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Monday, July 30, 2012

Every Job Is A Sales Job

12:16 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal 3 comments
All jobs are sales jobs and everyone has to sell. The things that change are how often and how much of selling you have to do. Sales is one common aspect that can be found in every job - from accountant to software engineer to CEO to the Prime Minister of a country. Now, selling does not have to be in exchange for money. You are selling if you are pitching an idea or trying to get someone's buy-in or explaining why you did what you did. You got the idea - everyone sells. 


I have played many roles throughout my career - software developer, project manager, consultant and business developer. The one common thing that I had to do in all these roles was selling - either to my peers or my juniors or senior management or clients. And this is true for all of us. We all sell - at one or the other point in the day. And if you think that you just work on your computer and are not really involved in selling anything, then you are wrong. You might not realize that you are selling, but you certainly are. If your job requires you to be in contact with another human being, then you have got to sell. 

Everyone thinks that their job is important and that others should learn about and understand it as well. Software engineers think that their jobs are very important since software is changing the world and so everyone should learn how to program. Finance guys think that they make the world go round as they deal with the flow of money. HR guys think that they ought to get more importance as people are the most important asset of an organization in this information age. The list can go on and on. However, in my view, sales is the only true horizontal job function, that everyone needs to learn.

Considering the amount of selling all of us have to do, it is a pity how less effort is put into building sales skills in our education system. I am not suggesting that everyone should be turned into a salesman, but considering the importance of sales in our everyday lives, it is an important [life] skill to learn and work upon. I am also not suggesting that we try to build sales skills like the ones of a stereotypical pushy car salesman. I have noticed that the best salesmen are good at human psychology, and I propose that is what we try to learn.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Does Invite-Only Registration Make Sense For Your Product?

5:03 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
Lots of tech startups are popping up nowadays launching new products; most of them seem to opt for invite-only registration process. I couldn't help but think if these guys have really thought it through or are they just copying others blindly. While in some cases it does make sense for a product to have invite-only registrations, I do not think that all products need to follow this approach. Before you decide whether such a closed registration process makes sense for your product, you need to analyze its pros and cons. 

PROS
  • I think having invite-only registration works best when you do not really have a working product. It helps you in getting the users even before your [minimal viable] product is ready to be launched and used 
  • We all know that first few releases are full of bugs and problems. Invite-only registrations ensure that only a small number of users get affected with these problems. This helps keep the bad publicity in check
  • Another good reason for an invite-only registration is when your architecture or systems are not robust enough to bear the load of more users. And till the time your application isn't ready, you would prefer to collect the email ids of users instead of turning them away
  • Such registrations can create a shortage of supply and in doing so can help in generating buzz around the product. Having said that I have seen this work better for more famous products. For almost all startups that I know personally, that have implemented this strategy, it did not really help much if at all

CONS
  • The biggest problem that I see with invite-only registrations is that they stop users from reaching out to your product. The fact is that users opened your website or app to see what it does or what it will do. Now instead of showing the product if you ask them for their email id so that you can reach out to them in a few weeks or months, they are going to get disappointed. In addition to that most of the users are not going to want to just share their email id with a stranger just so you could spam them later. They need to see something to share their contact. Quid pro quo. Though I do not have the data to prove this, I think for most products with invite-only registrations actually lead to fewer registrations than if the product had open registration. Sure, the user might get disappointed seeing the early versions of the product. But that is going to happen anyway when all they see is a message asking them to share their email id and come back later. At least in the case of open registrations users will share their email id readily in order to see what the product is all about
  • Look, there are millions of web and mobile apps out there. It is already hard to make someone reach out to your product. Why do you wanna make it even harder by adding invite-only registrations? If you think that if you opt for open registration process users will start rushing in and crash your application, then first of all wake up buddy, you are not that popular, and second of all that is a problem you really want to have. If I have to choose between less users with no applications crashes and more users with application crashes, I will happily go for the latter. Users are generally more forgiving than we think. They understand that new applications have problems. 

The general trend nowadays is to have invite-only registrations for web products. While it does make sense for some new product launches, I believe it actually hurts most of them, making users turn away. I think product managers/entrepreneurs need to think through and make sure that invite-only registrations make sense for their product, instead of following a trend blindly that can cost you your product. Probably, instead of going for one now they should go for it later in the product growth phase or may be never. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vertical Discovery Engines

4:27 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , No comments
The internet is vast. With millions of websites and now hundreds of thousands of apps, there is just too much out there. With so much data and information available on the internet, getting the stuff that you need has been and still is one of the biggest problems of the web. While search engines such as Google and Bing do help us with this discovery problem, they only solve a part of it.
 

The biggest drawback that these search engines have is that they are generic in nature. While these are good at crawling web pages and searching links, they can only do so much. To be more effective these search engines will need to understand domain-specific aspects not just for searching but for consuming as well. This leaves a huge gap to exploit for vertical specific players, not just the existing ones (such as Pandora - and its Music Genome Project - in music, Netflix in movies, and Amazon in books) but new entrants as well. 


Good News For New Players 
While people will always ask new players, "What if Google gets into it?"(to be honest, I think it is a really stupid question to ask in current times), the reality is that it is not easy for a giant such as Google to get into domain specific discovery game. Their technical, infrastructural and cultural baggage does not allow them to change, at least not fast enough. On the other hand,  vertical players can take advantage of their position and help users not just with discovery but close the loop with consumption as well. 
  • Discovery - Vertical players can allow discovery of the entity based on domain specific attributes. For example, in music it can be the song, artists, albums, genres etc. Similarly for deals, it can be location, type, number of people, cost, etc. In addition to that, vertical players are in a much better position to provide answers to search queries, instead of coming back with links to webpages. 
  • Consumption - This is where the vertical players can provide additional value - the cherry on the top - and get far ahead of the generic search players. By providing users to consume the information as well, these players can close the loop. Taking our discovery examples again, in case of music, such engines can allow for listening to songs and downloading them; and for deals, these can allow users to purchase them. 

We can already see growth of vertical discovery engines such as Indeed.com and Kayak.com. While these currently focus on discovery, I will not be surprised if they start closing the loop at their end as well. In fact, Indeed.com has already started doing that by allowing users to not just search jobs but apply for some of them as well. While this certainly does not mean that general search players will fade away, it sure does mean that with growing pool of information and assets on the internet, we will see growth of more vertical engines, that will not just help users with discovery but with consumption as well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Sources Of Competitive Advantage On The Web

8:35 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , 4 comments
The question "What if Google or Facebook develops something similar?" will be answered very differently today than if it were asked 5 years ago. Today, it is not just Google or Facebook that can do something similar, but hundreds or thousands of other developers, startups, and companies can also pretty much make something exactly similar to what you are doing on the web. 

Sources of competitive advantage in the technology world (particularly web) have changed in the past few years, and, off course, the old sources are very different than the new ones. These changes are much more stark between the Web 1.0 and current web-based companies, and have been pioneered by modern online successes such as Fab, Pinterest, Foursquare and Twitter. Following is a brief of both, old and new, sources of these competitive advantages in the world of internet. 

OLD FACTORS
  • Technology - With the proliferation and adoption of open source technologies and cloud computing - unless you are a company like Google that has some kind of hard to replicate technical IP - technology is no longer a source of competitive advantage anymore. Almost every company has access to similar technologies and platforms, and most of the online initiatives do not require super complex algorithms. 
  • Business Model - Dell was able to get ahead of its established competitors because of its business model. It was revolutionary in its time, so much so that even Apple copied it later. While it worked then, it is rare nowadays for web-based companies to have a strikingly different business model that can be used as a competitive advantage. Pretty much all technology [web-based] companies are using existing business models, where they apply incremental improvements or exploit a niche. 
  • Suppliers and Partners - APIs have revolutionized the whole supplier/partner relationship model. While such relationships are still established and managed the old way for bigger ventures, APIs can allow you to put together a working (and probably scalable) project in order to get started. Some of the reasons for this change are the rising importance [and base] of user data and advancements in data-processing technologies, along with the rise of mashups and app economy. 

NEW FACTORS
  • Design / User Experience - One of the major changes in recent times has been the emergence of design as a key competitive advantage. User-centered design and user experience have been exploited by new companies to differentiate from the incumbents. This has not just led to emergence of beautiful but also powerful desktop-class web applications. Technological improvements in the field of browser technology, cloud computing and mobile computing have helped in design improvements, and players like AirBnB, Fab and Pinterest have leveraged them well. 
  • User Base / Network Effect - Most of the recently successful web companies exploit the social aspect of human nature and leverage the network effects. This has now become one of the most important and hard to replicate competitive advantage for web-based companies. In fact, it has become so important that it is now considered one of the primary factors for valuing early-stage stage and private web-based companies. 
  • Focused Approach - Just because Google or Facebook can develop something, does not mean that they will. And even if they do, that might not sit at the core of their business. And in addition to that, their existing baggage does not allow them to move fast enough as far as new decisions and changes are concerned. On the other hand, smaller companies are much more nimble and focused. Instead of focusing on 10 different things, they have only one thing to worry about, and a small number of people to get onboard for new ideas, which makes them much more nimble than the Googles of this world. 

These are some of the factors that came to my mind; I am sure there are others that have not been captured here. The bottom-line is that the factors that give competitive advantage to organizations on the web have changed drastically. And if you look closely enough, you will observe that these have turned towards softer aspects from their more hard predecessors. I believe these also reflect our growth as economy from manufacturing-oriented to services-oriented one to now a more experience-oriented one.