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Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Pensieve

As a kid, I was a big Harry Potter fan. One of the things that really fascinated me was the Pensieve. In the book, it is a device that can store memories and allows you to view them at a later date by placing you inside, as though you were a part of the memory and everything in it was happening around you.

That piece of fiction is now reality as you can see in this TEDTalk by Chris Milk.

While Virtual Reality has been gaining a lot of traction in the gaming world, it is yet to catch on in the world of entertainment and connection. If 3D movies and IMAX are immersive experiences, you can only imagine how a VR movie can be. And if you spend a lot of time talking to loved ones on Skype or Hangouts, VR is one step closer to having a face-to-face conversation.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Marketers have understood for a while now that nearly all of us are a lot more inclined to click through, watch, listen to, read or buy something if someone we know or trust recommend that we do. And hence they try very hard to show us ads like the one above, hoping to get people to retweet, share a video or an article. They understand that spreading the word is important and that spreading it through the right people is even more important.

But we're still at a stage where we see someone from our social network recommending something (like in the picture above). It can be anyone from our social network recommending anything. The people we interact with more automatically rank higher in the list of people who are considered our influencers. 

But influencers are generally more narrow in their reach (in terms of types of products as opposed to followers) than this strategy accounts for. The people whose music recommendations I trust may not be the same people whose book recommendations I trust. Just like there's Zomato for finding restaurants and Practo for finding doctors, each of us has different people we go to for recommendations on different things. There are still a handful of people we go to for recommendations on everything under the sun, but these tend to happen more in-person as these are all people we see or talk to very often. And a good bit of these conversations happen on WhatsApp.

Identifying these influencers for everyone on the planet for every category of products is the ultimate goal of Facebook. They are already half way there (no wonder they shelled out $19 billion for WhatsApp) and there's hardly anyone I see who's better placed to get there. If I were you, I'd buy Facebook stock and hold.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Looking over your shoulders

Students today take away as much from school as a critic does from a movie. A critic walks into the theatre (or plays the movie on her laptop) challenging the movie to leave a mark on her, to make her think and to entertain her. We all know how many movies critics actually end up writing a good review about.

Now imagine a student taking the same approach to her classes, or an employee taking the same approach to her job. If you're waiting for something to be challenging enough before you immerse yourself in it, you may never find one that does, and you'll end up merely doing enough to get by unscathed. We all know how happy such students are to go to school or write exams, and we also know how happy those employees are to get to work.

Next, think about the product you ship. By extrapolating the same approach as the above cases, you end up doing just enough to convince the customer to make a purchase. Which leaves you always looking over your shoulder to see if someone's willing to push the bar just a little bit more forcing you to do the same.

But when that passionate kid comes along who wants to learn more than what is taught in class, and the breath-taking direction or story comes along that wins the Oscar, or that entrepreneur comes along with the sole purpose of providing the users the best experience, no amount of looking over your shoulders will help you catch up with them. We've all tried and failed before.

Why look over the shoulders? Stop keeping up and set the pace. Commit.

App only

Myntra recently shut down its mobile website forcing users to download the app if they wanted to use Myntra on their phones. Even though their desktop site is still live, there is word that that may be shut down as well making it accessible on app only.

There is immense competition in the ecommerce space and as valuations creep higher and higher, investors are looking to shift their focus to becoming profitable before a potential exit. The competition is so high because majority of the population still makes purchase decisions based on price. If you can sell it cheap, you can sell more.

This isn't very good for the ecommerce companies that are looking to instill a sense of loyalty in their customers. They understand that they cannot instill loyalty by trying to out-price the competition and even if they do manage it this way, it is no easy road to becoming profitable.

They've taken two key approaches to address this. One, introduce their own custom labels. While this is an approach in positive brand building, going app only is the other approach that helps.

It is very easy for a user on the web to compare prices across sites before making a purchase decision. Whereas, it is a lot harder to do it on an app. By going app only, ecommerce companies have a lot to gain as they then no longer compete only on price. It is indeed a smart move to go app only until price comparison technologies catch up.

But is app only the way to go for those not in ecommerce? Perhaps not.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The rich get richer

Today, the Economic Times dedicated an entire page to an article highlighting how the Modi government has been trying very hard to ensure it is not seen as doing any favours to corporate bigwigs and help the rich get richer. In fact, it quoted some industrialists who claimed that Modi was more approachable when he was Gujarat CM than he is now.

Whenever someone talks about the rich getting richer, it is nearly always in such a context, making it seem that it is almost criminal for the rich to get richer. But the fact is that it is very easy for the rich to get richer. They have to make a deliberate choice to not get richer in order to avoid getting richer.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, we all behave in a way that ensures the rich get richer. And this behaviour is highlighted by the graph above. You may have seen this graph only with respect to product adoption in the market. But, it has a far wider significance.

In anything, and you already know it from the getting-traction-for-your-product context, it is extremely hard to convince the initial 2.5% of people to trust you and to give your product a chance. It is just as hard to land the first good project, or raise the first round of funding, or get the first date. But once you do, you establish yourself among the Innovators and the word spreads and it is far easier to get other people to notice you and to listen to what you have to say. Because, as you can see from the graph, 97.5% of us decide to try you only if someone else already has.

This is precisely the reason why kids take on huge loans and prepare with singular focus when faced with the opportunity to get into a reputed college. Getting into a reputed college is getting the first 2.5% to try you. This is also the reason why the likes of Flipkart and Amazon offer huge discounts every now and then - so that people who are yet to buy from them are incentivised to try them out. Because unless you're the last person to try something, there are others waiting for you to do it before they decide to do it themselves.

The competition to get noticed by the 2.5% is extremely high and the ones who make it past this have to compete with far fewer to gain the next 2.5% and so on. When you make it past the 50% mark, you hardly have anyone else to compete with for the remaining audience.

While retaining the ones you have gained is hard, it is smooth sailing compared to what you have to do to get to the first 2.5%. You may have already seen this with job offers, college admits, scholarships, performance gigs (music, theatre, DJ, etc). Once you get the first good one, you find that others come knocking on your door.

No wonder then that the rich get richer. That is the law of the world we live in.