Obituary of a Lovely Concept

Failed Innovations

For more than 3 years, every evening at 8:30 PM I used to receive an e-mail from www.OhLife.com – an online diary keeping application / portal. All I had to do was reply to it, recording my day in terms of happenings and emotions and it went to the portal as my day’s entry. It also sent me an old entry from the diary that reminded me of what I felt the same day last year or last month or last week. Sometimes I wrote at length and sometimes it was just a one liner capturing the day.

All my life I wanted to maintain a diary, but could never discipline myself to do the same. I have a diary of the days that were extreme days wither on the happiness scale or the sorrow scale, which are countable in numbers. Most usual days with their every day ups and downs were lost to sheer laziness. With Ohlife, I never missed day. Even when I was not connected, I would jot down entries for the last few days as soon as I got connected. And I have a record of all my 1000 odd days.

 I had a free account but the portal also offered a paid premium account too. In all 3+ years I never heard from the company and I actually found it quite non-intrusive and loved the portal for the same reason.

A few days back I got a mail from the founders saying they are shutting down the portal and the users can export all their entries. For premium accounts, they said they would refund the fees on a pro-rata basis. They reason for the shut down was that they could not make it commercially viable and hence can not sustain it further. When I wrote to them asking if there is we can do to help them remain live – I got no answer.

It is an example of a beautiful concept that was loved by its users going kaput. It even had the stickiness built in its model as all its users touch based with the portal at least once a day and that is a huge stickiness that most businesses would die to have. What went wrong then? Could they not rope in the right advertisers? Could they not build premium features that would tell their level 1 customers to upgrade and pay for the services – I would have happily paid a reasonable fee for this service? Could they have appealed to their users before taking the drastic decision of shutting it down? Could they have sold the portal to someone who could turn it around and make it commercially successful – in my opinion that was a very strong possibility?

A lot of entrepreneurs tell me that they are building a great product and they are not even thinking of revenues or a revenue model. This is a great example of such thinking. For any business to be successful, entrepreneur must have a clear revenue model in place – which may be tweaked based on the market response or changing conditions, but not thinking about one, because you are too busy building a product is preparing for a disaster.

Coca Cola and BT Innovate together

This Press release landed in my e-mail box few days back

COCA-COLA AND BT JOIN HANDS FOR CONNECTING COMMUNITIES IN SOUTH AFRICA

Coca-Cola and BT offer free Internet access to Umtata and Nelspruit

Coca-Cola South Africa, bottling partner Coca-Cola Fortune and BT Global Services are partnering to set up WiFi on Coca-Cola machines and provide free internet access to impoverished communities in South Africa. Coca-Cola is installing the refreshment-dispensing coolers while BT is providing design and support, connectivity and internet access, as well as business training.  The pilot project has been launched in two key areas in Umtata in the Eastern Cape province and Nelspruit, in the Mpumalanga province.

“The initiative forms part of Coca-Cola’s commitment to building sustainable communities by empowering the members of these communities. We believe that by giving them access to free WiFi we will enable students and school children in the area to increase their knowledge through research while also giving entrepreneurs and small business owners in the community the opportunity to manage some of their business aspects online,” says David Visser, Chief Information Officer of Coca-Cola South Africa.

Oliver Fortuin, managing director, BT Global Services, Sub Saharan Africa, said: “We are delighted to collaborate with Coca-Cola and be involved in a project that will give underserved communities much improved access to information and education opportunities. At BT, we have a vision for a Connected Society: to help improve society globally through the power of digital connections. As well as providing access, we want to help people use technology to apply their creativity and harness the possibilities of today’s connected world.”

The project provides WiFi connectivity for community members of Nelspruit and Umtata. The sites were strategically chosen for their accessibility, so as to maximise usage of technology by the locals. The first site is Sasol Integrated Energy Centre (SIEC) in Qunu, Umtata. This is a popular spot for locals and is in close proximity to a taxi rank, attracting large numbers of people. Furthermore SIEC is run by a predominantly women run co-operative which will benefit from the increased flow of people. The second site is located at Thokozane Fast Food situated in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga.

Both outlets are in the vicinity of shopping centres and schools, allowing members of the communities to combine their day-to-day activities with the opportunity to access the internet for business and educational purposes. Internet access is offered for free via WiFi, without any purchase requirement of any kind and is accessible for the duration of the time spent at the outlets.

Coca-Cola South Africa, Coca-Cola Fortune and BT Global Services aim to grow the project and install WiFi coolers in various parts of South Africa to help support and grow sustainable communities.

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I thought this can be a beautiful example of intersectional innovation as well as collaborative innovation. Intersection – because two companies from two very different domains thought of a solution that lies at the intersection of their strengths. Coca-Cola’s strength lies in its strong distribution network for which their machines are the last nodal points. BT of course is telecom major and they collaborated to marry their strengths to serve a communities that are otherwise isolated due to unavailability of Internet.

Guest Post by SocialCops: a crowd-sourced data collection agency

“Facebook has a million users in India. You know who has a billion? The Census.”

Our world’s most important decisions are crippled by an astonishing lack of data. National level healthcare decisions affecting millions are made based on a sample survey of 100 people. No map in the world can tell women the safest route home or tell the police the best route to patrol. We are a team of passionate engineers, economists & data scientists who believe that the solution to our world’s biggest problems lies in technology.

Our mission is to track the most important parameters in our world – such as quality of public infrastructure, adherence to drugs, access to medical care & teacher attendance in public schools to enable data-driven decision making by governments, non-profits, and civil society.

For the last 6 months we have been wrapping our heads around a significant problem – how can we affect better decision making through data? How much data do we need? How do we collect this data? How do we create better tools and channels for data collection? How do we turn this data into insights that lead to better decision-making?

We got our hands dirty – carried out pilots, understood what works and what doesn’t work. Some of the things we settled upon as our main streams of data collection are:

CROWDSOURCE: We work with community stakeholders to harness citizen voice as a resource to solve real life problems. By using technology we create connected and synergistic communities characterized by an efficient flow of information, highly engaged citizens and efficient feedback systems.

In the past 8 months, SocialCops has already put mobiles to work on various intractable issues in India such as getting citizens to rate cleanliness on streets all the way to creating public worker reward systems. Read more about our tool here.

SURVEY: We empower non-profit networks and field partners with low-cost Android phones to collect data at scale. Our tools reduce 50% time and more than 100% costs for data collection processes. Our non-profit partners, in turn, monitor untracked parameters in real time, contributing to enriching public data sources in the country.

CONVERSATIONS: We use voice and SMS to empower people with important information about topics such as preventive healthcare – while collecting granular data through dial-an-answer surveys. Through this data, we power important healthcare decisions regarding drug and resource allocation in the country.

Our data station is processing millions of data sets – pulling data from public sources, open data, social media, and data from real-time SocialCops channels. Data means nothing until it drives better decisions, and that’s what the data station aims to do.

We are a fast growing startup that operates at the intersection of technology, data, and people. Come join us in solving some of the most pressing problems facing humanity. Check our open positions here.

Integrated Travel Options

Travel involves many modes of transport. While you may use airlines to go from your city to another – but then to reach the airport and from the airport you need either a tax, or a bus or a metro train or may be any other mode of local transportation. Put together all modes of transport available provide innumerable combinations from which we can choose. Often the criteria to choose involve the time available to us or the cost involved.

A recently launched website in Europe called GoEuro.com attempts to provide an integrated view of multiple modes of transport available. As of now it is available for three countries UK, Germany and Spain. Since its launch in late May 2013, this Berlin-based company has offered a simple and complete overview of train, bus, and plane connections. Users can easily compare and combine all travel options, finding the fastest and cheapest connections. Travellers can search to and from any location in Europe, including small towns and villages, eliminating the need to visit numerous websites to piece together an entire journey. To add to the tool’s capabilities, all air searches automatically display transportation costs to and from the airport, as well as check-in and waiting times, enabling easy comparison with train and bus alternatives.

Key innovation of GoEuro is that multiple modes of travel are searched, compared, combined, and displayed to the user, taking into account the whole journey and also making searches to and from smaller places, villages and sites of interest (Stonehenge for example) possible. In the CEO Naren Shaam’s words, “there are significant complexities involved in building a search platform from the ground up, which seamlessly integrates massive amounts of data from every airline, rail and bus operator and car rental firm across Europe.” It already features 150 airports, 12,900 rail, and 8,500 bus stations, and serving almost 23,000 unique locations in the UK, Spain and Germany. The company has signed a number of high-profile and mutually successful agreements with partners such as National Express in the UK and Renfe in Spain.  GoEuro’s business model is simple. It does not charge its users to use the search tool, and the prices found on the site reflect the price on the partners’ (transport providers’) websites. Whenever a purchase is made from GoEuro traffic, the providers are sent cookies. In return, they give GoEuro cake. In different terms, GoEuro earns a commission based on the purchase.

In India MakeMyTrip has a similar offering by the name Route Planner. Read more about it in the book The Mouse Charmers

Textile Industry of Bangladesh

This NPR post called Nixon And Kimchi: How The Garment Industry Came To Bangladesh gives the history of garment business as its set its foot in Bangladesh, a country that is now a major exporter of garments. Not much has been written about this industry. I did not know that the roots of this industry lie in the quota system that the west has put in place for imports from individual countries that were exporting garments in 1970s. This created a need for setting shops in new countries for many established exporters and one of them happened to be Daewoo of Korea. At the same time a Bangaladeshi entrepreneur was looking for avenues to set up business to get out of poverty. This led to him putting together a team of workers to take to Korea for training. Both the native and the visiting teams went through their cultural challenges, they learnt to live and work with each other and the result is a burgeoning garments industry in a young developing country.

To me this story sounded something Malcolm Gladwell would love to analyze and present. 3-4 disjointed factors coming together and leading to the creation of an industry that not only provides livelihoods to many but also becomes the identity of a new born nation. It is also a good example of policy makers that tells them the far reaching impacts of the policies they make for themselves primarily but may have far reaching impact. It talks about the pioneers who step out of the comfort zone and go out to explore the unknown world. They may fail at times but they are more likely to hit gold as they are more prepared for it.

Businesses and individuals can learn a lot from this story.

Business of Sports

FICCI Sports

We tend to look at sports as just that a sport. But do we realize there is a burgeoning industry in India around sports and many opportunities to be explored. There are lots of activities happening around couple of sports that are minting money, and I know Cricket and to an extent Tennis come to mind. What about so many other sports? What about so many potential sports persons? What about talent hunting and talent grooming just like the way it is done for other professions? What about sports event management? What about sports related content? What about building communities more often called clubs around sports and running them? What about building infrastructure for sports in non-metros? What about creating centers of excellence for every possible sport in country? Think of the cascading impact it would have on entertainment industry, manufacturing industry and fitness industry? Think of the wellness quotient that is bound to go up. Think about the potential it holds for tourism industry.

Haryana is a state that we know only for its agriculture, but this is one state that has put its focus on sports. I read through its sports policy and their focus on making each district a center of excellence in one sport. It talks about systematic identification of talent in schools, followed by a planned nurturing of talent that includes providing right training and nutrition, providing ample opportunities for them to showcase their talent and providing employment to sportspersons who excel in their field. The result is their for us to see. State is already producing medal winners in boxing and wrestling in international events including Olympics. The representation of state in international teams is very high compared to its population percentage in the country. It is not a mere co-incidence that all award winning boxers come from a small town called Bhiwani. If you look their backgrounds, none of them come from affluent backgrounds that could afford training or even the kind of food requirements these professionals have. It is because Bhiwani happens to be Boxing CoE for state of Haryana and these sportsmen are a result of the policy implementation by the state. I am keeping my fingers crossed for the rest of the sports as well.

Haryana has a round the year sports calendar that has sports events right from block level to national levels that is publicly published encouraging participation. Play for India initiatives encourages every student to take up a sport with the aim to represent India in that field. Sports infrastructure has been built with sports nurseries and stadiums at districts and blocks. Apart from the government machinery, they are actively engaging school staff, parents and local bodies like panchayats to take up this cause and own it.  Incentives for the achievers and performers are defined. A few star performers today inspire many more to take up sports as a profession.

This is an area that requires huge public private partnership to tap the huge potential that the sports hold for the youth of the country as a passion, profession and as an industry with a supporting eco-system.

Trade organization FICCI organized TURF 2013 – a Global Sports Summit that also hosts India Sports Awards in New Delhi. It is India’s largest convention on business of sports. You can submit your research papers or business ideas around Sports to them. Their contact is  [email protected] T:+91-11-2348-7283/561

Thanks to www.Blogmint.com, the online media partner for FICCI’s TURF 2013 for inviting me to be apart of the LIVE Blogging @TURF 2013 experience.

Cost Saving & Innovation

Vijay Govindarajan and Srikanth Srinivas in their HBR Blog The Innovation Mindset in Action: Sir Peter Jackson  narrate the story of Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings series of films and his innovative ways in making that series using which he saved all kinds of resources – time and money.  He basically shot all three films in one go in New Zealand and even got the animation part done on location by Weta Workshop. Looking back it may seem like a big gamble, but then innovation involves taking risk always. Doing three films at one go is simplifying the process, making a paradigm shift in cost and time structures but look at the return they got in terms of financial and every possible type of success parameter. They ended up impacting the tourism economy of New Zealand to an extent.

Lot of people try and equate the R&D spends with the Innovation, but this story just proves that you can innovate in the way costs are managed. All you need is to think differently from the way things have been done so far or not let yourself be limited by the way things have been done so far.

A beautiful story.

In Flight Innovations

Inflight entertainment

Last month I flew Malaysian Airlines from Hyderabad to KL and back. I also took domestic flights to fly back and forth between Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu. On my onward flight i.e. Hyd- KL flight, I was fiddling with the in-flight entertainment system, and it offered all that we expect like films in multiple languages, various genres of music shopping opportunities and the mandatory flight information. What was new though was a module on books, that means the books can be read on the panel. Incidentally they had only one book at the moment, but I am sure going forward they can have a small library of books to choose from. Most people carry books with them to read in flights and as much as we love books, they do weigh a lot. There is a small percentage of population that carries its e-book readers but most do not. As an avid reader,  I am looking forward to these libraries on-board. To get all the copyright free books can be first step in stocking these libraries. From a business perspective this can also be a tool for publishers to let the potential readers read a sample chapter and give them an option to buy if they like it.

Malaysian airlines is also one of the few airlines that connects its home country to various Indian cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad besides the two big cities Delhi & Mumbai.  This makes sense as all the three south Indian cities are actually physically closer to Malaysia and hence can have direct short flights operating between them. Kuala lumpur also acts as a hub for Indians flying to various cities of Australia.

At KLIA , we also got to enjoy the hospitality at the Golden Lounge of Malaysian Airlines that overlooks the open space with planes parked all over. I was happy to find enough vegetarian food, good Wi-Fi connection and comfortable seating to finish off my pending e-mails. They also had a few tablets and PCs that could be used in case you are not carrying your own computer. A thoughtful feature.

Innovation: Bucket from Used Tyres

Rural Innovations

Bucket made from used tyres…Image Courtesy: Hemant Abhyankar

 

I was in Jhabua, MP to attend a tribal festival and at that fair I saw various small innovations, or rather ways of using stuff that lives the principle of re-cycle, re-use and reduce.

This bucket was one of the things made from used tyres, that are usually discarded and are hardly considered useful for anything else. There were slippers and other footwear also made from the same rubber, and people were using them as regular items.

Is this not what we need to imbibe in our lifestyles?

This is a picture of