
o Examples: Deciding to get software designed by a start-up firm (which made the effort to understand her requirements better), deciding not to charge extra for courier delivery for Internet orders, deciding to buy (rather than rent) space for the stores, etc.

* Importance of Growing the Market vs. worrying overly about competition
o Amazing story of how she decides overnight to start supplying books to her competitors (in order to boost volumes for the import orders)

* Choice between Private Equity and Strategic Investors

* Planning the Personal Exit
o Because “business is a treadmill” and “life shouldn’t pass you by”
o Basing the decision on an age cut-off (rather than some target corpus)

* Converting Problems into Opportunities
o When she learns that her daughter’s schoolmate has never visited a bookshop, Hemu decides to turn the problem (of parents not exposing their children to books), by “taking the bookstore to the school”.

You can download the full podcast from the Entrevista blog at

Why Will People Come to Your Company Facebook Page? (Wall Street Journal)

Communicating the presence of your company Facebook page and keeping users or readers engaged is a second important part of building a company page on Facebook. I had written last week about developing a strategy and an execution plan as a first step. After you’ve identified your community-building objectives and the target audience, the key question to answer is: “What’s in it for them?” The success of your efforts to promote your Facebook page resides in having answers for these questions: Why will a person join your community? And why will that person participate in the community on an ongoing basis?

Which brings us to the fundamental question: “What causes engagement on Facebook?”

The answer is central to the phenomenon of community-building across social media platforms.

To answer this question, I thought of using the power of community, by posing this question to people in my Facebook network. The result was some valuable consumer insights into the content that users look forward to.

These were some top categories:

  1. Contests and giveaways
  2. Quizzes, surveys, polls, requests for feedback so every relevant question attracts an answer (i.e. engagement)
  3. Humor, jokes and trivia
  4. Controversy or debate
  5. Patriotism (especially in countries like India and Japan)
  6. Real-life stories or examples
  7. Breaking news
  8. Unexpected information
  9. Interesting pictures and videos; in the U.S. and other developed nations, where Internet bandwidth is not an issue videos are viewed even more than pictures

Drawing from the above, I would say that “relevant, interesting and easy to consume” content always draws engagement. However, the process of identifying the relevant content isn’t always logical. For example, at our digital marketing learning community on Facebook, we’ve seen that Digital Media Cartoons and Jokes, which have no direct relevance to “learning,” are among the most engaging content.

Digital Media Cartoons and Jokes

Chip and Dan Heath have captured all of the above distinctions very well in the “SUCCESs” model in their highly popular book “Made to Stick.” According to the “SUCCESs” model, any idea (or content) which has the following traits in it causes stickiness (or engagement): Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories.

I’ve seen this model working amazingly well for any form of communication (Facebook wall post, Tweet, post, a proposal, or a business presentation) on any medium (online as well offline.)

Interestingly, you don’t need to create all of the content you would want to publish in your community. For almost every business vertical, there is an abundant amount of free and readily available content across various digital avenues such as search engines, blogs, video channels (e.g. YouTube), document channels (e.g. SlideShare), photo channels (e.g. Flickr), discussion groups (e.g. Google Groups), Twitter search, Wikipedia etc., which you can aggregate in a useful and copyright friendly way for your audience.

The best part is you don’t need to search for this content. It can come to your mailbox if you use smart tools such as Google Alerts or SocialOomph (a keyword alert tool.) Further, using tools and applications (such as SocialRSS), you can automatically republish your content from other channels (e.g. a blog post or a tweet) to your Facebook fan page.

The process so far will ensure that you’ve laid an extremely solid foundation to build a live and engaging community. Your job then is to scale up and you can use some of the promotional opportunities below:

  1. Facebook advertising: This is one of the most powerful and least understood and explored opportunities to build a critical mass for your community. We’ve used it for over 20 communities on Facebook and it has helped us acquire relevant fans on Facebook for as low as one U.S. cent per fan.
  2. Facebook applications: There are numerous freely available Facebook applications such as Poll, which allow you to continuously engage your audience and encourage them to promote your community within their network.
  3. Integration with other digital channels: You can embed your Facebook Fan Page Box or a widget in your website or blog. Similarly, you can promote your Facebook community through a presentation on SlideShare, YouTube, and Email signature, or through a tweet.
  4. Leveraging offline channels: Inviting the target audience to join the community by publishing the link of your Facebook community on a business card, restaurant menu, billboard, print ad, or product packaging is increasingly becoming a trend even in India.
  5. Search engine optimization: With the inclusion of Facebook fan pages in search engine results by all major search engines (Google, Yahoo and MSN), you can optimize your fan page to attract more community members. The rules of optimizing a Facebook page are similar to the rules of optimizing a web page. The common elements of SEO such as inclusion of keywords in the page content and URL and incoming links from other relevant sites should be continuously leveraged to generate organic growth.

In the next post I will explore the metrics or consumer signals that you must regularly track.

This article was originally published at WSJ’s India Chief Mentor.

How to Build a Great Company Facebook Page? (Wall Street Journal)

“Does your company have a Facebook page?”

In order to be truly successful in building a live and engaging community on the web, you need to have both a positioning strategy and an execution plan in place. To formulate a strategy for your online community, you need to answer a few critical questions before you begin.

Ching's Secret FB Page Why should I create a community?

A community can serve multiple purposes and can be very powerful provided you have a clear objective. Some of the objectives for you to consider include:

  • Brand building and promotion. Coke’s community on Facebook has more than 5.7 million members
  • Customer feedback. Starbucks’ community has more than 7.5 million members and the community decides the flavor of the brand’s next coffee.
  • Lead generation and online sales. Gunpowder restaurant in New Delhi does much of its table booking through its Facebook fan page
  • Online reputation management. Dell’s Facebook page for small and medium-sized businesses is a great tool for the company to continuously strengthen its reputation as a brand that is committed to customer service.

Read complete article at Wall Street Journal.

Agri content business

Interesting business around creating content and answering questions regarding agriculture. I guess the kind of content people will find relevant and will pay for – check out

India to gain in PE investments?

A Coller Capital report suggests that India and China might be net beneficiaries of the degradation in PE returns in developed markets. It predicts that PE investments in India and China will continue to climb despite higher risk. Key question: will it happen just in growth investing, or also in venture capital?

Google TV – Why Google will succeed where Microsoft failed

Why Google will succeed where Microsoft failed

Back in 1997, Microsoft announced the acquisition of a company called WebTV. WebTV’s product was a set top box with a 100Mhz processor, 2MB RAM and 2MB ROM. Using a built in dial-up modem, subscribers could browse the web,  watch TV as they browsed the web and record programs on the hard disk. Despite, Microsoft’s massive marketing push, the device never gained much popularity. Google is attempting an internet connected set-top box of its own. In the recent Google IO meet, Google announced the Google TV in partnership with Intel, Sony and Logitech. Google will provide the OS (Android), Intel will supply the chips, Sony will build the box and Logitech will build the remote. Here’s why they may succeed where Microsoft failed.


In some ways, the WebTV was ahead of its times. Without Broadband speeds, online videos and IPTV weren’t really possible and email was the predominant application. The TV is a very family device and users didn’t want to check emails on the TV. YouTube, IPTV services, gaming and internet based movie rental/purchase are gaining popularity and are already driving the need to bring the internet connection to the TV.


Another problem with the WebTV was that conventional CRT TVs had extremely low resolution. Web content, which was primarily text based at the time, couldn’t be rendered nicely on a CRT TV. With the rising penetration of the LCD TV, reading text on an LCD is much more acceptable.


Google’s Android App store means that the Google TV would replace a lot of different boxes in your crowded living room. Using inexpensive Apps, ranging in price from free to a few dollars, you could use Google TV to stream/rent audio and movies from the Internet, display content stored on your Wifi connected Hard Disk and even replace your gaming consoles. Live feeds from Facebook and Twitter could be the ticker on the bottom of your TV screen. Beyond the multimedia applications, hardware developed to connect with Google TV could let you use the TV to monitor and control your home automation and surveillance systems or even an automatic vacuum cleaner.


Why would Google’s apps succeed where others have failed before? The answer lies in Google’s open source approach. The Google TV is not just one box built by Sony. Google’s open source approach means hundreds of companies could launch set top boxes of varying configurations. Potentially, the Satellite TV set top boxes and LCD TVs could start to use Android for their OS, allowing users to run Android Apps on their TVs. The open Android App environment means content in the form of multimedia and games could be developed and distributed by virtually anyone for a very large market. The open framework could spawn a market for other consumer electronics devices which use the set top box and TV as accessories to reuse processing and display hardware thus reducing costs.


What Google is launching goes beyond a single set top box to an entire eco-system and it could change the TV experience in much the same way as the Iphone changed the cellphone business.

NASSCOM EMERGE 50….emerge a winner!

It is publicity (of the right variety) that creates winners. Of course not to suggest even for a minute that substance is secondary. It isn’t. If anything, it will always remain the primary reason, that will differentiate the winners from “also-rans.”  But, as they say even Eagles need a push! The IT industry is not short of ideas, talent or the willingness to execute. However, when we take an annual headcount, only a handful actually matter. Strangely enough, the names are repetitive as very few are added on to the flock.EMERGE 50 was an idea conceptualised by the NASSCOM EMERGE Community to create a platform and showcase some of the SME companies which have the potential to make a difference. We initiated the programme last year and invited applications from Emerging companies in four distinct categories: EMERGE Growth, EMERGE Markets, EMERGE Products, EMERGE Service. The parameters for judging were:

  1. The companies which achieved the fastest growth over past 2-3 years.
  2. Those which offer unique value proposition – game-changers
  3. Those with unique organisational work models
  4. Those operating in non-traditional markets
  5. Those having built their own IPR, and
  6. Unique delivery systems like SaaS, Cloud Computing etc

We received over 200 Applications from as many as 12 cities. A jury of 7 members, went through each one of the applications and that is how the top 50 Emerging Companies “emerged.” It would be interesting to note how the winners could leverage this opportunity and create awareness.

  1. All 50 companies were listed in DataQuest
  2. In NASSCOM Newsline/NASSCOM EMERGE Blog/Newsletter
  3. Mentoring was offered to most of the companies who got short-listed
  4. Showcase of EMERGE Product Companies to the CIO community in the Product Conclave
  5. Partnered with to feature 30 Entrepreneurs on their site.
  6. Showcasing of EMERGE 50 Leaders at our events
  7. Recognition for EMERGE 50 at the NASSCOM EMERGEOUT Conclave in Delhi
  8. Been able to find partners through our Global trade development initiatives.

This year too we are back and have added two new categories – EMERGE Partnerships and EMERGE Start ups. EMERGE Partnerships would look for companies where emerging companies have partnered with other SME companies in developing technology, business development or as a part of sub-contracting. EMERGE Start ups would include products / services developed by start-ups which are less than 3 years old with an annual turnover not exceeding 2 Crores. Due weightage would be given to companies which deal in new-age technology like SaaS and Cloud Computing.

The excitement can’t get any bigger than this. Watch this space for
more info as we inundate you with updates. You don’t really want to miss out
on this opportunity. The last date for submitting your nominations
are 28th June 2010. If incase you have any clarifications please send in your queries to

Apply online at or