It’s so sad to see that nowadays we care more about making sure the smartphones and wearables we use get required attention and care instead of just being happy that we achieved our true goal for which those devices are designed in the first place.
A few days ago a friend of mine shared a below update –
Instead of congratulating him for 2.5 hours of exercise and burning roughly 350 calories, one of his colleagues asked if he had Fitbit on and did he capture those steps?
Who’s controlling who?
Somewhere in this age of smartphones and wearables, we forgot that these devices and things around us are designed for us and not the other way around.
Shouldn’t it be perfectly fine if we forgot our phone at home for a day? Why do we get restless about it?
Shouldn’t it be okay if our Fitbit is not charged right when we really wanted to go for a run? Why do we cancel our exercise plans just because we can’t capture those steps?
We get stressed if our phones are not charged before we head out. We get restless if we don’t get any new notification from our favorite apps in the span of 5 minutes. We feel frustrated if we can’t capture our 30-minutes run in Fitbit.
But we don’t need to.
Our addiction to smartphones & wearables
I don’t think there is any doubt in our mind that we are addicted to these smartphones and wearables. When you think of the last time you were in the same position, it may be just a few minutes ago. From catching up with friends over the dinner table to watching our kids play in the park, we miss out life’s simple joys when our attention is turned to these little devices that we carry everywhere. We pretend to be still paying attention, but the truth is we can’t really multitask the way we think we do.
I remember a short film titled “I Forgot My Phone — Video” suggests just that. That video has already been viewed nearly 50 million times, which suggests that it hit the cord of many people’s current situations.
While the video is supposed to be a lighthearted take on our smartphone-obsessed culture, it opens our eyes about our smartphone addiction and what we need to do about it.
We can do something about it
Instead of succumbing ourselves into this sensory overload, if we unplug ourselves for several brief moments during the day and looked up, we would experience a whole new world exists beyond that little screen. Specially wearables invading our lives from fitness to glasses to watches, I questioned are they just a fad or a real necessity. I believe it’s a fad — and that’s my opinion, but I also read stories about many people who found it to be life-changing.
For me, Fitbit was valuable in the early days to learn my initial benchmarks. After initial few months of its usage, I learned on average how many steps I walk in a typical workday. How many minutes I need to run or walk to achieve my 10K steps goal for a day. But once I learned my patterns, that novelty wore off after few months. Eventually, I stopped using Fitbit and just started making sure that I exercise minimum 4 days a week. I don’t need to be accurate about how many steps or miles I ran. All I need to do is be in the ballpark. But now the benefit is, I don’t have to worry about charging it every 4–5 days, or making sure I’m always wearing it, etc. Life is slightly simpler :).
But the point is not just about Fitbit or any specific device. In general, I think we can do a better job in being mindful of giving just enough attention to these devices or things, and not at the cost of missing the joy of real life interactions and experiences.
For the last 2 months, I deleted the Facebook app on my iPhone as a part of a casual experiment. Sounds crazy, right? Well, probably not to sane ones, but definitely to addicted ones.
Let me explain in detail.
Being mindful about my time
In general, I’m very observant and mindful about how I use my time. But there was one behavior of a mine I wanted to make sure I’m controlling it rather than it controlling me — the smartphone addiction.
Overall I believe I’m mindful of how I spend my time on my iPhone (my wife may disagree ;)), but still one fine day, I questioned the time I spend on some of the apps I use every day and the value I receive from each one of them.
I use Twitter, Nuzzel, and LinkedIn apps most actively to discover inspirational or actionable articles about startup and product management (the topics I’m passionate about). I also use Quora and Medium once in a while for interesting articles on varied topics. I use Pocket app to save all these articles and read it later when I’ve leisure time on weekends. Apart from these content-specific apps, I use WhatsApp and Facebook pretty actively for messaging and keeping a tap on friends’ activity respectively.
After ranking these apps based on its value I receive, WhatsApp and Facebook ranked last.
I felt WhatsApp is still valuable to communicate with close friends and family with the condition that I opt-out from all groups where sending forwards and jokes was a prominent activity than actual communication.
The value of Facebook
But for Facebook, I couldn’t convince myself that I was being “connected” with my friends the way it’s being advertised. I thought it was happening on WhatsApp on a more intimate level. My Facebook newsfeed is primarily a source for entertaining and political videos, photos of friends’ vacations and parties, and once in a while educational and informative articles/videos. Overall I felt, I’m not getting enough value from Facebook compared to the time I was spending on it.
Having that little Facebook app icon available to tap at your finger tip was a clear invitation to waste 10–15 minutes of your day every single time you open that app.
So I thought — what if I could just get rid of the Facebook app from my iPhone and see how it affects my life?
It sounded like a good idea — and boom, just like that, the app was gone!
And nothing happened in last 2 months. I didn’t miss the Facebook app at all.
Having said that, I’m not saying I didn’t access the Facebook website at all in those 2 months. Once or twice in a week, I would take an effort to open the Facebook.com in the browser on my iPhone. Since the experience is not very great on the mobile web browser, I wasn’t spending a lot of time on it. And I felt that was good enough Facebook consumption for me.
Every time I would access Facebook through the browser, I would encounter few updates from Mark Zuckerberg as I’m following him. And most often, I would be inspired by his thoughts, actions, and resolutions. And apparently I’m not the only one. There’re many men who find him as a lifestyle guru.
While I admire his posts about how a farmer in India benefited using Internet.org, I don’t agree that’s how most of the India or even the World is using Facebook. It’s a great story to tell for marketing purposes, but I’m concerned that most of the World use Facebook for passing their time.
Again, I do believe in Facebook’s network effect but realized that it’s better to put that network effect into a positive change than just for entertainment purposes. That’s when I realized, I have a choice to decide how do I want to use Facebook. And there are 2 aspects to it — i) what I should share on Facebook that will be valuable to my friends and ii) what my friends will share that will be valuable to me. While I can’t change my friends’ behavior, but, at least, I can start with me, and hope that it will inspire a few of them to do something similar.
What I plan to do
I plan to share more inspirational and informational videos of all kinds that I personally discover. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a serious person ;). Once in a while, I’ll share entertaining videos too :), but my focus will be on educating and motiving others.
In addition to that, I will share various problems that I observe, and possible ideas and solutions that could solve them. They may be half-baked, but I’ll share it anyways so that conversations will happen and those ideas might get baked by collaborative inputs and wisdom.
I also want to share some of the things that I’m working on and the lessons I’m learning — my day job, my part-time projects, my hobbies, resolutions, etc. I will not just share my success stories or accomplishments only, but will also share my struggles and failures.
What I hope others will do
While I make this my habit, which will take a while, I also hope other people also share similar things so that I and others can also learn from them.
While I’m very proud of people’s achievements when they share them, I’m more interested in hearing about their journey how they got there — including their ups and downs.
While I’m very happy to see photos of their vacation, I would love to read more about how did they plan it, what was their experience like or unique perspective they developed about that location, etc.
Anyways, you got the point. Let’s make Facebook informative, inspirational and personal.
We need to leverage Facebook’s massive reach to make a positive impact in the World rather than wasting people’s most precious resource — time, which many of them don’t realize it.
So I’ll be using Facebook actively again — just with a positive twist. And yes, I’ve downloaded back the Facebook app on my iPhone :).
In the last few months, I have had many friends reached out to me to share their interest of starting a software startup or getting specific feedback on the app they’re building. Every single time I ended up asking them less about their product or app, but more about how they plan to reach out to their customers. Very rarely I see people have thought about it well, so I ended up emphasizing to focus on that activity a lot more than getting too excited about amazing things their product or app can do.
After sharing similar feedback a couple of times, finally I decided to jot down my thoughts. Most of these thoughts are pretty obvious for second-time founders, and most of the first-time founders must have also read these thoughts somewhere else, but I still think it’s critical to emphasize it again.
Trends in software product development
Over the past 5 years that I’ve been building software products, I have seen these two trends –
The speed of building a software product is getting faster and the cost of building it is getting cheaper.
And by a software product, I mean — an iPhone or Android mobile app, or any SaaS or consumer web app, etc.
Development is easy
The availability of languages and frameworks has sped up the development and made it easy for non-technical folks to learn how to code. The advent of step-by-step tutorials, video courses make it even easier to just follow these courses every day and make concrete progress in building a real software.
The cost of hosting is going down. You no longer need to purchase any servers. You can leverage managed hosting services like AWS and Digital Ocean, and spin up few instances of different services as you go. All you need is a development machine.
The cost of building core technology is going down. You no longer need to build every single functionality required for your product in-house from scratch. You can leverage platform services who provide sophisticated APIs for pretty much any kind of functionality — starting from Payments, Email, Telecommunication, Analytics to Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, etc. There is even a term for this — The No Stack Startup.
Processes like agile coupled with continuous integration and deployment have reduced iteration cycles, encouraging to ship smaller features on an incremental basis.
In a very generic sense, it is getting a lot easier to build a software product. All you need is an idea to solve a problem, a laptop to build the software and willingness to build it.
While this is all true, during the same time, building a business around your product has become harder. And by building a business, I mean — marketing, sales, support, etc. And by harder I don’t mean the “discouraging” harder, but “noisy” harder.
The hardest part nowadays is getting an attention of your target customers for your software.
Distribution is hard
Simply put there are a lot of products out there, which create a lot of noise in the market. In order for people to find your product, you have to have a clear value proposition and find the right channels to broadcast the message of what you do!
Now broadcasting your message has become easier with the advent of Social Media tools, but in general, Marketing has become very noisy. There is a plethora of marketing techniques including SEO, Content Marketing, SMM, etc. Everybody is creating so much of content every day to increase their SEO, drive leads to their marketing pages, etc., it’s getting harder to make your voice stand out.
While Marketing has become harder, on the other hand, selling has become comparatively easier with the advent of so many CRM, inside-Sales tools, cold emailing softwares and techniques. Now that’s a good news for you, but then that’s a good news for your competitor too. So it’s getting comparatively harder to make your cold email compelling to act compared to your competitor’s cold email. So in the end, even selling seems become harder.
Product and distribution need to go hand in hand
To build a truly successful company, either you build a remarkable product that sells itself or have a good enough product with remarkable distribution channels. But if you’re starting a company for the first time, then the odds of having a remarkable product hit are quite low. On the other hand, it’s lot easier to build a good enough product as explained above, but without great distribution channels, it wouldn’t matter.
It’s very critical to have a strong focus on distribution channels from the day one of your execution. The way you keep getting excited about your product every day, you need someone in your team who gets equally excited about different distribution channels and need to come up with lots of ideas to get your product in your target customer’s hands.
I was having a conversation with my friend, who had joined a new company as a Product Manager around 6 months ago. He was sharing his frustration of how his engineering team does not gel and work with him well yet. I will write a separate post on how to handle these situations from a Product Manager’s perspective, but one thing that struck me was — he had pretty much given up hopes on if things will ever improve with his engineering team after multiple tries.
I shared with him my perspective on how would I handle these things tactically, but the most important piece of feedback I shared with him was — “Don’t give up! Every day is a new beginning. Start fresh, start again.”
I said that and realized how powerful this mantra is to live our life –
“Every day is a new beginning”.
Just because we failed in something yesterday, doesn’t mean we have to fail today. Just because we felt sad yesterday, doesn’t mean we have to feel the same way today.
Every day, we can restate our goals, retake our decisions, rethink our approach, rebuild our relationships — for a new, happy and successful life with a smile, hope, and expectations, irrespective of how was our yesterday.
Every day we have some plans, some To-Do list, some goals, but some days we fail to achieve them. If this pattern repeats again and again for few days or weeks, then that creates a feeling of frustration, unhappiness, and failure. And we start believing that we can’t achieve those things anymore. And we eventually give up.
Every once in a while we lose our motivation, persistence, willpower, and self-discipline. But that doesn’t mean that’s how we will have to be tomorrow.
Who cares if we failed yesterday?
Every day is a fresh new day with a blank slate to rewrite those goals and start achieving those again. If you believe in yourself and stay persistent, you will most definitely find the inner strength, wisdom, and confidence to achieve your dreams and create the meaningful life you want to live.
Recently I watched an interview of a small but growing and profitable startup, where the interviewer asked the Co-founder about how they have achieved this growth so far and what are their future plans? To that, he replied — “We haven’t spent anything on the marketing yet, and we’ll continue to not do so for a long time.”
The biggest lie startup founders tell to the world is — “We haven’t spent anything on the marketing yet!”.
Of course, I wouldn’t share the name of this company as I admire what they’ve accomplished so far with a small team. But this post is not about that company only. I’ve seen many startup founders tell this lie during their interviews and their startup’s PR outreach.
The reason why everyone is so tempted to tell this lie is — they want to tell the world that how awesome their product is and how fast they are growing, and that too all “organically”.
Are these founders mistaking Google AdWords or Facebook Ads as the only form of marketing?
If that’s the case, then the correct statement would be — “We haven’t spent anything on Paid Advertising yet.” And I can buy that argument as it may be true for many early stage companies.
The key mistake these founders do is — they’re not accounting the time they are investing on all other marketing channels apart from these paid advertising channels.
Sure, you’re getting a lot of SEO traffic from Google for free, but haven’t you also invested your development time in building SEOable pages, URLs, etc. solely for marketing reasons?
Sure, you’re getting a lot of traffic from Facebook for free, but haven’t you also invested your time in building those viral features and gaming mechanics in your product for marketing reasons?
Sure, you’re getting a lot of word of mouth traffic, but haven’t you spent time in building that Dropbox like two-sided incentive referral program for marketing reasons?
Sure, you’re getting a lot of conversions from your site’s landing page, but haven’t you spent lot of energy in that content marketing blog post and having a kick-ass product demo video on your site?
I can go on and on, but you got the point.
Next time when you hear someone says they are not spending anything on marketing, simply ignore that bullshit and make sure to not repeat that mistake.
So when the time comes for you to contact Comcast’s Customer Service, you are already not looking forward to the call, and also have very low expectations for getting your issue resolved in a timely manner. But when you receive a totally unexpected “wow” and pleasant experience, you can’t resist but to share that experience and give credits to those have worked hard on changing a demoter like most of us to a promoter. And since I work at a company who provides software to large enterprises to deliver similar “wow” experiences to their customers, I had a special appreciation by being on the other side of the fence.
So here’s my experience –
A few days ago, we had an outage in our area for the Internet connection. Well, I didn’t know it was an area wide outage before I called Comcast Customer support. All I knew was — my internet connection wasn’t working after a couple of reboot cycles of the modem, router, etc. So eventually I called the 1–800-Comcast number.
Instantly after few rings, it detected me based on my phone number, and I didn’t have to go through the series of authentication and identification steps. I was ready to get served.
Proactive reminder of a pending task
The moment I was authenticated, the automated IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system proactively reminded me that I need to upgrade my modem. All I need to do is to visit the nearest Comcast location and receive a newer modem.
Natural language interaction
After that reminder, the next prompt was — “How can I help you?”. It didn’t ask me to listen to all menu options, and then let me figure out in which category of their menus does my problem fit, and then keep pressing respective numbers to traverse through menu tree to reach to the destination option I need! There was no such crap! It was a free flow open interface — just talk what your problem is in natural language — the way you would normally talk with a human agent.
I said that “my internet is not working”. That’s it. And it figured out what my intent was, and offered me the right treatment.
Once their automated IVR system understood what my intent of call was, then it immediately prompted my address and zip code and asked me to confirm if I’m calling about that region. I confirmed “Yes”.
Then it informed me that there is a known outage in that area, and their technicians are looking into it. They expect to resolve the issue very soon.
Empathic user experience
While they explained to me that the technicians are working on resolving an outage, I was still wondering, but how long shall I wait? While I was just thinking about it, the automated IVR system asked me — if I would like to receive an SMS update on my phone about when the outage will be resolved? I confirmed “Yes”.
Then it prompted my mobile number and asked to confirm if it should send me an update on that number. I confirmed “Yes”. That’s it. In the end, it greeted me well and said it would update me as soon as the issue is resolved.
Roughly about 30 minutes, I received a text from Comcast that the outage issue is resolved and I should have my internet connectivity back. And sure it was! No refreshing of webpages in browser to see if the internet is back. The automated system informed me as soon it was available.
And I was a delighted customer! It was a complete self-service experience across many different topics, and I did not have to talk to a human agent once. I certainly had many “wow” moments during the entire interaction and post interaction. Obviously you can see that as I wrote a whole blog post about it!
I wish they continue to bring this kind of experience to other common issues their customers are facing, and I’m sure one by one these disgruntled customers would turn into their promoters!
As mentioned previously, I was on a hiatus for more than two years and didn’t update the world what I was up to in that period. A week ago, I met my school friends after a long time and they also didn’t know about my whereabouts. I shared some of the details with them but thought I should share it with the larger audience — specifically not only what happened but also how it happened and what lessons I learned from that experience.
Two years ago, in March 2013, my co-founder Manish and I sold our two years old startup Shopalize, Inc to 7 Inc. It took four months to sell a two people company with a series of activities like talking on hour-long phone calls with advisors and lawyers, writing carefully worded emails, passing technical due-diligence hurdles, and negotiating tedious legal terms.
Every time someone learns that we sold our startup, the first question they ask is — “how did that happen?”. And most of the times, my answer is — “I got lucky!”.
Shopalize was started four years ago as a Social Marketing platform for eCommerce retailers. For the first year, I self-financed the company using my savings and working out of my home. I didn’t have the proper experience of building Web software applications, so learned it on the go while building it. Few friends helped me in the part-time, but it took me almost 9 months to launch the beta version of the product. My plan was to launch it in 6 months.
Once I had the beta version to show to people, I started getting more interest from potential co-founders, advisors, potential customers, etc. As they say — a picture is worth a thousand words, and a prototype is worth a thousand pictures. With the beta version ready, I was still searching for co-founders who could join me full-time. I met Kris (now a friend) in a startup meetup, who joined me full-time as a co-founder to help on the sales side. He helped to get the first customer and taught me how to run sales operations. With that first customer, we were officially launched.
Post launch, we got a dozen customers in the first couple months, but we still had not proved the product actually works and delivers the value as promised. The product lacked many things from the functionality, stability, and capability perspective. In fact, it was broken for a large set of users. There were many incidents where I was embarrassed as I didn’t know how to fix those issues and had to figure it out on the go.
Then almost a year into the business, Manish joined us as a third co-founder to accelerate the product development efforts so that Kris can focus on sales activities and I can focus on both customer success and product development activities.
With the team of 3 people, product in the beta stage, and few customers on board, we decided to raise an angel round. Our advisors invested some money and kicked off our fundraising. With that little financial help, we hired few contractors in India to help us accelerate the product development efforts.
Over the next few months, the product started getting better, we started showing results and ROI to our customers, and we started getting confidence in our product. Kris and I started closing more partnership opportunities, Sales leads, and overall we started seeing our customer base was growing. We had started making some revenue to cover our operations and contractors costs, but we were still not paying ourselves.
Meanwhile, we started seeing many competitors popped up in that space with seed funding raised. We were worried about growing competition and were struggling to get good attention for our fundraising efforts. We believed in what we were doing, but we didn’t have strong growth or product market fit yet, or substantial revenue to prove that we were onto something big that was in high demand.
We discussed other options and decided to halt the fundraising efforts and continue building the business by being scrappy and nimble. We decided to grow monthly revenue to $10K-$15K before raising a seed round. We knew that achieving that kind of revenue with small size customers was a long grind, so we decided to focus on mid-sized enterprises with the bigger deal size. We started getting good interest from few mid-size companies. We thought if we could get few such customers then we could bootstrap our business and could survive for some time.
But selling to mid-large enterprises means you have to invest more in product and technology from functionality, scalability, stability, and security perspective. We thought it was the right thing to do and worked even harder to make our product and platform better. On the other hand, it was taking a lot longer to close the enterprise deals and we were getting impatient as we were running out of money.
Meanwhile, Kris decided to pursue some other opportunity. It was a big loss both mentally and physically. We struggled for some time but eventually managed to get back on the track. I took the responsibility for sales and Manish took the responsibility for product development.
Sometime in November 2012, I received an email from our legal counsel that he wanted to meet me. He tried to understand what our business do in detail and then he suggested to introduce me to a CEO of 7 Inc to discuss some strategic opportunity. Apparently our legal counsel was also a legal counsel of 7 as well and he thought we could be a good fit into 7’s vision.
In general strategic opportunity always sounds exciting as it could be an acquisition offer or a partnership opportunity. But since I had not heard about this company before, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this meeting. I looked at their website, read press releases and tried to understand what they do. I did not think that it could be an acquisition opportunity so ruled out that option. Now for partnership opportunities, in theory, a successful partnership with a larger company could help your company get more customers, but in reality, partnerships are rarely a real thing as either large company is buying your technology to sell to their customers or you are buying their distribution channel. But more importantly, in early days of startup, these things eat up your time and energy. So I wasn’t really sure what would be the outcome of that meeting, but I was looking forward to meeting and learning.
I met with the CEO and after quick initial introductions, the first thing he asked me was — “Do you know <one of our competitor’s name>?”. I said — “Yes”. Then he asked me — “How are you different?”. Normally, if this would have been a potential customer, I would have answered with my typical differentiation points, but I somehow I didn’t think this was about them buying our solution for their usage, so I responded — “Product wise, we’ve pretty much very similar offering. Company wise, they’re much larger, and we’re just 2 people company.”. He responded — “Ok, if you have a similar offering, then we would like to acquire you.”.
I was shocked. I wasn’t prepared for him to let the cat out of the bag so quickly. He hadn’t even looked at our product demo. On the other hand, I was impressed with the fact that he didn’t waste anytime in any irrelevant discussions and jumped on the main point straight away. He asked if we would be interested in selling the company. I said we would be open to offers but weren’t not actively looking to sell the company. Given that we were just getting started with the enterprise customers, we thought we had a revenue making potential ahead of us and there was no need to sell.
But I tried to understand in detail why they wanted to acquire us, what exactly they wanted to do with our product & technology, how did they see we fit into their company, etc. He explained everything and I was impressed with their vision and plans for using our technology. He also asked me about our future product plans, fundraising plans, etc. and asked us to demo the product to their larger team in the following week.
We were invited to demo our product to key execs from Product, Engineering, and Data Sciences departments. By this time in our business, I had given many product demos to potential customers, but this time though, it wasn’t only about selling the product, but it was also about selling the company, the people, the vision — pretty much everything.
Meanwhile, our advisors and investors coached and mentored me on how to present, what to emphasize, how to connect with executives, etc. It was a huge help. This shows the importance of having the right advisors on your board.
When we walked into the room, there were around 10 execs to hear it. A 30-minute demo turned into an hour or two hours discussion. During discussion, I kept questioning myself why the heck a 500+ people company wanted to acquire a 2 people company, and why they couldn’t build what we built in-house.
But based on their questions during the product demo, I realized that we were experts in our domain. We had data about our product, our customer engagement, what had worked, why it had worked, etc. They didn’t know all of that. And they didn’t want to waste their time in learning that from scratch.
In the end, I thought they were impressed with our product, our knowledge, and realized that we were also impressed with what they do and were excited about the future.
Post successful demo, I was invited in a following week to hear the financial details of an offer. The first offer was extremely low, so I pretty much declined right there without taking it to discuss with my advisors or co-founder. I had a certain range in my mind, so was not ready to sell Shopalize anything below that range.
After a few days, we got another revised offer, but it still wasn’t in the expected range, plus it also had some clauses. After few back and forth negotiations, we agreed on the financial terms and signed what’s known as a term sheet with the intent to purchase. Once a term sheet is signed, a deal is happening unless something horrible happens during due diligence.
The due diligence
7’s team sent over a list of hundreds of technical, legal, and business questions that we needed to answer for the deal to go through. What type of technology, libraries, database had we used? Had we used any open source softwares? Did we have IP assignments from every contractor who touched our code? How did our billing system work? How did we make money?
Tracking down document after document was really tedious work. And during this time, we had to keep our business running as normal, and keep the whole thing a secret from our contractors, friends, etc.
On the technology due diligence side, we had to integrate our product with their technology stack to prove that it could be easily integrated and deployed to their clients as it is with minimal changes once we come onboard. So we had to make quite a few changes on our side to make that happen. Luckily, we were smart enough to do only changes that we thought were anyways needed for us to make our product ready for the enterprise-grade customers, and we pushed back on all the changes that we thought were custom requirements for 7’s specific environment.
On the legal due diligence side, we had to do lot of negotiations on various different clauses, but after series of negotiations, heated exchanges, and counters, 7’s team was satisfied with our asks and we were satisfied with the terms of the deal and their plans post-acquisition.
In the end, our lawyers conferred with their lawyers. It was agreed that after months of due diligence, we had signed all required documents and all closing conditions had finally been met. Then money was officially transferred to our accounts and we were part of 7 Inc.
Overall, it was actually a great outcome for all of us involved in Shopalize. Specially for my co-founder and me it was a life-changing event. The financial rewards were great, and if I ever want to start another company, every piece of that process will be easier. Also, we had received a jump in our professional career in terms of roles and responsibilities. If we would have continued the same employment path instead of taking the leap in entrepreneurial journey, we would have never achieved what we’ve achieved today. My co-founder joined 7 as a Director of Engineering and I joined as a Director of Product Management.
Post acquisition, the one thing that I’d been planning for more than few weeks was how to announce the acquisition on Facebook with my friends and family members. I wanted to share with them that there is a hope in taking this crazy entrepreneurship route if you work hard (and get lucky), you can make your mark in the Silicon Valley’s startup stories. While writing it, more than announcing the outcome, I ended up thanking every single person who helped me in this journey starting from wife, co-founder, part-time helpers, advisors, etc. Without their support, guidance and trust, we would have not accomplished this outcome.
By no means, we had the greatest outcome compared to other Silicon Valley’s success stories. But my hope in sharing this story is that at least people who know me and follow my blog can relate themselves with me personally, and can believe that if I can do this, then they certainly can. With that belief, I hope more people will take the leap of faith to start more great companies and in the process they’ll become great leaders.
As a startup founder, I observed that there are really 4 core resources that I work with every single day –
Each one has different level of importance and value at different stage of the company. All these resources are associated with each other in some way. Sometimes one is dependent on the other, and sometimes they’re exclusive to each other. Here are few examples how they’re associated with each other –
You may spend more money to save time, or you spend more time to save money.
You spend more money to get more people, or you have less people since you can’t spend money.
You get more people to do things in less time, or you take more time to do things due to shortage of people.
You can do more things in less time if you’re knowledgeable about it, or you need more time to do things as you don’t have prior knowledge about it.
You need to spend time to acquire knowledge, or you don’t acquire knowledge since you don’t have time.
You got the idea.
The point is — you’re constantly making decisions between these 4 resources and trying to figure out which one is more important than the other at that given instance. Sometimes you take rational decisions, and sometimes you take it based on your gut. But as a founder, you need to master the art of prioritizing these resources and understanding the importance of each resource at the different stage of your company — and that’s what they call — “execution”.
A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a Reditt thread which was discussing the small lifestyle changes you’ve made to have a big impact in your life. The most popular comment on that thread was about how one person improved his life by being a Producer vs a Consumer. Here is brief excerpt of that comment –
I make sure to start every day as a producer, not a consumer. When you get up, you may start with a good routine like showering and eating, but as soon as you find yourself with some free time you probably get that urge to check Reddit, open that game you were playing, see what you’re missing on Facebook, etc. Put all of this off until “later”. Start your first free moments of the day with thoughts of what you really want to do; those long-term things you’re working on, or even the basic stuff you need to do today, like cooking, getting ready for exercise, etc. This keeps you from falling into the needy consumer mindset. That mindset where you find yourself endlessly surfing Reddit, Facebook, etc. trying to fill a void in yourself, trying to find out what you’re missing, but never feeling satisfied. When you’ve started your day with doing awesome (not necessarily difficult) things for yourself, these distractions start to feel like a waste of time. You check Facebook just to make sure you’re not missing anything important directed at you, but scrolling down and reading random stuff in your feed feels like stepping out into the Disneyland parking lot to listen to what’s playing on the car radio — a complete waste of time compared to what you’re really doing today.
Very well said. I totally agree with this philosophy. Though I try to follow this philosophy many times, I fail to follow it consistently for good length of time. But I’m not going to give up. I need to follow this discipline again more consistently. Writing this blog post can be considered as producing my own thoughts instead of just consuming a Reditt thread.
Why I believe in this philosophy?
The short answer is — producing helps us grow. If you observe your consumption activity, most of the times it’s a passive activity. When we’re watching a TV or online Video, or reading a news or blog article, for the most of the part we tend to believe in what the content producer is telling us. We rarely think on our own while we’re consuming something. So we don’t develop our own view points and our own thinking. While I agree leisure time and rest is important, and we need to consume something entertaining without thinking much. But too much of this behavior becomes a habit and eventually it makes us weak as over the period we stop thinking.
On the contrary, when you produce something, you stretch your mind. You come out of your comfort zone, stretch your own limits, and you think on your own! You develop your own view point. Every single producing exercise is a great learning experience on many different levels — sometimes tangible and sometimes intangible. But with this constant habit of producing something, you continue to grow — both personally and professionally.
If that’s the case, then is consuming totally useless?
Of course not. While I agree that being just a consumer is not a good thing, I strongly believe that consuming is just as important as producing. If there are no consumers, then there won’t be any producers, and vice-versa as well. So we need both — producers and consumers. We just need to follow a discipline to do both things with good balance. To produce some great stuff, you also need to consume new information, knowledge, and ideas. So you definitely need to consume what interests you. But you also need to put certain limit on it and make sure it doesn’t become just mindless consumption. In day to day life, I would give more emphasis on producing something meaningful, but at the same time, I would allocate some time to consume something relevant and thought provoking — ideally something which will even inspire me to produce something new.
So what should you produce more and consume less?
The first thing — you need to believe that you need invest more time on producing than that you spend on consuming. Producing could mean your day-to-day office work, home tasks, replying to important emails, writing a blog post, or even Tweeting some interesting insights of your own (not retweeting someone else’s blog post link). Even during your day-to-day work — brainstorming new ideas, architecting new design, programming some function — falls into bucket of producing Vs just attending meetings & presentations, or reading programming articles or books — falls into bucket of consuming. Similarly, just watching funny videos or someone else’s photos, watching TV serials or sports channels is most of the times mindless consumption. We just need to limit the time we spend on these consumption activities.
Again, both producing and consuming activities are important, you just need to find a way to produce more stuff than what you are consuming. At the end of the day, it’s the right amount of balance will make you feel proud, enriched and excited Vs exhausted and less motivated. Hope this blog post will inspire you to produce more stuff — let it be hacking a project in the part-time, writing a blog post, painting some picture, or anything which excites you, and pushes your limits and make you think. Happy producing!
I’m sure you’ll find hundreds of articles if you Google how to provide the best customer service. Those articles will be full of tips and tactics, disciplines to follow, software tools to use, etc. This post is not about tips or tactics. It’s about a simple philosophy. Ok, I’ll not stretch too long, but here is a simple secret to provide the best customer service –
Treat your customers the way you want to be treated by other businesses, and you’ll be naturally providing the best customer service.
That’s it. Ok, I understand you might ask why do I believe this simple philosophy works. Let me share my recent experiences with you. In last month, we released monthly subscription plans to our appointment reminder software product. After launching these plans, I started getting more emails from customers regarding feature requests, pricing concerns, issues they’re facing, etc. Since that product is still majorly operated by me, I answer all of these customer support emails. And I follow one simple philosophy — put myself in the shoes of the customer and answer emails or treat them the way I want someone to treat me. That means writing detailed emails on how to solve the issue they are facing, or giving them extra free credits when inconvenience is caused, or refunding their money if they’re not happy.
Here are some of the testimonials we received in last 2 weeks –
“P.S. You provide excellent customer service. Thought you would like to know that.”
Here is one more –
“This definitely calls for me “advertising” for this app on my Facebook and twitter sites. That’s about 320 friends right there. And I can convince many of them that you guys have a price range for them, as u have many plans! so hopefully I can bring you more business. You deserve it PLUS I will be sure to let everyone know that you’re ALWAYS HERE for us with your first-class customer support. I know everyone appreciates that! ;)”
So far so good…but you might say that how this will work when your organization gets bigger…and you’ve to hire customer support professionals. Same thing. Just give your customer support professionals freedom and sense of ownership of your company. Just tell them that treat your customers the way they want to get treated by other businesses. Ask them to use common sense more often that some rule book.
Recently I experienced horrible customer service experience from American Express, ICICI Bank and a local Thai restaurant. At all these places, the customer support representative was just following the corporate guidelines, was thinking their profit, and was not really concerned about how customer was feeling. They had limited authorities to resolve my issues, and had common answer that they don’t have permission to fix certain things even though they thought it was right thing to do. They had to involve their supervisors, who also weren’t much of any help. Their apologies were also very fake and scripted.
It’s very valuable to get a new customer, but it’s extremely important to satisfy existing customers and make them your loyal fans. And the only way to do that is to be authentic and treat your customers the way you want to be treated.