Tag Archives: marketing

Insights into the anatomy of the Indian entrepreneur – Work-hobby and Work-life balance

Friends at Scibler came to me the other day to tell me about their customer development efforts. This is by far the one team I have encountered with the highest IQ across the board and the commitment to learning about their customers *while* they develop their product. Their rigor, analysis, consistency and dedication to understanding their target customer, the relevant messaging and positioning before launch is unparalleled among Indian startups.

They found 3 personas of people who would be their customers – Work-work, Work-hobby and Work-life.

The Work-work persona is a rarity anywhere in the world, but more so in India. Among those who work for a big company or at a government agency, this person is an absolute “blue moon“. This kind of person loves their work. They live, breath, eat, sleep their work. From when they were kids they dreamed about doing something in the area of their work. I find few Indian entrepreneurs in this bucket as well, but they are as rare in India as they are in the US.

The Work-hobby persona is someone that does their “day job” to keep the lights on. This is a finance person who does accounting at a large company to earn 2,000,000 (20L or $40K) per year to maintain her EMI, drive a foreign import to work and send her kids to a “good school”. But the passion, desire and fun is Bharatanatyam. I actually know a person who does this exact same thing. She devotes her waking hours outside of work to Bharatanatyam. She’s also a realist and knows that it wont put the food on the table in India. So she continues to slave away at the large company, doing mindless work just so she can make enough money or save enough to pursue her hobby full time.

The Work-life persona is someone that has a job, but he has a life as well. Meaning, he enjoys food, friends, art, culture, movies, books, music, and a whole host of endless options that “living” gives you. He’s not committed to the one “hobby” or is not passionate about that “one thing”. He’s yet to find that one thing that matters to him the most. If you ask him about the one hobby, he’ll likely say “cricket”, “family”, “kids”, “shopping” or “sleeping”. He is not too particular about the type of work as long as it gives him enough money to “live”.

I often meet all 3 of these types of folks becoming entrepreneurs. I have been known to go on record stating that very few of the work-life or the work-hobby will actually succeed. In fact if they do, I’d consider that an exception. For an entrepreneur, work and their startup’s work in particular has to be the thing they breath, dream, eat and sleep.

As an entrepreneur if you are not doing something you like, have a passion for and enjoy, I’d highly recommend you dont do it. You will likely be in two minds at the first obstacle and trust me there are many obstacles for startup entrepreneurs in India.

The big difference between Indian entrepreneurs I meet and those I meet in the valley is that most work-hobby folks in the US end up making their hobby their work. So they also become work-work personas.

They can do this and succeed since there is a market for unique, new, interesting hobby “stuff” given how rich the nation is and how advanced their markets are.

In India the best you can do if you want to make your hobby a big part of your life is to make it  a “side bijiness“. I meet at least 20-30% of employees at a large or small company in India, having a side-bijiness.

The question I get asked by entrepreneurs a lot is what persona type should I hire?

I see most entrepreneurs looking to hire that elusive work-work persona. There are so many Indian entrepreneurs, who claim to have a culture that attracts the work-work persona, and those folks that are passionate employees. I hate to tell them they are being fooled and really if I talked to their employees, they’d tell me they’d rather start their own company, but dont have the risk profile to do so.

Here’s the real truth.

The work-work folks will not be working for you in India. They would rather be entrepreneurs themselves, since they live their work.

So the best you can do as an entrepreneurs is to hire a work-hobby or work-life persona. I’d highly recommend you dont get frustrated if they dont give you a 100%, because really their mind is elsewhere.

As long as they give you what they commit to, be happy, move on.

Above all be a force of good.


The least action principle applied to the “call to action”

I met with an entrepreneur who has been looking to gain traction for his new SaaS application for payments. Having talked to a few of the top notch marketing and conversion experts in the Bay area to learn about drip marketing, which allows you to set a set of messages over time I was eager to help him figure out how to apply that to his problem.

The problem he had was that his “call to action” – what he wanted his prospects and customers to do was creating a “very high barrier” to prospects going to the next level with the website.

I find this often the case with many startups and SaaS applications in particular. The “barrier” for a prospect to become a customer is very high, so while you generate a lot of traffic and visits to your website, the number of conversions is abysmally low.

While you could offer better design, clear case studies, A/B test your pricing, there’s another technique that’s fast gaining traction among those that believe in a sales term called “lead nurturing“.

Its is the least action principle applied to prospect behavior. Before you “riff” me on this, yes, I believe physics gives the answers to most marketing problems.

The summary of this principle is

 “Nature is thrifty in all its actions”

So this principle applied to conversion marketing is to make users do the least amount of work to get to the “next logical step” in your progress to convert them to be a customer.

Instead of asking users in the first page to “Sign up”, which may well be your ultimate goal, ask them to view a video instead. Then sign up for a newsletter. Then send them 3 emails (over time, drip marketing, remember) to get them to review a case study, provide them with ROI analysis and finally ask them to sign up.

This entire set of steps can be done in days or in 2-3 minutes with a “guided” website interaction, instead of just a single call to action.

If you remember that most people want to do the least amount of work to get the maximum benefit, then you will appropriately break down your final call to action into multiple “Least User Interactions” each of which gets the user to commit some more (time, energy, etc.) to your application.

This is similar to the method FB for example applies to its interactions. You might just be a viewer of content, then your path to least action is a “like”, then you might comment, then set your status and finally upload a picture. There are more actions no doubt, but the path to least action is a like.

So when you look at your call you action, think about how you can break it down into multiple steps to get users to interact with your website without having to “commit” to marrying you before your first date.

My latest piece on Mint: Question bank approach to learning from failures

I devised a new system to help me make sure I can learn from my past failures in the most opportune time. I call it the learning question bank. The question bank is a curated list of failure learning condensed into one to three questions in each category that I ask myself when I am faced with a new problem which has possible associations with something I have failed at doing before. I review the questions in the bank after I meet entrepreneurs to evaluate their opportunity and see if they can learn something from my failure. I usually send them an email, post our interaction to give them my experiences via the story of my failure which brings the learning back to the forefront.

Read the entire piece at Mint.

Startups and mentors: How to look for a great marketing mentor? & A list of top marketing mentors in India

After the first post on technology mentors in India, the next person who can help the most as a mentor to startups < 2 years old is someone that can help with product & customer knowledge (or understanding user / customer behavior if its a consumer startup).

There are 3 primary categories of “marketing” mentors I’d recommend you think about. You dont need them all, just be clear who you need for what kind of mentorship.

Product mentors are people who can distill what customers would need and say into what you need to build in your product. There’s a big difference between a product manager and a business analyst. The latter, typically found in many Indian services companies, tries to give the customer exactly what they want, and end up building largely a custom piece of work for that client. Product experts on the other hand, observe customers, ask them tough questions and direct the technology team to build what the customer really wants.

Sales mentors are people carrying a quota (target). They are pounding the street or directing teams that are selling every day. They understand targets, compensation, lead nurturing, managing deals and sales opportunities. There are many types of sales people but largely they are either “farmers” or “hunters”. Farmers end up expanding your current opportunity and Hunters get new business from new clients. They both have their place. Mostly, I have found sales people dont make very good mentors because they are largely unavailable, but there are a few good guys around. Ideally they would help you understand and grow your sales team from “CEO is the sales guy” to building a repeatable, growth-oriented team.

Marketing mentors would help you with positioning, building awareness, lead generation and digital marketing. They can typically help you at the stage when you need to launch (largely after product-market-fit). Most marketing people tend to talk lots and do little, so if you get someone that can give you practical tips on how to build your funnel and grow your customer base by spending as little money as possible, then you have the right person.

The question usually is why do you need so many mentors. The answer is you dont. It all depends on the team you have and if they need advice, help and mentorship. I have seen startups with 5 mentors and many with none. Most have 2-3 mentors to complement the team. You can get as much value from mentors as much time you put into the relationship. I typically recommend most entrepreneurs to setup 1 hour every other week during the initial days (<6 months) and then 1 hour every month and finally 1-2 hours every other month.

Some recommended Product mentors:

1. Amit Somani (Make my trip)

2.  Varun Shoor (Kayako)

3. Vijay Anand (The Startup Center)

4. Girish Mathrubootham (Fresh Desk)

5. Sridhar Ranganathan (InMobi)

6. Amit Gupta (InMobi)

8. Preetham VV (InMobi)

9. Dhimant Parekh (Hoopos)

Some recommended Sales mentors:

1. Madhu Lakshmanan (ex Photon)

2. Abhay Singhal (Inmobi)

Some recommended Marketing / Online customer acquisition mentors:

1. Pankaj Jain (Startup Weekend)

2. Ravi Vora (Flipkart)

3. Karthik Srinivasan (Flipkart)

4. Sanjeev Gadre (Consultant)

Why developers will make the best marketers in this and the next decade

When you have a hammer everything is a nail. Imagine you are a developer (or higher form being – a hacker). Every problem is a script or a tool or a side project you can build (including marketing or sales problems). That’s because that’s how developers think. Which is awesome since the focus is on creating something “useful” that prospects will use. When you can develop a tool or a script which consumer / customers can use instead of just read or consume you engage them more actively.

The next two decades (and quite possibly beyond) is all about being an engaging marketer.

So how does one become a marketer that “engages” their audience or consumer?

Some background: For the longest time, marketing meant advertising. So the “ad guy” who was a two-martini lunch, cigar smoking, creative director would come up with this brilliant “idea” and execute the TV ad, Print Ad and Radio ad. Accolades will follow. The ad campaigns that bomb would be forgotten.

The trouble with TV, radio and newspaper is that they are “passive” mediums for the consumer / user. They are recipients of marketing messages or propaganda.

Consumers were required to consume useful content (sitcoms, music, news) and interruption content (ads) with not much ability to ignore the interruption content.

Then came the Internet. Suddenly the consumer was more “active”. They were not waiting and passively looking at what was being fed, but were active in seeking useful content and equally active in ignoring interruption content. Note I am not saying useless content (some ads are useful, but they still are an interruption).

To actively engage a consumer or user, you have multiple choices but the biggest of those right now is gaming. This includes useful consumer tools, games, contests, polls, etc.

Although “content marketing” is being touted as a key part of inbound marketing, it is still “passive”. Content marketing is no different than newspapers. Imagine content strategy = editorial calendar, content producers = editors and content = news / editorial.

Here are some examples of how developers are building marketing tools by adding value to their prospect / consumer / user.

a) Website Grader tool is a useful tool, (but very complicated) that tells you how good your website is on multiple factors. (link)

b) Look at many opensource versions of hosted products (one of the companies I have invested in Plivo is an example) which are “free” to use and still provide marketing. (link)

c) Free starter versions of hosted products (such as Mailchimp) are also a form of marketing.

I could give you a lot more examples, but you get the point.

Developers need to think about their user / consumer, figure out what tool they can build which will make their life user’s easier and still keep their users engaged (as opposed to passive observers).

This is absolutely easier said than done, but its an easier bridge to cross than getting a “marketer” to build tools.