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F*ck The Unicorns and Cockroaches, become a Business First!

December 2, 2016 Leave a comment

 

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Two years ago, everyone wanted to become a ‘Unicorn’ (the term that is used to refer to a rare mythical creature in general and to a billion dollar company in the startup world). Every morning there was news of one more startup raising a few or a few hundred million dollars in funding at a valuation, which you would have never heard of earlier. Fast-forward to 2016, the funding freeze has set in and there are people advising on how to become a cockroach startup. Scores of articles have been written on how to survive the funding winter till the sun rises again and investors start showering you with millions- not sure if that is going to happen anytime soon.

As a founder of two ventures earlier where I did not have any funding and then having led a venture of where I had a few million dollars at my disposal from Rocket Internet and now again when I am building a seed-funded startup, I have been through the grind. These few years spent in building startups have given me a perspective of how important it is to create a business out of an idea.

There would be millions of businesses across the globe. The range of size of these businesses in terms of revenues and employees would be astonishing. There are businesses run by the single-man show of a roadside street-food vendor and then there are the likes of Coca Cola and Boeing. How many of them have raised funds? The answer is – A negligible minority. One thing they all have in common is that they focused on creating sustainable businesses. I consider an idea to transform into a business when there are people willing to pay for your service or product and this number, at a certain size, can help run the business profitably.

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently running a venture that is seed funded since January 2016. At the outset, with my previous experience, I was clear to create a business and not a unicorn or a cockroach. Since last six months we have customers who pay form the service we provide and although we are small, we will turn operationally profitable I next two to three months. This does not mean that we do not want to become a hundred million or a billion dollar company- we do want to, but in a planned manner. Now that we have converted out idea into a business, there is confidence in the team, the seed investor and also the prospective investors on the growth path of the venture.

My advice to fellow startup enthusiasts and entrepreneurs is to have a plan to convert the idea in to business, focus on execution and then utilize funding to scale the operations. Do not startup just with the sole aim of raising funds. In the past many have done so, have even succeeded in raising millions but failed to survive- just because they could not turn into a business even after raising millions.

Forget the unicorns and cockroaches, let’s build businesses and enjoy the exciting journey as we do it!

[The writer is the co-founder and CEO of Feelance Co. and has been involved with the Indian StartUp ecosystem since 2009. He can be reached at harshdeep.rapal@feelance.co or harshdeep.singh.rapal@gmail.com ]

My Way of Consulting- Part 2

November 25, 2010 2 comments


(Please note, due to job/professional ethics and constraints, I cannot share the names of the clients and the exact details of the engagements. Also, these are purely my own views and my current organization or previous organizations I have worked for are not responsible for these views.)
As detailed in the earlier post, start the ground work for the engagement in the “Pre-Engagement” phase and then collect all data and facts in the “Discover Phase”. Once you have all the data, documents, responses to the questionnaires and templates, it’s time to start with the Analyze Phase.

Analyze Phase:

Analyze and Recommend phase are very subjective and differ from one engagement to another and one client to another. As a generic rule, I analyze the data and facts collected and divide it into three broad categories:

a) Strategic,
b) Operational and
c) Tactical.

The Strategic information gives the overall direction and the roadmap. The operational information gives the overview of the process and the rules that direct the operations and the tactical information gives the details of how each and every step (rules and exceptions) is performed in the processes.

The information/data gathered in the Discover Phase can also be majorly divided into “semantic” data and “non-semantic” data. The semantic data consists of documentation, articles, process charts, job schedules etc. This type of data has to read and interpreted. The interpretations from semantic data will majorly be subjective in nature.

The non-semantic data is generally transaction data. This type of data gives objective type of results. For example: If the client shares the data related to support tickets raised for different processes/ systems, the consultant can play with the data and infer on the volume of tickets for different processes/ systems, severity of these tickets and most important, can apply the 80-20 and/or other rules to arrive at the recommendations.

Recommend Phase:

As stated earlier in the analyze section, the Recommend and Analyze phases overlap and for most of the engagements, by the end of the analyze phase, the consultant should start forming the rudiments of recommendations.

The recommendations should be governed by the following three factors:

a) Goals and Objectives
b) Key drivers to achieve these objectives and
c) Expected results/ benefits

The Goals and Objectives of the exercise are the final state that the client wants to be in. The Key Drivers are the propellants as well as the stepping stones to achieve the stated Goals and Objectives. The consultant should be aware of and explicitly state the results and the benefits which client will avail due to the recommendations.

The recommendations can be based on either extrapolation of existing resources to achieve the future state or bridging the gap between the current state and the future state. More often than not, it is a mix of both Extrapolation and Bridging the Gap.

Extrapolation:
The recommendations in extrapolations mainly consider the available resources and how the client can make use of these resources to achieve the desired results. A few examples of this type of exercise are: Restructuring the present team structure, Optimization of the current processes, redistributions and reallocation of current costs and revenues etc.

Bridging the Gap:
The “Bridging the Gap” scenario requires an analysis of the gap between the current state and the future state. The recommendations should have the steps, resources and the plan to bridge this gap. This might include the use of existing resources or acquisition of new resources.

More often than not, the recommendations are a mix of the above two scenarios. The consultant must keep in mind the Feasibility of the recommendations with respect to scope and budget and the Compatibility of the recommendations with respect to the organizational goals and objectives.

Presentation:

An important (if not the most important) part of a consulting exercise is the presentation of findings and the recommendations. Besides other sections, the recommendations report must consist of the following:

Key Findings:
Present the Key Findings which need the attention of the client. These findings should be the ones tackling which will play an important part in achieving the desired results. It is best to identify a few areas of concern and give the rating of their health status. If possible, back these key findings with data, it gives more credibility to the claims.

Current State and Future State:
Explicitly state the current and the future state of the concern areas. Also state the “delta” in the two states. This will help the client understand the need for the resources required to fill the gap.

Recommendations:
The most important part of the report is the recommendations section. Club the recommendations into logical groups and maintain the flow so that it is easy for the audience to understand.
Segregate the recommendations for Strategic, Operational and Tactical levels of management. If, possible, identify the audience/ resources for each section of the recommendations. This will help in ease of implementation of the recommendations.

Execution Guidelines:
The recommendations section give the “What to do?” part where as the Execution guidelines should give the “How to do?” part of the recommendations. The execution section should give the steps required to implement the recommendations as well as their tentative timelines or durations.

Conclusion:
In the conclusion section give a brief snapshot of the current pain points, the reasons for those pain points and the resolution of these pain areas with the recommendations provided. Also, specify the results or benefits achieved at the end of the implementation of the recommendations. The results should align with the goals and objectives set at the beginning of the exercise.

How LinkedIn leveraged the benefits of Salesforce.com?


We have heard a lot of (success) stories of organizations implementing salesforce.com and how it helped their businesses. Here is another story of implementation of SFDC.

World’s largest network for professionals, LinkedIn, wanted to implement an Enterprise Solution (CRM) to help its corporate and advertising teams to streamline and grow their business. LinkedIn is used by professionals to display their online resume (work experience, past organizations, testimonials, achievements and aspirations). Many organizations use LinkedIn data base of resumes to manage their recruiting and talent requirements. The LTA (LinkedIn Talent Advantage) which maintains a database of 900+ customers and helps them scout for talent did not have a system to manage the customer details, leads, accounts and related stuff.

LinkedIn is an “internet based” business and itself is a private Cloud. Also, all it wanted was a robust ES sans a large IT team and maintenance hassles. Salesforce.com fulfilled all their expectations and had a brand name and lots of “success” stories to back its case and hence became the obvious choice.

The implementation of salesforce.com has helped the 70+ size corporate team and the advertising team to manage task scheduling, managing leads, tracking interactions and closely track the deals. Also, the marketing team can create, manage and measure the effectiveness of the campaigns.

As a result of the implementation, the sales reps became more efficient and have been able to handle about 200% more customers than the base levels. This has been a major factor in inflating the topline. Salesforce CRM helped in creating a centralized customer database which helps in providing a comprehensive view of the customers, their requirements and pipeline across the organization. The data available is consistent and updated which helps in realtime/ontime planning and decision making. The LinkedIn teams can real-time analyse and manage the ROI on the efforts spent on leads and is able to optimize its deployment of resources.

The latest Buzz: Location based mobile Ads.

February 24, 2010 4 comments

Mobile phones have been used for long by the companies to promote their products and services. The most used methodology till now has been sending text messages to the customers. There have been attempts to use recorded voice messages, but with very limited success. The marketers have been using the mobile channels based on the customer profile or on the history of previous purchases by the customer.

The latest advance in mobile/text ads is to send location based ads to mobile users. Placecast, the pioneer in this technology uses the phone’s GPS signal and the location data provided by carriers. The company plans to send the messages to users tailored for their interests and preferences.  It uses a practice called geo-fencing, which draws a virtual perimeter around a particular location. When someone steps into the geo-fenced area, a text message is sent (only if consumers have opted for the service). The application works in a similar fashion to text broadcasting where one can make use of various parameters to filter out the audience lists. Using this application, the marketers have another parameter – location, to single out the customers. When a customer passes through a new town, he can get the information on nearby stores, pubs, restaurants etc.

The application has a promising use in the recreation business. The tourists can subscribe the service whenever they visit a destination. Wherever they pass through, they will get the messages on the nearby places of interest. The service can also be great help to bargain hunters. They can get to know about the discount sales and bargain offers and that to in the same area where they are at present.

Cloud Computing made simple!

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

No discussion on the emerging trends in EA delivery is complete without talking about the Cloud Computing and related stuff. Not many people are very clear on what exactly cloud computing is? What is the difference between Cloud, SaaS, IaaS and PaaS. This five-minute video explain all of this terminology in very simple way. 

What’s in store for EA-Strategy space in 2010?


We ended the year 2009 on a positive note where almost every analyst and industry watcher was expecting the economy to look up and once again ride up the crest. Things do look better, businessmen do look confident. The economic crumble had given rise to distrust but as the things are improving, the distrust is being replaced by caution.

Yes, the year of 2010 will be one of cautious approach to every major decision. The fact is that the recession has changed many things around us. The time when anyone and everyone would jump on to the band-wagon is no longer reality. Today, and the year to come, people will be pussy-footing around the platform before making up their mind to jump onto it.

I have compiled a list of top ten things around which the business decisions will be interwoven when it comes to using IT as an enabler for strategy execution.

  1. Focus on ROI: Businesses across the globe will be focusing on RoI in any type of implementation. The companies have tightened their belts and cut on budgets and money supply is low and every manager is trying to get the bang for every buck spent. Any major implementation which does not provide substantial improvements in operations will be dinged at first go.
  2. Focus on Operations: In the recession times, the companies have come to face the reality that the most important thing to survive in a business is the cash flow from operations. If the operations are not generating enough positive cash flows, it is very difficult to survive. Companies will be stressing more on the efficiency and effectiveness of the operations and reducing the wastes (the seven types of wastes). To achieve the same, companies will take the help of IT as an integration mechanism for different operations units. At a time when all the job-shops employ the best machines and cutting edge technologies, it’s the flow of information across units and partners that holds the key to efficiency in operations.
  3. Collaboration: The decade just passed has already shown that how important it is to collaborate with all the stakeholders in the business. As the flow of information across units in the organization is important, similarly, the flow of information across partners and stakeholders is very important. When everyone is working hard to lower down costs, holding inventories, wastes, it becomes very important to share information with each other so that the other party can plan their activities accordingly.
  4. The rise of SaaS: SaaS as a delivery model for EA will be in demand. The SaaS market (though has a low base) is growing at 40% percent per annum. According to the CVS Survey, it takes about $ 0.2 million to implement an ERP solution for a SME whereas if the same application is offered through SaaS delivery model, it can be done at as low as $1000 per year. That makes a big case in favour of the SaaS model. I do not say that SaaS will completely overshadow the traditional implementation models, but, SaaS will be a force to reckon with!
  5. A renewed focus on SMBs: The rise of SaaS as a delivery model will go hand in hand with the renewed focus on Small and Medium Businesses. Most small businesses have recognized the need of an EA package to manage their operations, but, cannot afford the same. System Integrators and vendors will focus on these businesses and offer them robust and affordable solutions.
  6. Risk Management: There will be an increased push towards risk management and data security. As I have already pointed above that the flow of information will be the basic requirement for the smooth and efficient run of systems, in the same breath, the security of data and the risks posed by the unauthorized access to data will be of importance.  
  7. Business Analytics: BABI (the term coined by Dr. Bala V. Balachandran, distinguished professor at Kellogs Business School and Dean of Great Lakes Institute of Management) or Business Analytics and Business Intelligence will take to the centre-stage. The companies are making use of the data available for making informed and intelligent decisions. Analytics will play a major role in helping organizations to make the best use of already scare resources and in turn help in improving the RoI of the initiatives.
  8. Organizational alignment to the Systems: Rather than implementing new systems, organizations will make efforts to align their workforce to the systems in place.  Most of the systems fail because the human component in the implementation does not give its best to make the system a success. Falling in line, the management will give a push to the workforce for embracing change and give their best.
  9. Pay for performance or pay for used capacity: At a time when every business is concentrating on RoI, performance is being attached to investments. Organizations are taking the route of attaching payments to performance. Also, paying for used capacity rather than installed capacity (Air-Tel Bharti’s contract with vendors and IBM) will gain prominence.
  10. ERP space will remain a buyer’s market: With companies taking a cautious approach to big ticket IT spending, the ERP space will remain a buyer’s market. Vendors will have to offer very competitive prices to make buyers loosen their purse strings. Companies looking for EA implementations will bargain hard for “exciting” offers.

Top three learnings from CRM.

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I have worked on CRM as a process consultant for over four years and continued my “relationship” with CRM even after I joined MBA. Not just continued the relationship, but also widened and deepened the same with new perspectives that I absorbed on the way. To keep it short and sweet, I have listed the top three takeaways that I feel have not only widened my perspective on CRM as an enterprise solution, but also in day-to-day business life:   

  1. Relationships Rank No. 1. Customers are the lifeblood of a business just as friends and family are the fuel for our soul.  And just that companies are finding that these relationships are key to surviving the recession, the view can be extended from customers to all the stakeholders in the enterprise and the ecosystem surrounding the enterprise. Relationships and information flow across partners, vendors, customers and the enterprise is the key to deliver the best.
  2. Technology Helps: It is often said that CRM isn’t a technology, it’s a strategy, but , it is the technology helps make it happen. Leave aside the enterprise solutions such as SAP, Oracle etc. but, even in day to day life, we need technology to make a long distance call, travle to friends and family, chat with fiends overseas. Managing relationships has been simplified by technology.  CRM consists of two equally important components of the Human Component and the IT component. Both work hand in hand to make the CRM strategy a success.
  3. Garbage in Garbage Out: You can’t expect a quality outcome if you don’t have quality inputs. For long people have been talking of “user friendly” systems, but, I believe, for best results, we need “friendly users” as well. Remember CRM EA is an enabler in the process of managing and executing the CRM Strategy, even after discounting the internal system checks and balances, it can give valuable outputs only if managed properly. Be nice to the system, the system will be more than nice to you!

Best wishes for the new year!

Why Alliances have gained prominence?

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Over last few years, Alliances have gained more prominence than the regular route ot mergers and acquisitions. Monetary considerations have played an important role but, are not the sole reason for organizations going in favour of alliance formation. I have listed below a few important points that have driven forces for organizations going the “Alliance Way” :

1. Core Competence:

Companies tend to build on their core competence and this very fact can give a differentiating  edge on other competitors. Thus, leaving one’s core competence and getting into a new field can be a disaster unless handled very carefully. Aligning to one’s core competence and creating an ecosystem around the core competence is the right way for expansion. The creation of ecosystem can be done through acquisitions, mergers or alliances. Mergers and Acquisitions may lead to diversifying into new territories and may dilute the core competence of the company. Thus, unless handled carefully, alliances should be the first choice for expansion.

2. Affordability:

Not every company can afford an acquisition or a merger. The costs of M&A are both in terms of tangible and intangible resources. Some companies might not have money or scale for M&A and other might not have scope for M&A.

3. Government regulations:

Sometimes government regulations prevent mergers and acquisitions. For example antitrust laws in the US or anti-Monopoly laws in other countries may hinder the M&A process. Thus, forming an alliance is the most favoured way out.

4. Entry Barriers:

Some markets and sectors have entry barriers due to favours by the home governments, access to raw materials, access to distribution channels etc. In such a case also forming an alliance with an existing player in the market or sector  is the most favoured way out. 

5. Competitive Landscape:

Companies do not operate in isolation. The company takes actions in response to the changing market dynamics and for any action that a company takes, the market forces respond to it. In a competitive environment, sometimes companies bleed to death fighting each other. Over time companies have realized that cooperation gives better results than competition. 

For example when Air Tel entered Sri Lanka, it signed a pact with the biggest telecom player in the market to use its towers and some other infrastructure.

6. Role Play in Value Chain:

All companies have been playing a particular role in the extended value chain. Sometimes the strategic role that the company plays in the value chain prohibits it to go for M&A, hence the Alliance route.

Another big factor in avoiding the M&A option is that only 43% or M&A are successful. The failure rate in IT-ITES is a staggering 80%. This can be because of many reasons. Most important out of which is that companies do not have compatible cultures and even compensation issues.  In an Alliance the companies work together to achieve the desired results, but as separate entities tied by the common goal. The cultural issues and compensation do not hinder the process.

2010: The year of exploring new avenues.

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Every one knows what happened in the year 2008 and 2009. The analysts have made thread bare discussions and post-mortem on the economic downturn. Now, when the economy is looking up, the businesses are again gaining their senses and gathering their strengths back to climb up the crest.

The climb, though exciting, will not be easy. The large organizations have already started making strategic alliances and partnerships to be prepared for the upturn. The smaller players are also pulling up their socks. Over the last few months, I have made a list of recommendations (mostly for small players) that will help them to gear up and make the most of the upturn:

1. Look for options: This is to make sure you don’t just jump on to the bandwagon in anticipation of success. Make sure that the bus is going in the right direction and at right speed before you decide to ride it.

2. Know yourselves well: The downturn has given companies a lot of time to retrospect, but still make sure you know waht you are good at and also know very weel what you are not good at. This will help in increasing the number of successes and decreasing the number of failures.

3. Alliances: Enter into a strategic alliance. Try to make an ecosystem around the customer so that when the customer identifies a requirement, he does not have to wander far and wide for a solution. Step forward and tell the customer that you can deliver it, if not, one of your alliance partners can deliver it.

4. Have a look at emerging markets: By emerging markets I do not mean the emerging markets like India, Brazil etc. , what I mean is look for a market of requirements. There will be lots of unment requirements and if you are an innovator, target the latent requirements of the customers.

5. Keep a track of your dollars: By this recommendation I mean, keep a track of the in-flow as well as the out-flow of cash. Cash in-flow (that too only from operations) is the real wort of the company. The economic downturn has put a lot of pressure on the fluidity and liquidity of finance options. So, make the best use of the money at hand!

These are just a few of the important observations that I came across in last few months. There are many other things organizations should take care of in the oncoming upturn, but, I thought of sharing just a few important out of them. 

Oracle Social CRM: A short review

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Oracle Social CRM is proving itself as the next generation collaborative CRM which incorporates some very advanced features required in today’s business environment. The below video gives an overview of the functionality of the product.