Saturday, April 30, 2005

the power of planning

just booked a ticket - New York (JFK in the heart of Manhattan) to Bay Area (San Jose International Airport) for the 10th of May for 122USD including all taxes, fees, charges etc. etc. - on UNITED - got aisle seats, non-smoking and a total flight time of 8 hours to cross the entire length of the United States - am very happy!!!

10 people to be watched in the technology world

I've been trying to compile a list of people who must be watched. The reasons for the same are varied, some of them are experienced and some newbies but in general over the next year they are definitely the people who will drive innovation and deliver new services to the globe.

1. Steve jobs - iMac, iTunes, iMac, iChat - what next?
2. Bill Gates - need i say anymore?
3. Ed Zander - he's definitely reworking Motorola into one cool company
4. Rajesh Jain and Nicholas Negroponte - computers for all
5. Sam Palmisano - IBM
6. Larry and Sergey from Google
7. Niklas Zennstorm from Skype
8. Vivek Ranadive of Tibco - there is a lot of innovation pending from these guys
9. Paul Otellini, Intel's new CEO - he's really going to be watched esp. w.r.t. WiMax
10. Irwin Jacobs( Qualcomm), Mark Hurd (HP) and Jeff Bezos(amazon), Jerry Yang (Yahoo) - nothing expected but they need to be watched!!

Friday, April 29, 2005

10 Pet peeves

1. Phones dont have WLAN built in
2. Companies dont procure completely online esp. larger ones
3. Government services are not available online.
4. Requirements by some countries to have local directors to register a company in their country
5. Lengthy visa-application and grant processes.
6. Color driven compensation
7. Indians who are morons yet feel they are much smarter than caucasians
8. Badly organized event websites with limited online networking
9. Spam
10. Lack of an open source anti-virus solution.

Ten Much wanted technology tools

1. Bluetooth projectors, printers, scanners, headphones + mics
2. Easy to set up mobile wireless LAN / GPRS access with seamless roaming across the world
3. Mobile Software which teaches you languages in easy game format
4. the Segway in stores!!
5. Smart card + biometric access based passports so we have no more paper and stamp based hassles when travelling.
6. SMS shortcodes and Short number VAS that work when you are roaming
7. Lighter laptops with longer battery life.
8. better, more intuitive world clocks
9. an universal repository where you can register if you are going to an event so that you can network with others at the same event - doing away on our dependency that organizers have to be IT - savvy.
10. faster and easier, more painless ways to test blood, vaccinate, etc.

new nokia phones

Nokia's launched its new phones - the N series which comes with a 4GB hard-disk. We're definitely seeing convergence happening big time.

My predictions for new phones:-
1. 1-5GB flash hard disk supported
2. Wireless LAN or WiMAX supported
3. Mp3 player support
4. Native email clients with support for attachments etc.
5. Skype supported!!
6. USB Port supported
7. Camera built-in
8. Scanning support - yes.. this will be the killer one for all those interesting articles and new stories
9. Touch screen for signature support

Thursday, April 28, 2005

procrastination - Why, Why, Why?

I was debating what we as Entrepreneurs could call our biggest failing and at least for me it boils down to Procrastination. While we as entrepreneurs are usually the smartest people about most things, we end up failing to plan and thus end up leaving ourselves with limited options. Of course, businesses in general have taken advantage of this usual habit and they love this opportunity to @#@% us. You know the story - hotel rooms, airline tickets, conference registration. It all gets closer just before the cut-off date.. After all these years, its actually begun to irritate me. I badly want to plan ahead now and get the best deals...!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

ethical dillemmas

Interesting ethical dillemmas to deal with

Friend of mine cheats on his fiance, though i dont know her at the moment, will definitely know her in the future. He's using me as his partner in crime (alibi). I'm very uncomfortable and want to tell him off- what would you do?

Trip to the U.S.

Hi Everyone,

I'm gearing up for my trip to the U.S. Will be in San Francisco, D.C., New York and Austin over the 15 days. Look forward to meeting people i know, possible business opportunities and seeing all the latest stuff in the U.S. In my last trip (late 2000) I was most impressed by the following:-
1. The spirit in the bay area
2. The freedom that the u.s. has - intellectual and personal.
3. The tendency for most people to risk capital in return for equity
4. Good breakfasst and greater nightlife :-)

Friday, April 22, 2005

things to do - Qatar

1. walk on the corniche
2. chill at Cafe Lenotre
3. Jarir bookstore - the only good bookstore in town
4. Get invited to a private party
5. Do anything with the sea - amazing truly
6. Go sanduning - if you have the time the Inland sea
7. Sea line - the resort

Excellent marketing article - credit to Kristin Zhivago from Zhivago Marketing Partners

Kristin's writing is amazingly clear and helpful. I've really benefitted a lot from it and highly reccommend her.

What's wrong with your marketing? And what you can do about it

Your salespeople are telling everyone that your marketing efforts are irrelevant, and that they're not getting what they need. Your Web site is more of a budgetary black hole than a business booster. You believe there are untapped revenue opportunities for your company, but you haven't succeeded in exploiting them. You know you are supposed to be "branding" and "positioning" your company, but every time these vague concepts come up, there are huge dollar signs attached to them, and you have no way of knowing if spending the money will produce the desired result.

Sound familiar?

Welcome to the current state of software marketing

Why is marketing such a mess? Because you’re marketing people aren't regularly talking to real prospects and real customers, so the marketing pieces they produce don't answer the questions that these vitally important people are asking as a prelude to buying. Your Web site reflects your company's internal view of the world, instead of making it ridiculously easy for prospects and customers to take the actions they want to take. And your attempts at branding are falling short because you're focusing on changing the perceptions held by your customers instead of changing what actually created those perceptions in the first place: their expectations about companies in your market and your company's behavior as it attempts to meet those expectations. In other words, it's not what you say about yourself that matters. It's what you do for-or to-your customers that creates your reputation. Just by virtue of being in a particular industry, you are making implied promises to your customer. For example, people who buy boats expect them to float. People who buy software expect it to perform as advertised, to be updated regularly and properly supported. More importantly, they expect your software to be state-of-the-art, and to solve their business problems. They expect you to be the experts with the answers. If not you, who? Every time a prospect or a customer interacts with your company, you're either keeping the promises your customers expect you to keep, or you're breaking them. If you continually break them, you will someday be out of business. If you keep these promises better than your competitors, you will rise to the top of the heap.

How branding really works

Anyone can make promises. We all do it, all the time. In fact, you and your competitors are all making the same promises, in sales call after sales call. Guess what? The prospects aren't listening any more. They know everyone's sales speeches by heart. When your salesperson starts talking about "increased productivity, ROI, scalability, flexibility, user friendliness, and ease of integration," prospects think, "Blah, blah, and blah." They switch your salesperson off with their mental mute button. Software companies have been making these same promises for more than 30 years, and they've broken them all. Each prospect has personally experienced these disappointments, over and over.

The people you're selling to have one big question: "What's going to happen to me after I buy?" That's it. Show them exactly what the product does and how it does it. Tell them exactly what steps are involved in the installation. Tell them exactly how many hours of consulting will be required, what their IT people will have to do, how much it will cost, and when they can expect a return on their investment. Show them specific examples of how others have used the product and what happened. You need to continually uncover the promises that your prospects want you to keep (i.e., solving the business problems they're wrestling with).

Then, decide which of those promises you can fulfill most effectively, using the five basic resources at your disposal: your products, people, processes, policies and principles. How you utilize these resources can give you an edge-or cost you the sale. Objectively examine your strengths and weaknesses in these five areas. Rely on customer input, not the self-exonerating stories and rationalizations that circulate within the company and are accepted as true because they make everybody feel OK. Most software companies have decent people and products, but are weak in processes, principles, and policies. Their executives don't appreciate the power of customer-pleasing processes and so their policies are confusing and counterproductive. If you truly understand what your customers want, and you've examined how your products, people, processes, policies, and principles can meet these needs, you will have uncovered your own best competitive advantage. You will have identified the promise that you are able to keep, better than your competitors can.

This promise should become your brand. Everything that is associated with your company should make or reinforce this promise, and-even more importantly-everyone in your company must be motivated to do their part to keep the promise, every day. It's up to you, the CEO, to perpetually keep the whole company fixated on this goal. If you succeed, the normally dueling factions will begin working together more effectively, in spite of themselves. All decisions and actions will become more customer-driven. Your prospects and customers will start to experience your focus and dedication for themselves, making them more than happy to give you their money. Connecting marketers and your customers

How do you discover the promises that prospects and customers want you to keep? You start by setting up a mandatory customer contact program. This cannot be undertaken casually. You must insist that everyone in your marketing department (except for graphic designers) interview one to three customers a week, on the phone. You must insist that you get a weekly report on their findings. You need to be persistent about this, because we guarantee that your marketers will find hundreds of "perfectly valid reasons" for not making these calls, including, "Salespeople won't let me talk to customers," "I have too many deadlines," "No one will speak to me," and so on. Don't accept any of their protests. After just a few weeks, your marketers will start realizing how educational and empowering it is to talk to customers, and you will start to see trends. You will have data that can help you make the connection between what customers want and what your company can deliver. Your marketing people must ask open-ended questions and listen non-defensively. In other words, they should not correct any misperceptions nor defend the company as the customer is talking. After they've heard the customer’s entire story, if there is a solution available, they can direct the customer to that solution. Or, if it's something that needs to be fixed, they can always go back to the customer later to tell them that you've fixed a problem. It's a great excuse to send a customer good news. During the course of the phone conversation, they should ask: "What's your biggest problem right now? What was your buying process-who was involved and what were your biggest concerns? If you were the CEO of our company tomorrow, what's the first thing you would focus on?" (We've put together a Calling Guide that includes step-by-step instructions; just ask for it via an e-mail to Kristin Zhivago.)

When marketers talk to customers personally, they become more familiar with your technology. They come to understand the problems the customer is wrestling with. They realize what the company should be doing for the customer that it isn't doing now. They start to write copy that resonates with prospects and makes it easier for the salespeople to sell. Should they also talk to prospects as well as customers? Only if you don’t have any customers. It's far better to start with a successful sale and work backwards. Also, every one of your customers was once a prospect, and still is, even after the sale, because your competition is always trying to do anything and everything to woo them away. Customers are also excellent sources of information about your company, because they've experienced how your company has treated them in a variety of situations. Customers are surprisingly willing to spend time educating you. Helping you helps them.

Once your marketing people have made 20 or 30 of these calls, hold a whiteboard meeting where you gather the marketing, sales, and product marketing people in a room. Use the whiteboard to build a table that shows the steps in a typical buying process, who's involved, what their concerns are and how they're addressed. Click here for an example of what a finished table looks like. It may take all day to build the table. Don't be deterred - it's one of the best investments you'll ever make. You, the CEO, must run the meeting. The salespeople will start out with their arms folded, insisting that there is no such thing as a "typical buying process." That's because salespeople believe that their individual persuasive brilliance closes each sale. But if you look at all sales in aggregate, you will see that there is such a thing as a "complete buying process," starting with lead generation, moving through various interactions with customers, and coming to a conclusion.

Prospects may enter the buying process at different stages. But no matter where their buying process starts, your salesperson has to have the tools necessary to complete the sale from that point forward. As you start to build the table, your salespeople will realize that they are the real experts in the room when it comes to the buying process. They will also start to understand how much this table will help them. Soon they’ll relax and start actively contributing. In fact, if you're not careful, they'll take over the meeting. Note: Don't even bother to hold this meeting until your marketing people has interviewed a sufficient number of customers. Otherwise they will have nothing of significance to contribute. After they've interviewed customers, on the other hand, their contributions will include their natural empathy for the prospect's point of view, their ability to identify trends, and their talent for matching prospect needs with selling messages. So far we've talked about the power of a promise that you can keep, how to figure out what that promise is, and how to support the prospect's buying process. If you do these three things, you'll be way ahead of competitors who haven't yet pulled the plug on over-priced consultants who are attempting to give them an "image." Their salespeople will continue to go out into the field unprepared, depending on marketing people who are attempting to persuade people they've never talked to.

But if you're really want to break away from the pack, there's more you can do.

Putting your Web site to work

Take full advantage of the Web and the increased sophistication of pay-per-click search engine listings. Google AdWords Select and Overture have made it particularly easy to buy the best position in a given market. When someone's search uses a popular phrase, make sure they land on a page designed to specifically address that line of inquiry. Don't just send them to your home page. Offer them something in exchange for their contact information, such as a truly educational white paper or technical document. Send the leads to your inside sales force, and have them call the customer within 15 minutes of their registering on your site. One software company we know of, using these methods, actually spoke to the person who had just registered 40% of the time. Their appointment-to-registration ratio was 8%. The prospects getting the calls were pleasantly surprised to be contacted so quickly-at their "moment of need"-and were glad to cooperate. The inside salespeople made appointments for the outside salespeople. After the salesperson met with the prospect, he or she would get a follow-up, easy-to-fill-in-the-blanks e-mail questionnaire from the marketing person asking for a report on the meeting. This made it possible to track leads through to sales. Jill Snyder, a marketing person who ran just such a program, is out on her own now, helping software companies optimize their search engine and marketing efforts.

The Web has become the primary tool for buyers researching products. In our work for software firms, including Navision, Dow Jones, IBM, and hundreds of smaller companies, we have found that Web sites are built backwards. They start with existing, internally generated content. Then they attempt to give their audience a way to take action on the content. Instead, you should first determine the actions your audience wants to take and then support those actions with appropriate content.

In other words, avoid creating sites using the "Content is organized so actions can be taken on the content by an audience" method. Start using the “audience actions dictate which content is posted, and how" method.

What do they want to do? How do they want to do it? In what order? How can you make it easier for them? Be prepared to get rid of any "content babies” that content creators are fond of but that don't do much for your audience.

Give your site advanced search capability. Visitors should be able to enter multiple search terms and get just what they are looking for. Keep track of their search strings and improve your content so that failed search strings will work in the future. Give them an easy way to contact you if they don't find what they want. The slickest way to do this is with a Call Me button; they click on the button, enter their phone number, and someone from the company calls them back within a few minutes.

Use a number-cruncher dedicated to supporting marketing efforts even very small companies can benefit from ongoing statistical analysis of their marketing efforts. Marketing people are not number-crunchers by nature, so they put off this kind of work. If your company is too small to hire a full-time marketing statistician, ask your bookkeeper to help out. The person should perform all or some of the following activities:

1. Track each lead through to its final outcome (sale or failure)

2. Research the sales failures, and present a report to the marketing and sales managers so they can fix the problem and avoid it with future contacts

3. Compile and make sense of information gathered in customer interview calls

4. Analyze search engine results, including search phrases and resulting click-through ratios

5. Run and analyze online surveys

6. Gather information about competitors, then create and maintain a competitive table that realistically compares the strengths and weaknesses of each company and product in your market.

There's simply not enough accountability in marketing. Knowing the real numbers can help you make intelligent decisions about where to focus your efforts. You'll be able to introduce some reality into your otherwise steady diet of anecdotal, vague, agenda-driven and emotionally charged input.

Character counts

In our consulting work, we focus on two aspects of revenue generation: the market opportunities that a company should be taking advantage of, and the internal ability of the company to meet those challenges. Just a few pivotal changes can put the entire company on a new, revenue-producing track. None of this is difficult, but it does require character and discipline. You actually have to change what you are doing and make those changes permanent. The execution principles described in this article are some of the tools needed to make those changes. Today's buyers are savvy and skeptical, but they still have problems that need to be solved. They are more than happy to give money to the companies that will really, truly help them. It's your job to find out what those problems are, and to then direct your company so it can solve them - efficiently, thoroughly, and profitably.

(Posted by Kristin Zhivago, Zhivago Marketing Partners, Inc., October 1, 2002)

PanIIT Article- excuse the length

The Middle East: Opportunities behind the veil?

Fellow IITians across the world must be continuously hearing about the Middle East from the political context. The author would like to submit that while the Middle East might continue to be a source of increasingly political upheavals, it will also become an increasingly vibrant business destination and of particular significance to technology businesses. These upheavals are being driven by the irreversible forces of development, democracy and education.

Over the past many years I’ve had the pleasure of being based in the Middle East - one of the most misunderstood regions in the world. I’ve actually had visitors who were shocked out of their wits on landing at Dubai airport and more importantly on being taken out for a beer!!

Firstly some basics about the place itself. The Persian Gulf is a strategic region comprising of six countries and a combined population of close to 30mn people and is home to half the worlds known reserves of oil and gas. A casual visit to these countries during the years 1980 – 1990 would have left the visitor used to bustling metropolises like New York, London or even Detroit suitably unimpressed. The region had limited skyscrapers, no means of mass transportation, no facilities for cutting edge research and very basic facilities for healthcare. Today these economies have put themselves on the irreversible path towards modernity and at least the initial impression is impressive. I wanted to put a few key points of difference for the casual reader to help them understand the region better and have tried to do this by contrasting salient points in the region with that of the United States of America – the country which probably most readers are familiar with.

The Political System. The Persian Gulf is comprised of six independent countries. However unlike the United States whose political system is democratic, all countries here are absolute monarchies with all powers concentrated in the hands of the King and passed on from him to his sons. I must stress here that the system here is of absolute monarchy as opposed to the United Kingdom where the monarchy is symbolic. The monarchies here take ruling seriously and are sensitive to the aspirations of their people. Different rulers in the region have different temperaments which are clearly noticeable in the various arms of the government used to implement their policies. What this means for an expatriate executive doing business here is that decisions here can move at a tremendous pace and can also stall for months on end depending on the long terms views and aspirations of the ruling family. While some projects might seem ambitious and a waste of money to some expatriates the rulers view them as making a statement to put their countries on the map of the world similar to how an executive would consider the purchase of his first Rolex or Mont Blanc. Examples of these initiatives abound and are symbolic of differing motivations of the rulers e.g. Dubai’s focus on the property side of things – the Palm island visible from space to the drive to build two of the worlds tallest buildings to the worlds biggest mall, Qatar’s focus on large capacity industrial projects, Media (Al Jazeera), Education (Education City). Understanding the political environment is important because the expatriate really must make an effort to understand not just that power is concentrated in the hands of a few but also that he/she really must understand and appreciate the motivations and aspirations of each of these individuals so as to suitably align himself with the same to benefit his organization.

The Demographic Profile. The second main thing to note is the demographic pattern across the Persian gulf. The region has been traditionally dependent on an expatriate work force. While specifics of the demographics vary a rough ball park figure would be that in every country half of the resident population would be expatriates with an even larger proportion in the workforce. Its also important to note that as opposed to an immigrant society like the United States the Persian Gulf countries by and large have no formal naturalization policies and hence most expatriates are temporary workers with the period of the temporary stay extending from 6 months to in some cases 40+ years. Imagine if in the United States every time you went for a meeting you were more likely to meet a foreigner and this would give you an insight into the unique challenge in getting things done. Foreign companies doing business here are frequently frustrated by the non-committal nature, frequent churn and reluctance of expatriates to take firm decisions for which they can be accountable.

The GDP mix. The United States GDP is primarily a services driven one (73%) followed distantly by industry (26%) and further away by agriculture (1.4%). The Persian gulf – Industrial (59%), Services (37%) and agriculture (4%) [1]. To give a quick example of how big these differences are – while in the U.S. the hedge funds, investment advisors, stock brokers and investment bakers etc. make up large sizeable numbers of the finance world, the majority of the non-banking financial activity in the Middle East continues to be Project finance and lending. Similarly professions such as research, higher education, insurance, venture capital, consulting, public relations are in their infancy or barely present in the region. What this translates to for foreign companies looking to expand into these regions is that there is an incredible reluctance from both companies and high net worth individuals to compensate professionals in these sectors based on the same metrics in the western world. It requires a rigorous approach and in some cases quite creative structuring to ensure that the quality is maintained and revenue yield not compromised on.

The present. Having said the above, I thought I would give some good news to readers which might encourage them to do business with the Gulf. This really is the best time to do business with the Middle East. The oil prices are at an all time high and my friends in the commodities business tell me that we should expect them to stay that way for the foreseeable future. While earlier the Arab world used to primarily invest in the North American capital markets, they are increasingly looking to deploy that capital in the region to fuel its development and create similar opportunities here. The royal families without an exception are transitioning to a new generation which is primarily western educated and where key decision makers are adamant to see that their countries are as modern if not more so than the west. Entire sectors are being created which were absent earlier. An under current to the embracing of western business sensibilities is also the embracing of western values albeit in slightly modified versions. These range from simple acts such as the setup of pension authorities across most of the Gulf countries to more radical examples such as the removal of media censorship in Qatar leading to Al-Jazeera channel based there which has on multiple occasions criticized different regional monarchies and their policies.

The biggest opportunity today for foreign companies is to work alongside the local rulers and help them in realizing their objectives thereby creating wealth for themselves as well as the region. This truly is an example of a win-win situation. The region lacks expertise and most importantly human capital and the western world today lacks an innovation like the steam engine, electricity, the internet etc. that will create wealth and jobs for their populations in the near future. In the process the cross pollination of ideas and values will help both cultures better appreciate each other and should make the world a better place to be.

To conclude an interesting thought. As time goes by I am convinced that the Middle East at least for the next few years will continue to be a supply driven economy Vs. the rest of the world which has made the transition to one which is demand driven. The main reason for the same is that for the past few decades this region was artificially isolated from the rest of the world. There is a pent up demand for goods and services from the local population. While the demand for goods can easily be filled given the huge capacities our manufacturers in China seem to have on tap, the gap in the demand for local services is difficult and dangerous to fill so easily. Governments are taking a studied but determined steps to lay the framework for the creation and regulation of multiple sectors and this is really where they need the partnership of the rest of the world.


[1] CIA – The World Factbook

If not debt, then equity?

Given that my last post discourages entrepreneurs from raising debt apart from a few specific cases namely:- 1. Very high ROCE low risk bus...