Suckers for simplicity

Let me lay it out straight in the beginning, we Indians are big time suckers for simplicity in others. It is not that we ourselves aspire to be simple but attribute unnecessary importance to it in others. Just that virtue is enough for us to weave magical stories around a person and see him as a messiah who will emancipate us from all evils. In this child like wide eyed innocent chase of simplicity, we forget the qualities that are really necessary to do someone’s job.

Case in point, Arvind Kejriwal and AAP. Folklores were weaved around AK’s simplicity and his party’s candidates, on a daily basis we were bombarded with their spartan lifestyle stories. How come it occurred to no one to ask the questions that really mattered? Is being a simpleton really enough to be an effective administrator? How well did these people perform in their previous jobs? What extraordinary achievements did they unlock in their past endeavors? Do they have the skills to govern and deliver? Instead of asking these pertinent questions we were wallowing in their hallowed simplicity.

A simpleton(aam admi) should not try to be a leader. Leadership is not for the faint hearted, it is a game of thrones. A leader is someone who tries to move a collective group of people towards a single goal and when there is a group of people there will always be mismatches, heart burns and politics. An effective leader should know how to deal with this and make the right calls most of the time, an aam admi is not suited for this role. If someone plays this role well, he is not an aam admi because not everyone is born a leader nor has the leadership skills.

Yes, leading a simplistic lifestyle trumps a hedonistic one governed by avarice any day but put the full stop there, it does not translate into one being an able administrator or being at the top of one’s job. I would any day prefer a Ferrari driving, Armani wearing, Gucci slipping chief minister who has a vision and track record than a slipper wearing one who has absolutely no idea how to govern and deliver.

Government regulation of muliplexes

Recently I read in the newspaper that Karnataka government is planning to regulate multiplex movie ticket prices. This sounds like sweet music to ears right? Why would someone not be happy to pay a lower price for anything?

I feel this move smacks of licence raj. First of all, government has absolutely no role in regulating non essential private businesses over what/how much they charge. This throttles innovation and hinders entrepreneurship. Government should foster free market rather than be the antithesis of it. If the general public decide that movie ticket prices are exorbitant, either they will stop watching movies at multiplexes or some enterprising chap will come up with a plan to provide them this service at a sweet price point. By introducing artificial constraints, government is strangling the entrepreneurial spirit and hurling us back to the hey days of socialism where having a phone connection was considered a privilege. More the constraints in a market, lesser the participants, fewer innovations, lesser economic activity, fewer jobs and capital movement.

Secondly, does it look like our government has less tasks on it’s plate that it wants to add one more, trivial, non impacting regulation to it’s todo list? What do you think is more important, providing basic education, health and security to it’s people or investing time and energy in regulating ticket prices in multiplexes? Would not the government be more wise in exerting it’s authority on bettering our public health system or libraries?

As soon as government starts meddling in the affairs of a private business, it is not those who excel at innovation that triumph but people who kick ass in playing politics and boot licking. With all it’s flaws, a free market economy trumps a regulated one any day.

Future is in the photos

I was going through the VC interaction posted by Everpix guys. If you go through the letters, you see this repeated a lot, “You guys are in a crowded space which the biggies(Facebook, Dropbox, Google, Apple, etc) are after”. Everpix is/was a service to store and organize photos. Why is this such a hot space?

Take a peek at the acquisitions carried out by Facebook. Can you spot a pattern? A common recurring theme around these companies is photo sharing, image recognition, mobile and analytics. As mobile devices/digital cameras become ubiquitous, internet connectivity becomes omnipresent, people are going to upload snaps/videos in ever increasing numbers. Photos/videos reveal a lot about you without you consciously intending to. A stream of photos that you upload on a regular basis is as good as a life journal that you are not explicitly writing. How about mining this information to show relevant ads?

Your photo reveals that you wear spectacles, show eye wear ads to you. Your photo stream shows that you regularly take overseas vacation, you are a hot target for the travel industry. Your photos suggest that you have an entry level car and you tell Facebook that you got a new job, time to show the next segment car ads in your wall? In most of the photos you wear denim and t-shirt, maybe Levi’s would be very interested in you.

Think about it, the amount of information a stream of photo gives out about you is endless. This is a gold mine for companies that want to tailor ads for you.

Path of least resistance

I fractured my leg and Pavitra wanted to send the x-ray to my brother in law who is a doctor. He insisted on her not e-mailing but sending it through WhatsApp. I do not use WhatsApp because I do not have a smartphone(sic, sic) but almost all of my friends are on WhatsApp these days. What is the differentiator between these new day instant messengers versus the dinosaurs(Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc)? I would says it is the path of least resistance. On boarding is quick and easy, they do not suffer from feature bloat, using them is a child’s play, you need not be a tech guru to figure out “How do I do this?”.

Path of least resistance is a tenant everyone in a product company should live by. Take for example a signup form. Given a sign up form with two fields versus one that takes gazillion of fields, which do you think will appeal more to your users? Now you may say my product needs a phone number field to send sms. Ask yourself this, do I need to take this field during sign up or can I ask the user to enter their phone number during the course of usage? When you sign up users, do you really need the confirm password field? Or, for that matter, do you really need users to sign up to use the product? A few days back, I was carrying out comparative analysis of a product on a couple of e-com sites. I had different sites open, one of them allowed me to sign up using gmail while the other required a custom sign up. I did not even bother with the one that asked for the custom sign up and went on with the one that allowed me to login through gmail.

Can a product compete in a deeply entrenched market with the only differentiator being it’s simplicity? I would say so. Take a look at the mobile instant messenger market.The new kids on the block have successfully waged a battle against the Goliaths and have emerged on the winning side. They have done this by being laser focused on simplicity.

When we are part of a product, use it day in and day out, we become so entwined with it that we can use it with our eyes closed. But our customers are not on the same boat, some usage patterns which might seem obvious to us might feel like navigating through a maze to our customers. It is extremely important that we keep reminding ourselves of this each and every day.

AAP, an Indian e-com startup

There have been multitude of blog posts/tweets comparing AAP to a startup. I am not sure about the comparison in general but there are eerie similarities between AAP and the Indian e-commerce(e-com) startups of the yesteryear.

1. A lot of Indian e-com startups where founded by IITians and just this IIT tag was used by them to secure irrational funding. AAP supporters do not shy away from touting Arvind Kejriwal(Ak)’s IIT credential.

2. Majority of Indian e-com startups secured funding from foreign VCs. Recently, there have been allegations that this was a way for foreign players to gain foothold in the Indian retail scene which was insulated from FDI. AK is alleged to have got financial boost from Ford Foundation. Questions have been raised by rival political parties around this.

3. Indian e-com stood on the shoulders of urban middle class for it’s growth. AAP’s core supporters tend to be from this demography.

4. There have been claims of Indian e-com founders raking in exorbitant salaries/benefits. AAP’s SUV cavalcade bears some resemblance.

5. Indian e-com was the darling child of everyone a few years back. As of today, AAP is the poster child of Indian/international media.

6. People who called the bluff on Indian e-com a few years back were ridiculed. The same treatment is meted out today to anyone who does not believe that AK is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

7. There have been some nasty internal feuds in Indian e-com and AAP is not left behind in this.

8. The most poignant of all, Indian e-com propelled itself with freebies(free delivery, discounts, selling below MRP, buy today pay later, etc etc). AAP rode to power with free/low priced electricity and water(There might be more freebies, I have not read their manifesto).

Indian e-com companies which defied the basic laws of economics have been either forced to shutdown or secure more rounds of funding or to course correct their former splurging ways. In the case of AAP, it is the tax paying, law abiding citizen who will have to bear the burnt of their irrational populism. Indian e-com made a fool out of it’s investors, AAP is making a fool out of the gullible Indian citizens.