What: Product Camp Pune – A Collaborative, User-Organized, Conference (i.e. a barcamp) on Product Management and Marketing When: Sunday, August 1st, 10am-4pm Where: Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research, Atur Centre, Model Colony. Map. Registration and Fees: This event is free for all. Register here
The Importance of Product Management and Marketing
Have you ever wondered why some really cool products fail in the market, and some products that seem really stupid succeed? Have you ever noticed that some of the best features of the products you’re working on are hardly used by anybody? Have you ever completely failed to understand the roadmap of your product?
If you have experienced any of the above, you’re not alone. Most people, especially techies, and especially Indian techies, have a very poor understanding of what customers really want, what they need, and what they would be willing to pay for. This is the job of Product Management and Marketing. Most people’s career would improve significantly if they spent some time acquiring this skill, or at least understanding the basics.
If you can be a product manager, you can acquire the experience of acting as a CEO. The skills gained in product roadmapping, prioritizing tasks, interoffice communications, customer understanding, and product marketing are absolute necessities for being an effective enterprise lead.
Similarly, Marc Andreessen, the creator of Netscape, successful serial entrepreneur, and investor points out that “the only thing that matters” for success of a startup is product/market fit. Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market. If you don’t have product/market fit, then you’re bound to fail, no matter how great your product is, and no matter how great your team is. With a bad product/market fit, you’ll struggle for years trying to find customers who don’t exist for your marvelous product, and your wonderful team will eventually get demoralized and quit, and your startup will die.
This is a new area for techies in India
For obvious reasons. Most of the work in the software technology sector in India has either been software services for companies abroad (in which case your company has no control over the product roadmap), or product development for companies whose main markets are in the US/Europe (in which case, the people doing product management/marketing are in US/Europe).
However, as the tech industry in India slowly matures, more and more product management and marketing roles are becoming available.
Here’s your opportunity to get started along this path
ProductCamp Pune is a collaborative, user organized unconference, focused on Product Management and Marketing topics. ProductCamp is a great opportunity for you to learn from, teach to, and network with professionals involved in the Product Management, Marketing, and Development process.
Here’s a Diwali themed post for you as PuneTech takes off for a few days.
Legendary Marathi author Pu.La. Deshpande once said (and I am paraphrasing here) that there is no need to travel the world, because you can buy anything that you would really want at Pune’s Laxmi Road. Unfortunately however, thanks to the globalization of Pune traffic, even a trip to Laxmi Road is a major journey these days, something that most people would want to avoid.
That is where laxmiroad.in comes in. It’s an online shopping portal that allows you to shop at your favorite Laxmi Road shops (including sweets from Chitale Bandhu and Karachi Sweets, and Marathi (and other) books at Varma Book Store) from the comfort of your browser, and get delivery at home within 24 hours. Currently this service is available in Pune only – sorry, PuneTech readers in California, and 86 other countries including (and I am not making this up) Croatia.
Instead of fuelling the engine of her car to sail through the sea of extremely congested moving -to-office traffic on a Monday to satiate her kids sweet tooth needs, Pradnya Jawadekar simply switched on her CPU to log on to laxmiroad.in and shopped online for Bakarwadi and Moti chur ke laddu to her heart’s content. For Jawadekar who stays in Aundh finding about the very city centric online portal laxmiroad.in was pure bliss. “The idea of hunting for a parking place in the shopping pockets of the city makes me shudder and Laxmi road tops the chart of the busiest shopping hubs in the city. The thought of honking repeatedly in that traffic and slipping like a snail in itself is very de – motivating for a shopping spree. So many a times with a heavy heart we have compromised with the kind of stuff we get in Aundh and its surroundings, only occasionally mustering up enough courage to fight the traffic to go to Laxmi Road or Camp,” shares Jawadekar who now simply buys online thanks to the 43-day old portal.
There are gift vouchers, and Diwali specials. PuneTech advisor Amit Paranjape even managed to put in a request for a book that was not listed in the online catalog and got it delivered the next day.
Pune-based startup Lipikaar, creator of software that allows typing of 15+ Indian languages using a standard English keyboard, and which was one of the companies selected for in this July’s proto.in, is once again in the news – for winning the Manthan award.
The Manthan Award is a first of its kind initiative to recognize the best practices in e-Content. It was launched on 2004, by Digital Empowerment Foundation in partnership with World Summit Award and American India Foundation. The Manthan Award South Asia 2008 had received 284 nominations from 8 countries across 13 categories. Participating countries were India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. The award cites Lipikaar for its coverage (15+ languages), its ease of use, and it applicability to the masses.
Lipikaar sells software tools that allow a simple method for typing in Hindi (and 15 other Indic languages) on an ordinary keyboard. It requires no learning, and within a few seconds you will be able to type in Hindi any word that you can imagine.
Lipikaar aims to be different from all other transliteration competitors due to its use of patented technology which allows anybody to enter text without requiring any knowledge of English, which is a requirement for most other method
The Lipikaar technology is available as downloadable desktop software for Windows. It works as a keyboard overlay, which means that once installed, it allows you to input Indic language text into any application – Microsoft Office (i.e. Word, Excel), all websites, chat and e-mail.
Lipikaar is also available as a Firefox add-on that allows the user to enter Indic text to create emails, blogs, scraps, comments, chats and search in your favourite language on any website. Unlike the desktop software, this add-on is free.
It’s the middle of the night, and your prepaid phone runs out of credits, and you need to make a call urgently. Don’t you wish that you could re-charge your prepaid mobile over the internet? Pune-based startup ApnaBill allows you to do just that. Fire up a browser, select your operator (they have partnerships with all major service providers), pay from your bank account or by credit card, and receive an SMS/e-mail with the recharge PIN. Done. They have extended this model to satellite TV (TataSky, Dish), with more such coming out of the pipeline.
PuneTech interviewed co-founder and lead developer Mayank Jain where he talks about various things, from technical challenges (does your hosting provider have an upper limit on number of emails you can send out per day?), to unexpected problems that will slow down your startup (PAN card!), and advice for other budding entrepreneurs (start the paperwork for registration/bank accounts as soon as possible).
On to the interview.
Overview of ApnaBill:
Simply put, ApnaBill.com is a online service for facilitating Prepaid and Postpaid Utility Bill payments.
Available now, are Prepaid utility bill payments like prepaid mobile recharge and prepaid vouchers for Tata Sky, World Phone, Dish TV etc.
Organizationally, ApnaBill.com is an offshoot of Four Fractions. It aims at being the single point of contact between service providers and customers, thereby minimizing transactional costs. The benefit of this is directly passed onto our customers as we do NOT charge any transaction costs from our customers. Its an ApnaBill.com policy and would be applicable to all of our product line.
Apart from regular Utility Bill Payments, we are also exploring some seemingly blue ocean verticals which have not been targeted by the online bill payment sector – yet.
We have managed to make our business model such that despite absorbing the transactional cost, we’ll be able to make profits. They would definitely be low but the sheer amount of transactions (which we would attract because of no-transaction-charge policy) would put our figures in positive direction.
Moreover, profit generated from transactions is just one revenue source. Once we have a good traction, our advertisement revenue sources would also become viable.
We are definitely looking at a long term brand building.
Technical Challenges – Overview
Contrary to popular belief, technology is generally the simplest ingredient in a startup – specially because the startup can generally excercise full control over how it is used and deployed. And with increasingly cheaper computing resources, this space is becoming even more smoother.
However, following problems were a real challenges which we faced and solved.
Being a web 2.0 startup, we faced some major cross browser issues.
Minimizing client side internet connectivity and page display speeds
Thankfully, ApnaBill.com is running Ruby on Rails under the hood – and all the solutions we designed, just got fit into the right grooves.
Technical Challenges – Details
Ruby on Rails a one of the best framework a web developer can ask for. All the solutions to the above problems just come bundled with it.
To overcome mail capping limits for shared hosts, we devised our own modules which would schedule mails if they were crossing the mail caps. However, we later discovered that there’s a great Ruby gem – ar_mailer to do just that. We are planning to make the shift.
If you see our homepage, no JS loads up when the page is loading up. However, once the page is loaded, we initiate a delayed JS load which renders our news feed in the end.
Database versioning is an inbuilt feature in Rails. We can effectively revert back to any version of ApnaBill.com (in terms of functionality) with standard Rails framework procedures.
Integrating various vendors and services was visibly the biggest challenge we overcame during the (almost) 9 months development cycle of ApnaBill.com.
Getting the organization up and running was another big challenge. The paperwork takes a lot of valuable time – which if visioned properly, can be minimized to a manageable amount.
Payment Gateways are a big mess for startups. They are costly, demand huge chunks of money for security deposits and have very high transaction costs. Those who are cheap – lack even the basic courtesy and quality of service. Sooner or later, the backbone of your business becomes the single most painful factor in your business process – specially when you have no control over its functioning.
Thankfully, there are a few payment gateways which are above all of this. We hope to make an announcement soon.
The process of founding ApnaBill:
When and how did you get the idea of founding ApnaBill? How long before you finally decided to take the plunge and start in earnest? What is your team like now?
In June 2007, one of the founding members of Four Fractions saw a friend of his, cribbing about how he cannot recharge his prepaid mobile phone from the comforts of his home. He had to walk about 1 km to reach the nearest local shop to get his phone connection recharged.
This idea caught the founder’s attention and he, along-with others formed Four Fractions on 20th December ’07 to launch ApnaBill.com as one of their flagship products.
ApnaBill.com was opened for public transactions on 15th June 08. The release was a birthday present to ApnaBill.com’s co-founder’s mom.
Our team is now 5 people strong, spread across New Delhi and Pune. As of now, we are self funded and are actively looking for seed funding.
What takes most of the time:
As I mentioned earlier, getting various services integrated took most of the time. If we had to just push out our own product (minus all collaborations), it would have taken us less than 3 months.
There was this funny thing that set us back by almost 1 month…
We applied for a PAN card for Four Fractions. First, our application somehow got lost in the process. Then someone in the government department managed to put down our address as 108 when it was supposed to be 10 B (8 and B are very similar looking).
None of us ever envisioned this – but it happened. We lost a precious month sorthig this issue out. And since all activities were dependent on official papers, other things like bank accounts, payment gateway intgrations etc also got pushed back. But I am glad, we sorted this out in the end. Our families supported us through this all the way.
Every process like creating Bank accounts, getting PAN cards etc are still very slow and manual in nature. If we can somehow improve on them, the ecosystem can prove very helpful for budding startups.
About the co-founders:
There are 3 CoFounders for ApnaBill.com
Sameer Jain: Sameer is the brain behind our revenue generation streams and marketing policies. He is a Post Grad from Delhi University in International Marketing.
Sandeep Kumar: Sandeep comes from billing (technical) background. With him, he has brought vast knowledge about billing processes and solid database knowhow.
Myself (Mayank Jain): I come from desktop application development background. I switched to Ruby on Rails almost 18 months ago – and since then, I am a devoted Ruby evangelist and Rails developer.
Luckily, we have a team which is just right. We have two polarizing ends – Sandeep and Sameer. One of them is constantly driving organization to minimizing costs while the other is driven towards maximizing revenue from all possible sources. I act as a glue between both of them. Together, we are constantly driving the organization forward.
About selection for proto.in:
Proto.in was the platform for which we were preparing for from almost 2 months. We had decided our launch dates in such a way that we would launch and be LIVE just in time for Proto.in.
Being recognized for your efforts is a big satisfaction.
Proto.in was also a huge learning experience. Interacting directly with our potential users gave us an insight on how they percieve ApnaBill.com and what they want out of it. We also came across some interesting revenue generation ideas when interacting with the startup veterans at Proto.
There are a lot of people who are currently doing a job somewhere, but who harbor a desire to start something on their own. Since you have already gone that route, what suggestions would you have for them?
Some tips I would like to share with my peer budding entrepreneurs…
Focus, focus and focus!
If you are an internet startup, book your domain before anything and get the right hosting partner.
Start the paperwork for firm/bank accounts registration as soon as possible.
Write down your financial/investment plan on paper before you start. Some plan is way better than a no plan!
Adopt proper development process for the tech team. With a process in place, development activities can be tracked rationally.
Get someone to manage your finances – outsourcing is a very attractive option.
The most important factor for a startup besides anything else – is to keep fighting during the adverse scenarios. Almost everything would spring into your face as a problem. But a team which can work together to find a solution for it – makes it to the end.
Just remember, more than the destination, it is the journey that would count.
LordsOfOdds is a startup based on the concept of prediction markets. It enables users to “bet” on the outcome of Indian events in sports, politics or entertainment. But betting is just a small part of it; the prediction market concept has a far greater potential as a source of information. Did you know that Rahul Gandhi has a 44% chance of becoming the congress prime mininsterial candidate?
What is a prediction market
A prediction market is like a stock market, except that instead of buying or selling stocks in a company, you are buying or selling “stocks” in a prediction. The prediction can be something like “India will win more than 3 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics”. At the end of the 2008 Olympics, if India actually wins 3 or more medals, each stock will pay out a dividend of 100 units. Otherwise, you get 0 units. After this point, this particular stock ceases to exist.
However, before the 2008 Olympics, nobody knows for sure whether India will win 3 medals or not. Hence, it is not clear whether the price of the stock will be 100 units or 0 units. Somebody who thinks that the probability of the prediction coming true is about 30%, should be willing to pay about 30 units for each stock. Someone else who thinks that the probability is 60% should be willing to pay 60 units for each stock. And the guy who bought at 30 units should be happy to sell it to the guy who is willing to pay 60.
As new information becomes available, the price goes up or down. If Anju Bobby George gets injured, the probability of winning 3 medals goes down and the stock will fall. If KPS Gill is removed as IHF chief, the stock will probably go up.
At the very least, the game can be a lot of fun once you get hooked.
But there is more. Prediction markets are actually useful to get an idea of what the crowd thinks of the probability of success of any prediction. (The current stock price of the prediction directly gives the predicted success percentage.) Combine this with research that says that the average wisdom of the crowds is as good as that of highly-paid experts, and you can suddenly see how a prediction market is a great tool for getting “expert opinion” on any topic.
This has been found to be rather useful in the context of large corporations. Anybody who has worked in one, can attest to the fact that communication and information flow are rather pathetic and nobody really has an idea of what is going on. Enter prediction markets. They actually become sneaky way of getting information out of the employees while they think they are playing a fun game.
HP started using prediction markets internally in sales forecasting. Now they use prediction markets in several business units. Intel uses them in relation to manufacturing capacity. Google uses them to forecast product launch dates, new office openings, and many other things of strategic importance to Google. Microsoft uses it to predict number of bugs in a software package. GE uses it to generate new product ideas from employees. (Sources: wikipedia, and LordsOfOdds)
LordsOfOdds – What’s there now
Currently, LordsOfOdds is being pitched more as an online betting site. You pick favorites in sports events (“Sachin Tendulkar will be man of the match for the first India-South Africa Test” is trading at 23.5), or entertainment (“The movie Race will be a hit” is trading at 34.4), or politics (“Rahul Gandhi to be Congress Prime Ministerial candidate” is trading at 44).
And since betting is illegal in India, the site operates using a virtual currency (“Loots”). And the only thing players get out of the exercise is bragging rights. But stay tuned, because they are building a prize inventory.
LordsOfOdds – The future
I am hoping to get answers from the founders on the following questions:
In the future, are you planning on using the predictions that your market produces in some way?
What is your monetization strategy?
The answers to these should be interesting.
LordsOfOdds – The founders
Rajesh Kallidumbil who was working in London, and Siddhartha Saha who was in Hyderabad debated the idea for over a month on Google Talk and then decided to start it up in Pune. Hariharan K who has a tremendous passion for Sports, decided that his job as an Investment Banking analyst wasn’t half as interesting as LordsOfOdds and joined the team.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world
— Mahatma Gandhi
Pune based brothers Abhay and Vijay Badhe appear to have taken this quote to heart. They got tired of the long delays in restaurants in getting tables, food and even the bills. So, instead of just whining about it, they went and built a business that sells solutions to restaurants that fixes the problem. Two years ago, they formed Wings iNet, with the intention of of providing “complete end-to-end solutions to hotel and restaurant industry through its innovative approach and use of the latest cutting edge technology”. Its first product is CaptainPad a wireless system that uses handheld devices for automating restaurant ordering systems.
In Pune restaurants like Rajwada, Green Park, who are now users of CaptainPad, gone are the days where waiter/captain takes order on a paper pad, physically takes it to billing counter and a kitchen. Now the captain carries a smart wireless touch pad device. The whole menu card is loaded in the CaptainPad device. Captain can now send the order from his device wirelessly to the kitchen and billing station. KOT (Kitchen Order Ticket) and billing information will generate instantaneously. Captain need not go to anywhere.
Cooks see a printout of the order immediately after the order is taken. No delay. Also, the system automatically routes the appropriate orders to the appropriate cooks. Waiters also have devices which tell them which dishes to take where. When the customer wants the bill, the captain just clicks an icon on his screen and the bill is printed.
Sounds great in theory, but does it work in practice? I went to Green Park this weekend and to me it seemed that the processing was indeed faster. (But this could simply be a case of confirmation bias.) In any case, the owners/managers of the restaurant seem to be happy with the system. Processing is faster, customers are happier, and for those owners who have a GPRS cellphone, the complete information about the restaurant operations would be available on his mobile device, irrespective of the location. Restaurants are reporting that after the installation of the CaptainPad, the table recurrence ratio has also gone up – i.e. they serve more customers per table per day than earlier.
But what about the actual grunts who have to deal with the system – the captains and the waiters? I tried enticing one of them to complain about the system – to see if there were problems, and whether he preferred the older way of doing things. No dice. He was quite happy with the system.
For a large restaurant, this system appears to be a good investment at Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh depending on the number of captains which the restaurant has. No wonder Wings iNet is hoping to have a 100 customers by the end of the year.