The Design Thinking Process

Today’s workshop was an unusual one — of course, it involved design! How should startups face the design challenge? How can the startups better identify and better engage with their customers? We had Ketna Hirji from The Innovation Tool Box to mentor our startups on how to go about the design process. Rather than just being lectured upon, the startups brainstormed on ideas and finally made a visual prototype and showcased them via elevator pitches.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

— Steve Jobs

Startups should question a customer to understand what he or she feels. Keep asking why, why, why to properly understand the customer and build an empathy map of the customer as to how he or she was feeling while answering the questions and arrive at a final statement like “Kate is a big coffee drinker who needs to make her own coffee quickly and wants the experience to be fun and seamless because she values her time.”

Next, brainstorm on the idea, keeping the following points in mind and follow the method in this video.

  1. Big
  2. Visual
  3. Quantity
  4. No judgements
  5. Go wild

Vote on the ideas and build a visual prototype which gets the most votes!

  1. Be mindful of the process
  2. Focus on human values
  3. Change your perspective
  4. Collaborate across boundaries
  5. Create clarity from complexity
  6. Show, don’t tell!

Cross posted on the GSF blog. The GSF Accelerator is a 7-week program designed to foster innovation in India’s fast-growing digital economy. It aims to provide select, promising start-ups with unparalleled access to venture and business networks, personalized and intensive mentoring, and initial capital. Coaching is provided to each of the GSF startups by a mentor pool of over 200 cofounders and digital entrepreneurs from across the world. This article is a part of the series of the mentorship sessions held for the startups in the winter 2012 iteration of the accelerator.

Acquiring Customers and Marketing Your Startup

What is the foremost reason for a startup failure? No, it’s not being unable to understand the market right. It is having high costs of customer acquisition. So how to acquire customers in a cost-effective way and what digital marketing strategies to use? This is the question that is asked by all the startups all over the world. We had Nikhil Rungta from Google, Bhawna Agarwal from Seventymm and Anurag Gupta from DGM to answer this question for us.

There are various channels of customer acquisition — they’re different for every kind of business like B2C non-ecommerce, B2C e-commerce, B2B and so on. Pick a method to acquire customers wisely — on the basis of what you’re trying to achieve. And it should give a steady graph in customer acquisition, not ups and downs. Don’t try all the techniques at one go.

Internet channels

  • Search: SEO (free). If your product is solving a problem and is not based on content, SEO and other things might not actually work for you, as the user wouldn’t be looking for your product.
  • PPC: Can be for brand building and non-brand building.
  • Affiliates: Largely steady and controls acquisition cost. If you spend x amount on PPC, you’d be spending 0.8-1.25x on affiliates.
  • Display ads: 4-10x the amount on PPC.
  • Social
  • Email: Have a catchy subject — don’t try to sell in the email, offer information. Use your messaging effectively, have the user to enter some information than having him to buy.
  • Referrals (free): Try and target this. If a customer starts speaking about you, you’ve hit gold.

Mobile

Mobile targeting involves low costs and can be used if you think you can target the appropriate audience.

Always remember that the target audience might not be the user. Target each audience with a different message. For example, while buying a car, an adult might be interested in fuel efficiency and specs, but children would be interested in the music system and other features that appeal to them.

Cross posted on the GSF blog. The GSF Accelerator is a 7-week program designed to foster innovation in India’s fast-growing digital economy. It aims to provide select, promising start-ups with unparalleled access to venture and business networks, personalized and intensive mentoring, and initial capital. Coaching is provided to each of the GSF startups by a mentor pool of over 200 cofounders and digital entrepreneurs from across the world. This article is a part of the series of the mentorship sessions held for the startups in the winter 2012 iteration of the accelerator.

Monetizing Your Product & Pricing Strategies

How can you monetize your product? What pricing options should you offer? Today’s talk addressed this aspect of an entrepreneur’s problems. We had Suresh V., EVP and Head of Sales of Naukri and Siddharth Puri, co-founder and business head of Tyroo to mentor the startups.

If your product is first in the niche, either start with a freemium model in which you’ll get a lot of feedback, or price it very low and develop a connection with the customer to build trust.

Always remember that your customer is the end customer whom you’re primarily serving, even if he doesn’t help you get money. For instance, on a jobs listing site, the job seeker doesn’t get you any money, the recruiter does. We do not know our indirect customers — and even if we know them, we don’t know the value that they derive.

Think yourself as a customer. Would you ever buy what you’re selling?

An interesting question that was asked was when is a product ready for serious monetization. The answer to that came was it’s when the app has either 10,000 registered users or 100,000 unique users on the site or 100,000+ app downloads.

It is interesting to know that only 0.0125% of the users engage with the advertisers from email marketing — only 5% people open advertising message sent to the opt-in database until and unless it’s highly customised for the audience, out of which just 5% people will end up clicking and going to advertiser’s site, out of which only 5% people will end up engaging with the advertiser.

The mobile market has a lot of potential, but is generally not targeted due to the lack of targeted ads, more of youth using it, lack of users profiles and the small size of the screen.

The whole world could talk of something as a problem, but can be an opportunity for you. Suresh explained this by telling about his experience at Naukri — post 9/11, the challenge they were facing became their opportunity. The quality of the traffic improvised — NRIs started coming back to India, more recruiters started coming to the website and that is how it grew. He continued his experience by telling about the monetization strategies that Naukri used — it used to advertise on the home page. But they later realised that any job seeker would actually just visit the website and directly search for the job he’s looking for — it was essential for them to have targeted advertisements on these search pages and this increased their revenue.

Points to remember

  1. Evolve your product by listening to your customers.
  2. Keep the pricing strategy very simple. Don’t overcomplicate — specially in the early stages.
  3. Have special prices for beta customers — build trust for renewals.

“Pricing is not related to costs. Price as how consumer would perceive the value of your product.” – Rajesh Sawhney

Cross posted on the GSF blog. The GSF Accelerator is a 7-week program designed to foster innovation in India’s fast-growing digital economy. It aims to provide select, promising start-ups with unparalleled access to venture and business networks, personalized and intensive mentoring, and initial capital. Coaching is provided to each of the GSF startups by a mentor pool of over 200 cofounders and digital entrepreneurs from across the world. This article is a part of the series of the mentorship sessions held for the startups in the winter 2012 iteration of the accelerator.

How to Pitch your Product?

How to pitch your product to the investors — this was the question answered by the leading personalities in the field — Alok Mittal from Canaan Partners and Mayank Khanduja from SAIF Partners in today’s session in Delhi.

Before preparing a pitch, you need to ask yourself — what’s the traction that your product has got — how accepted is it? Even if you’ve 500 initial customers, what’s the response of the customers? Are they coming back? How are you getting customers — staff picks on app markets? PR? Offline model? You should also know about the investor. What is his or her background. What kind of startups they’ve invested in, and then appropriately pitch to the investors who you think would be interested in your product.

You need to build a spirit of the pitch. Your pitch is to sell – sell a story – not people or data. Give out some customer testimonials that you’ve got. Have some hooks on the pitch — the first thing you’re selling is the opportunity — the problem that you’re solving. You need to show that you have the appropriate team — and you would be able to execute it — with evidence. Do remember that you shouldn’t have any artificial figures in your pitch. This is how you should go about a pitch:

  • Introduction — a brief about your product — what problem does it solve.
  • Competition — You need to communicate that you’ll win in the existing market. Showcase how — what is that that you offer is special.
  • Team — Show that you’ve the best position to win. Why are you, and your foundation team there in the startup? Never say that you currently have some advisors whose name you can not reveal and would join in once you get the funding — the investors do not take away anything positive from that with them.
  • Monetization — Show some pricing plans that you’ve thought of. If there are no revenue streams right now, will you have a subscription based pricing model or on the same lines in the future? Do remember that either you’ve got to have a lot (tens of millions) of people and then decide the monetization strategy or say that you’ve some people who would pay — not that you’ve some people and still need to figure out how they would pay.
  • Financials — Tell about your revenue projections, why you need the funding and how you’ll utilise the funds.
  • Finally, always end on a high — tell some customer testimonials or some awards that you’ve won for your product.

Elevator Pitch

You also need an elevator pitch — a two minute pitch in which you essentially tell the investor why he should give you 20 minutes more to hear about your product.

  • Tell about the problem that you’re solving — the what. Have the hooks in it.
  • How are you planning to solve it?
  • Who is your customer?
  • Do not have any tech jargons in the elevator pitch.
  • Keep it straight and simple.

Cross posted on the GSF blog. The GSF Accelerator is a 7-week program designed to foster innovation in India’s fast-growing digital economy. It aims to provide select, promising start-ups with unparalleled access to venture and business networks, personalized and intensive mentoring, and initial capital. Coaching is provided to each of the GSF startups by a mentor pool of over 200 cofounders and digital entrepreneurs from across the world. This article is a part of the series of the mentorship sessions held for the startups in the winter 2012 iteration of the accelerator.

Selecting the Right Technology and Building Scalable Apps

How can you select the technological frameworks you should use for something that you’re building? How can you scale something that you’re building? Today’s GSF Accelerator mentorship session focused on this issue. The contributing speakers were Ram Singla (Zomato), Gajinder Singh (PayU India) and Amit Sharma (Khojguru) and discussed on how a development cycle should look like.

Research First

Find the core value propositions first — for example, whether the mobile payment app or the hardware POS device is the core or whether local content aggregation or sentiment analysis is the core. And it isn’t constant. It changes, it evolves.

You need to find all the options that are available to you for the technologies that you would be using, and rate them on factors like time to market, enterprise, availability and cost, roadmap, legacy code, prior experience and the learning curve.

Development  “Ship soon, get feedback, iterate often.”

The development cycle goes from requirement to development to testing to review and finally releasing it. Then you take feedback from the user, fix bugs, add enhancements and release back — it happens again and again. Get it out, experiment fast, fail fast. You should simplify the application from the perspective of the user and time to market. Also, don’t be dependent on one platform. Use open source platforms if you’re well versed with them.

Don’t overbuild – “Find the mojo — where the sweet spot lies.”

You should focus on building what you need today, not years down the line. If you would be guessing, you’d only increasing maintenance burden.

Explode – “Decouple as many things as you can.”

When you’re going to grow huge, you’d explode. You would need to have independent components, API driven interactions, separate application logic, and even need to cache like crazy.

Analyze

You should know the flow of your program and be able to pinpoint a leak — can you get rid of the leak? How? Can throwing more hardware help/delay the problem? You need to engineer the bottlenecks — know the exact scenarios and how they will evolve by looking at the current ecosystem — for instance choosing between fingerprint or QR code.

Plus, you should always be logging data, even if you’re not using or analysing it. It would help you in the future — for instance to determine user’s preferences, etc.

Conclusion

  • Don’t tend to solve long-term problems, have a 6-month roadmap.
  • Do it fast, push it out, let the customers give feedback. Anticipate what they would want next.
  • Keep is simple.
  • Be frugal, don’t waste money.
  • Scalability: throw more hardware at it if it helps.
  • Run the company on the data you collect.

Don’t stop. Innovate. Again and again.

Cross posted on the GSF blog. The GSF Accelerator is a 7-week program designed to foster innovation in India’s fast-growing digital economy. It aims to provide select, promising start-ups with unparalleled access to venture and business networks, personalized and intensive mentoring, and initial capital. Coaching is provided to each of the GSF startups by a mentor pool of over 200 cofounders and digital entrepreneurs from across the world. This article is a part of the series of the mentorship sessions held for the startups in the winter 2012 iteration of the accelerator.

Trip to Googleplex No. 2!

Hey there! As you might have read on my blog, I got another chance to visit the Googleplex as a part of my Google Code-in achievement. But this time, I went with both my parents and to the east coast as well! Google was kind enough to give us an option to make our trips flexible since it’s once in a lifetime opportunity (though has struck me two times :P). And as you might have imagined, Google gave us a lot of swag too – including a brand new Galaxy Nexus! Some of the grand prize winners including me also made plans to visit other companies to meet Silicon Valley’s finest developers and get a sense of how it is to work there. I also got to meet my friend @kunalbhalla, who works at Facebook. Pictures follow. 😉 Continue reading

Integrating GlotPress User Tables With Another Software

I was actively working with LimeSurvey during Google Code-in ’11 and had promised them to integrate GlotPress with LimeSurvey (user tables) to help the translators and completed it some weeks back (though this was not the end result that they actually wanted, I’ll work on that later – thought I should write this before I forget the process myself – I know I have a short memory ;)). Continue reading

A Keyboard with no Marks

I have been using computers since years and have developed a good typing speed on the QWERTY keyboard (~100wpm) without even looking at it (I’m not looking at it even at the very moment – in fact, I haven’t looked at it while writing the whole blog post). Then I thought of the idea of removing the markings on the keyboard altogether. The space bar has no markings, but you’re still able to use it. Why? Because you know it’s a space. There’s nothing on the trackpad, but you can still use it (think of Apple publishing all the multi-touch gestures on the trackpad, how untidy it would be). The bumps on the F & J keys on your keyboard are enough to guide your fingers on the whole keyboard. Continue reading