In Business – Don’t Take Care, Take a Chance

As I have written in some of my previous articles, what distinguishes great people and organizations is not how they succeed, but how they fail. Great organizations (especially dealing with innovation) are about taking risks to do things that haven’t been done before. And like with any experiment – you know there are going to be more failures than successes. That is the definition of innovation. If the odds were higher and success was almost certain in every one of two cases or so, every Tom, Dick and Harry would be doing it.

Take Intelligent Risks
We live in a world of risks, and we live in a world of failure. Entire industries like venture capital, portfolio management and insurance work on the model of taking intelligent bets and risks, and making the few big wins count more than the numerous failures. So rather than eliminating risks, we should take intelligent risks and learn to eliminate the uncertainties. Because without risks, there is no moving ahead.

Look Far Ahead – The Bigger Perspective
When you look at the big picture you will realize that when you fail you are not finished. Failure doesn’t mean a full stop, it just means a temporary barrier on your way to wherever your vision is going to take you. Failures build our character amid immense challenges, and that is an incredible muscle to build for tough times. Over the period of a long journey, the definition of failure changes for most people, and we start becoming much less scared of it.

Be Ok with the Fear of Failure
What is lacking in the current environment is the concept of constructive failure, by which I mean the ability of doing things and failing, then learning from the mistakes and iterating until you reach the milestone of success. Failures can by compared to the lighting lamps on the way to every success story. Being able to take failure as an asset is a unique trait. When you really learn is when you are confronted with failure.

Dont Live Life, Be Alive
Many people say you can learn from the failure of others, but there is only limited knowledge and experience you can gain from reading books and listening to others. You can’t relive the experience of falling from a bike by reading about it. So in terms of failure, if we ‘really’ want to learn the lessons and want our time and money’s worth from failure, they better be our own. There are some experiences which must be felt if you have to learn the lessons with them, and there are no short cuts.
Infact, most of the success stories we know today are also stories of many more failures which are never highlighted by the media. To give a few examples, Henry Ford failed in five businesses before starting the Ford Motor Company and Soichiro Honda was turned down by Toyota for a job and was jobless for some time before he started making his own scooters at home. Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper for a “lack of imagination” before he started Disney. To stress the point that innovation in business is similar to experiments by scientists, we have the examples of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers. We will have examples in art, politics and sports too of such people, and some names that come to mind are Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Elvis Presley and Michael Jordan.

Fun as a way of doing Business, and why the “Cricky says Thanks” Campaign?

As I (CricketRadius) launch the Cricky says Thanks to Dravid and Ganguly campaign on twitter today, I want to take you into a brief journey of how I came up with the idea and how I see fun as an integral part of life, whether it is doing business or watching a game of cricket, or anything else for that matter.

If you Obey all the Rules, You miss all the Fun
If there is one mantra I live my life by, it would be this. The focus is not on breaking rules, but on having fun. We learn by doing, and by failing we learn how not to fail the next time. But that failing had all the fun. Remember the childhood days when you fell off the bicycle, or while playing football, and how much fun it was. And with every fall, we became better at not falling. For me, doing something the way I want do it is the greatest thrill in the world.

Cricky The Fan

Cricky The Fan

Work = Fun = Play = Business
I have always been in the business of cricket. Irrespective of where I have worked, I have always followed every single cricket match played by India in the last 20 years. I have devoted hours every day reading articles, watching videos and discussing about cricket with my friends and colleagues. The point I am making is what you ‘care‘ about is your business anyway, in whichever form it is. And throwing yourself into a job you love and enjoy is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I am my own Customer
The one thing that wakes me up in the morning these days is the idea of giving a great experience to my customer. I have myself followed cricket by way of keeping a track of records in notebooks and cutting pictures from newspapers to form huge albums of collages. Later on I have maintained excel sheets containing all kinds of cricket related data and kept them updated regularly. What I am trying to do with CricketRadius is to deliver a product for myself and people like me. I have still not figured out what the end product would be, but I am sure I know it somewhere deep inside and just have to bring it out in the right form.

Get Started. Make Impact. Small is not Bad
If I have an idea that can save the planet, I will act on it. But if I have a small idea which will just make watching cricket more fun, I will work on that too. For me, the real joy is of ‘creating‘ something new, not in how big or  small, and the journey in itself rather than the destination. So the point is – Just make a difference where you can. Some solutions can be scaled up, some can’t, but I like to realize that after taking action, rather than in classrooms and meetings.

Relive 5 historic matches of Ganguly and Dravid on Twitter from 23-27 May

Relive 5 historic matches of Ganguly and Dravid on Twitter from 23-27 May

How the campaign came about?
It is not a co-incidence that the campaign is about expressing gratitude to Dravid and Ganguly for their contribution to Indian Cricket. I have spent my childhood watching their entire careers and I believe these two players have had the biggest impact on Indian Cricket in the last 20 years, along with Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar. And in todays inter-connected world, the question I am asking with this campaign is – “What if twitter had been there on these 5 historic matches which I am re-creating and reliving?” Every fan has the option to relive those moments of pure joy by following the commentary, reading articles and watching videos about the same online for 5 days starting today.

And what better way to show that we acknowledge Dravid’s and Ganguly’s contribution to Indian Cricket than getting all fans together in the form of a huge collage made out of our Twitter profile pictures – The Twit-Bat. So follow the matches live on our twitter account, and invite other fans to take part in the campaign all details of which can be found here.

Idea or Execution, What is more Important?

It is a very difficult question to answer, and I can take any side and debate endlessly for its merits. One important point from a business point of view is that both are critical, and there can be no successful business without either idea or execution. In a way, both are inseparable. What will you execute if you don’t have an idea to start with? And there is no such thing as the perfect idea. As you get out in the world and start executing, your idea will obviously change and refine itself based on market feedback and knowledge of realities which you were not present to earlier.

For Idea
Start up is the art of executing an idea, so obviously the idea is critical. If you are hell bent upon executing a stupid idea, no matter what your execution is, it just doesn’t add up. The idea in turn is the key to attract good investment and people, which are critical for the execution. A bad idea will simply not get enough traction to survive in the market place. A great idea is a way to attract other resources who will do the execution. Obviously execution is important, but it is zilch without the idea first. In short, the idea must be executable for the execution to matter.

For Execution
An idea is just an initial vision for a product, or a solution by the founder. To develop it as a business, the whole business model has to be considered. Who are your customers, how will you reach them, what is your USP, what will be the key resources for you, and most importantly, what all will you incur expense for and what all will fetch you money. An idea without answering these questions is well, just an idea. Sometimes no matter how great your product or service is, you simply can’t make the economics work and you end up in the dead pool.

The choice of market, the team, its persistence, timing, and how good you are at adapting the business along the way based on what you learn all comes in the execution sphere. And it is very important to be mature enough to realize that no idea is the ‘final’ idea. You need to pivot your idea and product, and try out different products, marketing strategies, revenue models before you find a product market fit. For example – We all know solar is a good idea, but it has not been successful because there are huge upfront costs which customers are unwilling to pay. But there are many companies like Simpa who have changed their business model by partnering with banks and offer their solutions to the customers at the same expense they are incurring now. The idea is the same, but the execution is the differentiator here.

The bottom line – execution is required for any enterprise to succeed, either with a good idea or a mediocre idea. Of course, nobody can help you if you have a bad idea.

Idea or Execution

Idea or Execution

Derek Siver’s Explanation
He believes an idea is just a multiplier, and formulates its relation to execution as follows:

Awful idea = -1
Weak idea = 1
So-so idea = 5
Good idea = 10
Great idea = 15
Brilliant idea = 20

No execution = $1
Weak execution = $1000
So-so execution = $10,000
Good execution = $100,000
Great execution = $1,000,000
Brilliant execution = $10,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.
The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20. The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000.

( My) Conclusion
Seth Godin says that just about every successful venture is based on an unoriginal idea, beautifully executed. Nearly every startup morphs their idea, often in very significant ways, once they enter the market. I would say that both are inseparable, you have to continuously refine your idea while you execute, and that is the key. So I would probably put the split at 40/60 in favor of execution. But there is hardly any business success story without both.

Four Reasons why we should Treat our Customers as Friends

One of the best definitions of business that I have read or heard is “Business is a process by which an organization creates, delivers and captures value.” Short and simple. Create, Deliver and Capture. The three main roles of any business, and all of them revolve around the customer. In a way, we all say that we are doing business for money, or to be our own boss, or it is a way of life, but the fact is that a business cannot succeed or survive if it doesn’t have the customer at its focus all the time. Here are my four reasons why we (employees or founders) should treat our customers as friends :-

1. Customers are our biggest teachers
In my previous stint at entrepreneurship, ignoring the customer was the biggest mistake we did. Of course we didn’t realize that we were ignoring the customer till after two years we started SaleRaja, we always thought that we knew what the customer want. Even when we started interacting with customers, we were trying to sell them a product which we built according to their needs (which we guessed) rather than really taking the time to listen to them and understanding their real needs.

2. Most important relationship
If there is one relationship in business which should be friendly, it should be your relationship with your customer, even ahead of your investors and shareholders, but maybe at par with your employees. To thrive in any business, you need to know the pulse of what is happening in the lives of your business. You have to care for them at a level bigger than just your company and your product or service. Treating customers is not just about selling, but about forming long term and mutually benefiting friendships.

Customer service is not a department, it's an attitude!

Customer service is not a department, it's an attitude!

3. Connect them on an emotional level
We need to understand our customers, the businesses they run and the challenges they face on a much deeper level than what is generally the norm. We should be willing to stand by our customers in tough times, and support them in whatever way is possible (by even suffering some temporary losses). We should be interested in meeting and talking to them even when we have nothing to talk on the business front. We should always keep and deliver on our promises. We should respect their opinions and ask them for advice. Nobody can give a more subjective view of our company than our customers. Once a customer told me – “I am ready to pay you ten times what you are asking, but you have to give what I actually need.” Only if I was listening ;)

4. You will be rewarded
Being a good friend demands hard work and commitment but if we can do that, nobody can reward us better than our customers. Our customers will love us and never forget how we made them feel. If we stick by them in their tough times, they will do the same. And that is what makes business life so rewarding apart from the usual cold and transactional meetings which are the norm. An example of such a business is Apple. Every Apple customer buys its products not only because of their superior design and quality, but also because of the relationship Apple has forged with its customers over the years.

However, this doesn’t mean that the customer is always right and we do have to be professional in our dealings. But I will leave that for another post.

Narendra Modi – The Enigma

Some people, by the mention of their names, spark arguments and controversy like someone has just thrown oil to a burning fire. Narendra Modi is one of those names. The controversial but highly celebrated Chief Minister of Gujarat has been in the news ever since he came to power, either for the communal riots of 2002 or for the various development projects he has undertaken which has turned Gujarat into the state driving the Indian growth story. There are two kinds of people in this world, one for whom world opinion and the ‘right‘ way of doing things matter, and the other who do what they feel is right, irrespective of debates or consequences. No points for guessing which kind of person Mr Modi is.

Under Modi, Gujarat has become an economic dynamo. From becoming the Chief Minister in 2001, when Gujarat was suffering from the aftermath of a massive earthquake and its economy was shrinking, Modi has transformed Gujarat into a state with the highest growth rate among all Indian states. Some of the plans or schemes he launched are Krishi Mahotsav, Chiranjeevi Yojana, Matru Vandana, Beti Bachao, Jyotigram Yojana, Kanya Kelavani Yojana, among others. Read about them to know what all these are and what results have they produced.

The Vibrant Gujarat Summit

The Vibrant Gujarat Summit

If these scheme names doesn’t mean much to you, let me provide some figures. Gujarat has 50,000 km of fibre optic network, 2200 km of gas pipelines, 1400 km of drinking water pipelines to 7,000 villages, and 24 hour uninterrupted power in rural areas. On the human development side, Gujarat is turning Kutch, a desert, into a green land. The school dropout rate from Std 1 to 5 has dropped from 20% to 2% in the last 10 years. Sex ratio has increased from 883 girls per 1000 boys in 2001 to 920 girls in 2011 due to the Beti Bachao campaign.

Almost all industrial houses have their plants (or are planning to open) in Gujarat which contributes 22% of India’s exports and attracts 25% of all investment coming in India. Many industrialists have publicly expressed their support for Narendra Modi, with Ratan Tata even saying that “You are stupid if you are not doing business in Gujarat”. Recently, the US also endorsed Gujarat as the driver of Indian economic growth and the best example of governance and development. Many are vouching for a strong leader like him for the Prime Minister’s post in 2014.

It is not to say that Gujarat doesn’t have any problems. Like the rest of India, people in Gujarat are also poor, hungry and deprived of basic human amenities like sanitation, health care and availability to easy credit. The disease of corruption is also present in Gujarat like other Indian states. But in all these areas, the graph is only going downwards. In the last 10 years, there can be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Gujarat has changed only for the better. And I hope it continues to do so.

However, no discussion about Modi can be complete without a mention of the 2002 riots in which over fifteen hundred people were killed, most of them Muslims.  The riots, which started after the burning of Sabarmati Express, continued for over four months with muslims and their owned businesses facing the bulk of the damage. These riots have always been politically controversial, with many terming it as genocide and believing that Gujarat government and Narendra Modi gave a free hand for these riots. Well, considering the scale of the riots, it is very difficult to imagine them without state support. There could be riots for a few days which the state might be unable to control, but over a period of months, whom are you kidding? It just would not be possible without the support of the police and the government.

Gujarat is emerging as a global automobile manufacturing hub with companies like Ford, PSA Peugeot and Tata Motors opening up their facilities here.

Gujarat is emerging as a global automobile manufacturing hub with companies like Ford, PSA Peugeot and Tata Motors opening up their facilities here. (photo courtesy Associated Press)

Having said that, proving the role of the State in such events is very difficult. There are cases pending before courts, but there has been no proof against Modi or the Gujarat government. Again, as I said, even if he was involved, it would be almost impossible to prove it considering the state of the public offices in this country. I am not trying to absolve Narendra Modi of the responsibility for the riots but trying to stay neutral by pointing out that nothing has been proved. What if he is really innocent and the state has no role? Even I don’t think that is the case, but what if?

Coming to the issue of riots, Modi is not the first politician to be accused of communalism.  The 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi have been the worst riots we have seen in recent times, with over 3500 Sikhs killed, thrice the number of those killed in Gujarat. And that was under Congress rule, and under circumstances (the Indira Gandhi assasination) which would leave no doubt about the role of state in those riots. But again, as I said, nothing has been proved and it would be very unlikely if any Congress politician is ever convicted.

Coming to the question of opposing Narendra Modi based on the 2002 riots, we should ask ourselves that have we stopped voting for Congress after the 1984 Sikh riots (which were much worse). Obviously not! But why? Is it just the case that 1984 is long forgotten while the wounds of 2002 are still fresh in our minds. I think both the acts can never be pardoned, and the nation is paying a heavy price for both of them. As much as these riots are indisputable facts, another fact is that there is no better performer than Narendra Modi in our political structure. Time is not stuck in 1984, and neither it is in 2002. Time has moved on, and so has Narendra Modi. And so must we. I am not calling him clean, noble, honest or anything but just seeing in him a bold leader who might be the best among all the villains.

And all this is not because of his political lineage, or his religion, or how charismatic he is, but because of the results he has produced. It is said that all tomatoes that are eaten in Afghanistan are produced in Gujarat and all potatoes in Canada come from Gujarat farms. In one of the most arid lands in the country, this one man had the courage to interlink the rivers and the result is that the Sabarmati never goes dry now. To sum it up, he might not be the ideal choice, but I think he is our best bet.