A clutch of thoughts with no specific objective

A few thoughts on achievement. It’s a good idea to aspire to achieve.

On achieving whatever it is that you desire, it’s certainly possible to lose connection to the emotional content of your work. For instance, it’s never easy to come in every day with a smile. I’m fortunate to know of a few rare, exceptional people who can do that.

Another visual that comes to mind is the blogger who can see her audience’s claps (and Likes if you must) but knows inside herself that her product is a shadow of her former self. There will always be way more popular blog authors out there, but they all know what I mean when I write that.

What does one do then?

In such times I’d say, dare to dream bigger. To dream new. Dream on. But don’t stop working.

Advertisements

My Experience: Startup Leadership Program 2015

After what has been a while, I’ve put thoughts down on paper. I decided to write about my experience attending SLP Pune 2015. It was in the nick of time too. Admissions to the next SLP batch close on 15 August 2015.

In a way, I’m glad SLP came along when it did. Mid-way through 2014, I was in half a mind to move to Bangalore and start from scratch there, which isn’t altogether a bad thing*. I turned in my application from Bangalore staying over at my brother-in-laws on an extended visit. Attending weekend sessions and meeting peers grounded me just long enough to continue to find a solution in Pune.

My complete experiences are captured in this post for punestartups.org.

* Bangalore was recently in the news for having made it to #15 as a startup destination globally.


Fiery Summer Blooms

Summer


Neuroscience-led Ventures

A friend with a PhD in statistical modeling of brain signals recently shared his view that solving the Brain is a final frontier. Neuroscience and related areas continue to attract the best of breed from engineering, sciences and of course philosophy.

Entrepreneurship and technology are not exempt either. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem at hand, we’re still understanding the biological content of thought, we’re still trying to understand what makes someone effective on a job, or an effective speaker of a language and there are many mental illnesses that need attention.

Here’s a quick roundup of ventures I believe are led by developments in Neuroscience.

Lumosity.com – Games that help you stay sharp.

Pymetrics – Games to help you find your career fit.

Muse by Interaxon – An EEG headset that makes it easy to interpret your state of mind.

Elevate – Another Brain training app that’s also been selected by Apple as the App of the year of 2014.

MagicLeap – Immersive 3D that leverages how the Brain coordinates visual and sensory signals to construct environments.

I imagine that even after we’ve cracked our brains we’re still going to be susceptible to Magic.


India’s Mobile-Only Products 2015

Ecommerce and local commerce services here in India are beginning to soak up the mindspace around the buzzword “mobile-only“. I imagine that the idea of mobile-only will follow the regular cycle starting with sinking in deeper into app design and eventually, business design too. But there’s something superficial about the way its being thrown about.

Here’s one instance of the term in use to critique the product strategy of flipkart, other ecommerce players.

3 questions about Indian ecommerce’s mobile-only obsession – Karthik Srinivasan, MediaNama.com, 22 March 2015.

One of the earlier references I managed to uncover was a report on India’s Internet usage being predominantly “mobile-only” (Over 50% of India’s Internet Users are Mobile-Only, Times of India, 23 October 2014). Fast forward, we now have an accelerator dedicated to mobile-only startups.

To me, mobile-only by design implies direct, efficient function for mobile users, even beyond the desktop. For instance, if you find it hard to get something done with a mobile social networking app (as opposed to impossible) and you switched over to a laptop to do so instead, that’s not mobile-only. On the other hand, Mobile-only does not imply that your product strategy is simply restricted to the mobile as is being used in the popular press.

Mobile-only is intended to simply serve the user with that characteristic. In other words, what makes the Uber app mobile-only is the assertion that you’re reserving the cab on the kerb-side. They’ve fastidiously stuck to this idea despite the immense temptation to solve for other cases. The fact that you can’t book a cab on your laptop is then just a symptom. The day we see an Indian ecommerce service restricting itself to serve the user on the go, that’s going to be an interesting day and will hopefully mean they’ve grown out of a “serve all equally” approach. As you can imagine such as service must have a different product mix on sale, perhaps an entirely different business model as well.

Think HotelTonight and not MakeMyTrip.

We are like this only!


India’s Digital Payments Freeway

In the process of building a movie tickets platform, the BookEazy team stumbled upon a revelation of card-less digital payments. We weren’t the only ones to come upon this discovery. And yet, its taken eight years for the digital payments freeway to become a potential reality. I believe that this is an important, polarizing discussion as it offers the ability to permanently close the larger digital divide in India.

Card-less Movie Tickets Online, April 2006 to 2009.

When working on getting BookEazy live we framed the problem of movie tickets in simple terms. We wanted both students and knowledge workers to be able to book their movie tickets via mobile SMS without using plastic. This was before net-banking had become possible and only a small portion of the urban population were card-enabled. An offline method, Cash on delivery was on the horizon and multiplexes had begun offering home delivery of movie tickets to movie-goers.

BookEazy cofounder and CEO offered a solution. Inspired by how we rent movies and Inox’s cashless “reserve a movie ticket by SMS and show up 40 mins before to collect them”, she suggested – why not take that idea to the next level? We then designed a cashless system which allowed movie-goers to reserve movie tickets against a security deposit and show up at the theatre to collect their tickets any time before the show.

We built over several assertions, selling ~1CR of movie tickets in Pune. Some turned out to be true, while others turned out to be false.

  • We got the mobile-only use case bang on right and ported the system to work not only with desktops, but with SMS transactions and mobile browsers. But we were too early for smartphones and native apps.
  • Urban debit and credit card penetration has grown significantly since then. I can imagine more than 60% of a site’s transactions are card based (with a 3 to 1 factor in favor of debit cards to credit cards).
  • We were on target for the “impulse buy” use case. By eliminating the card altogether from the workflow, our movie-goers booked more often than box office average in a year.
  • We weren’t able to onboard Students as well as we did with Knowledge Workers who valued convenience over price [1].

E-Payments Develop, 2009 to 2012.

The years that followed, were relatively quiet years for payments, overseeing the development of card gateway infrastructure and other channels such as cash on delivery, net banking. Since 2012, Flipkart and other ecommerce sites drove the development of the e-payments infrastructure. Oxigen and One97’s PayTM were two outlying payments services that continued onwards through this time.

The other key building blocks that solidified during this time are inexpensive smartphones and ubiquitous saturation of mobile internet. As we’ll see further – these will have a significant say in the development of our digital payments freeway.

Wallet Services, 2012 to 2015.

For comfort I’ve always stayed with prepaid mobile cards. Recharging them with my local kirane-walla (local Grocery store) hasn’t always been convenient and so began the search for an online solution. My earliest prepaid recharges with PayTM culminated from the frustration of trying to recharge directly with the operators website (AirTel, TATA DOCOMO, Idea). Initially, PayTM recharges were restricted to the desktop with a credit card. Subsequently, PayTM launched their Wallet service and app for iOS and Android.

The original insight for a Wallet service comes from prepaid users ‘lending’ each other minutes [2] of talk-time (or credits, if you will). Which also explains why the growth of M-PESA a mobile wallet service in Kenya was led by a telecom operator and not a bank.

It makes sense for PayTM to have mobile recharge as a captive service [4]. Even if there appears to be a contradiction between the Wallet service target demographic (prepaid customers) and the channel favored (smartphones). Students are perhaps a unique target demographic where both attributes happily co-exist. Explained another way, students are both – heavy users of smartphones as well as prepaid services.

On the flip side, at least one source directly cites unfavorable regulation as to the reason why Wallet services haven’t developed in India [2]. Fast forward to today and we’ve got a plethora of Wallet service providers here in India led by first-generation wallet services, banks and others with a desire to bank the unbanked and the underbanked [3].

The creation of a nationwide digital payments freeway has implications for e-commerce and others. For instance, students now can now be included under digital payment channels making it possible for them to be a higher margin demographic and offer a greater lifetime value. On a longer timeline, Wallet services can potentially digitize common small-value cash transactions and simply unite the larger India.

References:
[1] Product plans must pursue a target demographic with a desire to make it possible to replicate their success.

[2] Mobile Banking: Financial Services Meet the Electronic Wallet, Knowledge @ Wharton and Ernst and Young.

[3] HDFCICICI Bank launch digital banking services.

[4] What is the Growth Strategy of PayTM?


Turning the Page

I’m transitioning from an independent software developer to a new role as a small cog in a very large machine who’s intent is to digitize India. As every day flies by, the sights and sounds I see change dramatically.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for games that have successfully managed to compress vast timelines into gameplay experiences. Spore is one such game. In the game, you’re introduced to a world in the first person as a single-celled organism who’s species evolves with time. With each evolutionary cycle you can introduce mutations in your species’ gene code to better match the environment you’re playing in.

When playing with a concept such as evolution, the gameplay experience has to balance what’s happening now with long term goals that might not be directly apparent. Focus too much on survival and the game risks a common experience. Defocus and you’ll miss engaging the user entirely.

Spore’s gameplay designers have cleverly placed easter eggs that subtly motivate the player through the game. In the screengrabs below the player’s focus is on his survival in a sludge pool filled with potential opportunities and threats. In the background you’ll spot large multi-celled organisms that indicate what the player could evolve into.

Spore Gameplay Spore Gameplay