Author Archive for Saurabh Garg

Thoughts on book publishing industry

Note: Posted this on my blog the other day. Wanted to get opinion of a wider audience and hence posting it here.

There has been a recent spurt in the number of writers. 4 out of 10 people I know are either writers or are aspiring to be one. And similarly, the spurt in homw grown publishing companies. After all, all you need to be a publishing company is a couple of certificates and you are ready to issue ISBN numbers.

For a first time writer, the traditional way to go about getting a book published is to finish the manuscript, cold call all the publishers he can and hope to hear back from one or more.

Then, came the middle man – the literary agents. Now the writers wrote their manuscripts, went to a literary agent and slept in peace. The agent would identify the publishing houses that may be interested in the manuscript and approach these publishers. Ofcourse the agent would ask or a cut. A typical number, if I am not wrong is 10%. Could bi higher for a new writer.

So the game is heavily stacked in the favour of agents and the publishers. Publishers take a call on what they want to publish. The kind of books published and thus advertised on the mainstream are thus limited to the understanding of the publisher. Ofcourse publishers are learned men and know what they are doing. They run huge businesses after all. But then, if there was a way the audience, the junta, the aam aadmi could decide the kind of books they want to read, it would be awesome.

So here are the ideas. Three actually.

One. Discovery platform.

What if every first time writer gets to create an account on a portal. They upload the first three chapters (or 10% of the book online) and the platform is open for the audience to read these excerpts. If readers like what they see, they can indicate that they want to read the rest of the book. The books that get “likes” above a minimum threshold (say 5000 likes) are put in print and every one who has liked is notified about the print run. If the “likes” are below the threshold, everyone who indicated a like would have an option of buying the digital copy of the rest of the book.

So essentially, the process of identifying the “winners” is taken away from the publishers and literary agents and is given in the hands of the readers. If such could be the case, I am assuming that there would be lot more writers that would get published and a lot of books that have been published would be sent to raddiwalla.

Classic freemium model at work.

Two. Marketplace for writers and publishers.

What if there could be a service that got writers and publishers together on a platform. So all new authors login, see what kinda things do publishers want to publish and then accordingly submit their manuscripts. On the other hand, publishers see what kind of scripts are being uploaded and see if publishing those would make sense for their business.

Platform does one level of sanity and hygiene check and then lists the manuscripts to publishers. Publishers now decide if they want to publish or not.

This kills the literary agent but at the same time saves so much of headache for writer and publishers.

Three. Self publish on the digital medium

Alternatively (or may be concurrently), the platform that I spoke about in idea # 2 could enable and guide the new writers to publish themselves digitally. The platform could take care of logistics like issuing an ISBN number etc. Since digital reading devices are in vogue, there must be enough people interested in buying these digital books (at least numbers from Amazon tend to indicate this). And suddenly a new writer is no longer at the mercy of the whims of a publisher!

And if a book does well on the digital platform, they can be released in the traditional print run, and get sold on brick and mortar stores and flipkarts of the world!

Pothi.com looks like a good place for such an idea but IMHO the execution leaves much to be desired.

Thats it. Its a pity that the business is stacked against the content creators. My estimates and interviews tell me that a new writer gets anywhere between 4% and 12% (if lucky) of the selling price of the book. The major chunk goes to the reatailer (flipkarts and Strands of the world) and the publisher. Isnt it unfair that the content creator actually gets the smallest piece of the pie? Something worth fixing!

Posted originally on sgSandbox.

Business Idea: Market Intelligence Firm

Introduction
Traditionally we know market research as a part of marketing effort that gathers data, validates assumptions or helps identify new opportunities. However most of the research problems are really reactive in nature. Someone realizes that they have a problem and research is one of the ways to start figuring out what to do with things. Basis this assumption, what if there is a market intelligence firm that works pro-actively and feeds companies and brands with dossiers that help in decision making.

Background/Idea
I was doing market rounds for one of my clients and I saw that Coke has a water brand called BonAqua apart from Kinley (that they recently relaunched). I also saw that Frito Lays has launched a brand called Desi Beats (under the parent brand Kurkure) – in direct competition to ITC’s Bingo. I thought what if I could collect all this information for a lot of brands and create market report to be used by businesses in helping them take decisions. It would be an extension of their strategy division.

Business Case
As a brand it is very difficult for me to keep track of things that are happening in the market. Most of the information is gathered through grapevines and unofficial contacts between companies. Most of this generally is noise. And thus, I would readily pay for a company that monitors the market on my behalf and gives me weekly or monthly dossiers on what is happening in the market. This could be information about competitors, imitators, new territories, customer feedback etc. Further, this is better than market research because I am not paying for data that is more often than not fudged and at the same time has lots of biases built it. In fact more and more clients I meet as part of my work for Creativeland Asia dont want to believe in traditional market research methodologies (they are more interested in things like observational techniques).

How would I do this?
Two steps really.

  • One: If I hire part-timers (or even volunteers) whose only job is to go and click pictures at retail shelves across the country (once a week), I can collect reams of data. And with advent of personal technology, its cheap and convenient to click pictures and send it to a centralized location. I can pay these guys on per picture basis. I can even ask these guys to click a certain kind of store.
  • Two: I can then have another team analyze this data for information and patterns. We can hire MBA from grade three business schools like Amity, ICFAI etc and pay them peanuts to do basic analysis. In case a client requires a detailed report, we can use experienced resource to work on there.

For example if suddenly all images from Delhi show that Red Bull is now visible at even the juice shops, that would mean that Red Bull is trying to revamp their distribution and has ambitious plans. A company like Coke or Pepsi should be scared and probably take lessons from Red Bull. This would also indicate that there is a demand for Red Bull in Delhi. Can Gatorade now be launched with more gusto?

Probable Roadblocks
Quite a few. Including things like <retailers not allowing you to click pictures>, <motivation and remuneration of volunteers>, <team of analysts>, <no competitive advantage> etc. etc. Need to think lot more on this. I would appreciate feedback from readers on this.

Wondering what the learned community on Venturewoods thinks about the idea and what are the few major objections that one can think of. I would really appreciate if you guys here can help me see what I am missing.

Thanks for patient read,
Saurabh Garg
(Originally posted on The New New Thing and modified for Venturewoods)

Call Taxi India

This is a post on Radio Taxi business in India. I am using Meru just as an example to understand the economics of business. There are simple back of an envelop calculations and hope someone gives me a better insight on this business. The numbers look too tempting to be real.

I was traveling with Meru yesterday (27th July 2008) and I happened to strike a conversation with the driver. During our conversation, he gave me following stats

  1. No of Meru taxis on Mumbai roads: 800
  2. No of taxis by EOY in Mumbai: 1300
  3. Average occupancy: 100% in peak-hours and 80%+ in non-peak hours
  4. Peak Hours: 7AM to 10AM and 6PM to 10PM. He said that its impossible to get a Meru Cab in peak hours. This vindicates the business model and demand in the market for these call cabs.
  5. Average Fare: Rs. 15 per KM. Compare this with regular taxis in Mumbai. A regular taxi is Rs. 13 per KM and a premium of Rs. 2 is not very steep considering the convenience and comfort of a call cab.

With these numbers the business sure makes a lot of sense. Only deterrents I can think of are:

  1. High fixed cost of acquiring taxis. Not a huge problem. They can take long term loans from banks or PE players. They can also acquire more cabs by using the part-ownership model (where each driver pools in some money to own the taxi and Meru is just a brand name).
  2. Setup of call center. Obviously each taxi needs to have a GPS device and a two-way radio. There has to be a way to connect the cab with the nearest available free taxi. And since this is a pure service offering, call center is very important.
  3. Capped Potential: The earnings is directly proportional to number of taxis on the road. The scope of innovating on income stream is really low. At max you can use your taxi as an advertising medium.
  4. Traffic rules and regulations: Registration with transport authorities in India is a very cumbersome and long process. Although this is a one-time stumbling block, companies would have to divert a lot of attention there initially.
  5. What else? Am I missing something here?

Business Sense

  1. I would want to what percentage of bookings is done for immediate travel and what percentage is booked at least 2 hours in advance. If the pre-planned travel is very high, then these companies can better utilize their capacities and go for some kind of planning.
  2. I would also want to know what percentage of bookings is for large corporates (say institutional). Because moment Meru gets institutional bookings, they can again manage the fleet better and can be assured of certain minimum number of bookings.

Future

  1. Is their a merit in getting into contracts with airlines, hotels,
    coporate parks etc to manage their taxi services? Again its of those
    things where you convert huge one time capex for companies into on-demand opex.
  2. What innovations are possible so as to maximize the utilization of fleet and make more money from the same number of taxis? Would a thing like car-pooling work with radio taxis? Say junta going from Andheri to Town everyday can pool a Meru.
  3. What else? Please send in your suggestions.

From the Meru website, I could get following details

  1. After Mumbai, Meru is now available in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Delhi. As I said earlier also, the business potential is vindicated by simple calculations.
  2. India Value Fund has already invested in Meru. Although I am no fortune teller, but I can easily foresee a handsome return on the investment. And I can’t understand why the Penguin effect is absent in this industry. If I had money, I would have loved to get into this business. Obviously at the right time and right price.

Other Radio Taxi Players in India

  1. Meru
  2. MegaCabs
  3. Orix

If anyone can help me connect to someone with Meru or any other radio cab owners/managers, please drop a line. I will keep on updating this post on my wiki at s4ur4bh.pbwiki.com.

Image Credits: Andertho via Flickr

Disclaimer: I am assuming that the occupancy rates given by that driver are correct and the taxi service would have similar occupancy numbers in other cities.

Posted originally on my blog here.

Mobile Development Report

PCO

I recently came across this report titled “The Mobile Development Report“, published by CKS on a research commissioned by Nokia for developmental use of mobile networks in emerging economies.

The report focuses on social transformations around a new technology and its adoption. The report beautifully documents lives and ways Indians in tier 2 cities and towns use mobile phones. One of the best reports, a few highlights for me are

  1. The East-West Divide: If we draw a line connecting Delhi and Chennai, the western India has seen most of the developmental efforts. East of this line still exist opportunities and possibilities. And this has largely been ignored by most of us (entrepreneurs, students, professionals, academicians etc.)
  2. Understanding of India as a country. The report gives a very deep understanding of Indians and their communication behavior. What makes this one different and special is that CKS talks about the entire India – not just metros or towns or villages.
  3. Classification of towns and villages. CKS has done a very good job in classifying towns and villages according the now famous pyramid by CK Prahalad. The report further classifies these rural citizens in terms of their purchasing power. Probably first such effort in India?
  4. Opportunities in Rural AND Urban India. Everyone is ga-ga about opportunities in rural India and largely . While reading this report, it dawned on me that even the urban and semi-urban population is more than 500 mn. This number is more than the population of US and UK combined and there is a strong case of a business flourishing here also. Agreed that urban markets are difficult to crack considering they have plethora of options and they are picky. But is too large a segment to be ignored and is waiting to be tapped.
  5. Insights from research: CKS has gone beyond regular data collection and have come up with insights such as elevation in social stature, increased credibility, ease of use of mobile phones as communication device compared to an Internet-connected PC, personal and societal welfare etc. And how does an access to a mobile communication tool helps people make their lives better.
  6. Possible Applications: in micro-commerce, making travel easier, access to information, education (one of the examples look uncannily similar to latest Idea Cellular advertisement) etc. This can be coupled with findings from Jan Chipchase (more on him later) to identify new and possibly revolutionary businesses. Simple example could be use of airtime as currency and if someone can regulate this, its a huge huge market waiting to be tapped.
  7. Case Studies: The way they have chosen their subjects, the methodology to conduct an interview, the detail in which they have gone while researching, they have captured the entire life of the subjects. With the kind of detail available, you can easily create character maps of these subjects and derive the way they live their lives and how they interact with brands.
  8. Photographs: Awesome collection of photographs that the team has taken during their study.

The report also mentions at one point Jan Chipchase, a Nokia employee whose job is to travel the world and observe and document novel ways in which people use and interact with mobile phones. This is his wonderful talk on TED on how we use our mobile phones.

Coming back to CKS report, one might argue that they covered only three districts and have extrapolated the data to come up with findings and recommendations. And that report was released in early 2007. But regardless of these reservations, this still remains one of the best research reports I have read in a long time.

Apart from the focus on mobile phones, the report is that detailed that you actually get tons of ideas (another post on this later) while reading it. Congratulations to CKS team for this awesome effort.

P.S.: The font size is way too small and there are 226 pages of information, worth its weight in gold.
P.S..: If anyone else is keen on serving the information and entertainment needs of a community and can foresee (or already has) a business in this domain, please contact me. You never know what might come out of a discussion.

Crossposted: Saurabh Garg Blog | Image Credits: manoogupta via Flickr

TrendWatching in India

Another day, another idea. This time, it is TrendWatching.

I define TrendWatching as a disciple where one observes (not sees), engages people in conversations (not interviews), identifies what is popular (not market research) and finally using these popular social objects to help businesses.

Why TrendWatching?
Market research as we know it is dead. I have huge reservations against the very premise of market research. If the respondents know that they are being researched, they more likely would come up with made up stories rather than answers. Then there is an entire issue about intelligence and commitment of the research agency. How do you know that interviews were actually conducted? How do you know that there are no errors in recording? And other millions questions like that.

TrendWatching can be the future of market research. Although it has been there since early 1990s and there are numerous companies making decent money predicting trends, yet it is still not taken seriously. Companies in India don’t even know about it. And hence the opportunity.

Predictions made by trendwatchers might or might not be accurate but they are far superior than a traditional market research. Trendhunters have been reported to be very accurate in predicting trends, fads and about-to-be-cult things in technology, pop culture, fashion, entertainment, media and youth.

How can one benefit from TrendWatching?
If you are a business and you know whats in vogue, you can use it for your brand to get new customers and keep existing ones excites. It also helps make your brand more relevant, pertinent and contemporary.

Its like looking in the glass ball and getting a perspective on things that would be cult in years to come and your business and brand can use these inputs to succeed. If I can draw an analogy, in all facets of life we have people who predict the future based on some logical assumptions. Institutions like meteorological departments, astrologers, stock traders, policy makers, governments, economists etc. so it all the time. Why not do it with business? And if you are accurate even at 1% of times, there are immense gains to be made.

If you are an individual, you can figure out what is in vogue and you would not be known as a drab person. It will elevate your social status in your peer group.

How to go about TrendWatching?
It involves using Malcolm Gladwell‘s now famous work titled The Tipping Point. It assumes that there are certain people who are very much involved into one activity and are experts by the virtue of their indulgence. If we bring few such experts and let them talk to each other, we can have interesting observations. There is no real innovation happening with these methodologies. Most of these are simply making incremental changes to what people in other evolved economies are doing.

The biggest stumbling block and (as Michael Porter would put it) the entry barrier to this business is access to these people. You need to be able to identify these people, get them to work for you and get into a conversation. And moment we talk about people being a key criteria, we are talking about emotions and uncertainty.

End Notes
I see immense business potential with TrendWatching in times to come. Especially in India. This is one of those businesses where capital required is minimal and business can generate awesome cash flows.

I invite readers to share their perspectives on this. Please be critical. And as always, post reproduced from personal blog.

Business Idea: Branded Entertainment

Cast Away is an awesome movie. You see it and you come back with two things. One, Tom Hanks survives the lonely island. And Two, he is a FedEx employee and he delivers that Wilson ball in the end.

Then there is a book called How Starbucks saved my life. You read the book and you again remember two things. One is making tough decisions. And two how Starbucks helped a guy discover what he wanted in life.

Both these, the movie and the book are awesome pieces of entertainment. People have seen these, talked about these and recommended these to their friends. On a standalone basis both of them are pieces of art. And most probably, both were original productions created by individuals without any influence by the company they talk about. And this is where the idea comes. What if both of them were sponsored and paid by the company they talk about?

I have been thinking about a company that creates these branded entertainment products for money. Obviously there are limitations and issues but none that stops the company from flourishing. Please note that this is very different from product placements in media. This is creating the product first and then inserting the brand.

Business Need: Advertising as we know it, would be dead very soon. People would start filtering advertisements automatically and recommendations from influences would start loosing meaning. then what? The solution lies in creating media around brand. Think of The Truman Show done at a smaller scale.

Possible Entertainment Options: This could be a very very long list. Starting with movies, television shows, radio shows to print media (newspaper, magazines, books, travelogues etc.) to interactive media (Internet, blogs, websites), others (computer games, hotspots, retail). The list is long.

Problem Areas: There are quite a few. Biggest one is obsolescence. Once an entertainment outlet is used for a brand, it becomes difficult to innovate and use the same medium for another brand. Then there are other petty issues like it being very expensive for brands. We are talking about professional book writers, movie makers, gaming companies working on the brand. We can explore cheaper options like blogs and websites but how many consumers of a brand like say Rin, be on Internet? They would be on TV for sure.

A lot more thought needs to go in place. I have about 4 more pages of random thoughts and comments. If anyone is interesting in talking more about it, please let me know and I shall share those docs.

Any opinions? thoughts? Crossposted

Fostering Innovation in India

Even after all these years of the so-called IT revolution, India is still struggling for a business/company that has created intellectual capital and has thus created a true enterprise with roots in research and development. I think its about time to take stock and figure out why.

No one would dispute that India has all it takes to create sustainable, world-class IP businesses. We have the requisite manpower. We have the intellectual prowess. We have the infrastructure (at least at few places). And we have people who can be effective leaders and mentors. All the pieces of jigsaw puzzles are there. Someone just needs to put all of them at one place at the same time.

This is where the story becomes interesting. People are scattered across geography and time. And these pieces don’t know that they are parts of something bigger and they all can play a role. Even if they realize that they can take their ideas to fruition, they don’t know where and how to find complementary skill-sets. We need something, a system probably to help these people come together.

Reminds me of classical markets. Every buyer knows that they will find the best sellers at the market place and every seller knows that they will find the most generous and knowledgeable buyers at the market. Everyone converges to the market and everyone goes back happy.

A look at all great places to work would reveal that people thrive in presence of great minds around them. Everyone learns off each other and collectively the tribe becomes stronger. Starting with Microsoft, moving on to Google and now Facebook, most technology people want to be at a place where they can be pushed and challenged by their peers and they can enrich their experiences. Microsoft, Google and Facebook are like above-mentioned markets. Programmers, Coders, Managers and even Chefs are jumping the gun and looking for better place. A place where all great minds converge and learn off each other and grow individually (and obviously to a place that gives them stock options).

India today needs someone to create such markets that enables people with complementary skills to come together and get them start talking to each other. Events like barCamps, OCC, MOMO and websites like VentureWoods, pluggd.In are doing it to some extent.

And now the questions. Are they really sufficient? Are they enabling people spread across geographies to come together? More importantly so these people have complementary skill sets? Any critics? Thoughts? Opinions?

P.S.: The title might be an misnomer … Originally posted here.