Monday, July 31, 2017

Management Mantras for Startups - Waste Not, Vacate Not

Image credit:
Waste Not, Vacate Not.

hen Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, started out Amazon, he, along with Shel Kaphan, programmer and a founding employee, used sixty-dollar doors from Home Depot as desks. It was the demand of frugality. More than a decade later, when Amazon was a multi-billion dollar behemoth, conference-room tables were still made of door-desks. It reflected its CEO's adamant belief in "frugality." A leadership principle at Amazon states that "Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention." In case you have been living in a world without news, you would know that Amazon's market capitalization, as of July 23rd, was a shade under US$500 billion, its trailing twelve-month revenues in excess of US$140 billion, and has been growing at an annual rate of more than 20%.

All this about Amazon's culture of frugality are captured in Brad Stone's brilliant book on the company, "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon."
"Bezos met me in an eighth-floor conference room and we sat down at a large table made of half a dozen door-desks, the same kind of blond wood that Bezos used twenty years ago when he was building Amazon from scratch in his garage. The door-desks are often held up as a symbol of the company’s enduring frugality."
They set up shop in the converted garage of Bezos’s house, an enclosed space without insulation and with a large, black potbellied stove at its center. Bezos built the first two desks out of sixty-dollar blond-wood doors from Home Depot, an endeavor that later carried almost biblical significance at Amazon, like Noah building the ark.
"Door-Desk award, given to an employee who came up with “a well-built idea that helps us to deliver lower prices to customers”—the prize was a door-desk ornament. Bezos was once again looking for ways to reinforce his values within the company."
"Conference-room tables are a collection of blond-wood door-desks shoved together side by side. The vending machines take credit cards, and food in the company cafeterias is not subsidized. When a new hire joins the company, he gets a backpack with a power adapter, a laptop dock, and some orientation materials. When someone resigns, he is asked to hand in all that equipment—including the backpack." [The Everything Store, by Brad Stone]

So what does this have to do with Flipkart?

Flipkart has been in business for (almost) ten years now (it was founded in October 2007). It has raised more than $4 billion dollars from investors, the most recent round of funding closing in early 2017. The Indian e-commerce pioneer however has yet to make a single new paisa in profit. In its fiscal year ending March 31st, 2016, its losses doubled to ₹2,306 crores (approximately US$350 million). Keep that in mind as you go through this post.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Natural Enmity - Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra

Natural Enmity - Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra [Book 1], by Ashay Naik

shay Naik's book, "Natural Enmity - Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra [Book 1]", is a fascinating and scholarly commentary on perhaps the most famous of all animal-tale anthologies.

The Panchatantra, like much of great Indian literature, is multi-layered. It is a fable told through animal stories. It is a brilliant exhibition of the frame-within-a-frame storytelling concept, outdone perhaps only by the Mahabharata. This style went westwards, resulting the Thousand and One Nights and later the Canterbury Tales. The Pancatantra lends itself to a simple reading and interpretation, making it ideal for children to read and enjoy when young. As one grows older, and hopefully, wiser, and if the interest should awaken itself, the same text then reveals its myriad facets to the reader. The Pancatantra is perhaps the greatest exemplar of this aspect of Indian literature.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Flipkart and the Art of Advertising Mishaps - 1

n the age of startups, especially in the e-commerce space, where money is plentiful - or till a a year or so back, used to be - the only metric that seems to matter for the marketing function is "spend". Not ROI, CPA, CLV, etc... Splurging money on advertising became an end in itself. Where the mantra to success is growth, unencumbered by thoughts of the bottom line, any kind of growth will do. Therefore, growth in "eyeballs", "page-views", "app downloads", and other metrics of "engagement" - any and all numbers will do. Into this heady mix of unaccountability, if you then throw in lack of experience, lack of competence, and rank immaturity, you get a series of marketing disasters of the kind that headlined Flipkart's slow descent into what seems like inevitable irrelevance. One still hopes it will recover to give a creditable account of itself in its existential battle against Amazon. Then there is Alibaba and WalMart waiting in the wings. One hopes.

In this series of short posts, I will look at just a few marketing and advertising fiascoes at the company.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mahabharata, Book Two - Ambition, by Somdip Datta

s there a new way to present the Mahabharata? A story as epic and grand as the Mahabharata has inspired the great and the devoted alike, and sadly the mediocre and agenda-driven also, in finding ever new canvases to paint the story on.

Just as Amruta Patil found a graphic palette on which to paint her interpretation of a part of the Mahabharata, Somdip has adopted the graphic route, but given it a digitl avatar. The result is nothing short of stunning.

Book Two, Ambition, is the second book in a series of five planned books. The first one was Seeds of War, while the remaining titles are Riches and Rags, Hide and Seek, the Civil War, and the Uncivil War.