The Best Part of Surge 2012

Some snippets from Nasscom Surge 2012.

C K Ranganathan of CavinKare, during the keynote was one of the best parts of NASSCOM Surge 2012. Here are some snippets from his speech.

On The Importance of Product Differentiation

  • If you do not differentiate, you die
  • Higher the differentiation, better the profit margin (85%  for highly differentiated products vs 7% for marginally differentiated products in their portfolio)

On Hiring The Right People

  • Recruiting is key
  • Hire for attitude
  • Find the right people for the right job
  • Don’t get people who switch jobs every 2 or 3 years, since it takes 2-3 years for some one to learn the business and show results. If they leave in that time frame, how do you know whether they left on their own or found wanting. He was talking about manager level hires.
  • Mr Ranganathan mentioned that careful hiring and development are the keys to innovation and differentiation
  • At fhe end oc the day it is a talent war

On Investment and Continuous Innovation

Investment  in R&D and relentless incremental innovation are key to differentiate your products from others. He talked about how they continued to talk to customers, find problems and come up with solutions. He mentioned how they worked hard on improving the shelf life (without refrigeration) of their milk product to 120 days without any preservatives. It was a process as well as product innovation.

On Leveraging Technology

He talked about leveraging technology to improve products. How they monitored, understood why milk goes bad. How they used GPRS to monitor temperatures in refrigerated vans and outlets and found that they switch off the refrigerators to save fuel/electricity.

He also talked about front end automation through PDAs, Sales automation, Ad savings through analytics. It takes 37 materials to make shampoo and said that he “Cant imagine doing business without IT”.

He had no fancy slides, no buzzwords, no cliches. He explained in simple language what it takes to hire the best, innovate and differentiate.  It was a real treat.

Causes of Failures

In his book , Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk, and Create Powerful Strategies, Benjamin Gilad talks about causes of failure.

Sticking to obsolete internal conviction even though the market evidence points otherwise, seems to be one of the most common causes of failure.

It is actually a spiral.  One leads to another and if you do not correct, you tend to spiral down. It happened with Kodak with camera business, Nokia and RIM with smartphones and a host of other companies.

Sometimes it is not just the management. It may be engineering and marketing having different views on how product should evolve. Edwin Lau is Director of Market Intelligence for Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business describes this challenge in this interview.

I’ve always believed that if you have data as a common language, you can have a conversation. That seems to work well in an engineering-based company, as engineers tend to be more logically oriented. As marketers and researchers we want to use sound consumer input as a basis for engaging with the engineers, and to have consumer insight shape product development. To do that, we have to bring the research to the team with a different perspective, “here are some numbers we can play with.” This tends to start the discussion.

So how do you gather market evidence? How do you detect these early signals and watch them? How do you discover information that can help you prevent these problems. I like the concept of “data as a common language” inside an organization.

Logic of Writing

 The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto (Logic of Writing)

we can check if the pyramid grouping is correct by the following rules:
• Ideas at any level in the pyramid must always be summaries of the ideas grouped below them
• Ideas in each grouping must always be of the same kind of idea
• Ideas in each grouping must always be logically ordered

A lot of good advice in this small summary.   Here is another suggestion how to divide a whole into parts.

When you divide a whole into parts, you must make sure the pieces you produce are
• mutually exclusive of each other and
• collectively exhaustive in terms of the whole.
• ruthlessly limited all parts to the underlying logic of the effect or category.

I was listening to a podcast where they were talking about the ability to present information well – in writing. The reader should have the choice of consuming the written information at multiple levels – from very high to very low. Pyramid principle seems to teach how to do that well.

Here is a link to a good presentation of Pyramid Principle.

Experimenting With An Event Called Insights

Planning to try an event called Insights,  for the Chennai TiE startup SIG event in mid July.  Would love your feedback. Here are our current thoughts:

1. Who Can Participate?

  1. Startups making presentations.
  2. Business Advisers – a group of Angels, VCs, startup mentors and coaches
  3. Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs  – Development, Marketing, Sales, Business Development  and Finance People

2. How does it work?

Presentations are divided into batches. Typically each batch consists of 3 presentations. Number of batches depends on the time available for the event. In this we may have 2 batches (about 1.5 hours each)

Each startup is given a slot to present their business and ideas  to the entire audience. In addition to presenting, they can ask for specific advise from the group.

After a batch finishes their presentations (typically three), the entire audience is divided into groups – one group per startup. Each group  deliberates and comes up with suggestions, recommendations and answers to the questions posed by the startup.

After deliberations, every one congregates in one place and one representative  from each group presents their findings and any advice they have for the startup.

3. What do the startups get?

  • You get to present in front a friendly attentive group (think of this as your informal advisers)
  • You get the collective intelligence of a group of experts and peers
  • You get to understand how their startup is being perceived ( by participating during discussions)
  • You get specific advice/suggestions from a peer group
  • They get a chance to get some validation for their business idea and get any critical inputs

4. What do the audience get?

  • If you are an angel or VC, you get a chance to listen to various startups
  • If you are an entrepreneur, you learn from these discussions.
  • You get to wear the shoes of the startup and think through their business opportunities and challenges
  • You get  a chance to share your knowledge and help your peers (and in future, get help from them as well)

We are trying to leverage the collective intelligence of the group and build a support community for entrepreneurs.

Let me know what you think.


I participated in something similar almost a decade ago the SF Bay Area as a member of the audience and liked it very much. They had two batches of three startups each. Due to a large number of ideas, they gave each start up two groups.

Attributes of Great Innovators

I just did a Google search for “Attributes of Great Innovators” and collected a list. Here is the list categorized by sources and a few of my comments.

Five Discovery Skills that Distinguish Great Innovators

  1. Associating
  2. Questioning
  3. Observing
  4. Networking
  5. Experimenting

Clayton M. Christensen thinks skills 2-5 support the Association skill. The ability to connect the dots, see uncommon uses of common things, cross pollinating ideas from different disciplines distinguish innovators from others. But that is just the starting point. Taking these ideas, validating them and experimenting with them ultimately produces innovative products and services.

Mitch Ditkoff of Idea Champions has a much bigger list. There are some overlaps.

  1. Challenges Status Quo
  2. Curious
  3. Self Motivated
  4. Visionary
  5. Entertains the Fantastic
  6. Takes Risks
  7. Peripatetic
  8. Playful and Humorous
  9. Self-accepting
  10. Makes New Connections
  11. Reflective
  12. Recognizes patterns
  13. Tolerates ambiguity
  14. Committed to Learning
  15. Balances intuition and analysis
  16. Situationally Collaborative
  17. Formally Articulate
  18. Resilient
  19. Persevering
  20. Flexible/Adaptive

Most of these are self explanatory. Peripatetic ( Changes work environments as needed. Wanders, walks or travels to inspire fresh thinking. Given to movement and interaction.) is one my favorite one.

Wander around, observe, question, reflect, balance intuition with analysis, tolerate ambiguity and make new connections.  Kind of like that.

Go to the google search link and find out more about innovators. I am sure you can identify with some of the qualities. Let me know whether we should add more items to this list.



Intelligent Dissent vs Passive Agreement

Certain company cultures discourage dissent, especially with people higher up in the hierarchy. Others  allow dissent, to encourage different points of view.

Do you permit intelligent dissent in your team?

Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

How do you build a culture of intelligent dissent in your company or team?  How do you train people to keep emotion out of it? How do you capture the information generated by these exchanges?

If you are company building products, a culture that encourages intelligent dissent is essential to your survival.

Why Do You Need Market Intelligence?

What a great Market Intelligence Managers do:

“Some of the greatest challenges facing CEOs and global organizations today are understanding market growth, identifying new business opportunities, facing new competition and managing changing customer needs. The best market intelligence managers are able to address such issues by identifying new business opportunities in adjacent or completely new markets, preempting competitor product launches and ensuring that management constantly hears the voice of the customer. “

By end of this article, you will get a sense of why you need market intelligence. Even if you do not have a manager for market intelligence, these functions need to be performed by different teams in your company like sales, marketing, customer support. This is known as embedded intelligence since it is a function embedded as part of sales/marketing/support. So here are some questions:

  • How do you gather Market Intelligence? Do you have market intelligence function in your organization?
  • What tools and processes do you use to identify new business opportunities in adjacent or new markets?
  • Do you think Market Intelligence is needed for only large companies?

Indian Angel Network – A Few Facts

Notes from a Presentation by Vidya and comments from a couple of Angels from the Indian Angel Network (IAN) heard at the Headstart event in Chennai:

Indian Angel Network:

  • Averaged one investment per month in 2012
  • Has about 200 angels in its network
  • Funded OrangeScape, a Chennai based fast growing Cloud Company
  • Typically invests anywhere from 25 lakhs to 5 crores. Their sweet spot is around 2.5 crores
  • Is sector agnostic
  • Has many investors with Chennai connections
  • Has investors from India, USA and Europe
  • Investments of less than 75 lakhs are on a fast track
  • Don’t need the founders to be college graduates (in answer to a question from audience)
  • Some times split large investments into two phases (part of it to cover risk and part of it for growth)
  • Provide both strategic and operational direction
  • Provide smart capital (not only money but help in growing your business)
  • Provide a large contact base for business owners to get help from (connections of 200+ angels)

During discussions, they gave some guidelines on where they invest with respect to city based angels and VCs.

< 1 crore rupes (roughly US $200,000) – seed or local angel

1- 5 crores – IAN

> 5 crores – VC firms

I am hoping to get the presentation from Vidya and link it here. Were you at the event? Did I miss anything significant about IAN? Please add your input and thoughts in the comments.

BookLog: Early Warning Using Competitive Intelligence

From Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk, and Create Powerful Strategies by Benjamin Gilad.

There is a process that brings management closer to external focus. It is called competitive early warning. It helps companies decipher early signs of trouble before they mushroom into a full-scale crisis and identify early signs of opportunities before everyone else sees them. It makes planning more realistic and raises the prospects of success for strategies.

LinkLog: Metaphors and Stories

I was researching “Environmental Scanning”.  Our tools attempt to  solve the problem of Information Discovery.  I came upon this article on Metaphors and Stories.

When you start working on a new product or business, uncertainty looms large. How do you handle uncertainty? We often suffer from a couple of problems.

A system of thinking that attempts to deal with uncertainty by identifying concrete targets and milestones, often too early in a project when thinking is incomplete.

We intuitively know what we are trying to achieve but have a deep insecurity coming from our incapacity to articulate and validate our intuition.

This article talks about how Metaphors and Stories can help.

How do you handle uncertainty? What tools or processes do you use to cope?