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Thursday, January 29, 2015

I recommend you read this



I have always resisted buying books online, despite the allure of much cheaper prices. In fact, I think I just bought one book online in all of last year among the twenty one that I read. Not buying books online means I still read books the traditional way and not on a Kindle or a phone. I like to count it under my time away from the screen, along with running and cooking (although this has stopped after my move back to Bangalore).

Recently, my predisposition or bias against buying books online was re-affirmed. But before I get into how that happened, let me first set the scene (yes, I'm reading Gone Girl without yet watching the movie, where Amy keeps repeating 'set the scene' in her diary entries).

I'm not a big fan of the recommendation engines out there (note to self: design a recommendation engine I might like to use). When I follow an account on Twitter, Chelsea FC, for example, I get a sleuth of recommendations of accounts to follow from Twitter which include Didier Drogba, Oscar, Eden Hazard, Petr Cech, who are all Chelsea players. The same thing happens when I check out a course on Coursera or check out a book on Flipkart or Amazon or listen to a song on Youtube. I get recommendations of other items by the same artist, the same author.

I believe in variety. I enjoy a book when it is quite different in content, perspective, plot or ideas from the previous one I read. And recommendation engines always seem to want to suggest things similar to the previous ones I read, watched, listened to. Which is why I rely on recommendations from people. From people who are like me, from people who like variety, from people who are open to appreciate varying ideas and opinions.

Now, coming back to my bias against buying books online being re-affirmed, I had collected recommendations of books from people and thought I'd order them online for a change. None of the books were available for delivery in under 25 days. Only the bestsellers and certain new arrivals were available for delivery in under 3 days. That's when I started thinking bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason.

We have been voicing our support for having net neutrality, but I have a feeling we are losing neutrality in every sphere. I came across this article by Simon Dumenco voicing a similar emotion and felt I wasn't alone.

Do you really have the variety you think you do while purchasing online? Do you rely on recommendation engines or recommendations from people you connect with? How big of a factor does price play in your purchase decision? All things to ponder. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

From around the world #2 - Collecting experiences



This is the second in the series of posts on things I think about when I think about the places I have been to and the places I wish to go.

In October 2012, when I boarded the train at small town called Ventimiglia on the border of Italy and France, I was looking forward to exploring the beautiful French Riviera, or Cote d'Azur as the French call it, alone. The train route from Ventimiglia to Nice, my destination, is definitely one of the most beautiful you can take, especially on a bright sunny day, as the entire stretch of it is along the French coast line.

When I arrived at Villa St Exupery, the place that would host me during my stay there, I ran into a fellow traveler from Brazil, Luis, who had similar itinerary planned as mine, and we decided to hit the road together.

Nice has one of the most fabulous beaches, which stretches a few kilometres, and is lined with cozy little restaurants (like the one behind me in the pic) every few hundred metres. While it is just splendid to order a coffee and croissant in one of these restaurants and settle down to read a good book soaking in the Sun and the sea breeze, it is equally good to walk the length of the beach.

It is one thing to recognise places you have been to in a movie or in a book, but it is a whole other thing to come across someone else feeling the exact same way about the places you have been to, especially after a good amount of time has passed since you went there yourself.

People collect experiences. They remember the good ones for a very long time. I'm looking forward to collecting more experiences this year.

One of the restaurants behind me

That's Luis with me

You can read the other posts from the series here:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sooraj Dooba Hain


'Advertising is the tax you pay for not being remarkable' is an oft repeated quote, but despite the negative connotation to it, it is definitely a tried and tested way of scaling your audience.

Since my move back to my home town of Bangalore a few months ago, I have resumed my habit of listening to the good old radio now and then. If you are in Bangalore tomorrow, I recommend you listen to my all time favourite RJ, Darius Sunawala, chat up the stalwarts of Bangalore like Nandan Nilekani and Rahul Dravid tomorrow evening starting 6pm on Fever 104.

In the last couple of weeks, Roy, an up-coming Bollywood movie, has been doing a good job promoting its music, especially this one song called 'Sooraj Dooba Hain' on pretty much all stations that play Bollywood music.

When I first heard the song, I thought it was quite average. No reason to pump up the volume like I do for other songs that I like. But the RJs praising it and getting people on air to talk about why they like it has definitely played a big part in me growing to like it over time. Perhaps the lack of something better that's new as well has played its part, allowing all the advertising efforts to pay off.

It is possible to have a fantastic ad campaign and garner a lot of attention through it, but unless the product you are advertising stands up to your claims by being plausibly better than the competition, all of it is in vain. The attention garnered through the campaign will fritter away the moment the audience realises that there are more suitable options in the market.

While advertising is a tax you pay for not being remarkable, it is definitely the way to gain popularity among the audience. When the audience is ambivalent enough about the category you're in to not be too picky, then advertising with the right creatives at the right moments will tip the balance in your favour, like it did for me with Sooraj Dooba Hain.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

But that's not how you're supposed to do it!

The product economy is bustling at the moment, proof of the pudding being in the host of product companies that have raised funding at high valuations over the last few months, and the investors themselves raising funds for further investments this year.

This means competition is ripe and each product is trying to out-do its competitors. When the intention is to out-do the competition, the once-preferred route of building more features is giving way to reducing the number of features which in turn make the product very focused, simple to use and efficient.

Only it is not simple to make a product simple to use when the target audience is varied, as it involves making it simple to use for each member of that audience. WhatsApp is perhaps the poster-boy for achieving that.

Performing the desired (advertised) functionality with minimal fuss is only one part of building a simple to use product. The other is in ensuring no user can use it 'wrongly'. You can never tell the user 'But that's not how you're supposed to do it!' In other words, the user is always right.

I have had this experience recently where some of my product's users have interacted with the product in unexpected ways - and have run into problems. Which is when I realised my product still needs a manual - or a do's and don'ts. And that is the first sign of an un-remarkable product.

Time to fix it and push it in the direction of remarkable.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Knocking down little barriers



It is that time of the year when we start thinking about making resolutions for the new year. But, a large majority of the people that do, do not end up seeing it through.

I live on the fourth floor of my apartment building. My bicycle is downstairs in the basement garage. Not only that, but it's tucked behind my girlfriend's car. Not only that, but it's hanging from a rack on the wall. Not only that, but it's locked to the rack with two locks. In order to ride my bike, I have to hurdle several barriers. They're small barriers, to be sure, but they're enough. I don't ride nearly as often as I did five years ago when I could step out the front door, grab my bike, and pedal away into the sunset.
- JD Roth

Just like it is not enough to solve a reasonably painful problem to have a successful product, it is not enough to have good resolutions to see them through. 

Building a product that solves a problem for the users is only half the work. A lot of people can and do do it. But the reason only a couple of them become really successful is because they have the least number of these little barriers. 

Every little barrier knocked down, is guaranteed to increase adoption of your product.

So this new year, don't just make resolutions. Plan your routine, the layout of your house, the route you take to work, and other such things in such a way that you knock down the little barriers that can stop you from seeing your resolutions through.