I don’t do much of business reading, but I like a good autobiography. The previous one I read a while back was Sam Walton’s Made in America. It was an intriguing read. I still remember how Sam Walton, founder of Walmart had valued the buck as a kid and never really lost that habit of looking for Value For Money in everything he did. Recently I picked up Akio Morita’s Made in Japan – surprising how both the books have the similar name style. :)

I was intrigued to know more about Akio, because Sony has been a household name since ages, I still remember how I spent hours listening to my walkman as a kid. Now a days it is all available on mobile and the days of the tape are gone still I was intrigued to know about the company. I had no idea about it’s history at all. What also intrigued me was to know more about the Japanese work culture and industrialization history. And this book really provides insights into a lot of it. Here are some snippets that I find worth sharing (there were many of those, I am sharing the ones I remember now. ūüėČ )

Japan Pre-War & Post-War

I often read travelogues and Japan is an enigmatic travel destination. I have been reading a lot of cycle touring stories from Japan and I had a lot of questions and thoughts on the place. This book threw some light on Life in Japan before the World War 2 & then the effect of the war, followed by the loss and restrictions imposed by allied powers.

Firstly, pre-war Japan had a lot of inequality – the workers and labour force were always poor. The rich few kept amassing wealth and power. Landlords with huge lands were very rich and powerful while the labourers lived a poor life. This was actually similar to India as well. As with India, post world war 2 – all this changed and landlords lost a lot of their land to the labourers toiling on it. I am sure there would be differences in how it all panned out exactly. But post-war Japan saw improved conditions for the common worker.

Secondly, there were some serious fiefdoms taking place within the Japanese industrial structure. Certain major companies were owned by really powerful folks and they pretty much monopolized the market. This led to bad conditions for business innovations, but also these people being industrial tycoons held lot of power in society. These fiefdoms were dismantled by the allied management, because they were worried that these powers could lead to another war environment.

Thirdly, there was a fear of communism from the Chinese & Russian influence in the country. (A part of) Japan feared Communism gripping the country. This was an interesting matter for me as I had never associated Japan with communism – but clearly the neighbourhood conditions affected the country. Post-war I felt the communist side grew stronger for a bit because the Allied Management created labour unions. They put restrictions on employees leaving their current companies and so on. This way employees were stuck with their company and vice versa for a long period. This led to labour unions which were fairly communistic. However, at the end of day, communism didn’t rise up in Japan probably also aided by the fact that the American (Allied) management was at Cold War with Russia thus would have proactively discouraged it.

The History of Sony

Post War with a large number of restrictions imposed by the Allied management, people displaced, factories in rubble and basically everything in shambles – the Japanese people got down to rebuild. Rebuilding is something they had done before – with earthquakes that leveled major cities, fires and tsunami/typhoons – these people knew how to get their stuff going again. Even today what I have heard about the infrastructure in cities like Tokyo is a testament to what these people can do in quite adverse conditions.

Sony came up in a burnt down warehouse during the post war recuperation period. It was truly amazing to read how things worked out for them – due to their dedication to do something innovative, sheer perseverance, experimenting and learning. From fairly dubious infrastructure to a work force that had just come together, not really being qualified for the cutting edge tech they were working on – it is a wonder that they pioneered so much of the digital and analog technology. From walkmen, digital cameras to home videos, colour TVs and video cameras – Sony has pioneered a lot of the technology we take for granted today. They were also one of the leading companies to envision bringing these products into the common mans household. What made them click? Here are my thoughts,

 

1) Digging In deep:

Getting deep into the domain they want to crack. Getting hands dirty for eg: actually making tapes for their recorder on their own! It was crazy to even read about it. This way just experimenting newer ways to come up with better, more efficient stuff.

2) Vision:

The founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka had clear vision at different stages that led to revolutionary products. For eg: The walk man – Akio Morita could just see the walkman being adopted by people, even though others in his company didn’t share the enthusiasm – his vision and belief in this product was clear. Similarly, Ibuka also provided a similar level of clarity and vision to make Sony a household name it is today. I find this vision is very important because otherwise an entrepreneur may compromise and end up with a much smaller company. The path to true innovation and greatness is fraught with a lot of difficulties – to get through one needs to have a very clear vision. And both these founders had it. The question that comes to my mind – is whether it can be at least in a small way encouraged by company culture?

3) Shaping the Bigger Picture:

One quality that I see in many big business people is that they take a lot of¬†stuff up. In Akio Morita I read the same, it wasn’t just creating their product and selling it. At some stage of the company, Yes this is the main focus but inevitably they became a part of the bigger world. For eg: Japan – US trade relations – there were a lot of trade related nitty-gritties that kept cropping up between the two nations. Or digital innovation in Europe so that there is a healthy industry across the globe to avoid complete monopolization by Japanese companies. Or impact of Forex on trade. All of these aspects were of course relevant to Sony as it grew – But I could see Akio Morita becoming part of the bigger community and talking about these matters, taking leadership in many of these areas. I think this is important for an entrepreneur.

Employee culture

Another matter that Morita talked quite a bit about was the employee culture. Post war Japan employees had many restrictions – they would be tied with one company for many years. This helped the companies with a much lower attrition rate however, they had to work with the employees they had. This meant ensuring the employees keep growing, they don’t get complacent, enough expansion to ensure the younger folks have a growth path ahead of them and so on.

When Sony expanded to US the Japanese team faced great difficulty in understanding a culture where employees may move to competitors taking¬†all the trade secrets with them and also being able to fire an employee! In Japan they didn’t work that way at all. One analogy Morita made that has stuck with me, the Japanese style of company building is like making a rock house – you take the rocks which come in different shapes and you go about building the house. The shape of the house would very well depend on the rocks you gather. The employees that are hired will then shape the company as per their capabilities and suitability. While, in America people are hired with a certain set of skills to perform a particular job. The American way of building a company is using bricks. The house structure is pre-defined, each brick is well designed and specific as per the structural plan.

I find this makes a lot of sense. I have been involved in recruitment here in India for a long time now. In fact the last two years I really got¬†deep insight into recruitment in my field – and that was one reason I finally chose to wind up my social media agency DigiWhirl. I realized that high quality recruitment would require a certain investment in terms of money and time, that I didn’t have in my solo venture. Later I joined SwitchMe, a funded startup and set about building its marketing team – I was able to put in the necessary time into it and gained a lot of insight. We managed to get a team in shape, but there is attrition risk. This stuff by Morita – the Japanese style of employee culture resonated with me. I think this style and approach would work well for India as well. Find the right candidates who do have the basic skill set, but more importantly they are capable of being long term, loyal, performing team members with similar work growth inclinations. After that they need to start learning the required skills for the company, but also the company grows in a manner that takes their inclinations and interests in mind. There are of course certain positives in the western work culture as well, creating processes and an organized manner of working is well set up in that environment (unsure about the Japanese work style in this aspect).

These two styles of working are very interesting to note due to the obvious difference in culture. The American culture is ‘low context’ where people are fairly individualistic and they speak their mind openly. The Japanese culture is ‘high context’ where they are community driven people and they would talk in context rather than the exact matter. I have earlier done the inter-cultural communications and conflict resolution course on Coursera – and in it¬†there are¬†clear examples illustrated to understand this cultural difference.

India also falls in the high context culture society and so I feel the Japanese way of working is something a lot of us must read and understand because it will help us work out better work systems for us here. The American style has some serious drawbacks when coupled with the Indian employees cultural mind set. A similar point of view is shared by Devdutt Patnaik in his ted talk Рwhere he talks about the East v/s West cultural differences and how it impacts work life.

In my work experience as well, the more logical and western way of working very often becomes very aggressive. I remember going for a job interview very long time back and the person wanted to know if I would be able to aggressively push my POV in their internal meetings. I wondered why it should be needed – everyone can respectfully hear each one out. Often the western work environment assumes aggression is normal and also needed in the work setting. I don’t get it. If I am spending majority of my life with the people I work with, it has to be a lot more relaxed, trusting inter personal interactions. In India and Japan (as I gauge from Morita’s book) the employee environment is more like a family. In the west it is possibly more aloof and less emotional. I don’t have any real experience though, so if you have work experience internationally, do share your thoughts!

All in all Morita’s book was a fascinating read. Later my friend told me that it is a suggested read in certain MBA courses as well. Good for those MBA students for reading this book. At least some good may come from their MBA degrees. :)

The other day I had a talk in a entrepreneurship cell event at KJ Somaiya college. I spoke about Branding for Startups…

Having worked with a large number of startups at DigiWhirl in different stages – one person startups, 5 – 10 people, 25-30 people and then of course bigger companies as well – Branding is an interesting topic for startups because a lot of times they don’t really do any major branding. A lot of people that met me after the talk were wondering about what branding to put in place when they were really Early Stage startups – like just a few months into their company.

Typically in early stage the focus of the startup¬†should be on fine tuning¬†their deliverable whether it is product or service. Also unless already funded,¬†there won’t be any employees or just the bare minimum employee strength which means the founding team is doing everything. So practically in terms of time and money it is never possible to put in a great branding in place.

So what I suggest to them is to set up a really, basic branding in place. This shouldn’t take more than a days brainstorming within the team. Request an experienced entrepreneur or marketing person to be part of this session if possible. Then you can just quickly wrap this up. Because the most important thing in early days is speed so you can test out your product/service and get enough market feedback to ensure this is a viable venture.

Quote for Early Stage Startups


Remember, all your branding elements need to be created keeping in mind the person it is intended for.

Basic Branding for Startups:

  • Logo – There are a few ways to get this done cheap,
    • hire a low cost designer to get this in place
    • bring a group of young design students to office. Ask them to design logos for you and the one you choose gets paid. Rest get free pizza.
    • request a designer friend to do it
    • just design it yourself!

“It took me less than 10 minutes to create the logo. I honestly thought it was going to be a throwaway,” MacAskill says. But it stuck.¬†Eight years later, SmugMug¬†has more than 50 employees and hundreds of thousands of customers. The SmugMug smiley face, known as “Smuggie,” has developed a following.” Read about SmugMugs logo here.

  • Your Service in One Line – you will need to summarize your service in short. The company name and logo may not convey your services clearly. This one line is important to create a clear context about what you do. This can go on your business cards, pitch presentations, email signature…..
  • Your Service description – This can be about 5 lines. It needs to succinctly introduce your service, USP and benefits to the customer.
  • Broader Vision Statement – How does your brand change the world? This is not describing your service. This is a broad level vision about how your company will improve the world. If you are wondering how to actually brainstorm this, here is a simple exercise given¬†by Arielle Jackson¬†that should be very useful for this.
  • Social personality – Think about your company as a person – what kind of person would it be? In the earlier exercise Arielle suggests identifying 3 qualities. It is important to articulate these qualities well because different people understand qualities differently. There are also other methods to go about this… you can also list down a lot of soft qualities about the person – music preferences, causes it supports and so on. This can help with many small choices that the company makes – for eg: Which music to play at events or which NGO should we associate with?
  • Design: This goes hand in hand with your logo design activities
    • Colour Scheme: Choose a set of colours for your brand – this can be easily done along with your logo from the designer or just go to ColourLovers and pick a swatch you like.
    • Fonts: Choose two or three official fonts. One should be cursive, another can be the main font used in all words docs, website content and so on. Don’t take very obscure fonts as it may create problems for people who open your material on other PCs which don’t have that font.
    • Templates: If you would be making a lot of Presentations or Word Docs just create a standard template for this. Nothing elaborate, just simple logo & colour/font customization.

Once you get these activities done I think your branding needs are pretty much sorted for a while. So you can then focus on getting your business up and started. Anytime you need more collateral like say a brochure then you already have a colour scheme, font and logo. Plus you have your service description, broad vision statement this can help you embellish content. Plus the overall style of writing will be as per your social personality.

Also do remember, that if you in your early stage then all the above elements would not be final. You may be lucky and get a really good logo in the first shot itself the way SmugMug did, but quite possibly you won’t be. So after a while once you have your business running well and you have gained some amount of understanding about your customers then you can rework on all the above parameters. Once startups reach series A of funding then they typically bring in a full professional marketing & branding teams so then all your branding needs are addressed in-depth.

 

A long time since I penned down a post on this blog.

I have many insights into work, entrepreneurship and marketing but I find it difficult to post it, somehow.

I take year end reviews seriously, so I am pushing myself to write this post,

The Year 2014-2015 was a thrill ride when I look back at it. And a very hard one at that. In Jan 2014 I setup an office for DigiWhirl, my digital marketing company. Managed an offline team for the first time.

Offline Team Management: is different from virtual one. In virtual work setups Рdeliverables are central and socializing takes a back seat. I did socialize and set up some HR engagement aspects when I had a virtual team but honestly it is all a lot lighter than when you are offline. In the office all the time there is some level of socializing going on and every personal hit to any team member affects everyone as the setup is small. So as usual had a whole bunch of mad experiences with my team.

Drawn one conclusion: Setting up a team in my line of work is as difficult whether virtual or offline.

Finance Management: is the other big challenge I faced with an office. I now had overheads!¬†The virtual setup was significantly lighter on the pocket. One of my clients at this time seriously delayed my invoice payments – the usual story, this made the setup tougher. Every month as we reach the end, it was not clear where the salaries are coming from. But they got managed pretty much every time. And I ended up making a credit card goof up – I didn’t pay a big debt on time and all of a sudden I had a huge burden on my head. So overall managing all these finance challenges were quite scary.

Realized the need for a much stronger financial model for my company

Business Development: I am not naturally a sales¬†person. Naturally I am a very quiet and observant kid. But by 2014 I had realized that if the company was to survive I had to be able to do awesome pitches. So 2014 was the year when I pitched – a lot. I don’t have numbers, in hindsight¬†I should have noted them down. But well, by the time 2015 dawned,¬†I was happy with my pitches. Significant progress in this aspect. And this was one of the biggest wins in my social-professional¬†life. Because a natural sales¬†style is not just necessary in the world but it can truly change how much¬†I impact¬†the world. It opens up so many more possibilities for me, just because I can communicate well¬†with people. Yes, I said ‘communicate well’ because it is how I do sales. I just work out a strong proposition and then communicate it well to¬†people.

Note: I have heard of a Hindu saying, that when an apprentice is learning, she learns the method as the teacher is doing. It is only after she find her own way of doing it that she has truly learnt the art.

So I am happy because I found my sales style…. I was really bad at it earlier because I kept following other peoples suggestions – and I kept thinking that I had to make everything sound better, I need to lie and all such stuff. But I realized that I can’t go against my natural grain. So over time I found my natural style and it kept me at peace with myself and showed great results. Because people are actually looking for genuine services – and they don’t trust the sleazy sales anyway. :)

End deliverable & Value to the Client: This is one where I felt lost at DigiWhirl. Because I always felt that social media needs to be an internal core function of the company. It cannot be outsourced to an agency. Even though at DigiWhirl, I always made our activities as much an extension of the company as possible. Also, these outsourced activities to the clients tend to be similar and much shallower than I would like.

So this above concern coupled with team management challenges and finance tensions, I decided to shift my focus away from this setup for a while. So I winded down my office in June 2015. We handed over all the current projects at the company smoothly. And it was all done in a positive note with all clients and I am very happy about this too.

In fact one of my clients РSwitchMe РI have joined them as marketing head. I would be dedicating my majority time here. Have joined since Oct 2015 and looking to explore a lot more in marketing, team building and also working across departments to ensure results.

Lastly I must mention that my setup was a part of J-Combinator who I featured earlier on my blog. And a lot of learning and interesting experience working along with other startups РPricebaba, ProjectHeena and SwitchMe.

Thanks to @Annkur for all his help with recruitment and @himanshuchanda, @adityamishra and everyone else at J-Combinator for other random stuffs.

Oh, and another interesting opportunity that came my way in 2015 was a teaching assignment. I took social media for the Journalism batch in XIC. This was a novel experience. Have quite a few blog posts to write on this experience. :)

 

Lately I have been spending a lot of time in office, which happens to be a co-working space. So I have gotten some insight and experience into the woes of an employee. One insight that has lately been growing on me is that – people end up spoiling relations or quitting because they fail to speak up and have a simple conversation.

Here are some situations where I feel, the situation would be much better handled if the employee speaks up….

1) Non-core activities are sucking the life out of the Job

Most employees are hired for one core purpose. Apart from that core work they are also given many non-core responsibilities. In a startup often the non-core responsibilities can be many! Firstly, identify your core job – discuss with boss if needed. Any tasks which are non-core, if they are really obstructing your peace – just raise the issue and get it out of the way. Make it clear that you will do your core job to the best of your ability – and ensure that it is getting done well. So once you are doing your main work, the company will be more than happy to sort the other stuff for you.

2) Certain activities are hampering the entire work space

Some activities in the work space may be hampering the overall work space. Many a times the employer or boss may not realize that it is so. These may typically be unfair leave policies or biased interactions or logistical issues. If you know everyone is facing the issue then – speak up! Different means can be adopted so that it does not have personal repercussions. For eg: casually mention to boss that it seems that…..¬† or writing a group email from the team so no one person is implicated….. or raising the issue up for discussion in a team meeting in a professional way. Usually all decent work places have an open channel for suggestions either via frequent team meetings or one-one with the boss etc…

If done properly, the senior folks would appreciate you bringing this to their notice and the situation should improve for everyone.

3) You plan to Quit because of it

The thing is that when you are planning to quit just because something is so screwed up – it may very well happen that the employer is just not aware of it. Yes, it may sound crazy “how is that possible. You know how bad THIS is!!” My point is that the perspective of the employee and the employer can be so different that you just never know. Again a simple, diplomatic and tactful conversation may actually just resolve the problem for you. So yes if you plan to quit over it, you know just try and well, talk about it.

4) Because your work or conduct will Suck

Any reasons why your work or conduct towards others will deteriorate and become bad, you have to speak up. Quit if you have to but don’t let the work deteriorate because I feel that is terrible. Moreover you are burning the bridge with your employer and maybe even the colleagues. You never know when else you may come across the person…. why burn bridges? I personally value my work very highly, so I never sit down if I feel my work is going to suck. By hook or crook, I get the situation sorted somehow. Even if just until I serve notice period for the project.

I have had some employees whose work takes a dip. I try to talk them through it but no progress at all. Weirdly, they don’t even resign. So finally I have fired them. Apart from firing them, I am also a bad reference for them. If any of their future companies call me for reference, well I had a bad experience.

So Basically…..

I am a big proponent of open communication. The caveat is I feel that the communication has to be from heart and with reasonable transparency. It cannot be a lie. In most cases the parties tend to understand human difficulties and they come to a mutually viable alternative. So this is my advice to the employees – that a lot of times it may seem that the problem at work is So Big. But simple communications can just be the key.

Just be a little diplomatic & mindful that there may be under currents you are not aware of .

 

I have been thinking about the Non-Compete clause of the social media agency. This is the clause which mentions that the agency may not take up work of another competing business, until the term the contract is valid and a year hence.

I spoke to many PR, design, web and other companies about taking up the project of a brand and its competitor at the same time. Most of them claimed that they did not really worry too much about that. They had some way of justifying taking up a competitors work too.

However, in social media, it is more that just marketing. One has to get into the sphere, the industry, connect with influencers and just be like a spokesperson of the brand on social media. Because of the deeper involvement that the community manager has with the client brand – it would be very difficult to do the same marketing for a competing brand.

I am sure any community manager would have a conflict of interest in managing two competing brands. And, especially because DigiWhirl is a small company, there would inevitably be an overlap in the team that is working on the two projects.

So clearly for us currently, managing two competitors at the same time would be a No-No. Morally, ethically and generally for loyalty and heart. Maybe when the company is big enough that the people working on the project are completely different and both teams can maintain some confidentiality internally, only then maybe, it would make sense.

Having said that, what does Non-Compete mean for a social media agency?
1) Specific to the product being marketed
I find it important to define the space the client is targeting very clearly. The non-compete would only be valid for this specific space. There may be a lot of complimentary spaces in the same field.

For eg: A pathology lab v/s hospital. So the hospital may provide the same services as that of path lab or vice versa.. but overall the two brands put out a very different message. The target group could also be different. So they are not really directly competing but they are kind of in the same space. If the hospital brief was to promote their pathology lab then of course there is a conflict.

2) Specific to the geographical area/target group and so on
Client’s area of service, target group and other salient aspects are core to their social media activation. So if they differ from each other then the non-compete clause I put in, allows me to work with them.
For eg: A cafe in Mumbai v/s a cafe in Delhi. As it is evident there is hardly any conflict of interest. In fact learnings from one may improve work on the other.Another example would be a pediatrician clinic v/s an MD or Dentists clinic in the same area. Completely different target groups or messaging.

3) Time validity
Non-compete clauses sometimes state that the agency may not work for a competing client until 1 year after the contract is over. This is something I don’t put in the contract, because it doesn’t really matter I feel. The way social media works, for every client anyway the work needs to be done from scratch…

Any thoughts on this?

Tagged with:
 

I find writing year end overview posts really relaxing. It allows me to take my time and think about various stuffs that happened over the year. So even though its already end of Jan, 2015 I am still into writing the year overview. So two big things in my entrepreneurial life in 2014,

1) Office, Office

Oh yea, DigiWhirl is not a virtual setup anymore. I don’t take my laptop and travel for months across South India. I now have an office and that too at some distance from my house – so commuting is a daily part of life. It has been an enriching experience to go to office, setup a team, having a team around to work with, consider all the various things that come with having a more stable life. It’s also interesting to be stationary.

Some traveling happened in 2014. Since its less and so hard won, I tend to make the most of it. :)

2) Regional Language – #GoRegional

Earlier in 2014 we started work on a Gujarati community project. Soon we realised the need for Gujarati language in our social media efforts. As has been my motto for a while, I took the extra step of putting up high quality Gujarati langauge in our work. It was interesting… many learnings. Soon, I realised this is a way to go. I also love that it has a social impact element which is to bridge the digital regional langauge gap which India will soon face in a big way!

Most other countries, you will find that they prefer content in their mother tongue. Only in India most of us urban folks just opt for English stuff… and the dearth in regional language content is palpable. Well, hopefully we will see a change soon. Anyway here we are, looking to at least give brands the option and encourage them to #GoRegional :)

& yeah, check out DigiWhirl’s first video which @pavanatukuri and team made for us …. :)

 

 

Every Indian when you say ‘Pakistan’ .. something will flair in his or her heart. Anger, Passion, Sorrow, Hurt, Victory, Hope, Dream, Desire – whether positive or negative but something will flair in his/her heart. The passion and craze that surrounds any sporting activity between the two countries is testimony to this.

I am just an Indian like this. Today the turn of events on Twitter have touched my heart.

I want to document this here, for people who may miss it and just because it needs to be said,

A couple of days back, Pakistan had a tragedy. Over 100 school kids were slaughtered by Taliban terrorists in Peshawar. The world was shocked and everyone condemned this attack. Naturally what the Peshawari people must be going through is difficult to imagine.

People in India also rallied and most of us buried any ill feelings and just wanted to pray and support Pakistan in this tragedy. The ensuing hashtag #IndiawithPakistan was trending on Twitter for a day or so. (don’t know exact stats there)

The trending hashtag implies the large number of people who subscribed to that sentiment. Hence, it is important that a large mass of India was behind it and they truly in their hearts were with Pakistan in this tragedy.

Now, in the last few years India has faced terror attacks & the source of that was in Pakistan. So we have been petitioning Pakistan to hand over certain criminals to us for trial and so on. Pakistan on the other hand has not even arrested some of them. Now one of the criminals called Lakhvi had been arrested earlier but today he was given bail and freed. Imagine doing this, when terrorists had just slaughtered so many innocent children a day before.

A lot of Indians were pissed but by it. A few rude and angry tweets started surfacing. Till then this government decision to free a terrorist was ‘Pakistan’.

But later in the day… the Pakistani Twitter janta (people) responded and we had #PakwithIndiaNoToLakhviBail – and now this is ‘Pakistan’. Moving beyond the governments decisions the Pakistan mass responded with something so heart warming. :)

I am so touched. Truly.

At least both the Twitter jantas (peoples) are sane!

& To my knowledge this is the biggest mass level peace act that has taken place between the two neighbouring countries – India & Pakistan.