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 – deliverables 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 – SwitchMe – I 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 – Pricebaba, 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?

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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.

Educational institutions need to work on imparting meaningful life skills in students. Not just rote learning and some academic knowledge. If the student chooses a field of academics – teaching or PhD, then the academics help. For most of us who have gone into a different field of work after studies have found that, the work has pretty much nothing to do with all the stats, facts and theories we learnt in school. Now, for the last few months, I have been actively interviewing many candidates and hiring for @DigiWhirl and I find bizarre interactions happening. I have identified three very fundamental life skills that a large number of candidates especially freshers just don’t have. And I am now trying to figure our a ‘good’ way of imparting them on the job, but only the smarter ones will pick them up…

1) Make a to-do

I see the basic to-do list as the fundamental block towards organized working. Take it a few notches further and actual professions like ‘project manager’ or ‘co-ordinator’ and so on develop.

The problem is not that some freshers don’t make a list of tasks that need to be – the problem is the sheer strangeness to it. It is palpable that never has there been a culture of ‘organized working’ built into them. Some have an inate flair for it, so they come for work and pick it up. Rest however, they hopelessly flounder because just the simple task of writing down what all needs to be done and then do it one after the other is not there.

2) Build Relationships

You don’t want the boss to be your ‘boss’ but a friend? Then you need to first start building the relationship that way. Often breaking the ice can be difficult…. but Social networks provide the opportunity to very easily connect with the person you have interviewed with. Then moving to a friendly banter is possible once you understand their interests and so on… the idea is not to butter up a person or get ‘creepy friendly’. The idea is that while right at this time, being hired might not happen, but a relationship can have many other benefits – tangible & intangible ones. They may refer you to some other company who may be hiring for a similar role… so many different things are possible.

In fact this is even more important for candidates coming in for social media roles. Social Media work very largely includes building relations with influencers, fans, other brands and so on… the idea is never to get your work done n then ta-ta. That is so old style!

3) Follow Up

This is something that I also never did & really lost out on many things in my early years. Everything needs some follow up, even if it’s just to understand ‘why didn’t things work out’ or ‘so did you consider the proposal?’. Couple of my friends have had incidents where they finally got the job/scholarship they wanted and main reason cited once was that ‘you were persistent and we appreciated that’.

Follow Up is not badgering or pressurizing the other person (it may sometimes come to it, but that has consequences). Follow Up is just a way of saying ‘I am interested’. You have gone for a job interview – are you interested in the results or no? Even if you go for the interview and realise “ok, I don’t want to work here”, then build a relationship! Give a decent reason and back out of that job, maybe they will refer you else where n that place might work!

It may well be that your proposal/pitch/idea was rejected but at least find out for sure. And also try and figure WHY. You may get a very useful tip to improve.

I can’t stress on the need to Follow Up … because this is also what leads to ‘Relationship Building’ … there cannot be any relationship when you haven’t bothered to follow up on the interview at all.

Hope this helps some freshers. But more than them… I think educational institutions need to make these skills a part of their teaching process. Currently kids only learn to mug and understand academics. These other skills are so bad and yet they are often the ones responsible for lot of the success people get in their lives.

Realizing the limitations of educational institutions, I know some parents who have actually taken upon themselves to inculcate life skills into their kids. For eg: One of the uncles I know, asked his daughter in early 20s to do the entire passport work for renewal. The moment the girl went about doing this… she learnt so many things. She had to follow up until she cried… hell, Indian passport system can frustrate anybody! The point is, after this experience I doubt she will find it difficult or fail in following up on a job interview.

:)

 

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Recently I have been working with Rohit on his new mobile application designed to connect Gujaratis across the world – GoGujarati! App download links: Android ; iOS

Decided to interview him for our entrepreneur series,

Why GoGujarati?
I started GoGujarati because there was no application which targeted a specific community as a whole. I am based in Mumbai and have grown up in a Gujarati community – I know this community is spread around the world with many unique cultural aspects. I feel this community is currently divided across distances and not united. They need to be connected so they can work together and grow together. I hope this application will help all Gujaratis across the world to connect. This will get them closer to each other and help improve the community. It is an unique concept – we don’t think there is such an application as yet.

What was your biggest challenge in developing the GoGujarati app?
The biggest challenge was to take GoGujarati from an idea to a clear cut concept with possible business sustainability.
Considering the Indian society is not as advanced as international community… the revenue to build the app and then promote it was another challenge – I am still facing this challenge.

What is your advice for students: Startup straight from college or get some work experience beforehand?

There are two kinds of people. Born entrepreneurs who cannot work for other people. Go out and try whatever you want to but realize the money you will put in will be someone else’s money, at least to begin with. Learn slowly. Get experience working for fun, volunteering in college events and so on. So you understand the challenges you will face in your business.

Others who can work with others should take their time understanding what kind of business they want to do. What is possible and what is not possible. Think about ROI, timelines and other factors before jumping in….

How can a startup create a distinct brand?
The brand should be a mirror of your own personality. Believe in your product completely. Differentiate from other competitors.

Future Plans?
I want to grow GoGujarati much further. I want it to provide a much larger opportunity for all Gujaratis across the world.

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