Our inspiration comes from life around us, the people we work with, the schools our children go to, the movies we see, the malls we shop at, the blogs we read and the friends we know. Then of course, there are books that provide a completely fresh point of view. Ideas are everywhere if you know where to look and more importantly, never stop looking.
We think the biggest asset is keeping an open mind and not being judgmental about anything. And across cultures, what drives people is ambition and deriving meaning for what they do. People don't just buy into products or services - they buy into extended dreams about their own existence

The Overnight Millionaire

KBC Rs. % Crore winner
From earning Rs.6000 a month (roughly $120) as a computer operator in a government program, Sushil Kumar became a millionaire in just over an hour. The stage of course, was the game show - Kaun Banega Crorepati. All he had to do was answer 13 questions. And with a combination of pluck, bravura and insane risk taking, he had vaulted into a space that most people wait a lifetime for. When he arrived in Mumbai to participate with his wife and two brothers in tow, they traveled by train. Now, he can charter a plane back.

Everything had changed. With most participants, the small talk is all cut out and Amitabh Bachchan gets down to the business of quizzing and handing people their mini fortunes at the drop of a hat. With dizzying speed, people go from zero to a few lakhs. That's the norm. Then they arrive at a question which stumps them and they bow out, rather than risk what they won so easily. The classic behavior that defines humans across the world. But this was different. It could be argued that the questions were in subjects he was familiar with. He was not asked who won the Nobel prize for mathematics in 1979, for example. But to get to the lifeline and then take the plunge at a time when the difference was between getting to Rs 5 Crores ( That's 8333 months of earnings at his current salary level or approx 694 years) and dropping to Rs 1.6 lakhs if he was wrong took a lot of guts. Sushil Kumar claimed that he always lacked the confidence to do anything - that it was his brothers who egged him on. But once he was in a position to take the risk, he found the courage.

He will need a lot of it going forward. There are already reports about extortion threats and a retinue of investment advisors and charlatans who will make a beeline to carve out their slice of his pie. From being someone whom nobody gave a second look, he will become the object of intense envy and jealousy. He has just pole vaulted into a world he knows nothing about. Most lottery winners end up losing their bounty in a few short years. They have no way of figuring out how to invest and make their money grow. But lottery winners have the cloak of anonymity. This was a 'millionaire moment' in the full glare of the arclights. The new millionaire will discover that money brings just as many problems as it solves. He has nowhere to hide and his simple dreams can become astronomical nightmares as well.

The final moments of winning were riveting. No director could have coaxed those hundreds of emotions that flicked across his face when he was forced to decide on the final step. The sweaty hands were not in the studio alone. And even though the outcome had been splashed across newspapers several days before it was telecast, there was no let up in the tension. Enter stage as a pauper and exit as a prince. For a few short moments, millions of viewers felt their pulses race in unison.


( 0 Votes )

Tags: computer operator | Kaun Banega Crorepati | KBC | Millionaire | Sushil Kumar

 

Midnight CEOs

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pot_of_gold
What did you think of when you first read the title? Possibly a heartless slave driver who keeps people late into the night and demands reviews at unearthly hours? Or the one who hates going home because the best ideas don't keep regular hours?

Actually, it's a phrase used by the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur magazine to describe a new trend - the rise of the small entrepreneur in difficult times. Conventional wisdom is that people try to hold on to their existing jobs in a time of recession since finding another one is so hard. And yet, they are preparing to jump ship and start off their own enterprises, since they believe that entrepreneurship offers the best safety net - seems crazy but they think it beats the comfort of being in an organisation 'too large to fail' and worrying about when they will be downsized.

Instead, they are building their own little nest egg on the side while they work in the large company - outside of office hours. Hence the term 'Midnight CEO's' - where they work to sail their small little ships in the night. Most of these enterprises are tiny - less than ten people. They don't necessarily do different things. They just provide the same services on a smaller scale. And the reason they leave their 'big' organisations is because they view the world differently. They don't want double digit growth year on year. They don't want to open offices in Shanghai and Rio next year. They don't want to discover the next big thing. They just want to keep doing what they do with a set of people who value the relationships just as much as the contractual obligations and the professionalism.

What's worrying the economists is that they aren't interested in expanding their organization or creating more employment. But growth as an indicator of the health of the economy is vastly overrated. In India, there is an entire generation that has grown up working unbelievable hours in the information technology industry and the only goal is to meet the projections of the next quarter. That's a mug's game. It's like saying your only dream as a child is to grow to be seven or ten feet tall. Unless you aim to make the basketball team, that growth serves no purpose at all

The Midnight CEOs can be accused of keeping their horizons small. But that's who we are, isn't it? Most of us like being around our friends and families and watching our children grow. What resumes of high achievement do not record are the compromises made to achieve that goal. So, there is a small but growing group that says they want to get off the treadmill and take a walk around the park. They don't want to be fodder for the statistics of a balance sheet that relentlessly dictates the pace of growth and does so little for the soul. It may not be a welcome trend but I believe that the fast trackers who zipped around the world and ran the job marathon are tiring because the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is actually at home - not out there


( 2 Votes )

Tags: entrepreneur | growth | Midnight CEO | small business

 

How would you market this?

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humidous
Five years ago, a desperately needed product was launched in Chennai - a water generator called Humidous. It works on the principle of absorbing the condensation from the atmosphere and delivers up to 26 litres of pristine water every day. Enough to meet all drinking and cooking needs of a small family. Chennai is a hot, humid city right round the year – with the ground water exploitation at over 85%. The water that flows in taps is brackish, salty and it leaves a fine white sediment on cooking vessels. Logically Humidous should be selling out as soon as they make the machines. Now comes the completely unbelievable part.

All those who can afford it buy drinking water cans. Bottled at some indeterminate location, under questionable hygiene and manufacturing standards, 'mineral water' is the product of choice. When the product was exhibited at the launch, the first reaction was disbelief. How could a product plugged into an electrical socket, with no water connection produce water? The first thing people looked for was a water pipe leading into the machine. Filtration is understood as a technology. Get muddy or salty water, run it through a membrane or a filtration system and you could get clean water. But if the source was the atmosphere, how could it work? Isn't the atmosphere polluted? How can water extracted from it be clean, even if there was a four stage filtration process? The fact that drinking water now comes from far more polluted ground sources does not even register.

Even a product that addresses a clear defined need takes time to build a legion of believers. People who buy cans are quite happy to continue, since the monthly expense is small as opposed to a single investment upfront. In terms of benefits, having a machine that satisfies just one need - drinking water is not enough to overcome the inertia. Only if the can supplies dried up or became extremely expensive would people look for alternatives.

There was another problem. Since the manufacturer was taking a risk, he used existing moulds and adapted the design to suit what was readily available to keep the prices down. In spite of that, it costs as much as a refrigerator does and looks exactly like the water filters in the market - and that may have played a big role in its failure. Revolutionary technology needs to look revolutionary. And here the Humidous fails. No one would give it a second glance. Unless guests are told about the fact that it isn't plugged into a water source, it never becomes a topic of conversation. Once they are told, they go from disinterest to awe. But the transition to a sale is another long story. The company has experimented with leaving the machine for a month at prospects' homes but customers still don't bite. The only place where the product is doing well is in the Andaman Islands, where fresh water is apparently a huge problem.

Simple equations in math are complex equations in human desires. The transition from need to want is a layered, start-stop process. Like Dyson, there are no fairy tales in marketing.


( 1 Vote )

Tags: condensation | desire | Humidous | marketing | need fulfilment | water from air

   

Golden Needles in Content Haystacks

needle in the haystack
In the 70s and 80s, if you missed a good film at the movie theatre, you practically had no chance to see it again. Television was restricted to a few hours everyday in the evening. The government radio station, All India Radio was full of presenters who liked to slow life down to a trickle and film songs were only played with reluctance during a tiny sliver of time every week. So, you had two and a half stations to tune in to or search for the slightly more peppy Radio Ceylon that people speak of with such nostalgia, you would think they were the biggest entertainers on earth. Neighbourhood lending libraries were full of soppy Mills&Boon romances and if you wanted thrillers, you had to choose from the rows of James Hadley Chase and Earl Stanley Gardner or Agatha Christie. Refined tastes were about access to PG Wodehouse and A J Cronin, unless you were into high brow classical literature. In which case, the government libraries or the British Council were more than happy to oblige.

Strike that now. You don't have to watch a single bad series on TV, listen to a lousy song on radio or sit through a single bad movie - if you so choose. You can take your pick of the Criterion Collection if you want some of the world's best films that have won most conceivable awards. If you missed a film at the theatre, it's no big deal. It will be there time and again on your TV channels, available for download on a torrent, or if you're old fashioned, a DVD at the local store. Your music player now holds more music than studios used to have on their dusty shelves. Your ebook reader can download more books than the collection that people built over a lifetime. If you live in a metropolis, you probably can sample a new restaurant every weekend for the rest of your life. And if you like to travel, you can find a thousand new places to visit before you walk off into the sunset.

35 hours of video is uploaded every minute to You Tube. That's 2,100 hours uploaded every 60 minutes, or 50,400 hours every day. Another way to break it down is if three of the major US networks were broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for the last 60 years, they still wouldn't have broadcast as much content as is uploaded to YouTube every 30 days. Last year, the Apple store sold its 10 billionth song. There are over 90 billion photos on Facebook, with 200 million more being added everyday. The virtual world has outgrown the physical one in more ways than we can imagine.

With all this content being generated much faster than we can hope to consume, even in our lifetime, we will get to be more discerning. The systems that will define the future are the ones that will pick out the precious needles from the data haystacks. Faced with oceans of choice, we will learn to value the ones that let us limit our decisions, not expand them


( 0 Votes )

Tags: choice | content explosion | Media madness | needles in haystacks | Radio | You Tube

 

Kickstart your Dream

kick starter
It would be great if someone paid for a creative project inspired by you, right? No matter how crazy, outlandish or trivial it seemed. Bullet casing cuff links and ear rings, anyone? Or transforming the iPod Nano into a multi-touch wristwatch. Or handmade bikinis. From music bands to photographers, people ask for support on their favourite projects and are getting it from a wide range of 'backers' - on Kickstarter, a website that allows investors to pledge anything from $25 to $100 for projects that catch their eye.

Kickstarter recently crossed the magic number of 1 million backers from around the world. They don't disclose what percentage are from the US, but it is defenitely the largest slice. It took them 16 months to get the first 200,000 backers. And only 3 months to cross the last 200,000. Having raised a total of over $100 million, more than13000 projects have now come to life. In the old model, only a fraction of these would have seen the light of day.

While there have been individual success stories like the guy who set up a million dollar page to pay his way through medical school, raising money for creative stuff intended for micro markets has always been iffy. In a city like Chennai getting financing for theatre is tremedously difficult. No rock band, except for Parikrama and Indian Ocean have emerged in all these decades. They have always been underground acts, known to a tight, small band of admirers who could not have afforded more than the ticket money they spent. What Kickstarter does is to provide a platform where creative people can imagine to their heart's content and have some hope of making it happen.

This is one area where crowdsourcing is helping define a new financing model. And it allows for particpation on a mass scale in the development of a concept - something that was simply not possible before.

But long before the internet made fond dreams a reality, there is an Indian story that is just as heartwarming. In a small hamlet called Kaira, the milk revolution was sweeping India. The cooperative movement masterminded by Dr. V Kurien was the setting of India's self-reliance in the production of milk. These days, very few people understand the scale on which he had to think and execute to build the Amul brand - back in the 1940s, especially with the multinational brands putting obstacles at every step of the way. Dr. Kurien's book - 'I Too Had a Dream' is a must-read. But back to the story. To capture the progress of the movement, the 1 minute commercial was not enough. So, Shyam Benegal, the acclaimed film maker who was then with the advertising agency, suggested a feature film that captured the twists and turns in the struggle. The co-operative could not have paid the million rupees that was the budget required in the 70s. So Dr. Kurien asked every farmer to pay a rupee - and every one of the 1 million did. That was how the film 'Manthan' was made. It starred some of the finest actors of the time - Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah and it marked a significant step in India's art film movement as well.


( 0 Votes )

Tags: creative | Crowdsourcing | entrepreneur | financing | ideas | kickstart

   

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