Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How India Online Shopping Giants made it BIG?

Three top online e-retailers… All have IIT connections, all started small, all made some brave (read crazy) decisions, all of them made swift adjustments to their business model to make it “BIG”. From same day delivery to hassle free returns, from cash on delivery to monthly EMI, these companies have changed the way we shop, forever. All of them were able to sense the market and overcome their mistakes. They constantly “Check & Adjust” to survive & thrive in this very competitive world.

I have been an online shopper for a decade. My first online order was a memory card reader from Ebay. Since then, I have ordered laptops, camera, apparels, furniture, even smart TV and Air conditioners… yes that too. You can imagine my passion for online world. Let me show you the journey of these top e-retailers. Remember these companies started much later than Ebay, Indiatimes shopping & Homeshop18. Yet, they not only left all these mega brands behind but are also giving Amazon a run for their money.

Year 2007; Mukesh Bansal, Ashutosh Lawania and Vineet Saxen, all IITians started an online venture with a focus on personalization of gift items. I believe I was amongst the first few to register to their site. It mainly operated on the B2B (business to business) model during its initial years. Between 2007 and 2010, the online portal allowed customers to personalize 15 products such as t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, calendars, watches, teddy bears, pendants, wine glasses and jigsaw puzzles. Customers could order for these online and these would be home delivered in 3 days’ time. It seemed like a perfect gifting option back then. Within the initial 3 years, it became India’s largest personalization platform with more than 50% of the market share. Company was eyeing for more. It started offering personalization of jerseys of various cricket and football teams including the Indian cricket team, the IPL teams and the Premier League football teams. By 2010, this company shifted its focus to the online retailing of branded apparels. Fast forward to May 2014, another e-retailer acquired this company in an estimated $300 Million deal.  If you haven’t yet guessed it, I’m referring to “”. Company, which started with selling customized mugs and t-shirts, was valued at $300M in 6 years.

This second venture wasn’t even intended as an online business. In 2007, its founders started with an offline couponing business. They convinced few investors to support and sustain their business. In 2010, couple of their merchants suggested them to go online. Its founders and key investor agreed to convert their business to an online venture. Start wasn't great. Kunal, one of its founding members, in an interview said; the site sucked initially, and we made a lot of mistakes. However, we were extremely agile, we obsessively tracked the customer preferences, and continued to rapidly revise and improve the platform. We evolved and learned from our mistakes and kept moving forward by taking intelligent risks, eventually things started working out pretty well. Their business, probably inspired by, offered discount coupons to restaurants, hotels, health clubs etc. They expanded in September 2011 to become an e-commerce company via a marketplace model. Fast forward to May 2014, this company has raised $100 million (INR 600 crores approximately) in yet another round of funding. This round of funding valued the company at $1 billion (INR 6000 crores approximately), WSJ's Digits reported. “” is the name of this company. From an offline couponing business to a billion dollar worth, Snapdeal is in talks with for further investments.

Moving on to the third and the biggest one; “”. I knew most of you would guess it, hence started with its name. Let me start with some fun facts. Did you know, legally, Flipkart is not an Indian company since it is registered in Singapore and majority of its shareholders are foreigners? Because foreign companies are not allowed to do multi-brand e-retailing in India, Flipkart sells goods in India through a company called WS Retail. Other third-party sellers or companies can also sell goods through the Flipkart platform. Founded in 2007, the business was formally incorporated as a company in October 2008 as Flipkart Online Services Pvt. Ltd. During its initial years, Flipkart focused only on books. It soon expanded to electronic goods & electrical appliances. Flipkart kept accumulating funds through venture capitalists & other investment firms. Today it is known as an online mega store. From apparels to books to electronics to exclusive product launches. In July 2014 Flipkart launched its own set of tablet, mobile phones & Phablet. Month later they launched their router as well a personal healthcare brand called Citron. Flipkart’s current valuation is estimated to be $7 Billion. Don’t even try to convert it to INR, you will end up with endless zeroes. And yes, Flipkart owns Myntra. (Remember Myntra was sold to another e-retailer)

I did not list Jabong as I feel it had an undue advantage. It started late, in 2012.” The company, backed by Berlin-based Rocket Internet GmBH – a venture arm of the Samwer brothers – which is known for cloning several successful online business models of the US in other markets, is reverse-engineering the success formula of Flipkart in India: Add as many categories as possible; acquire customers at any cost; build a logistics arm from ground up and delight the customer. Nevertheless, Jabong is a force to reckon with.

As you can see, most of them started with a small idea & big hopes. These aren't completely unknown stories and I’m not sure if this article will inspire you to take risks. But I think it’s worth mentioning this; it’s OK to start small but keep your antennas up and change constantly. Hopefully you enjoyed reading this article. At least, you will know who are you dealing with, the next time you shop. Remember - Once there was Heaven & there was Hell, today its either Online or Offline :)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

4Us of Influencing Presentations

Few weeks ago a senior person in our company approached me to help one of her manager. She and this individual had agreed on a development. One of the aspect in his plan was to develop influencing skills. She gave me some background and asked me if I can help. I immediately said yes.  Few minutes later I started wondering, why did she approach me? I never worked with her or in her business group. We hardly spoke in last several months. Okay, may be couple of times in common meeting but never one on one. So why did she think I can coach someone on influencing skills. My mind immediately went into evaluation mode. Option A: She tried all good known resources and everyone was too busy to take it up. Option B: She thought I’m really good (if not the best) at influencing others. Options C: Her manager specifically asked for me, and she agreed with his view. I had to rule out option A. Obviously; I had to believe in myself. I was perfectly & equally fine with both option B & C :)

 A week later, this gentleman came to meet me. He & I had worked on some metric related project few years ago. He explained how this project never came to closure, how he and few others kept trying but something or other kept delaying its implementation. Conversation soon moved on to his current work and responsibilities. He highlighted how he has been trying to convince few of his business partners on something he strongly thinks is the right thing to do for his client. He explained his suggestion to me, and I saw nothing wrong with it. In fact, I thought his suggestion must be implemented. Question is; why would someone not want to implement something that’s good for their client and their organization? If there is nothing wrong with the idea, then what can this person do differently to ensure people adapt it? Or at least pay serious attention to it.  We spoke at length. We discussed his views and reasons of above idea not been accepted by others. 

This wasn't something that someone asked him to do. He was trying to pro-actively improve the process. As a result of this failure, his motivation to come up with other such ideas or initiatives has come down. I gave him few suggestions on how he can restart this discussion with his business partners, and how should his approach be different this time. We concluded the discussion by agreeing to meet again after a month.

After he left, I started reviewing my notes and scribbles which I made to explain gap in his current approach. I sat & reflected upon them for few minutes. I questioned myself; what if my suggestions aren't correct, what if there is a better solution to it? I thought of validating my views with our company’s internal best practice contents. I searched our internal training content & offerings; nothing explained how one can be a better presenter, especially in our day to day operational environment. I decided to go back home and research further about it, and what better way to start than to Google them. That night at home, few hours and several web pages later, I realized there wasn't any clear source to look for such information. There are HBR articles, several blogs, TED videos and much more but I wasn't able to find what I was looking for. Perfect opportunity for a blogger, isn't it? So here is my suggestion to improve your presenting & influencing skills.

4Us of Influencing Presentations

Understand your Objective – As with anything, you must have a clear aim in mind. Your pitch can be in person or over electronic media; it can be in front of hundreds of people or in a closed room with board of directors, you objective should be clear. It can be about selling your idea, it can be about presenting a progress report; it doesn't matter. You must know what you expect at the end of your presentation. As you can see in the image, everything else revolves around your objective. It is important to note that your objective may or may not be listed on your presentation content. For instance, Steve Jobs never wrote on his slides that he wants people to applaud but his definite objective was to create excitement.

Understand your Audience – Once you have a clear objective, next important thing is to know your audience. In my experience, most people skip this part. Who are you presenting is much important than what & how are you presenting it. Understanding your audience doesn't simply mean listing down the names & roles of people who will attend your presentation. It requires you to understand who can potentially support you or oppose you, who can influence the rest of the group, who can make it easy or difficult for you. People generally address their pitch to the highest authority that may have the decision making authority, which is not wrong. But you cannot be oblivious to the people who may influence this person’s decision.
Other aspect about understanding your audience is to know “how” to present to them. For instance you cannot expect sales guys to appreciate your presentation about emotional intelligence unless you can explain them how emotional intelligence may increase their sales. Ultimately you have to connect to your participants to achieve your objective.

Understand your Content – Let us start with Albert Mehrabian’s research. Dr Mehrabian, author of “Silent Messages”, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). You must design your content knowing the fact that not everything can be communicated through words. Your content, your words and your body language should work in perfect harmony. I have seen people putting up too much data, numbers or graphics on the slides. These things should not overpower your objective. Let me elaborate it with help of an example. Let’s say you have to present yearly business summary to your business leader in 30 minutes. Why would you want to waste 25 minutes of the meeting in going to through tons of data. I would rather focus on the core objective, which is to prove our team & systems competence and ask for help we need it. It can be done by comparing results of key performance indicators and talking about business leader feels about our functioning. You must tie your objective with your audience and then design your content.

Understand your Strengths – Last but not the least, you must understand your core strengths. Remember, the audience will judge you in the first 30 seconds they see you. You may not be a good orator but that doesn't mean you cannot present successfully. There is no denying the fact that good speakers will have higher success rate but I have seen people with relatively poor language skills delivering effective presentations. These people play on their strengths or leverage others in their teams. If you have a great sense of humor, use it. If it doesn't come to you naturally, don’t try it. Instead, focus on what you do best. Do you have a great story to tell? An interesting fact your audience hasn't heard? Frame your speech around your message — and around who you are as a person. Thoughtful and thought-provoking is every bit as powerful as dynamic and entertaining.    

Above all don’t forget to smile. I hope it helps you develop into a better presenter/ speaker/ trainer. Share your experiences if it worked for you. All the best !!