Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ladakh: things nobody will tell you

I'm an avid traveler, but I'm not a travel blogger. However, my recent Ladakh trip is something which I feel I should share. This is no Europe or New Zealand where you get all amenities​, and nothing will go wrong. This is a different experience in itself.

I am your average unhealthy person. I eat junk, don't workout at all and spend most of my time either working or watching series. I cannot stand cold weather and I prefer road trips over hiking/mountain climbing. The first time I hiked it was down and up the Grand Canyon. Going down was fun, it was coming up which made me decide I will never hike again. I didn't event hike on Honolulu's tiny hill which everyone else around me was doing, I preferred chilling at the beach instead. So if you're the average lazy Indian like me who prefers comfort over anything else, and is planning to go to Ladakh, please go through this list. I'm not saying you'll die otherwise (you might), but it will save you from getting airlifted to an army camp hospital. Also, it will help you enjoy a happy and comfortable trip, like I did. :)

1) Postpaid sim card: You cannot just land at Leh and expect your prepaid sim to get converted. Prepaid Sims don't work in most places in J&K and Ladakh comes under that territory. Also, only BSNL and Aircel works there, so ensure that you have a Postpaid sim card of either of these two networks so that you're not stranded at the airport. Airtel usually converts to Aircel, so check with your network provider in advance. Also, data and network gets controlled by the J&K govt and they block both based on any disturbances which happen in any area. So if there is a riot happening in Srinagar, your data, network and Wifi might just get cut off in Leh, even though you're miles away.

2) Essentials to pack: Gloves, Caps, Muflers, Earmuffs, Woolen socks and thermals are essential apart from jackets. Take two types of jackets, one for temperatures between 5-15 degrees and one which you can use in Sub zero temperatures. If you're flying and weight is an issue, carry the heaviest jacket with you in hand. Don't rely on Google for weather. If you're planning to go to pangong/khardungla, the temperature will fall below zero. I went during their peak Summers and it was mad cold. Also carry sunglasses and sunscreen, the highest point in the world also gives the worst sunburn when you're in your car.

3) First timers please don't DRIVE to Leh: You might be like Road Trip! And take the stupid decision to drive in Ladakh. Don't do it. The town is very motorable, the beautiful scenic areas are not. That is why they are beautiful. There are tiny roads cut from the middle of the mountains, and in some places there are no roads at all! You will be driving through frozen ice, stones, landslides and even mini streams! All this time, there will be a deathly mountain edge on your side. One slip and you're done. Even if you are a super skilled driver with an Innova or Xylo, your car might get destroyed. Better take a local driver through a tour operator. Even if you decide to drive till Leh, please rent a car for visiting Pangong or Nubra and leave your car at the hotel.
Also insist on either Innova or Xylo. There are certain roads on which other cars face issues climbing and get stuck. I've seen multiple cars turn back when their engines gave up.

4) Oxygen: Acclamatization is real. If it were a tourism gimmick Himachal would be doing it too. Imagine this, you're at sea level and your plane puts you 11000 feet above it in just two hours. Of course you will feel breathless. But does that mean you ruin your first day and do nothing? If I had a job and had the luxury to take holidays I would. But being an entrepreneur, every single day of vacation counts. Also, I hate sitting in a beautiful cafe and reading a book with a cup of tea, that's not me. I'd rather sit next to a waterfall or lake or in the middle of the mountains and listen to music.
So here's my solution to breathlessness: Buy Diamox BEFORE your trip. One day before you are flying, take one at night. Next day onwards, take one after breakfast and one after dinner. The day you land at Leh airport, before going to the hotel go to a pharmacy and buy an oxygen spray. There are various brands, I bought Oxy99 from Life Care pharmacy near Leh market. For 600 bucks, you get 100-120 sprays. Pricey? Yes. But saves you an extra day of hotel rent doing nothing, if you think about it. Diamox also takes care of motion sickness by the way.
Spend the first day exploring the city so that it's fun+Acclamatization. Go see the parade at Hall of Fame, the gurdwara and explore the market, nothing very tiring. You'll be good to travel next day.

5) Hotels: A lot of travel agencies will force you to take hotels based on their recommendation. Having an agent is good, but don't listen to everything they say. Always check the hotels on trip advisor. Thomas Cook had suggested a really crappy hotel to us, we saw the ratings and didn't go with them. My driver literally laughed when we said that this is where Thomas Cook makes their customers stay.

If you take care of these 5 small things, you'll have an amazing time there. Ladakh is by far one of the most beautiful places I've been to in the world. It's raw beauty makes it even prettier than New Zealand. This is not a travel itinerary, it's just a list of 5 pointers which you'll rarely find online. Hope it helps. :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sales: do's and dont's

It's been more than two years I've left tech and gotten into entrepreneurship. There have been thousands of people I have met since then, resulting in me creating hundreds of professional relationships with most of them. One major thing I have done as an entrepreneur is sales, it is an intrinsic part of running a company. Here are certain tips I've felt are important to be a successful salesperson (they're not exhaustive, just some things which are coming up in my head currently):

1) Be a happy person. Because nobody wants to talk to a stiff. Your energy level determines a lot about whether or not you will close a deal. If you're a depressing person, nobody will like to carry on a conversion with you, let alone trust you with their company dealing. Smile often. If you look unhappy with your job, the guy in front of you will never strike a deal with you as not only he will believe that the company is untrustworthy, but he'll also feel that you're here only for a short time and will leave the company soon, so there's no point in dealing with you anyway. I have seen countless examples of people who start bad-mouthing their job or pay or life just in their first meeting with me! I always mark them as red flags and probable to take flight anyday.

2) Be proud if your product. Genuinely believe that the product you're selling is the best in its domain, else you will not be able to sell it. I once met the regional Head of a huge chain and he started explaining what his company does before I could pitch. He actually thought I knew nothing about the market leader in his category! That was a super easy negotiation for me, as he was not proud of his product while I was of mine. No matter what your company size is, what your sales are, you yourself need to believe in the product you're selling and the person in front of you should feel that if they do not get in a deal with you, they will lose out on a big opportunity. Even after the deal is done, they will value the partnership and will find it very hard to end it, as your product's perspective value is really high.

3) Small talk. I cannot emphasize how important this is. People in sales mostly focus on the 'deal' part of the meeting, but don't focus on developing a personal relationship with the other person. Doesn't matter if the deal goes through or not, at the end of the meeting you should feel you've made a new friend. A lot of times the person I am dealing with is not able to get the partnership closed, but when they switch to another company, they always call me to ask if we can partner again. Being friendly and talking random shit really helps in the long run, plus sometimes it gains you a new friend! If you're socially awkward, first, you should not be in sales. If you still are, start small. Discuss the client's office, weather, any hot topic in the news, or simply ask them how long they've been working in the company. Those are great conversational starters. Typically your ultimate goal with a client should be to go out on drinks with them, but if that's too much, making them a Facebook friend is also a good enough goal to achieve. This doesn't mean creep them out on the first meeting itself by being over enthusiastic, but take it slow. It's very much like dating if you think about it, only a little harder!

4) Avoid lying. A lot of sales gurus will disagree with me here, as it's a general notion to never say no while doing a sale. Actually, it hurts later. Overcommitting is like karma, it always comes back to bite you in the ass. Be clear on what all you can provide and say no for the ones you cannot. If you are able to convert any of those No's to yes later it's a bonus, but the other way round is dangerous. If a client gets adamant that they want a certain feature, politely tell them that you will discuss it with the management and get back. And do discuss in-house later! You may never know, you get an important feature just through that demand which nobody thought about before. If it cannot be done, don't fret on it and inform the client. If you're still skeptical, watch Jim Carrey's movie 'the yes man'. You'll get a fair idea of what I'm talking about. :)

5) Negotiate hard. This is very very important. A lot of people are lousy at sales because they hesitate in negotiating, and clients end up walking all over them. But there's a very thin line between what can be done and what is unacceptable, it is important to understand that as well. It's not like if you know a client will pay 5℅ commission you ask for 30℅, they'll simply hang up on you, but asking 10 isn't too bad in that case. You might end up with 7 which is great. Also do not go back and forth while negotiating, if you ask for a number, stick on it and don't increase it. It will simply piss off your client.

6) Increase the number of leads. One common issue I have seen with newbies especially is that if they speak with ten people, they sit on it assuming that all ten will close. Always assume a 10℅ conversion rate. If you want to close ten, talk to a hundred. Leads will always back out and you will be left with last minute panic as you complete your targets. Lazy people are lousy salespeople.

7) Optimize for results, not efforts. Dont postpone your meeting with a client because you're going for another meeting near his office next week and you want to complete both together to save efforts. Remember, you're delaying your first one which might close quicker. If you have a general problem with travel, sales is not the right job for you. There might be 20℅ people who call you again and again to waste time but do not close anything. If you feel you're stuck with such a client, that is the point when you should do the opposite and defer meeting them, but that happens very rarely. Also, patience and persistence is the first rule of sales. If you're an impatient person and cannot handle rejection, this is the wrong role for you.

8) Aggressive follow ups are important. I often get complains from sales people that if we take aggressive follow ups, people get pissed off. I always ask back the number of such people, and that percentage usually is 5-10℅. Just because one guy says that don't call me doesn't mean you stop calling everyone. Instead, Everytime u Feel that you need to follow up with a client, ask them when you can follow up with them. Once you get a date from them, they will never complain for calling again since they asked for it. Remember, the person you're dealing with has thousands of other things to do, his chances of remembering your work will be minimal and you will have to constantly remind them till it's done.

9) Proposals. Super important. Dont wait for the person to ask for it. Send them on your own, it brings you one phone call ahead. Your proposal should be crisp and to the point, and filled with images and colors. Nobody wants to read a boring proposal. Your template should be clean, and it would be amazing if you can customize it for each customer. Takes five minutes extra per lead, but saves you fifty extra minutes in your sales cycle.

10) Know your audience. You cannot sell a scuba diving kit to a fish. Things need to be customized per client. In sales, you will meet all kinds of people and different things tick with each, find that out. Figure out schedules of people based on your conversations with them and call them when you know they will not be too busy to care. Their objective for the tieup will also differ, figure that out and pitch accordingly. I'm not saying change your product and offering, I'm just saying that there are two ways to hold your ear and whatever works more, go for it.

These tips sound so simple, yet 80℅ of the world doesn't follow it. These little things make huge differences between success and failure. If you're not following them, try them out. You'll see the difference. And for people asking how we have achieved 2200+ brand partnerships and 150+ corporate partnerships in just two years, this is also your answer. :)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The story of a failed Portuguese entrepreneur

Sourabh and I visited Portugal this week for the web summit (we were exhibiting, yayy!) and it was a truly phenomenal week. Its one thing living abroad, it's a completely different thing going as a tourist. For one, you network a lot. As a local, you don't care much but as a tourist, a lot of things intrigue you and you talk to a lot of people.

We stayed in Lisbon for 5 days during the summit time and for the last two days, visited Cascais one day and Sintra on the last day. There are so many stories about my Portugal experience that I can literally write a book about it, but the one which tops my list is the trip back from Sintra to the airport.

Our last day at Portugal was at Sintra, and we had our final dinner at an Indian restaurant called the Picnic (you can take the Smiti out of the desh but you cannot take the desi out of the Smiti). The restaurant guys were amazingly courteous, they not only made a special 'indian-level' spicy curry for us, but also got us a cab in the city which gets almost deserted after 7pm. We took the cab and started moving towards the airport for our flight to India.

The cab driver asked us what we were doing in Lisbon, we mentioned that we came here for the web summit. He got pretty excited and asked us about our venture and whether the summit experience was fulfilling or not. As a courtesy question, Sourabh asked the driver if he's from Sintra. 'I'm from Sintra but was born in Lisbon', he said. Typically we observed that cabbies in Portugal do not speak English well, but this guy had really good English, so Sourabh mentioned that to him. He said: "I have good English because I'm an electrical engineer who had my own startup which had a revenue of four million euros."

"Whoa, what?" was our reaction. He delved into his tale post that:
"I ran a broadcasting company few years ago which employed over nineteen people. With the recession hitting Europe, my company went bankrupt. I had to eventually shut my company down. I lost all my money, all my investment. Having some money left in the bank through my successful years, I tried my hand at a gym post that. I opened the first women-only gym which had hourly classes in my city. The first day of my launch, I had 150 customers. One month post my launch, I had three thousand. It was finally working well for me and I opened another center. Few months later, the Portuguese government increased the vat from 6℅ to 23℅! These people are simply crazy. I along with many other businesses burned to the ground because of this. Once again, the little money I made was lost completely. I have three kids and a wife to take care of, and eventually I had to kill my startup dream and take up a job. The thing you need to understand about Portugal is, the salaries are really low. As a cab driver, I work 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earn 3000 euros a month, which is more than what I would earn as an electrical engineer in an MNC. Its not really the life I imagined at 50, but it helps me get by. My eldest child is working in an airline now as a flight attendant so she's on her own. I still support my two children and have been driving this cab since three years now. I don't buy a cab because some day, I wish to get out of this and do something honorable. Although the money here is good, what I have noticed is that nobody respects a cab driver. Age plays a factor too, and people have hesitated hiring me at this age outside the country. So I'm stuck here, and hope I can get out of this someday, which is why I do not buy a cab. Else I will be stuck driving a taxi forever."

We asked for his card as we left his cab at the airport. We told him that our Europe expansion plans are far away, but if they happen, we will give him a call. Chatting with him left me both motivated and depressed. How this man, once the owner of a million euro company, is down to his last pennies, but still fighting. I asked him if it was hard shutting his business down, to which he said, "It was the hardest thing. Shutting down was one part, letting go of 18 employees was another. I fired 6 of them and cut down salaries of the remaining. Eventually salaries kept reducing, you know, because there was no money, and employees moved on. In the end, the business simply shut down."

Nobody said life is fair. Obrigado, Portugal, for showing me that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

This one's for mom and dad

NOTE: This blog article might seem narcissistic, self-consuming, boastful and judgmental of me. Make no mistake, it is ALL OF IT. Because after all, if you don't believe in yourself, who else would? ;)

I was reading this article which talks about an essay by acclaimed Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled: “Dear Ijeawele, or a femininst manifesto in fifteen suggestions,” where she elaborated on how to raise a feminist daughter. Truly inspiring. Reading that, I couldn't help relate her to my own mother, and the way she has raised me. One thing which I feel Chimamanda missed though, is that you can never truly raise a confident child alone, the father equally plays his part in it. Also, the same could be extended to men as well, as to how you can raise a son who if not feministic, is at least morally sane, which is way beyond expectations for a lot of men these days.

Feminism is by default a misunderstood word. It has been misused countless amount of times, so much so that it is often confused to be the same as Feminazism. The two have completely different meanings though. A feminist is someone (man or woman) who believes that men and women are equal, whereas a feminazi hates the men race and strives to generate inequality between the two genders, putting women above men everywhere. A feminist is a sane person who views the world objectively, whereas a feminazi is the female version of a male chauvinist. Completely different terms. Have your child be a feminist, not a feminazi, or a chauvinist.

So reading this article put me in a deep school of thought. It was like my entire childhood flashed before my eyes and I suddenly appreciated the way my parents raised me. Gave me an entirely new perspective towards myself altogether, and also gave me a lot of answers about why I was always a tad bit different from my girlfriends. At the end of my epiphany, I had my own list of 'how to raise a sane child' which I am going to compile here. Not that I am sane myself, a lot of things about me are literally batshit crazy, but at least I have my morals right, and I am thankful to mom dad for it.

Smiti's guide to raising the socially comfortable child:

1) Men and Women are NOT equal, but there is no right or wrong answer here.
Something I know and accept since childhood. The two genders are CREATED differently. Biologically, that is to say. Men by default have stronger bodies, and women by default are a little fragile. Before the feminazis jump off the bat and start giving examples of fragile men or wrestler women, let me clarify: sample set matters. There is always a percentage of any generalized population going against the odds, which doesn't make it necessarily true for the entire janta. In return, women have more beautiful bodies, are prettier than men. (Feminazis will not jump here and give me examples of pretty men and ugly women, I'm sure). A woman's body is designed to be caring, child-bearing, albeit so much resistant to pain that it can push out a fully grown human from inside it. External strength vs internal strength I would say. The moment you respect that and accept it, you are not prejudiced about your appearance or your partner's. It is okay for the man to be the weightlifter and the woman to be the home-organizer. If a woman handles the servant/maid/dhobi/groceries and the man handles the plumber/driver/electrician/bills, that is okay too. Skillset wise, it is relative. Some women are better with artistic thinking and some men are better with logical problems. Sometimes its vice versa. At the end of it all, everyone has the same brain, we just use it differently, which is not even gender related.

2) Co-dependancy is good, but non-independence is bad.
There's a very thin line here. My mom used to say - you marry someone so that you can sleep peacefully at night. Because no matter how your day goes, you know that at the end of it, there is always someone you can count upon. That does not mean that your day will not pass without that person. I see women (and men) who are extremely clingy and dependent on their partners, who cannot carry on with their day without them. I've seen people destroy their careers, their ambitions over love, or what they think is love. It's not just wrong, its downright pathetic. By the time people realize what they have done for their partner, its too late and then they blame the partner over it, although the mistake was theirs to start with. It's amazing to relate your identity with a partner, but make your partner your strength, not your weakness. My parents taught me that, and I will be forever grateful to them.

3) Your problems are mostly yours, so deal with it.
This is something I used to follow since I was a child. Not sure how my parents imbibed this in me, but they somehow magically did. I would never go running home to my parents crying over any problem, I would always solve/settle it outside on my own. I was never a bully, but could never stand bullies. When I was very young and would go to my parents with an issue, they would always support me and offer their help. Initially I would take their help, but with time I just stopped asking for it. Simply knowing the fact that my parents would be there if I needed them would be enough for me to take over a person double my age or size and come out victorious. You always lose a battle in reality second, you lose it in your mind first. So always have your children know that you have their back, but let them handle their crap themselves first.

4) We're always there for you.
Continues the third point in a way. Haven't we heard enough stories of children committing suicides, getting into drugs, gangs, or simply just lying their way through everything, because they are scared of the fact that 'what will happen if mom-dad get to know'? Making a child believe that your parents are your confidantes is very very important, and that if all hell breaks loose, they can always count on you, rather than hide things from you. I was always the rebel child. There were rules in my house and I would occasionally break them, but I always knew, that no problem was so big that mom-dad would disown me. Just that incredible trust on the fact that I will always remain their daughter and have a house I can call home is what gives me immense strength on everything I do, even till this day.

5) Life decisions: If you can't do it right, don't do it.
Lot's of things here. Like marriage, for example. You think you are ready to marry, but are you ready to take both the good and bad aspects of it? Or you just think its going to be a happy ever after without knowing the consequences? You would love to have a life partner, but are you ready to love the family which comes with the partner? And the extended family? The sacrifices and compromises? And the customs, traditions, being the ideal bahu or jamai, taking family responsibilities, running expenses, managing a home along with work, dividing chores and completing them on time: are you ready for that? If yes, go ahead. If no, don't do it. And vice-versa, just because society says you're at a marriageable age doesn't mean you're ready. Same could be applied to career choices, having kids, relationships etc. My parents taught me that if you do something, be the best at it. This is the advice because of which I am happy in my marriage, because of which I treat relatives well, because of which I run a house and a freaking company together. My house groceries and meeting proposals all are on time. I knew what I was getting into and I knew that I was ready for it. No rash decisions.

6) Extra-curriculars would not have been invented if curriculars were everything.
I have a folder which has uncountable certificates. My husband has two. When I interview today and meet people into extras and those not into extras, I see the difference and feel the immediate bias I have towards candidates who are able to speak basic english or communicate with me without losing their mind. Academics aren't everything. Sure, in non-technical profiles personality is directly proportional to success, but even in the world of techies, fun people are appreciated more and climb the ladder faster than sad ones. Even a techie would need basic nerves to demo a product or collaborate with a client or cross-team for requirements or simply put his/her point forward in working together. Acads aren't the fun part, co-curriculars are. Encouraging a child to engage in non-studies helps in an overall personality development which might not seem relevant initially, but if your child has it, he/she will be thankful to you for inculcating that his/her whole life. Like I am to my parents for. They somehow pushed me to excel in both studies and outside, although that is a rare skill I might not be able to have my kids do. But I will always encourage extra curriculars since I have experienced the effects secondhand. The world is a big place, there is just so much to learn beyond what you are expected to know.

7) Teach your kids to be strong and confident.
That's pretty much it. If they are in trouble, make them understand why. If they are a subject of abuse, physical or mental, it is NOT their fault. They shouldn't back down on any sort of harassment done to them. Sure, we should teach our sons to behave (as a feminazi would say), but we should also teach our daughters to be fearless. Before every exam, my parents would applaud as to how calm I was. Even if I was squirming with fear within, every time they would applaud me on my strength, I would become stronger and the fear would disappear. 'I'm surprised that you're not scared' and 'I'm proud that you are so strong' are not the same statements and don't have the same impact. Word choice is important I guess. A lot of times children end up liking things because their parents say that they are good at it. Applauding your child at every tiny achievement will increase their confidence base. When I look back and remember the little things my parents showed so much pride on, I laugh over it. But I know that it is those little things which have cumulatively created a huge impact in my overall development as an adult.

With this, I end today's lecture (if you're still reading)! It's been a long time I've written something and since I had some time and will to write, I typed my thoughts down. And no, I'm neither having a kid nor do I plan to have one in the near future :-P

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How important are you?

We think about it but never ask it out loud. Do I matter? Am I important enough for something I feel I am but am not sure?

There's a simple philosophy I follow. To figure out if or if not you matter for a particular situation, picture yourself being away from it. Analyze the impact then. Do I matter in my job? Simple, think what impact would be made if you're away from it. Will nobody notice or will all hell break loose? That will surprisingly also help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses. If nobody cares, you're probably not very good at it. If all hell breaks loose, that's probably your strength.

Let's apply that to relationships. Give it a thought, would the person in consideration be really affected by your absence? How much of their life would be impacted if you're gone? I know you're thinking about someone specific when you are reading this right now. Now think exactly the opposite, how much of your life would be affected if they are not there. Would you sail through that nice and easy or would you find it hard to even figure out where your socks are in the house? Gives a whole different perspective to dependencies on other human beings and independence both, doesn't it?

Let's get back to the work topic and reverse the scenario. How much of your life will change if you switch from your current role or, simply stop working? Forget the social criteria. Again, think, how much would a social hurdle really really affect your life? A lot of us are scared to change our current statuses because of what society will think. But then again, most of us do not stop to think about why we should give a damn. Will it affect your life in any way really? How much time do you as an individual really have to think about the life of others? Hardly any. Then, what makes you think others will have extra hours in their life to do a PhD about you?

People pleasers, here's your cue. Learn when its time to take a stand. Learn when its time to put your foot down. Learn when its time to stop thinking about others happiness and start thinking about yours. You know, just saying. :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why customer feedback is important

By nature I'm a fearless person. I've always been appreciated for that, sometimes criticized too, but that is how I am. Although the one thing, and probably the only thing which literally scares the wits out of me is an angry customer. Not death, but an angry customer. At Work Advantage, any time a customer issue turns up, all hell breaks loose. Thankfully it doesn't happen frequently, touchwood. But when it does, I lose my cool. I do not believe in the concept of mitigation plans, because why should there be an issue to mitigate in the first place? If not perfect, can't you establish a nearly foolproof system which would sustain on its own?

Let's face it, the customer is the king. I have always and will always stress on that. It's not the guy helping you earn revenue, it's not the big brand partner you can show off to sell your product. It's the end user who can either make or break your company. Being active in the startup community, everytime I hear about a failed company, 90% of the times there is a single reason for the same: it failed to engage customers on its product/platform. As an entrepreneur you are so hung up with processes, revenue gen, funding, dev, marketing and sales, that you tend to forget about the small piece of the stack who is holding all that up, that is the already-acquired user. Hence I always take customer feedbacks very seriously, sometimes more seriously than I should take. Are you capturing the user-attention right? Are you just spamming him/her or actually pushing relevant details? Are you taking customer ratings seriously or the rating feature is just for the sake of it? How good is your IVR if at all present? Does it actually help with some feedback or is blocked on truecaller as spam? And most importantly, is your product actually usable? What can you add to the product to make it more usable and embraced?

I love Oyo's IVR. A human being calls you (not an automated voice) and asks you just 2 simple qns: 1) was your stay satisfactory? and 2) will you recommend that particular oyo room to others? and once you answer these two, they just thank you and hang up. That's it. Simple and sweet, doesn't even take one minute of your time. Something I do want to implement eventually at Work Advantage too. Till that happens, we've started the 'rate your experience' feature. Just a 1-5 star rating with an optional comment section. And everytime a new user rates, I send him/her a personalized email from MY email ID. It properly has my email signature at the end of it, making the user feel special and hence rate the next time too. And that works like magic. The ratings have started increasing exponentially since I started doing that. There was no gamification, no incentive for the user to rate. It's just that knowing that the company really cares about your rating encourages you to keep giving feedback. Simple and sweet.

Grievance resolution is equally important. In our initial customer service days, we had no idea what to do with the customer who has been denied the deal. With time you learn, and we realized that if we take our agreement with the vendor lightly, the vendor does too. The moment you create a hue and cry about it, the vendor will also take the same seriously the next time. We started apology-redemptions for dissatisfied customers who were wronged. And once apology offerings started, the results were amazing. People who claimed 'I will never again use this product' became regular users of it. Because they knew we screwed up initially because we were new to the system. The whole concept was new to the system. But we care and want to improve the process. Customers are human too, they understand if you make them. They'll be patient if you're empathetic.

Customer relations is also a huge part of retention. Putting a face to the name, a voice to the brand. Assign a brand manager, a relationship associate to each partner. Not only does that help in maintaining long term relations, that also builds a trust among you and the other brand, plus people have contacts which they help you with. After all, the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem works on the funda of favors. You do good unto others and what goes around always comes around. Peace out. :)

Monday, May 11, 2015

The top 4 people I have met the past year

You know you own a startup when first you feel its an earthquake, but later you realize that its just you swaying left and right with exhaustion. (If you ever quote this, give me proper credits)!

Having a startup is no cake walk. The wild imagination people have about startup owners is far away from the reality a founder goes through everyday. Although, the best thing about having your own venture is that not networking is not an option, you have to, simply have to meet lots of people. In the span of the last one year, I might have met at least 500 people purely to network. 500 seems less, I usually meet 25-30 people in one single event itself, and I have been to gazillion events since I came back from the states. It was as if I hated my life in the US because people were so anti-social, and God heard me. He put me in a position where I would keep chatting with people for at least 10 hours every day. At the end of a typical day at work, when I come home and through God's grace if I have some spare time, I prefer 'listening'. I would listen to music, or watch a movie or my favorite series. I'm not complaining though, I love my job. I love being an entrepreneur. I've finally found peace with life, and sometimes its funny that I find solitude among company. I also have met a bunch of super interesting and uber intelligent people in the past one year (I complete one year in India this month), some of who I would like to mention here.

The top of my list would be Ankur Warikoo, the CEO of Groupon Asia. I have read about him so much, seen his videos, prep talks, that when I actually got to meet him, I was just thrilled. That one hour meeting with him was undoubtedly one of the most awesome meetings of my lifetime. The kind of questions he asks, the approaches he takes and the solutions to those approaches are very inspirational. Although I was careful not to tell him that meeting him was inspiring, since from whatever I have read and heard about him, he hates it if people call interacting with him inspiring. "Don't talk to me for inspiration, if you want to get inspired, read self-help books, watch videos. Meeting someone should only happen if both of you are actually worth each others' time." I'm not quoting him directly here, but in all his blogs and videos, this is what he actually projects. He's a firm doer, he's not a guy who would sit around and discuss approaches, he would rather have people try all approaches and have a foolproof answer. Check out his blogs and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Next would definitely be Rohit Prasad, the author of Startup Sutra. A friend of mine recommended his book once, and being the bookoholic that I am, I bought the e-book off Flipkart and once I started reading, I couldn't stop till I finished it. I'm not a huge fan of self-help books, but this one's different. Very different. It runs stories of different entrepreneurs through the eyes of one Moo Jin, and consists of real stories of real struggle and real success. 4 hours and few hundred pages later, I was immediately his number one fan. Meeting him for a few hours was hence a huge honor for me, to shake hands with the man behind all those inspirational words was enthralling. I wish to write such a book someday myself, and if I do, I will definitely make one of my dedications to him. My favorite part of the book is how first he defines a sutra saying that successful entrepreneurs are persistent, and later defines another sutra saying that successful entrepreneurs know exactly when its time to let go and don't hang on to expirational things forever. Mindblowing logics, amazingly down-to-earth inspirational person.

The third would be Suchi Mukherjee, founder and CEO of LimeRoad. It's always inspiring to see women, especially Indian women, start their own ventures and make it a million dollar company. I met her very briefly, but I loved the stories she mentioned in her talk about her initial startup days. One story struck me very deep in which she mentioned that once on a Sunday evening her website broke and she called her CTO who was at a close relative's wedding at the time. The guy arranged a laptop from the bride/groom's place within 15 minutes, and was working fixing the live site issue in the middle of the wedding. You must be someone amazing to have employees dedicated so much towards the company. This is one example I till this day give to my employees and I wish and hope that I will have many such stories myself to tell to others in the future.

Fourth would be Sanjay Sethi, CEO of ShopClues. I met him post one of his talks at IIT Delhi, and he was the first person who ever said that free offerings are useless offerings. In ShopClues, he said, they charged from day one. Nothing in life is ever free, and even Indian population is aware of it now. In fact, making something free reduces the seriousness of a vendor towards you. Of course a free model is the easiest way out, but then again, the easiest way is never the best way, is it?