Product Companies must focus on building their products and not run services!

This is one of the posts i wrote for Money control’s SME Mentor section! View Original Post. 

I have been interacting with many startup founding teams. Some of who have been building their product and are running a services outfit along side. Their point-of-view is that the services arm of their company will fund the product part of their venture.

Now, I am not against the idea of running a services company. I also buy the logic of startups bootstrapping & doing small-time consulting gigs or taking up short term projects to earn some revenues. Though, what bothers me is, product startups getting sucked into the services rut.

Let me list a few scenarios that I have come across to bring forth my point:

1. Two people come together to build a web-product. They brainstorm the vision for their product company. Figure out what they want to build initially and realize that they need some working capital to build a team, do marketing, etc. Also, they find out, what they have saved for this venture will not be enough to do all the above. The result – they decide on taking up services as a part-time effort. But eventually, the pressures of external commitment & delivery take major focus. Finally, product is sidelined & they continue to live-up to the services commitment.

2. Two people come together to build a web-product. They figure out what the initial plan of action should be. They realize they need more working capital, one guy opts to running the services part of the venture. The other guy begins to build the product. Eventually, the guy doing the services feels more important as he’s bringing the money in. The Product guy has a different point-of-view. The result: Either things fall apart and they part ways or the product guy is forced to shut shop and join the services part of the venture.

3. Two people come together to build a web-product. They calculate the amount of money they have for this venture. They work backwards to figuring out what they can achieve with the resources they have. They plan on building a minimum viable product and get as much usage as possible before they run out of money. They also plan on reaching out to friends and family to raise more money, once their product is launched, as they do not want to distract themselves right now. As Plan B, they will take on freelance projects for a few hours, if need be to make some money.

All the above scenarios are what I have come across during my interactions with startups. My advice to them is always: Focus is very important for a startup. Any distraction that has a tendency of slowing down your progress or distracting you from achieving what you want to do or are passionate about is best avoided.

Running a services arm is the most obvious thing to do, as it suddenly makes you profitable. But this path needs to be taken carefully. There is a danger of getting sucked into what you don’t want to do.

Scenario 3 is what I advocate. I have seen startups tread this path and have managed to either start making revenues from their product or have managed to infuse some money from friends and family based on version 1 of the product. Now, the choice is for you to make!

Naming a name!

Juliet:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art myself…
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Romeo:

I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

Shakespeare in his classic love tragedy Romeo & Juliet gives out a message that names of things do not really matter, but what things are is what matters. In the context of the play and in many other contexts of life it makes complete sense.

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But, when it comes to naming your venture or your product it needs prudence, relevance & wit!

Why a good name?

From the brand perspective, a good name is vital for a venture. It’s like that sexily clad, most attractive hooker by the window that invites customers into that particular brothel. It’s the one thing your customers will identify you and your venture with for time immemorial. It is that name which reflects you and your company’s attitude & what you stand for.

Think – Pepsi, Coke, Google, Adidas, Amazon, Apple – all these names not just remind you of the company & its products, but the also evoke a particular emotion which we relate with each of these brands. That emotion is what makes us recall / remember these brands. And that is the importance of a “name”.

Why this post?

Recently, I’ve been in half a dozen discussions where we have been brainstorming a good name for a venture or a product being rolled by a startup. That inspired me to writing this post. This has a direction in which we thought while thinking up a name, a few personal experiences – my philosophy to deriving names – if you please 🙂

Empty Names?

Look around and think of popular brands that you can recall – all of them usually will have “empty” names that will relate to something the product stands for or the brand means. There are far few names which mean “literal things”. For example, Pepsi – in reality means nothing, except that it may be a derivative from “pepsin” the digestive enzyme used in that drink. But we associate it with “a refreshing fizzy drink” now, coz that’s our association.

Safe? Boring? Interesting? Innovative?

When thinking up names, you can either choose to be safe and boring. In other words, think up literal names for your venture or product. If you are selling books, you can call yourselves “The Book Sellers”; if your product is a pill that helps you maintain your weight and diet, it can be called “The Diet Pill”. Thanks to the bombardment during IPL, I remember Max mobile & fo a long time thought that Micro Max and Max were but the same, till I was proven wrong by a friend. This is the danger of a bad name – you will never make an identity for your brand / product / venture. Frankly, in today’s world where there is a million messages bombarded to the users; recall & recognition are huge challenges. These names don’t stand a chance.

So, you have no choice but to be a bit brave. Go all out and get innovative!

Pepsi, Coke, Google, Adidas – these are famous names now, but how easy was it to remember when they started out? They had a zing to it and the entire brand experience made the name stick for a long time! Pepsi was sold as “Brad’s Drink” first – imagine!!!

When you think up a name it’s a brand you are building based on the name. You do not want it restricting your growth after a while when you diversify and realize that your brand name doesn’t relate to what you do.

When I think up names I consider these, in no particular order though:

  1. Who is the initial audience I will cater to?
  2. Does my name sound “exciting” enough for them to try me out
  3. Does the name invoke interest for people to “know more” – frankly, does a name like “GoCarry” invoke interest in wanting to know more for an online shopping protal? For me, NO! It sounds like something I have heard of before, something stale.
  4. Does the name tease your audience? Google / Cisco – these names have a zing to it. It sounds unique and has freshness to it till date. Some company names I like which does bring a kind of newness on reading their names are – Lifemojo / Redbus / Xobni / Reditt / DeskAway / Twitter
  5. Will my name stand relevant 2 years from now and beyond?
  6. Does my name have an unique association that people can recall easily (of course, this also has to do with brand association, but some parts can be achieved in the name)
    1. For Example: Madhouse – we chose madhouse as we had read about this house of great fervor -where a lot of innovation, etc happen in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Grabiel Gracia Marquez and when were looking for a name – it came naturally to us. Also we thought the name is disruptive and will be remembered by people for its uniqueness as it’s a uncommon name.
    2. For Morpheus – we went to the top level of “What we were going to do” and somehow it was aligning ourselves with entrepreneurs’ dreams to achieve and make it a successful business. And so, we said okay we are dealing with dreams here. And since Madhouse was M and we did quite well as a business, we said lets look up names in M. Then we got an idea and said lets look up Greek God Names and we found Morpheus.

Look at something you can relate to. Something the entire team believes in. There is this now popular, then – a college rock band, I know of called – “Thermal and a Quarter” its called so coz 3 of them were pure Malayali’s and one was a quarter malayali. So Three Malayali’s and a Quarter Malayali – Thermal & a Quarter 🙂

You can also consider something that’s common among the founders, something that is near and dear to the founding team. Something that the team can associate with or are passionate about!

You may want to be a little conscious about “What is it that you are naming”. You do not want to call a doctor management system “Cookie”. But you also do not want to call it “EasyDr.”

Don’t be safe in choosing a name, experiment. If it does not work – you can always change it in the initial days of your company. But then, if you have a safe / neutral name – okay, its safe, but you will miss out on the excitement of experimenting. And most importantly, miss out on “Customer Recall and Recognition”. I mean, how many of us consume “Bhag Bakri Chai” – Really?! It may be the best chai in this world, but!

Where all to look:

Experiment with words, look for palindromes, seek “sounds-like” words, look up mythology, history of various cultures and countries. Look into science, math – google, red quanta are a couple of examples. Look at founder names – adidas, konika. Look at nature, wildlife, etc. The options are plenty, it only needs some innovative thought & a good sense of humor to arrive at a good name!

These are some of my personal experiences and tried tested methodology of arriving at a good name. Somehow, many a times its super instinctive too. So do not suppress your instinct. Happy Naming!

Interesting link to company names and how they originated here. So, what’s the story behind your company / product name?

LifeMojo – the real mojo of my life!

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Image via CrunchBase

Last year, on World Diabetes Day I wrote a post on LifeMojo and their test site. You can read that post here.

One year down the lane, i have more than one reason to be compelled to write about LifeMojo!

I started to track my diet and activities on the LifeMojo platform and soon i realized that i had started to watch what i eat unconsciously!

I have also got onto the habit of checking for calorie content of the food i consume on LifeMojo and these guys have made it really easy to access that information – all that i need to do is ping the “Calories” buddy on my gtalk, input the food i am consuming and voila it gives me the calorie content of the same and more!

I set goals, mainly weight reduction goals and i have lost 8 kgs in all till date. All this, with no crash diets or rigorous exercises, but a well planned diet and some simple activity goals on LifeMojo.

I also tried their Diet Consultation and was on one of their diet plans for a while, but my travel schedule often made it difficult for me to follow the diet plan. But, what i do like about their diet plans are, they do not make you change your food habits, they work around things you like to consume and plan a diet for you!

I subscribe to their daily tip, it comes to me via SMS exactly @ 8 am each day! I kinda look forward to it right now, coz its a new insight each day. Tips that helps me in my daily life.

Something else i like about LifeMojo is their articles section on the website. It’s a melting pot of knowledge related to health and fitness – and not the run of the mill sorts, but features that add real value with tips that are very possible 🙂

The LifeMojo guys have constantly kept their product alive by introducing interesting features and kept the interest of users like me alive! Most recently they’ve added a bunch of diet consultation packages to their offering. The diet consultation is not online only, its a great mix of over the phone and online which makes the whole consultation and getting results out of it all the more real. There is someone following up with you!

Just a couple of days back they have launched their Forums – a new feature that brings in more interactivity and exchange of knowledge among the users of LifeMojo and people interested in health and fitness.

What’s more, a little bird also tells me that these guys are almost on the verge of hitting that break-even point and perhaps even go cash flow positive. Looking forward to that LifeMojo guys!

Meanwhile, now that i have a 8 month old at home, i am looking forward for LifeMojo to introduce something to track diet of infants and kids, say JuniorMojo or ChildMojo? What say guys?!

When i wrote to Himanshu of LifeMojo asking him for a few recent updates @ their end for this post, he offered this to all reader of my blog:

One time FREE Diet consultation for Diabetes Diet Plan on LifeMojo. Exclusive for the readers of madhouse musings!

Here is what you need to do:

Call +91 9008 999 189 and mention the coupon code NH14
and you can avail a one time free consultation for this

So, here’s to good health & a diabetes controlled world!

Note: LifeMojo is MVP Batch 2 portfolio & I hold a small percentage of shares 0f this company.

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The bitch is back, welcome bombaybitch!

There was once, not so long ago from now, a breeze of freshness – a new perspective, fearless opinions & unbiased bitching!.. it was all this and more@ BombayBitch. Sooner than i had gotten hooked and addicted to the Bitch i got news of this wondrous startup shutting shop!

I mourned and sulked for a while about this loss. Rizwan and I even spoke about approaching Webchutney (BB is/was an incubatee) folks to let us volunteer for BB, failing which we had our PlanB of starting something like BB on our own. In all, I just loved the way these guys presented films related information, reviewed movies and all the jazz. You know with some brands its the connection that comes naturally and BB had that going right for them!

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I currently have my dancing shoes on, party cap in place and am “Cha-cha-ing” away in celebration. Why? ‘Coz I just found out that the Bitch is Back!

Just as i was thinking if BB is back as part of WebChutney or not, I chanced upon this post by Nikhil Pahwa of MedianamaWebchutney Launches Mobile Agency; Bombay Bitch Shuts Down where Sidharth Rao, CEO & Co-founder of Webchutney mentions that BombayBitch would be back in a different avataar.

Different avataar? ohmy! i hope its not a change in the writing style, writing to please the sponsors… i hope not. Guess time will tell or the bitch will, as she speaks some more over the next few days.

For now, i have my fingers crossed and i want to get back my daily doze of unadultrated bitching on BombayBitch!

Fast140 – their “Text” can be their revenues

I dabbled with Fast140 this morning. It’s a Twitter speed-typing game. It’s one of those games which makes you indulge and do better the next time around – an easy indulgence game for all ages and types.

Fast 140 is a typical “old time typing exam” format, where I look at the content in the box above and type the same in the box below. Simple!

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As I started playing this game a few thoughts crossed my mind, about the potential this game can have for marketeers and anyone who wants to send messages out to users.

For a game that requires you to pay attention to what’s written and replicate it, you are performing the task carefully, but not paying “overt” attention to the meaning / content of what’s written. But at a sub-conscious level there is a huge impact it can make on the minds and retention of concepts.

After having played it for 30 mins, I remember the following terms out of the game: Nokia, Easter, Blackberry, Harry Kallas and the loss to NFL, Phil Spector and his murder case….

Also, its known that repetition helps retention of concepts / things in the mind better!

So, Fast140 text box can be used by news channels to give out timely news, large brands can do their brand building exercises here by sending out relevant messages, governments can send out signals of their desire to users using this platform, plain simple – any brand can use this text box to send out messages about their brands, businesses via this text box.

It can also be used as a teaching tool for kids, where schools can have their own version of Fast140, where kids can type text that pertains to their syllabus 🙂

For Fast140, it’s a way to monetize their application! Would be interesting to note what the Fast140 team does. Will update here as and when I find out their moves….

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Customers, they say the dandiest things!

As entrepreneurs, businesses  –  we constantly stive to achieving user acceptance, customer acknowledgement. But, the reality is many happy customers spread the word of mouth, and many unhappy customers are vocal about their unhappiness.

But there are rare moments of reassurance & pride when customers, happy customers write back to you with good words or acknowledge your efforts to making thier lives better.

Here are two such instances (a proud moment for me) where customers of Deskaway & Commonfloor – MVPs portfolio companies have shared their experiences and candid feelings about their services.

Reliance Communications, Don’t call me anymore!

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I do not answer the call if its from 30333232 anymore. But its strange to see how these guys have been repeatedly calling me.

I bought a reliance netconnect connection three weeks back and a day later as promised my connection got activated. The same day i got a Welcome call from one of the agents who asked me a bunch of questions for verification. Thanks were said at both ends and i was a happy customer. Until…

The next day i got another call, Welcome Call Sir! (please, i hate it when people don’t bother to figure out if its a man or a woman they are talking to. My voice is not that masculine, nor do i have a Punjabi Sikh name to make things more confusing!) I answered patiently and told the caller that a welcome call has been done, this is a second call. Thanks were said.

From then on, i’ve got 30 calls in all, on a daily basis from Reliance, some i have answered, explained to them that i’ve got a welcome call already, please make note. Some i have simply not answered.

Meanwhile, i’ve already got my usage bill and i still continue to get welcome calls 🙂

Reliance Communications – I would’ve loved to see this dedication and efficiency in your data service and complaint resolution.

PS: I’ve got a welcome call, please make note and don’t call me anymmore!

Valentine’s day FRAUD by Cafe Coffee Day

Today, on Valentine’s day, when tradition talks of spreading love and expressing your love… Cafe Coffee Day has managed to pull off a FRAUD!

My classmate from University came by visiting me, she lives in another country and is visiting India briefly. She dropped by at office and we decided to go to the nearby Cafe Coffee Day or CCD as its commonly known as!

The Valentine flavor was seen all around and at CCD, with red balloons and young couples mostly in Red and Black, the women holding presents or flowers…. the spirit was in the air!

When we sat to order, i was a little disappointed as they were NOT serving the regula

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r menu, so there was no usual Masala Chai Black for me. A little unhappy, i continued to choose what my friend had ordered for – ‘Go Nut Cappuccino’. As the guy was walking away with the order, we noticed that there was “no price attached to the menu”, we joked about CCD’s strategy to make extra bucks on V-Day and asked the guy how much the cappuccino costs, he did a mental calculation and said Rs. 51/-. We were pleased, thats not a rip off after all!

The order came and our expectations got crushed further, the Go Nut was all about one simple cappuccino and CCD’s own Masala Peanut, which they call ‘ Go Nut’. Bummer! Yet we were going with the spirit… catching up on matters of a few years that had grayed on us. After a couple of hits by the floor supervisor at CCD we decided we’ll make way for the young love birds who had flocked around waiting for their chance to taste the sweetness of caffeine…

When it was Bill Time, i was given a bill of Rs. 75 first, which in between conversation i handed a Rs. 500 note… so when change came back, i was charged an amount of Rs. 190/-

It happens such that Go Not, has nuts that’s separate and charged Rs. 36 for 2 (all the time we thought it was complementary and it sucked!) Cappuccino was Rs. 75 for one. (Omygod!) When asked for a clarification, i was told that the person who took my order was not aware of the costs. Even after random excuses and million illogical statements, my question was not answered – “I want a compensation.” Finally, after a serious argument and pointing out that CCD was doing a fraud with its customers, i got charged Rs. 51/-per cup of coffee.

The point is not about money here, it is about setting consumer expectations. It is about ensuring product knowledge and awareness to the last line in your business.

It is also about acknowledging the fact that consumer’s are intelligent, running a business, but in a fair manner. I have no qualms about CCD making a quick buck on V-day, but my problem is in the fact that they opted not to inform the customers about the prices up front, still worse, gave wrong information.

What’s your fraud experience? Let know. Also, i will be interested in knowing, if you guys can come up with intelligent fraud ways of making a quick buck… let the ideas roll!