Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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Good but for whom?

It is often said that good and bad are inseparable! And also too much of Good is often Bad. I experienced this through a rather mundane occurrence today – which made me think: in our enthusiasm to run our business are we running it over?
 
I called the popular Just Dial service and requested for a service provider’s information. Interestingly before I put the phone down, I had a call on my mobile asking if I wanted some help – from another company who is into similar servicing. By the time I told them that I have already asked someone for the service, there was another provider calling me on my landline. This “call attack” continued for about 15 minutes! At some points it resembled a comedy paradox with me glued to the telephone.

Just Dial is a very helpful service, which I have used number of times. It is especially useful for local search queries and for getting a general list of providers for common services. When Just Dial started sending a bunch of numbers as an SMS to our mobile number so that we can reach out to alternate providers, I was appreciative of this value add. But today Just Dial has started forwarding our numbers to providers for a fee. There seems to be now, a good number of people who get our numbers and names.  While it seems like a logical extension to servicing and also a good revenue stream for JustDial – for me as an user it is a cause of  irritation (due to the ambush by so many agencies) and concern (privacy).  If this continues (and it looks like it will) many people will have to think twice before calling Just Dial – considering the fact that we will be flooded with calls from vendors almost instantaneously.

While Just Dial may have thought of the value add (for organizations who enlist with them), they seemed to have missed the impact on the user (people who make the enquiries). Additionally with stiff competition for local search coming from data based on-demand search services from the likes of Yahoo! And Google, this consumer irritation / concern could hurt Just Dial, if not addressed in time.

This experience is a page out of the Just Dial approach towards business – but do we also make such decisions? Are we thinking enough on our customer acquisition and retention strategies? Does our organizational strategy think long enough on sustainability and repercussion of our choices? On whose perception are we basing the value of our initiative?


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Are we so irrational towards value?

A few days back I was booking myself tickets for return to Chennai. As always I opened makemytrip.com and looked up options. Amongst the suitable options were three: Jetlite, SpiceJet, Kingfisher. All three almost offering almost the same rates! No not really – there was one exception!
 
Kingfisher had a figure 2000/- next to the price! While I wondered and looked up more closely if I had missed a large discount – I was startled at the offer. The message said that if the flight was cancelled, they would give back 2000/- in addition to the cost of the ticket. It was supposed to be an assurance that the flight would take-off and the 2000/- was their way of luring the passengers .The alternative to this was a paltry Rs 100/- off on SpiceJet’s flight.

My immediate reaction was to reach for the bigger value offer (!!!) Kingfisher – as my mind was weighing what my eyes were seeing: Rs 2000 Vs Rs 100. But then rationality did take over. What would it mean to book on Kingfisher? It meant I will benefit additionally if the flight does not take-off, but I pay the full price for it to take-off. But why will I not want the flight to take-off? My very essence of booking the ticket is with the belief that the flight will take-off on time and land safely.

So I booked SpiceJet, received the Rs 100/ rupees discount on the ticket and also watched the Kingfisher flight take-off with some people losing 2000/- notionally!
 
Isn’t this similar to so many attractive ‘cash back’ schemes – return the product if you are not happy – we will pay you the money back. Is that a rational argument to make someone buy? Why would I invest money to buy a product with the feeling that if it fails I will be financially compensated / rewarded? Except in some special cases where an absolutely new product whose use / need is not realized (that too as a test case) such schemes will help and sound rational. But in most other cases – it makes no meaning! Either we have lost our perception of value or the companies have started truly compromising on values to lure customers.

As consumers what do we look for – performance guarantee or failure compensation promises?
 
Are we so irrational towards value or are we being taken for a ride?


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Book Review: “Full Steam Ahead” – Powered to the hilt!!

Book : Full Steam Ahead!  Authors:  Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner

There is so much spoken and written about ‘vision’ for a business. It is almost as-if a war would break out (intellectually) about what the words ‘vision’ and ‘mission’ mean and which is bigger?
 
This little book titled “Full Steam Ahead” is actually a book about ‘vision’ – I never thought it would be when I looked at the title. But once I started reading it, I realized that this is another little gem that Ken Blanchard and team have given us. There is a philosophical bent to the ideas presented apart from the absolutely logical build-up of the concepts. This combination along with the slight emotional connect through story-telling that the authors have achieved, has made the book un-put-down-able! You will not be able to stop once you start, till you race to the end. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised even if this beats some of the real blockbuster movies hands-down in storyline!
 
If not anything else, the price of the book is more than worth for just the following pages: Purpose (39), Values (63), Picture of the Future (78), Vision (80), Test of a compelling vision (82) and For Vision to become Reality (120). These six pages captures in essence the message of the book. But reading just these pages is not a substitute to reading the book!
 
According to the authors, vision is made up of three components (Purpose, Values and a Picture of the Future) and putting these together and implementing it in the present is what makes the difference! I strongly recommend this little book to every person even if they are just toying with the idea of creating a meaningful life – while for every entrepreneur it should be mandatory reading!


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Mentoring – Food for thought

Mentors are those guiding stars who lead us to see things that are hidden in plain sight.  However mentoring is very different from dishing out common-sense grounded advice. Here are few thoughts on what could make the mentor-mentee equation work on HBR blogs:

http://blogs.hbr.org/johnson/2011/10/get-the-mentoring-equation-rig.html

 You can also read some earlier thoughts on “ what mentoring means for an entrepreneur” – and “what it takes to be a mentor”:

http://ichibanthoughts.wordpress.com/tag/mentoring-entrepreneurs/

 Would love to know what you think..


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Lesson for all Seasons

Seasons change! Yes they have, they do and they always will. Nature doesn’t seem to have any issues with it. As seasons change, nature goes through its cycle. Look at plants, they lose their lustre in one season, glow in another and they don’t seem to worry or bother about it too much. Animals take a step further, they have their good times, move to secure locations when they are frightened and re-appear when either a need arises or they feel safer.

Incoming seasons create benefits for some and spoil the party for some. It is important for the benefactors to realize that seasons change! If they don’t, they will be in for some surprise when tides change. When stated it seems like a paranoid opinion – but look around and you will find numerous examples of the latter.

Seasons change; people benefit – bask in glory and let it ride to their heads, as though the season is here to stay.  So many businesses hailed as the trend-setter, awarded and recognised as best businesses slink into non-existence in matter of just few years.  Wins are as ephemeral as failures – they are neither  the end of your journey nor your sustainable differentiator!  Only when you realise this; would you give yourself a pat, award yourself a smile – but pick up your chisel to drive through the mountain to reach your goal!

No wonder our wise people of the past said “Don’t overdo success and don’t overdo failure – because nothing is permanent.” Hope rationality prevails!


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A Gift to my Children by Jim Rogers

Book Cover

Lessons from Dad

Ask many children / teenagers (especially youth) and they will tell you how they detest advice. Repeat the same exercise when they reach past 50 years of age and they will reverse their statement!

Jim Rogers has some advice for his son through his book “A Gift to my Children”. And one special passage he has written stuck me hard. I quote it verbatim:

“While I was driving around the word with your mother, my father’s cancer deteriorated and he eventually passed away. But I did not stop our journey to return to my father’s side. That might sound selfish or coldhearted. And so I want you to know why I made this choice. For me to go on a round-the-world trip was my father’s dream as well as mine. He insisted that I not cut the trip short for his sake. When his condition worsened, it was important to me to tell him how proud of him I was and how much I loved him. I phoned dad frequently and wrote him numerous letters. But I did not return to the United states. I still cry about it when I remember those days and his wishes.

I want you to fulfill your dreams. That is my dream too. As your father, I wish for you a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment. I want you to pursue, without pause, whatever it is that stirs your passion. Keep working toward your dream, not someone else’s and not mine, either. A lot of people try to live for others-their children, their spouses, their parents, their friends-and in doing so twist themselves into knots attempting to meet their often outsized and/or unrealistic expectations. That leaves little space for personal growth and progress, and creates resentment for lost opportunities.”

What a wonderful advice to Entrepreneurs and all those driven by a dream but torn by the self-imposed chains of expectation! How often have we stood at the cross roads – guilt ridden, looking back with remorse at the balance between expectation, reality and aspiration. The above advice is probably the most difficult to practice – but then can there be any other way for someone who is consumed by a dream?

Reading “A Gift to my children” made me feel nostalgic about some of my conversations with my dad during my early years. Of late our (me & dad) periodicity of conversations / discussions have come down, but intensity and depth have increased. I feel today I need to increase the periodicity too! Past experience when superimposed on current challenges has immense take-a-ways!

The aspects covered in Roger’s book can be split into 3 buckets namely: advice on investing, advice on living, and advice on growing. Advice on living is similar to what most other parents wish for their children with some additional nuggets from Roger’s additional exposure. Advice on investing had some cool stuff, especially for long term investors. Advice on growing that too the professional side of it, was in my purview the real value.

Some of these actually triggered my thinking and here are some of the thoughts that I have been able to derive for self:

  • Learn the art of recognizing trends
  • Read extensively especially history, philosophy & economics
  • Learn languages especially Mandarin
  • When you have nothing to do, dust the shelves
  • When everyone is thinking the same thing, someone is not thinking – Patton
  • Future is going to be driven by the BRIC nations
  • Learn to be a global or world citizen
  • Truth is usually the first casualty of war, so stay away from war / enmity
  • Train yourself to think both ways: induction (by observation) & deduction (by logic)
  • Accept mistakes gracefully for only this can take you higher
  • Re-read, understand and apply the basic theory of demand-supply – No one defied this and survived!
  • Acknowledge that women are more active in society Understand and learn to work along with them

He also offers some futuristic guesses that only time can validate:

  • 21st century is that of China; don’t ignore!
  • In 100 years there will be more than 300 -400 soveriegn nations in the world!

Interesting!!!!

I am sure some of you are wondering if this is a book review. I am not sure if this can be classified as one as I have not touched many of the aspects that one would touch in a book review, and definitely that was not the intent either when I sat down to write these thoughts.

Reading this book had an impact on me as an Entrepreneur  – psychologically and business wise. It got me thinking, got me curious and as always I am here sharing it with you!!

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