Category Archives: Business

Voice SMS – wrong audience?

The Airtel Voice SMS ad (below) is now being regularly aired on most Indian TV channels.

I found it surprising that Airtel seems to be targeting this service at the middle or the top layers of the socio-economic pyramid. Given the general perception that those in the ‘Base of the Pyramid‘ are more likely to need and use voice-based features on mobile phones, I’d have thought Airtel would go after the BoP audience (probably in addition to other segments). It’d be interesting to test this service with BoP users and see whether they’d take to it.

On another note…

Is this also an attempt at changing the typical Indian phone usage behaviour — the innate unwillingness to use voice mail on phones (I’ve heard various theories on this one, will save that for a different post)? It’s still early days, but I still don’t see any sign of a dramatic change in that behaviour!

Also, I realized there is a basic usability issue with the way one has to record the voice message. To send a voice message, one has to dial * and then the number.  Which means, I can’t use the “Contacts” on my phone to send a voice message!! And given how dependent we are now on our Contacts, this is so unusable!

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New additions to our Advisory team

As mentioned in my previous post, here are more updates on some of the key developments over the last several months…

Two highly accomplished and very interesting people have joined our Advisory team. I’m really honoured & privileged to have them provide us their mentoring and support. Here’s a brief introduction to Soumya and Reuben…

  • Soumya Banerjee: A veteran in the areas of internet, new media and financial services, Soumya Banerjee is a pioneer in successfully establishing, and scaling a global distributed multi disciplinary consulting services model. As the former Managing Director of Sapient in India, Soumya was instrumental in its establishment and growth to over 4000 people and creating a portfolio which delivered high end consulting and interactive services.  Recognized in multiple forums for creating award winning workplaces, Soumya takes a special interest in mentorship and growth and helping companies and people achieve their true potential. With his professional and life experiences in India, Europe and the Americas, Soumya takes a personal interest in the nuances of global cultures and is also an avid photographer and traveler. He has a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Houston.
    • Reuben Abraham is a professor and director of the Emerging Markets Solutions Initiative in India at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. He serves on the global board of directors of the Soros Economic Development Fund (SEDF), a fund which aims to catalyze growth in emerging markets. Under the aegis of SEDF, he has set up a unique $17 million India-focused SME early stage fund with Google and Omidyar Network as co-investors. He serves as an independent director on the board of Indiaco Ventures, a leading listed Indian financial services company, and serves on the advisory board of two start-ups. He was also a TED Global Fellow for 2007 and and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative.

      Reuben completed his M.A., M.Phil and Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York. During his time in New York, he was an Associate Fellow in Global Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Public Policy Consortium Fellow and a Sloan Telecommunications Fellow. He served as a consultant at the World Bank and conducted research at three Columbia University research labs. Before Columbia, he was involved in co-founding two start-up ventures, both in India.

      Resurrection and some (badly overdue) updates

      Well, what can I say…the last 4 months have been a blur!

      Apart from completing one full year since we officially started Onward (we still haven’t celebrated that yet!), we’ve been neck deep in projects, deadlines, fieldwork, analysis, business development…you name it. Of course, all good problems to have, for a young organization (or, so they say!)! 🙂

      Here are some of the significant developments…

      Firstly, 2 recent additions to the Onward team…

      1. Samrat Nawle (Senior Researcher)
        Samrat joined us in early June this year. With a degree in Industrial Design from National Institute of Design, Samrat has over 7 years’ experience in User Research, Contextual Studies & Innovation, and Product Design (specifically automobile design). Prior to joining Onward, he worked with Human Factors International (Contextual Innovation team) and Reva Automobiles. Aside from his really weird (?!) sense of humour, Samrat brings with him an undying sense of commitment and passion for user centered innovation, and has already started making a huge difference to the work we’ve been doing.
      2. Ranjit Singh:(Research Associate)
        Our most recent team member (joined barely 2 weeks ago), Ranjit has a B.Tech degree in ICT (interesting, eh?) from Dirubhai Ambani Institute of Information & Communication Technology (DA-IICT), Ahmedabad. He’s been working on academic projects for the last year in a variety of areas including – Information visualization of a Tribal healthcare initiative, developing a model for understanding indigenous innovation systems in India (Worked as Research Assistant on case studies of grass-root innovation in India encompassing the notion of coping, Jugaad – the bricoleur’s approach – and the middleman as a fixer) — and also worked as a freelance journalist for DNA, Ahmedabad (extensive statistical research on trend stories, feature stories on the city of Ahmedabad, technology reporting). Unsurprisingly (for those who know him), he chose to stay away from the typical “software engineering” jobs, to pursue his passion for Innovation, Information Design and User Research.

      More updates coming soon (really)!

      Talk at MindTree: “Understanding Your Users”

      Was invited for a talk at MindTree, at their fancy “Global Village” campus in Bangalore, to talk about “Understanding Your Users“.

      Heavily loaded topic, of course. I decided to focus on 1 possible way of understanding users — using photo documentation techniques to uncover unmet & unarticulated needs. Walked through some examples of photo documentation based user research, using a recent informal study we conducted on the topic, ‘Car Storage Behaviour & Needs’. And, at the end, I also shared some “best practices” from my personal experience of having used this technique over the years.

      The audience consisted of people from varied disciplines – Engineering, User Experience/Usability, Product Management and Business Analysts…so, decided to keep the content relevant for audiences that are completely new to user research, as well as those who have basic awareness and minimal practical experience in field techniques.

      The complete presentation can be downloaded here.

      Interestingly, the crowd was very enthusiastic and inquisitive. Unlike similar sessions I’ve conducted before, the audience here warmed up very quickly and were full of questions in the very first few minutes. Was quite impressed with the level of enthusiasm and “aliveness” in the group. It made the whole effort very fulfilling!

      And, here’s what it looked like…

      Param\'s talk at MindTree

      New age marketing

      HDFC Standard Life Insurance has created a ‘Responsibility Quotient’ application on Facebook, I’m guessing one of (if not the first) time a major Indian business entity is taking to the social networking platform for marketing and brand building.

      The ‘application’ is nothing but a contest-quiz, which if you happen to win, your parents get to fly to Paris for a vacation! Cool, eh? I think the whole thing’s a decent idea considering it reinforces the concept behind one of their recent products, a ‘Unit Linked Savings Plan’, that’s apparently “a plan ideal for young professionals”.

      Why does Delhi have such wide roads?

      Ok. This may be a case of too much “analysis-paralysis”, but let me risk it anyways…

      On the scarcity & abundance insight at the TiE event that I posted about last…and this is assuming this theory were true (that Indians have traditionally been oriented towards scarcity more than abundance):

      Further clarifying that theme, what is also widely accepted in India is the general “North Indian” and “South Indian” cultural divide (over the recent years, these have been redefined as the West-of-Kanpur and East-of-Kanpur divide).

      While there are several generalizations & pre-conceived notions about these two categories, what I’m referring to specifically is the perception of North Indians (those from Delhi, even more so)  being “born-for-business”, people who show-off their wealth, “Live Life King Size” attitude. In other words — an orientation towards Abundance.

      Whereas, most South Indians (like me) have been brought up & constantly reminded about how we aren’t “cut for business”…we are the “salaried class”. A majority of our earnings MUST go into savings (to be used only at the time of retirement). Not to show-off one’s wealth. If you got a good job, don’t tell your neighbours until you actually complete your first full week at the new job! And so on. In other words — an orientation towards Scarcity.

      So, is it a coincidence that Delhi has the widest of roads and cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai are suffering with narrow roads that are getting narrower, by the day? Also, is it a coincidence that Delhi/Gurgaon seem to have the biggest (really BIG) malls in the country?

      I know…this sounds crazy & outlandish at one level. It’s even hard to clearly articulate the innumerable cultural layers that are hidden in the above topic. Nevertheless, it’s just a theory. Who knows…it may actually be true?! 🙂

      Event report (Understanding the Logic of Consumer India)

      Here’s my post-event summarization & ramblings on last week’s TiE event, Understanding the Logic of Consumer India:

      But, before that, a random observation during tea-break: Majority of the glasses that were used for drinking water, had around 20% of drinking water remaining in each of the glasses (sorry, wasn’t carrying my camera with me that day)! On the sustainability side, that’s around 20% of the drinking water that the five-star hotel buys going to a waste. And on the business side, the hotel is spending 20% more than they should be!

      Anyways, onto the event notes:

      • Thankfully it wasn’t a powerpoint-presentation oriented event. It was an informal, open discussion facilitated by Vinita Bali. The topics that were discussed ranged from…predictable questions like, why she wrote the book, “We’re like that only!”…to interesting debates around…do businesses (especially entrepreneurs, given the fact it was a TiE event) really need to understand what their consumers’ needs are before going-to-market (this question did become a strong point of discussion among several in the audience)…to how do you know whether “that” is really the consumer’s need…to how one should spend time observing consumers at the point-of-sale/usage…to whether Reliance has got their retail business model correct or not (?), etc.
      • Scarcity & Abundance: I forget whether it was Vinita or Rama who made a very subtle, yet powerful & interesting point about how Indians are fundamentally oriented towards (or come from) scarcity rather than abundance. The context to this discussion was around the need for competition in the market, without which a business can pretty much do whatever it wishes (without taking into account consumers’ needs) and many times, get away with it.
        Vinita/Rama made the point that Indians have traditionally been shy of competition because there is a tendency to believe that, if there is competition, then one’s share of the pie is at stake. And that comes from the cultural background where Indians are so oriented towards scarcity rather than abundance…meaning, there’s this nagging worry/feeling that…what’s there, isn’t enough for everyone.
      • Do businesses really need to understand consumer’s needs: A question was put forth about why businesses don’t want to, don’t like to spend too much time/effort/money on understanding the consumer’s needs. Several people had varied (also, weird) responses to that.
        My take (or hypothesis):

        1. Most of the folks who run businesses are usually the left-brain-thinking, logic-oriented folks. That doesn’t mean they don’t use their right-side at all…it’s probably relatively underutilized when it comes to making business decisions.
          And, why that’s significant is…understanding & decoding consumer’s needs, I think, requires a considerable amount of right-brain-thinking (in addition to the left-brain as well)….which they would much rather not deal with, because it seems to be so “hard to get”.
          And that’s probably why the general attitude towards end-user research has been of “Let’s-do-it-when-we-have-the-time-and-money”. Thankfully, not all clients think that way and people like me do end up putting our right-brain-thinking to good use.
        2. The other side of the coin: Researchers haven’t done a good (enough) job of translating research findings into tangible/measurable business recommendations or solutions. World-over, there seems to be (in my experience) an innate skepticism that research just ends up in a report that one files away, hardly ever to use one’s business decisions. So, researchers need to start talking business and the language of business to be able to really deliver the value that research often promises.
      • While making a point during the discussion, one of the women in the audience talked about a conversation she once had with the store manager of one of the large (departmental/lifestyle) stores in Bangalore. The store manager said that only 40% of the store was allocated to women’s products and almost 60% was for men! The logic being that, women don’t actually buy as much as they spend so much time at the store!!!
      • On a related note…and this I don’t recall so clearly…there was also a point about how some (traditional) business practices & approaches are so different in different parts of the world. In India, the conventional approach to pricing coffee would be to charge more for coffee with sugar (‘coz you’re having to spend on more sugar). But in the west, the practice is to charge more for diet drinks!
      • Unlike most other TiE events (in Bangalore) that I’ve attended, this seemed to have the least participation from the techie crowd. There seemed to be several CEOs and heads of small-medium-enterprises in the crowd. Does it indicate the lack of interest among the techies about creating user-centered products & services? I guess that’s too harsh a conclusion to draw, but this phenomena didn’t seem like something to not make note of.
      • The discussion (especially between the audience and the panelists) kept going back to the unresolved issue about connectivity to the new Bangalore airport that’s coming up in March 2008. One had to be there to experience the irritation, anger, frustration and complete resignation about the state of (infrastructure) affairs, surrounding the connectivity to the new airport.
        Of course, Rama did touch upon the fact that there are people who actually get to benefit from such poor connectivity or infrastructure, the cellphone companies to start with. If you aren’t getting to the airport on time or are even avoiding the travel, chances are you’re using the good ol’ phone to communicate with your business associates or your near & dear ones! Interesting.