Features NOT-EQUAL-TO Product

A cool feature or a collection of features that existing players don’t have aren’t enough to declare yourself a product and feel that is defensible. Most start ups that just have an interesting play on an existing products / services, fall into a trap thinking that alone can help them displace existing players and incumbent leader. I chose the word “feature” intentionally, so this does not include fundamental innovation or IP that goes deeper than just features.

When eGain started email support solution in 90s, most CRM applications only focused on the voice call centers. They believed it was enough to create a new sub-space. Over time it became apparent that email is just another channel for any CRM application and can be easily added by existing CRM providers.

Recently, there has been a lot of chatter about killing Google Search … because they don’t “real time” results or automatically “cluster” for narrowing search results or auto suggest keywords or wikisearch. The problem again is that in many ways they are just features that easily extend the Google Search as additional options. Granted the engineering associated with each of these features is more significant than cosmetic features. Now what will these Google killers do, as Google has now elegantly added views for real time results, multi-level filtering, auto-suggest, wikisearch etc.

Dilbert on killer apps
Dilbert on killer apps

The same story is now repeating itself with twitter … how hard is it for Facebook or Linked In to add public profiles and What’sUp updates … and take away the whole differentiation? No wonder Walmart.com is one of the top ecommerce sites in retail. I wrote in my predictions for 2009 that Social Networking will increasingly become a feature for every online site … increasing popularity of Facebook Connect, Google Friend Feed, MyBlogLog etc. all prove me right already !

Most start ups over estimate their products and under estimate incumbents because of poor appreciation of a few factors in the real world

– Market share and existing loyal user base … takes long time to build and once u have it makes it easier to launch extensions

– Brand value … consumers develop attachment and liking towards certain brands …  certain positioning … so unless you create a completely new positioning (smart of bing to keep harping they are a decision engine and not a search engine … it’s a better bet than trying to become a better search engine) it’s hard to beat brand loyalty

– Not every one wants to learn new things … most people get comfortable having learnt somethings … openoffice could never beat office because a lot of people don’t want to learn office processing again … less than 15% migrated to the new Yahoo mail because who wants to learn the new mail … the next accounting killer app in India needs to reconcile the fact that most accountants grew up on Tally

– Experience and execution … there is a whole ecosystem of execution that takes time to build … and if some one is a leader, presumably they have already put that in place

– Cash … incumbents (hopefully) have more cash

(Yahoo – a company I admire – has in recent years worked contrary to this logic. Inspite of immense strength in terms of existing users, groups (social networking?) and content … they seemed to think every start up out there with cool features must be imitated !! That appears to be changing under the new leadership.)

So next time you think your AJAX-Enabled-UI or SOCIAL-ENABLED features will kill the incumbent … think openoffice … think eGain … think Google-Search-Killers (think Twitter?)

Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views of the organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here.

(Sridhar Turaga’s Blog: An Indian Entrepreneur)


It took 9 months to deliver the baby …

I was recently talking to a highly driven entrepreneur, who talked impressively about how time-to-market was critical and scaling needed to happen yesterday. He seemed to focus all his energies on getting right there to top quickly and getting a lot of funding to support his expansion plans. I only appreciate and admire his zeal.

But, what I found ironical in all my discussions with him was – he seemed to have little experience in that area and was convinced his passion + funding will be enough to leave all the others behind. He is special and doesn’t need to figure out the details.
I read a book years ago called “The Mythical Man Month” (on a completely un-related topic to this one – software planning) … and there is an excellent point about how throwing more nurses and doctors doesn’t change the time it takes to deliver a baby … it will still take 9 months.
How true. Why should one not plan for the natural gestation time for the product/market to evolve or the learning curve one has? Why is that wimpy?
Sure entrepreneurs are path breakers. But, when you decided to learn how to cycle … how meaningful is it to invest and aim to win Tour-de-France that first week. Why do people not plan for the required time they or their organizations need to learn the ropes – particularly when they don’t have prior experience? Even Michael Phelps wouldn’t have jumped into the pool the first time and found his way to the Beijing Gold the next day. Not even Michael Phelps !!
(As far as competition catching up … history shows a more scenarios where the second mover had the advantage … Google wasn’t the first, neither was Apple iPod … Microsoft rarely was the first. Must be for a reason)
Aim for the Olympics Gold … but don’t ignore the process and time to learn. During that time … raising the ante thru un-natural scaling, adding people or funding or clients … may only complicate things for you … permanently jeopardizing the foundation without giving it enough time to firm up.
Be restless …. Be patient.

Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here.

(Sridhar Turaga’s Blog: An Indian Entrepreneur)

Thanks, for rejecting me …

After crossing due hurdles, I joined Little Flower College in Hyderabad for my 11th/12th. The principal Brother John was an old mentor from my school days. Religiously met him on the first day. Brother John asked me what my goal in life was. I replied “I hope to join an IIT“. Like his characteristic cane, he whipped back saying “Every fool hopes to join an IIT … don’t hope … do it“. That jolt shook me all the way into an IIT two years later.

Having joined an IIT, it seemed like nirvana was here at last … so I enjoyed the open air theater, the late night canteens, the “gult” gossip clubs and Pink Floyds of that new found heaven. The first two semesters were a wash out … in grades. A visit back home brought me face to face with my mom again … and realized that even Indra reports to her. I proclaimed to my wing mates that I will “hope” to top the class, a congenital “fool” that I am. I over heard on another day one of my friends joking about my claims … and even “doing tapas upside down” won’t help me now. I love him now for that, because I topped (well, almost … except for some GOD like creatures like my friends Basava who can never be touched ever) in my third semester and graduated in the 8.8+ club.

Years later, I started a BPO company in India (iSeva) with a few friends. Among other things I ran technology. Just two years into the venture we got lucky to be short listed by a large credit card company in US looking to outsource. In the early days of the BPO boom if you had an office and already invested in a real telecom switch it was competitive advantage. Anyways, a team of 10-12 experts landed in our small offices. They split into 6-7 sub teams to probe each function of the company. Three of us posted ourselves strategically across various teams. We didn’t even have so many conference rooms … so we put them in offices for the torture sessions that followed. Within 15 minutes it was apparent that our experience ended there … yet they persisted out of decency for 2-3 hours. My colleagues and I braved their questions with all our creative genius. “Why do you have a Nokia Firewall in US and a CheckPoint in India?” one of them asked. We couldn’t say because two different people ordered those, so we said that is part of our “vendor risk mitigation strategy“. “Tell us how you expect to learn about the credit card business in the US?“, another quipped. Pat came our reply, “We trust our clients to teach us their business best“. One of my co-founders said “I feel like crying” in a bio-break. Of course we lost the deal miserably. But, we got a list of 150 questions that we needed to answer to learn in this business. We went on to re-design our networks & processes using those questions … to be of the most well designed and impressive ones to win us deals in future RFP sessions. We also bonded as a team and earned respect from our teams for being brave in leading the carnage from the front. I guess a larger deal that we won a year later, that is now 25-30% of the company’s revenues now would have gone this way if not for that miserable afternoon.

A couple of years later, I was running sales in the US. Having never sold anything, I applied myself to know it all. We got short listed by a large bank for an outsourcing RFP. I personally handled this lead from the first contact they made with us. A list of 30 came down to 15 after killing 2 trees and printing 300 pages of our proposals – we were on it. That came down to 5 after endless calls and meetings – we were on it. I was thinking of how Kapil brought us our only world cup. They now flew to India to meet the team for the proverbial site visit. I promptly reached there and prepped the teams. I was all over this one. Every slide, every sip of coffee and ever other sentence included my words of wisdom. We were still on when the list got cut down to three. This was a dream run, because the other two on the list were the classic 1,000 pound Gorillas of the business. More proposals, more meetings and more brilliance followed. We lost a close second. As I pieced this together over the next 9 months, including feedback from the client and some of my colleagues in the leadership team … I learned that my brilliance blew it. Being a large company looking to outsource, they were scared away by the dominance of one person’s performance in the whole show … casting shadows of doubt on rest of the team … who they felt will really be key to long term success. We needed that deal and I learned one of the harshest lessons of my life … it’s not always about me. Next time in a similar situation I stepped out to let the team on the ground present them selves best … it worked. (Being in the meeting and keeping quiet is something I haven’t learned as yet … so my friend Dave taught me the disappearing to get a cup of tea trick :))

So I thank all the clients, investors, potential employees, employees, colleagues, partners … who rejected me … you make me a better person.

Are you getting rejected enough as an entrepreneur? … if not, you are probably not trying hard enough.

Are you getting dejected by the rejections? … if yes, you are probably not learning enough.

… as some one said it best

“Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment”

Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Sridhar Turaga’s Blog: An Indian Entrepreuner)

Propelled like the "Midnight’s Children"…

I grew up in a middle class family with no experience in running a business. I guess my MBA didn’t help either.

An MBA at an IIM is prestigious, but I think it was preparing me for a career in an MNC … like the civil services creates bureaucrats for the public sector, the “BSchools” in India create managers for the private sector.

So unprepared, unqualified and inexperienced … I decided to start a new company with 4 years of irrelevant experience … with 5 friends equally inexperienced … a company called iSeva. (Now part of e4e … http://www.iseva.com, http://www.e4e.com)

I look back at it 6 years since … often wonder HOW did it happen so quickly … I think the environment infected me and tipped me over … and we are just riding this storm called India.

It’s not me … it is Dr. Manmohan Singh for setting India on a path of privatization and liberalization … GE for creating the largest and now famous remote services center … companies like Infosys, Birla Group and Reliance that built world class business out of India … Tatas for launching indigenous Indica (having worked for TELCO in 95/96 … I am more impressed by the turn around as an insider :)) … infected their belief into me … and turned me into an entrepreuner.

Like Saleem Sinai and other “Midnight’s Children” who grew with an Independent India … in ways they couldn’t control … many like me are being propelled by this journey of liberal India into an economic and social super power … in ways we don’t really control !! Or … are we creating this future … like Saleem did.

Views expressed are solely personal opinions of the author; and do not represent the views organizations/institutions he is associated in any form. The author has no responsibility for actions taken based on ideas expressed here. (Author: Sridhar Turaga)