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Category Archive : Sales Strategy

Venture Idea: Putting the Custom in Customer Service

One of my favorite entrepreneurial movies is Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year. The movie has a dialogue that goes, “customer ke toh naam mein hi mer likha hai” (the word customer has mer (pronounced “marr” is the Hindi word for ‘to die’) embedded in it). This single dialogue aptly defines the treatment meted out to the billion Indian consumer customers every single day.

All one has to do is go through the Facebook page of any Indian brand and it will not be hard to find the abundant record of horrific complaints and the apathy awarded by these brands to their customers. Although I have been on a crusade against JetAirways for the ad hoc changes to its Frequent Flyer experience, I have seen very little progress in brands making an effort to improve how they treat their customers. Despite the government’s attempt to provide adequate protection to the consumer by allocating a separate consumer court to resolve consumer grievances and penalize erring brands… the problems are only continuing to mount.

I believe that the next ten years will be the golden age of Indian consumerism. With this thesis in mind, I strongly believe that there is going to be the need for a service that goes beyond allowing a customer to air their grievances but actively taking control to resolve these complaints. For a small fee, this service provider can engage with brands to resolve customer’s problems. If that route doesn’t work they should also be able to prepare the legal documentation required to take the brand to consumer court. They can even go a step further to provide the contact details for competent lawyers who can file & fight these cases. As India marches to 1,000,000,000 online via mobile – the market potential will be massive!

I have been on the wrong side of several bad consumer experiences in India and there used to be a company called myakosha.com that was solving my problem. They played the role of a service provider who resolved these issues directly with Idea, Jet, AMEX and other companies that I was facing issues with. I simply loved their service and the way they made these brands come running to me to solve their errors was an experience worth living through. However, for reasons best known to the MyAkosha team they pivoted to another business model leaving a gaping hole in the ecosystem. Now, I am personally motivated to be that agent of change for the way Indian brands treat their customers. I have a design team ready to develop the front end, know a law firm who can provide the infrastructure & know-how for this service and am willing to fund this project out of AVF.

I am seeking individuals who have a strong background in social media marketing, customer complaint management, and a strong tech background. I am also looking for a person with a strong background in data analytics to build out this venture.

Do you know someone or a team that fits this bill?

Email prospects@artha.vc with a cc to karishma@artha.vc.

25/2018

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Fluff Metrics

An interesting phenomenon has been noticed in startup presentations over the past few weeks. Founders have come up with innovative ways of showing large numbers that have nothing to do with what counts as revenues to the startup.

Let me share a few examples with the explanations as provided.

  1. Gross Transactional Value: this the value of the transaction that is taking place because of the service provided by delivering the service. Therefore, a simple example would be that if a truck delivers 5 MT of steel the GTV is the value of the 5 MT of steel which has no correlation to the revenues of the trucking company since that is dependent on the route or no of kms
  2. AUM (Assets Under Management): the value of the videos that have been uploaded to sell to customers. This has no correlation to the revenues as they are made on a pay per click model. How the videos are being valued and by whom – I have honestly no idea
  3. MRP Sold: the sticker prices of the items that were sold. These were very different from actual revenues as there were coupons and discounts that were given. So, if I stick the price tag of a Mercedes on a Maruti the MRP sold would be ginormous but the actual number would be a fraction. These MRP’s are set by me so MRP sold is also in my hands. Do you feel fooled just yet?

Do founders really want to attract investors that are awed by such numbers? Of what use will those investors be who themselves don’t understand that these numbers are useless?

My sincere request to founders is to have the courage to tell me the real numbers. They may not be as awesome as the fluff metrics, but I’ll respect you for your honesty and I’ll work with you until your actual metrics look like the fluff metrics that your peers are showing me.

Just remember this immortal quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

359048-Abraham-Lincoln-Quote-You-can-fool-some-of-the-people-all-of-the

24/2018

KISS for your Investors

Imagine that you have been invited for a stand-up comedy show of a well-known comic. You are excited about the show, arrive well dressed with a date in arm, get your favorite drink and are sitting in the front row with bated breath. Then your comic comes on stage, everyone starts clapping (including you), the atmosphere is full of excitement and anticipation. Just as the comedian begins to speak, you realize that his act is in Russian, Spanish or Klingon i.e. whatever language is completely foreign to you and the audience. For the first 3-5 minutes, you try hard to understand what he is saying then look around to see a similar look of bewilderment on everyone’s faces. Some people leave almost immediately, and the remaining make heckling sounds, the artist looks bemused but act continues, rooms starts emptying out and finally you, who has checked out mentally a while ago, decide that it had been enough and join the beeline to the exit. How inclined are you to attend a show with that comic in the line-up the next time around?  

Unfortunately, several founders are guilty of being that incomprehensible comic. Using acronyms or words that only your peer group understand may give the smart founder several accolades at startup events but leave investors (like myself) flummoxed about what the business really does. In fact, I feel that if a founder cannot explain what they do in layman’s terms to someone who has no knowledge of the technical jargon of that industry, then the business is too complex for me to invest in. A founder may feel short-changed because as an investor, I am supposed to be “in the know” but the truth of the matter is that I am not supposed to be the knowledgeable person in the room about their industry, the founder is!  

This video from the show Silicon Valley aptly explains what I fear as an investor 

A founder that is unable to explain what their business does to me in terms that I understand, is running a business that most customers won’t understand. To educate a customer entails a long sales cycle, and I find it is best to avoid such long-tail plays. However, when a founder is able to explain a complex model in simple terms, it gives me immense confidence in the fact that prospective customers will understand it too and therefore not hesitate to adopt it. Not only that but also the founder will easily be able to train lay people on selling his/her product or service and achieve targeted sales without hiring expensive talent. For the investor to have such confidence has tremendous value.  

Here are some of the tools that founders can use to explain complex business models:  

  1. Paint a picture of what their target customer currently does to solve the problem and how their product/service will change their life  
  2. Dumb things down by using simple everyday terms that anyone can understand 
  3. Use check-backs like does that make sense? to ensure that your audience hasn’t lost you 

There are many other techniques that founders could use to present an impressive but comprehensible pitch. The best way to test a pitch is to present to the most challenging audience i.e. people that wouldn’t understand their business at all. These unfriendly audiences will force you to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) for the investor, which is exactly what we are looking for!

So, don’t try to challenge the intelligence of the mere mortal investor and just KISS for us!  

23/2018 

6 Books I’d Recommend to Every Entrepreneur

An entrepreneur’s primary role is to sell. At any given point the entrepreneur is selling whether it is

  1. Selling himself on why he is pursuing this idea.
  2. Selling his employees on why they should join or stay at this venture
  3. Selling his friends and family on supporting him in his new (and often crazy) endeavour
  4. Selling his customers to try out the new product or service he has developed (and to pay for it)
  5. Selling his business as an investment opportunity to potential investors
  6. Selling mentors on why their valuable time will be well invested in him
  7. Selling to investors to continue supporting his business

The list of selling activities can go on for pages… and I still would not have even scratched the surface of the number of selling activities that an entrepreneur is actively involved in. Therefore if there a skill that an entrepreneur should learn is the skill to sell.

I have found that the following 6 books made the maximum impact on my sales, investment and entrepreneurial careers as well as the careers of people whom I have mentored and helped to grow in their respective sales and entrepreneurial roles.

Ideally, you should read these books in chronological order since the level of complexity increases as you progress down the list.

  1. The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino
  2. How to Sell Anything to Anybody by Joe Girard
  3. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  5. How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger
  6. Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins

Have any books helped YOU shape your entrepreneurial career? I would love to know so do share them in the comment section!

11/2018

$30 billion in annual sales was built like that

  1. What is the book about?

Shoe Dog by Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight traces the journey of Nike from the time it was a startup all the way to its IPO. The journey captures the tribulations, triumphs, tragedy and trials (an actual one too) of an entrepreneur in the 1960s & 1970s running a cross border business. The story is a throwback to an era when banks were conservative and venture capital was in its nascent stages and businesses growing 100% per year had to get creative about raising money.

With starting capital of $1000, Nike, grew to a $140 million business by the end of the 70s and when it went public it was valued at $387 million ($1.2 billion today). Phil describes the 18-year journey from a personal and professional vantage point in a story with numerous subplots, a host of different characters who were misfits for an athletic company but their passion connected them and built Nike. There are surprises at every turn of the page but they resulted in setting up the most recognized athletic brand in the world, present in almost every corner of the world and does over $30 billion in sales.

The writing style is unique, for example the author’s personal feelings during an episode are described in quotes from other books or speeches given by leaders & coaches: “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”  or “don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”. As the book is written from the eyes of the author the numerous plots depicted in the book felt (to me) as a movie and I finished it the book in 4-5 hours.

There is an epilogue at the end which bring the book from the heydays of its IPO to the current day and its gives an insight into what it took to build a company that has touched the lives of hundreds of millions (if not billions).

 

  1. Who wrote this book?
aD_Blog_2017_04_15_Book Review_Shoe Dog by Phil Knight_Author.jpg

He started with a $1000 and made it into $387 million!

The book is written by Phillip Knight, the founder and Chairman of Nike. His journey starts from a thesis paper he wrote in college, then he does a world tour including a stay in Calcutta (modern day Kolkata) before heading back to his home town in Oregon. It is written from the Phil’s perspective so the episodes give an account of what he felt and the logic behind his actions which weren’t always in the correct side of the divide but were necessary in his duty as an entrepreneur.

 

  1. Why did I read this book?

Bill Gates recommended this book as one of the must read books of 2016, has also given his own book review and his reasons for why this book should be read. That inspired me to pick up this book.

After reading it I agree with Bill’s review that unlike other entrepreneurial biographies that show the protagonist as a superhuman. Phil’s gives a real-life view into how large companies started like as messy, confused business model that were often at the brink of collapse but were saved by a bit of pluck. In many ways Phil’s biography is a cross between Call Me Ted and The Virgin Way as shows that building large businesses has serious pitfalls, sudden triumphs, interesting hires and the constant requirement of capital to fuel the growth. How these moving parts collude and collide is a similarity between all 3 biographies.

 

  1. Why do I recommend this book?

We stand at a very important moment in the history of Indian business. A single indirect tax regime is being implemented (GST), there is a push for cashless payments, the stock indices are at all-time highs but banking and venture capital isn’t catching up.

 

An entrepreneur entering this market sees unlimited opportunity but limited capital controlled by fearful money managers. To them the Phil’s journey will give inspiration

The cowards never started and the weak died along the way. That leaves us, ladies and gentlemen. Us.”

 

  1. Who do I recommend this book for?
aD_Blog_2017_04_15_Book Review_Shoe Dog by Phil Knight_Nike Shoe

Nike was a startup too!

Any entrepreneur new or old will find inspiration in this book.

If you are going to be in the consumer products space this book will resonate with you at many levels. The learnings on how to hire, how to pick & treat your business partners, how to expand with limited capital and above all why the art of negotiation is the core skill for an entrepreneur will provide valuable insight for all entrepreneurs.

 

  1. Interesting Trivia
  • Nike was originally called Blue Ribbon SportsaD_Blog_2017_04_15_Book Review_Shoe Dog by Phil Knight_Blue Ribbon.jpg
  • Phil spent time by the Ganga prior to starting his business. Steve Jobs did too and on Jobs’s advice Zuckerberg did too.
  • Phil picked the name Nike at the very last minute and the name came to his first employee in a dream
  • Phil’s account was closed by two banks because they assumed his rapid growth was a fraud and one of them went asked the FBI to investigate!
  • Phil (like yours truly) was a door to door salesman, I outsold him J.