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Motivating Employees @ startups

January 12, 2012

Whats in it for me? Why should I risk my career and join a startup where one has to work way too hard with high risks obviously the returns are also great. But at the end of the day not all startups are like Google or Facebook (I am assuming that their numbers would be good). So is money the only motivating factor for people to join startups – how much money can a startup offer to its employees. I am fortunate that I have a bunch of dedicated team members out there trying to make a point – that a niche market player like DesiSauda can sustain and thrive. I constantly debate about ways and means of motivating this bunch and it is a tough task – should I have to constantly give them pep talks, should I tell what all great things are in the pipeline and how we can as a team can make a difference. As a CEO I am responsible for the company and as a Founder I have to instill the enthusiasm that will carry the team forward with a single goal of making it a successful venture. What I feel is that at the end of the day if I reflect and calibrate as to what steps I have taken and what methods I have followed to make this happen, I should not have any regrets of not trying any means and measure within best possible limitations. On this topic I think I came across an article which talks about the founder having to have abundant enthusiasm, unlimited energy and extreme passion to make it happen and that is what startups is all about. So the question is how should I show to the team that I care without micro managing and at the same time making sure that results are delivered?

2011 A good start & 2012 A promising year

January 1, 2012

Around Dec frame of 2010 I was exposed to Groupon (when Google made an offer) and I followed the company for couple of weeks. At that point I remembered seeing deals for fencing, spa etc with little to no use to me as a Desi. That is when my entrepreneurial juices started flowing and I researched further on this topic – I came across Jewpon and plumdistrict, sites that were catering to a population with specific needs. I thought why not a site that targets South Asians and started to create a business plan and crunching numbers and so DesiSauda was born on Jan 22nd, 2011. I registered the domain and came up with the punch line and started to think about development, when I came across multiple COTS packages. After multiple conversations with different companies I zoned in on one product and had to struggle to get them work with me, hire an outsourcing company to customize the product and build a team. We have come a long way since Jan 22nd, 2011 with operations in three cities, 9 member team and raising funds from friends and family. We have seen great traction in terms of end customers trusting us and buying from us, vendors who can work with us to promote their offerings and partners with whom we can build this brand.

2011 on a whole was an interesting start and 2012 is the year where we need to make the most of it using the platform we have built so far. We have some exciting things in the pipeline – new products and promising partnerships. This is the year we just have to focus and get the work done. Need to make few resolutions in terms of flawless execution, growing customers and building a great team. 2012 here we come…

Defending social buying platform business model

December 7, 2011

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” – this is one of the famous quotes of Conrad Connie in the movie Wag the Dog. This movie according to me is a classic – it clearly depicts what the media industry is capable of creating or breaking. I would highly recommend any budding entrepreneur to watch this movie as one can learn how to play the media and benefit out of it.

I recently attended a party at one of my friend’s place and I was generally discussing with a bunch of  his friends. We were generally talking about economy and out of a sudden a gentleman started talking about “viability” of the social buying model. I was intrigued and wanted to probe him further and asked him the reason behind this statement – upon which he told me that he had been reading many reviews about Groupon and how vendors are getting ripped off etc. Upon further questioning he said that his first hand information is through the various reports and he has not talked to any vendors. At that point I told him about what I do and whatever he had been reading about Groupon is more company specific rather than the model (in one of my blog posts I talked about the evolution of Coupon model and time will tell about how this model would finally evolve). I then explained to him about how the model can be considered to be an alternate to traditional advertising and how vendors can be benefited by this model.

After sometime he started talking about how he went to a local mexican place (Ole in Copell) and how the food was great etc. When I probed further he said that he got a Groupon and that is the reason he went with his friends and he liked the food etc. I then told him that this validates the social buying model itself and the beauty is that it brings customers to the table, but now the debatable part is whether charging the vendor 50% commission is sustainable or not.
One of the things that DesiSauda is experimenting with is the option of getting into high end purchases like cars and air tickets – much more involved purchases and a longer purchasing cycle.

Google – badshah of online advertising

December 7, 2011

I logged into my AdWords account after couple of weeks to update my billing information and I saw that there is an alert from Google – there are 438 words that are suitable for my company’s advertising which will help me reach more of my target audience and hence spend more with Google. This statement juxtaposed with the report from ZenithOptiMedia that reported that Google controls 44% of online advertising gave me very good insights into how Google is able to control 44% of the online market – http://zenithoptimedia.blogspot.com/2011/12/quadrennial-events-to-help-ad-market.html.

To start with Google has an awesome product – that is their search algorithm and that is what is feeding into Google becoming a juggernaut. There are billions of searches per day on Google and Google is able to harness and keep track of who is searching what (kind of very scary). Google now takes this data and slices and dices the data to analyze and come up with suggestions like the one that I got when I logged into my account. Now as any business manager who wants to expand business wants to refine his or her approach in targeting and reaching out customer base. These two steps – more people searching or googling on google supplies more fodder to google which then takes this data to help customers to refine their search criteria.

A very nice model that Google has and no wonder Nasdaq loves Goog.

How to engage customers using Social Media (Facebook)?

November 29, 2011

When I first launched DesiSauda I was not into Facebook or LinkedIn or any other social media except for my email and skype. I used to think that FB is a waste of time and a security risk – I still feel that way to a certain extent. But overtime I started to appreciate social media even though I believe that there is a hype about social media and a bubble around it – it is amazing to see and hear from strangers talk to me about whether my company is using social media to gain traction with customers or not. “Using Social Media” is not the panacea or the zenith of customer attraction and retention for any company – creating FB or twitter account does not constitute using Social Media “effectively”. One of the most important facets a company has to realize is that the customers are coming to your page, account to know more about you or somehow got pulled into the vortex. Now it is you as a company has to utilize this and make most of this interactions so that it leaves a positive impact.

On this topic I want to see how a startup like DesiSauda and how a gazillion dollar company like Pfizer are doing – there is no rhyme or reason for me to pick on Pfizer apart from it being one of the top advertisers in the world. The following statement is from its 2010 Financial report, on page 61

Advertising expenses relating to production costs are expensed as incurred, and the costs of radio time, television time and space in publications are expensed when the related advertising occurs. Advertising expenses totaled approximately $4.0 billion in 2010, $2.9 billion in 2009 and $2.6 billion in 2008. 

To know whether a company is engaging its customers or not FB has come up with a metric called “talking about this”. This number will give you an indication about how many fans of a particular page are interacting with your page in one form or fashion. This post explains what this number is really about – http://tinyurl.com/bwqudam which brings the point that one should not just go by this number only.
When I first visited Pfizer FB page it was more informational rather than anything else. Pfizer has over 40K fans of which around 745 were talking about it roughly constituting less than 2%. Also what I have noticed is the fact that most of the people who are talking about Pfizer are current or ex employees of Pfizer. So now a company with $4B in advertising expenses can do a better job than that.
Now to DesiSauda – we have around 700 fans out of which around 90 are talking about this. Does this mean that we are doing a great job than Pfizer – absolutely no. We have seen the later number going down to single digits and increasing to three digits as well. What we at DesiSauda do is that we constantly try to interact with our customers by asking questions, organizing contests and supplying some interesting information snippets that will enthuse our fan base and interact with our page. Thinking about what clicks with the customers and how to effectively do it is a full time job (again based on my research it seems that one should not post more than 2 to 3 updates per day or else fans would be turned off).
Some questions I am thinking of which are relevant to this discussion
1) How much of an interaction should a company need to have with its customers (via social media)?
2) How to rate relevance of interaction?
3) How to convert the interactions into some meaningful outcomes?

Wag the Dog

November 28, 2011

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” – this is one of the famous quotes of Conrad Connie in the movie Wag the Dog. This movie according to me is a classic – it clearly depicts what the media industry is capable of creating or breaking. I would highly recommend any budding entrepreneur to watch this movie as one can learn how to play the media and benefit out of it.

I recently attended a party at one of my friend’s place and I was generally discussing with a bunch of  his friends. We were generally talking about economy and out of a sudden a gentleman started talking about “viability” of the social buying model. I was intrigued and wanted to probe him further and asked him the reason behind this statement – upon which he told me that he had been reading many reviews about Groupon and how vendors are getting ripped off etc. Upon further questioning he said that his first hand information is through the various reports and he has not talked to any vendors. At that point I told him about what I do and whatever he had been reading about Groupon is more company specific rather than the model (in one of my blog posts I talked about the evolution of Coupon model and time will tell about how this model would finally evolve). I then explained to him about how the model can be considered to be an alternate to traditional advertising and how vendors can be benefited by this model.

After sometime he started talking about how he went to a local mexican place (Ole in Copell) and how the food was great etc. When I probed further he said that he got a Groupon and that is the reason he went with his friends and he liked the food etc. I then told him that this validates the social buying model itself and the beauty is that it brings customers to the table, but now the debatable part is whether charging the vendor 50% commission is sustainable or not.

SV – A Mecca for entrepreneurs

November 22, 2011

DesiSauda has started its operations in Bay Area in the last week of Oct and as part of its expansion I went to Bay Area in the first week of Nov. I was in San Jose for two weeks with rather a big agenda – market development, partner expansion and fund raising opportunities. In my previous life I visited SV innumerable times and was always amazed by the place, the tempo and liveliness that I had experienced. This time also it was no exception except for the fact that I went there as an entrepreneur and to me this is the mecca for entrepreneurs. The ecosystem in SV is very conducive for entrepreneurs – including the great many resources like Plug and Play centers, schools like Stanford and Haas and obviously tech giants like google and apple.

I attended an event – a networking event for Indian professionals and I came across a team which offered their help in building an windows app for DesiSauda. Again this arrangement is pro-bono and this team is looking for some kind of real time experience and want to dabble with startups. Now this kind of drive and risk taking is not seen in any other place. Another aspect which struck me was the tech centers like plug and play where startups like ours can rent out an office space to bunker in and start working immediately. The beauty of this model is not the space but again the ecosystem around it – they have monthly or regular meetings with VCs, business plan pitching competitions and also one can see other entrepreneurs burning midnight oil. All these are a great factor that keeps an entrepreneur going and hence one can see so many startups coming up in SV and growing into a multi billion dollar giants.

On the flip side are the costs – the cost of a simple meal is almost 50% expensive when I compare it with my Dallas rates. Also the housing is a major factor that thins a wallet pretty soon. But one can always find paying guest options and other cheaper options (actually we used one for our team member) that will help you ease the pains. As for the food there is always the staple food of entrepreneurs – ramen noodles that will keep you afloat.