Saturday, June 22, 2019

Little things that make pitch presentation impactful

Ideas without a compelling pitch presentation is like our lives without Google maps these days- nomadic, devoid of direction and lost.

Unless you have bootstrapped your idea, you will invariably need to pitch your ideas effectively to raise capital. Even if you have bootstrapped your idea yourself, you will need to pitch your ideas effectively to the potential users and win their buy-in.

In an ultra-competitive world like ours today, one can't afford to lose focus on skills that are force-multipliers. One such skill is pitching your ideas with impact.

I came across these interesting train of tweets by Entrepreneur and VC, Sanjay Swamy. With due credit to him for the words that follow, i am sharing his words as is. In my role, I do lead various pitch mentoring sessions and will share my learnings in the upcoming blogs. Till then, enjoy Sanjay Swamy's words of wisdom.

1. Stand up and present - be near the projection screen or the TV and point to it, do not be sitting slouched over your laptop. Hopefully you have a colleague who can click - else do it yourself. But don't sit at your laptop!

2. You are the presentation - not what's on the slides. Have the minimum content on the slides and make sure people follow what YOU are saying - not just what's on the slides. You are doing this in-person for a reason!

3. Whatever you might say or do, please make eye contact with people. Read their eyes - silence neither means they agree nor does it mean they understood - more often than not, it means they did neither. Worse, it could mean they lost interest already.

4. Tell the story right. Answer questions directly - unless it is genuinely going to show up in your next 2-3 slides. Don't waste time in rhetoric - like "that's a good question" or "honestly speaking"...

5. There are some questions you don't answer by choice. These include the question of "what valuation are you expecting" - its only on @sharktank that you say I'm raising x for y. Asking this only sets an upper limit - and may be a turn-off.

6. Take notes during the meeting - if you are alone, people will be patient with you, if not, your colleague should be taking copious notes of all the comments.

7. Summarize action items at the end of the meeting. Agree upon next steps - and please please please, follow-through! I often have changed my mind about something because of the thoroughness and promptness of the follow-through!

8. Never bullshit your way - if you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Then go back, research the answer and come back with a quality answer - its much appreciated.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Don't design product until doing customer price point validation

(draft blog, editing in progress)

I came across these interesting numbers regarding Gillette's razor blade industry dominance (US numbers):

Razor blade industry: $3 billion
Gilette's share: 60%

Where as in India. Gillette's shares were only 22% in 2009. The India market potential was estimated to be 4 times that of the US. One of the reasons, Gillette was losing out in India was it's price point. They were charging around INR 100 (~USD 2) which was found to be higher for local markets.

To crack the local market, the Gillette team carried out extensive research to design an ideal product for the target market. The basis of the research was not just to find must-have and nice-have features but to figure out for which features customers would be willing to pay.

The result:
Gillette was able to build a razor product for India market for INR 15 with replacement parts.
Gillette was able to reduce the components from 25 to 4.
(Source: Book- Monetizing Innovation: How Smart Companies Design the Product Around the Price)

The key learning from this success case is that Gillette didn't even start to design the new product till they had confirmation from the customers about their willingness to pay and their say on what they wanted to see in the product.
Normally, the organizations that are engineering heavy, often lack this discipline to build the products around the proven price point.

What do you think ?

Images source:

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Sometimes, stepping back is all what is needed to be at your best

Ash Barty won women's French open singles title yesterday. Seeing a new champion is always refreshing in a game like tennis that's dominated by top rankers.

While Barty's victory was sweet, what i found inspiring in her story leading to the French open title is her decision to step away from tennis in 2014. The reason she stepped away was because she felt overwhelmed by all the pressures that came with playing tennis. As Barty said:
“I never closed any doors, saying, ‘I’m never playing tennis again.’ For me, I needed time to step away, to live a normal life because this tennis life certainly isn’t normal. I think I needed time to grow as a person, to mature,”
She took to Cricket and played to the level of Big Bash league before making a comeback again 3 years back. Her former cricket coach Andy Richards knew she was interested in Cricket and fed her 150 or so balls via the bowling machine. She missed just a few of those showing glimpse of her immense talent.

On her return to Tennis, she was ranked 623rd in the world post her comeback and 3 years later, she would be ranked number 2 in the world post her grand slam win.

Few things worth learning from Ash Barty:
1. One needs to be self-aware and honest with self to realize the state of our own mind and decide when to push-forward and when to just stop. In our daily grind at work, we often keep such self-awareness dormant and prioritize work goals over health and rejuvenation.

2. In addition to being self-aware, it is important to be decisive in the matter of giving on-self sufficient breaks. This lack of decisiveness often cause us to burn-down without us even knowing the damage such stress causes to us.

3. It is always a wise move to have a Plan B. Ash's Plan B was Cricket that probably evolved because she was connected enough with people who offered her the second chance in a field unknown to her. Building networks within and outside of one's field of work helps.

Be smart to give yourself a break once in a while. In a long run, it will make us a better at whatever we choose to do.

What did you learn from this remarkable sportsperson ?

References and Credits:
Image source:

How to come up with creative ideas: Think what will not change in future

In the last few months, I along with two of the talent colleagues from my organization have been experimenting with a concept that i call idea circles. In short, three of us meet regularly and have a free flowing discussion on the ideas and product problems needing solutions. The core measure for us for these discussions have been the number of invention disclosures/patent filing/new product features we can come up with. We are still in early days of our idea circles experimentation and I will later write in detail about how we function.

This is simply one of the ways to generate ideas but moot question that i get asked often is- what is the secret sauce for idea generation that could be patented and productized ? There's obviously no one answer to this question but what i started doing was to keep track of sources of inspiration for the origination of ideas. The intent behind this exercise is to look back at this list for my own inspiration and for those who are interested. As a result, i will start sharing these under the heading- 'How to come up with creative ideas'. It's premature to call it a series yet, let's just call it an attempt to gather and group the thoughts on idea generation under one umbrella.

In this kick-off article, I would like to share the inspiration i got from Jeff Bezos's recent remarks at re:MARS conference. Excerpts from zdnet article below:
For business leaders trying to build lasting success, the Amazon CEO said to think about "what's not going to change."
Bezos said people often ask him to predict what will change over the next decade, but asking what won't change over 10 years can offer potentially more valuable insight.
"The answer to that question can allow you to... work on those things with the confidence to know all of the energy you put into it today will still be paying dividends," he said on stage.
Furthermore, he said, it's an easy question to answer. "You don't have to do a lot of research," he said. "These things are so big and so fundamental -- you know it.""

I found this very profound and quite relevant as a method to generate creative ideas. Quite often, in our quest to find ground-breaking ideas, we take an approach to define the future state. And the raw materials to define future-state usually is the technological-shifts that are taking place. The technology trends become the basis of ideas for the future.

What Bezos suggests is, quite simply, a reverse of this approach. He says to ask- 'What will not change in future?' And then puts up a frame of customer needs on top of it. He says:
For Amazon, the obvious answer is that customers will always want low prices, fast shipping and a large selection. It's impossible to imagine, Bezos said, someone saying, "'Jeff, I love Amazon, I just wish you delivered a little more slowly.
If i reverse engineer and apply this thinking, it kind of explains the reason for longevity of my current organization, Citrix (30 years of  existence, since 1989). What has not changed in all these years (and what Citrix addressed proactively) is the need of enterprise users and admin to-
- have their applications and data delivered securely.
- be highly productive.
- give secure environment.

It's almost magical how altering the frame of reference to "what will NOT change" and not worrying about 'what will change", simplifies things and brings clarity.

I first learned about this technique from Vala Afshar's tweet which has the below message:

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Before rejecting any idea, ask- 'Can it turn out to be Altair BASIC?'

There's an incident narrated in the book- The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's Most Exclusive School for Startups about Paul Graham (the founder of YCombinator) and his
peers assessing the start up applications for entry into the 2011 cohort. There was a team of founders that Paul found promising but he didn't find their idea promising. A line in the conversation that went between the panel of judges got me thinking. Before I share what I thought, here is the line:

"We're just not enthusiastic about the idea, appends Livingston.
"Well, it's Altair BASIC," repeats Graham. It's a starting point.

Basically, Jessica Livingston wasn't impressed with the idea but Paul defended by saying the words stated above. Paul used Altair BASIC as a metaphor for the starting point.

Altair BASIC was Microsoft's first product. As per Wikipedia:
Altair BASIC is a discontinued interpreter for the BASIC programming language that ran on the MITS Altair 8800 and subsequent S-100 bus computers. It was Microsoft's first product (as Micro-Soft), distributed by MITS under a contract. Altair BASIC was the start of the Microsoft BASIC product range.
It's developers were: Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Monte Davidoff

The reason I found this metaphor interesting was because Paul used it intelligently to defend the team that he believed in despite them having an unremarkable idea.

I think this story carries lessons both for the innovators and the judge of ideas.

If you are a judge...A profile of judge can be that of a venture capitalist judging whether to many an investment, or a panel selecting ideas for incubation or for a corporate innovation program or like. Judges tend to evaluate more often on the strength of an idea than on the potential of the team pitching it.

To me, what Paul did right was that he bet more on the team that bet the idea than the idea itself. Comparing the situation with Altair BASIC was his way of changing the frame of evaluation on what the team 'could' do rather than on what they had at present.

If you are an innovator...
The Altair BASIC metaphor has a meaning for the founders as well. More often we tend to reject the ideas based on instinct. Sometimes, the difference between a successful venture and not-so-successful ones is a matter of backing your team and the skills and asking this eloquent question:

Can it turn out to be Altair BASIC?

Image source:

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Nothing happens until something moves

Why do organizations need Innovation Programs ? It's a very broad question and my intention in this blogpost is to share just one perspective around it.

A short sentence answer to this question would be 'beating inertia'.

BlackBerry (from RIM) used to be prominent mobile devices for Enterprises in early 2000s (or around that time). I recall one of the key differentiating features it had was encrypted messaging. In those days, it used to be almost a sign of progression to be owning one of BlackBerrys. However, it wasn't just messaging that end-users liked, it had it's own fan-base for it's physical keyboard. The keyboard was ergonomically designed and one of the best (yet) that i have used in mobile devices. My father recently brought a Blackberry just for ease of use physical keyboards provides.

The team at Blackberry obviously had developed expertise in the physical keyboards. And when the whole world started moving towards soft-keyboards with Nokias and Apples coming in competition, Blackberry was slow to make the shift. They waited, probably because of the expertise they had built that eventually became self-limiting when the competition inspired people to move towards soft keyboards. They did come up with Blackberry Storm, but it probably was a bit late in the game.

Dictionary defines Inertia as "a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force."
It is a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

In organization's context, inertia sets in for various reasons. If we take the example of Blackberry into consideration, inertia was caused, possibly by:

1. Blackberry reached the phase of product acceptance by users, with product-market fit happened a long ago. 
2. Engineers and designers achieved expertise in certain way of doing things. Their own expertise blocked their way to achieve break-through thinking.

Like in sports they say, never change a winning combination. Likewise, in case of Blackberry the combination that caused them to win the markets couldn't hold up to changing times. In short, organizational inertia held them back.
The more we are successful in one era, the more our current methods come in our way of success when it is the time to embrace the changing times.

To come back to the question that i asked in the beginning: Organizations need Innovation programs that can help them use the collective mind-power of workforce to come up with the ideas that question the status-quo.

Like Albert Einstein said: "Nothing happens until something moves."

Credits: The post and the examples covered within are inspired from the Coursera course titled: Strategic Innovation: Managing Innovation Initiatives
Image source:

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Innovators follow compass, not maps

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

Image source: 
I currently work for Citrix. Citrix was found 3 decades ago, in 1989. To put things in perspective, the year 1989 was when internet was still a university project, Windows was as old as v2.1, Dotcom bust was way too far, mobile revolution hasn't happened yet, social media didn't exist. For a company to have seen through the transitions so drastic, it must know the art of reinvention. It's just the testimony to all the right reasons that lead to longevity of the organization.

On the other side of spectrum, we have examples like Nokia smart phones that within a short period of time fell from being a market leader to being almost extinct when Apple came into scene.

Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp received attention because of the huge sum involved, and that acquisition helped Facebook overcome a fear of irrelevancy. Being an ad-free and largely free service, WhatsApp may not add to Facebook's revenues immediately. In an interview, Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that he is fine with his newer products and services not moving the needles in the business for a long time. Zuckerberg understood the consumer shift towards instant messaging, a feature Facebook didn't have at that time. More than earning immediate revenue, the WhatsApp acquisition has helped Facebook remain a leader in social networking.
My hypothesis after studying these extreme examples is that the companies that followed the compass approach as against the maps approach survived and thrived. Compass is something that gives you a sense of direction of where you are headed to and that sense of direction comes from being aware of what is happening in your field whereas the maps tell you how to go from point A to point B and not worry too much about what's happening beyond that.

The same analogy works well with Innovators as well. If you follow compass approach, we would be encouraged to figure out what is happening in our ecosystem, understanding it's implications and come up with ideas that align with reality. 

And if you follow the maps approach, your thinking is limited in what the next step in an existing idea could be. That eventually leads to limited innovation opportunities.

I am a big proponent of situational awareness as being a key skill to embrace in our careers. Innovators who are situationally aware:
1. Attend Exec meetings and comprehend what is happening in your organization
2. Are intentional about listening and suspend judgement when hearing the customer problems
3. Read frequently about industry trends and reason what it means to them and the organizations.

Doing these and many similar acts, they sharpen the bearings of their compass and are able to identify product gaps and are able to innovate faster than the competition. 

Image source:

Monday, June 3, 2019

An idea that could possibly bridge invention to commercialization time gap

Some insights from a thoughtful course on Innovation via Coursera

1. Manual typewriter: First patent: 1714. First major commercialization: 1878
2. Automobile: First patent: 1860. First major commercialization: 1902
3. VCRs: First patent: 1950. First major commercialization: 1972

Not an exhaustive list of examples, but still some of the inferences:
1. There is almost always a lag between first time a patent is filed to it's commercialization.
2. The time lag between first patent filing and to it's commercialization seem to be decreasing as the time progress.

Even though the lag between invention and commercialization seem to be reduce, the fact is that the lag still exists.

One of my hypothesis about the reason of this lag is that the inventions that were a result of individual brilliance took a long time to commercialize than the inventions that were formed by a group of individuals. I would love to research a bit on this in coming time and (hopefully) prove this hypothesis right.

Having talked about the roles in an innovation team in the last blog, I firmly believe that odds of success (aka commercialization) increases multi-fold if there are right mix of skills in an innovation team i.e. Hacker, Hustler and Hipster (and many be Hotshot as well).

What do you think ?

Image source and credits:

Innovators embrace diversity in teams

This post is in continuation to my post on 'My Talk on Innovation'. As i promised, i am double-clicking on some aspects that i shared in my talk to awesome internship batch at my organization.

In the corporate folklore, there are very few stories that are as pronounced as that of how Apple started. A lot has already been written about so I would safely quote parts of Wikipedia as a quick refresher:

Apple Computer Company was founded on April 1, 1976, by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne.The company's first product is the Apple I, a computer designed and hand-built entirely by Wozniak, Apple Computer, Inc. was incorporated on January 3, 1977, without Wayne, who had left and sold his share of the company back to Jobs and Wozniak for $800 only twelve days after having co-founded Apple.

I would simply pass off the last sentence in the above excerpt by calling Ronald Wayne as plain unlucky. But this post is not really about Wayne. It is about something that emanates from founder's chemistry between Wozniak and Jobs. 

In this interaction dated 2018, Steve Woznaik said the below about him and Jobs:

Steve Jobs never understood the Computer part of hardware and software and what was really int.

I don't follow financial stuff and thing about business terms. I think about products and technology.

These two sentences sums up, in a way, the contrasting roles played by them in the founding days of Apple. If I have to sum-up their roles in one word, I would say Woznaik was the 'Technology' person and Jobs was a 'Business' person. 

Wait! I have read about a better differentiation of the roles start-up founders play. This was in the book: Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation and he is the excerpt i read:

The Hustler: We like to see that a least one person on the team has a thorough understanding of the business, the customers, and the market. In most startups, this person is called the CEO. This person is also the one who typically sells the vision and the product to the world. So this person should be a great leader and communicator.
The Hacker -Someone who knows the latest technology inside and out and can use this to transform the business. Having a techie on the team from the start is essential. Innovation usually rides a wave of new technologies that disrupt both business and society. The innovation team needs someone who understands how these technologies can be used to reshape and disrupt the world. This technical wizard must also be willing to roll up her sleeves and do the grunt work, like coding and testing. On a mall team, there's no room for delegators. The team needs people willing to do the actual work. In a typical startup, this person would be the lead developer and CTO.
 The Hipster - This is the creative lead. The importance of design thinking in successful startups can't be overestimated. Design is often at the heart of innovation. Small changes in design can have huge impacts. Any good innovation team needs a designer on board from the beginning. YouTube, Slideshare, Etsy, Flickr, Gowalla, Pinterest, Jawbone, Airbnb, Flipboard, Android, and Square all had designers as co founders. Dave McClure, cofounder of accelerator 500 Startups, is fond of saying every team needs a hustler, hacker, and hipster. I like to add a fourth one.
The Hotshot-It helps to have a domain expert on the team, especially if you're attempting something highly technical. This is someone who understands, at the deepest level, the specific problem the team is trying to solve. This is typically a researcher with a PhD or someone with years of experience in the field. Having someone on board with an in-depth knowledge, beyond your typical manager, can make all the difference when it comes to realizing the critical breakthrough. Elon Musk's SpaceX could have never gotten his satellites into orbit without hiring domain experts.The same is true for Craig Venter's mission to build the world's largest database of whole genome, phenotype, and clinical data.

So it is fair to say that Steve Jobs was the Hustler and Steve Woznaik was the Hacker. 

One of my favorite moments while running Innovation programs is kicking off the new programs with new teams. During the kick-off presentation, i tend to present a section which i call "How not to succeed".

One of the 10+ (and growing list) things that i share under this section is "Don't give due attention to assigning the roles". More often I see that a group of 3-4 engineers form a team and assign the roles just for the sake of it. A couple of weeks into the program they realize that hacking (strong skill in the team of engineers) is not achieving full efficiency because hustlers aren't getting feedback and validation from customers and hipster isn't able to articulate the customer experience as well as they should be. In the end, they are behind in the idea execution game.

The teams that i have seen succeed well enough has the roles Hacker, Hipster and Hustler roles clearly marked and working in rhythm.

Successful innovators do embrace diversity in teams.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Have you created your "anti-worry" list ?

For all the bashing that social media gets for being addictive, sometimes nasty and often worthless, there are moments, infact quite a few of them, where you end up learning a perspective that can alter the way you approach your days. 

I firmly believe that when you encounter such moments of enlightenment, the first though you should do is to assimilate and share. Knowledge not shared is indeed the knowledge wasted.

This post is dedicated to one such sharing. Today, I came across this short tweet storm by Andrew Hoag. Let me re-iterate the tweets (with due credit and permissions to Andrew). 

1/ As a CEO, it is incredibly difficult to measure your own progress. Behind every summit lies another, taller peak that feels more urgent, never giving enough time to look at how far you’ve come.

2/ The buck stops with you, which gives you nearly infinite things to worry about, and can occupy all of your mental energy.

3/ A hack I have recently developed to counterbalance this is thinking about what you *no longer* have to worry about: PMF, capital, marketing, recruiting, whatever large or small! Take a moment, make a mental inventory.

4/ This “anti-worry” list is a quick measure of your progress and can help put things in perspective. Spend some of that mental energy on gratitude, and the new peaks won’t seem so tall anymore. 

To me this is such a powerful concept explained so simply in just 4 tweets. One of my earlier managers once told me: Every year of our professional and personal lives add extra bit of responsibilities.

The package called responsibilities comes bundled with an add-on called as stress. I beleive to deal with stress there are only 2 ways: embrace an easy life or find ways to hack stress out of your lives.

"Anti-Worry" list seem to be one such hack. It helps us give a perspective of what we have achieved in our days, the sense of which gets so clouded in midst of the fire-fighting that we have to deal with every day.

"Anti-Worry" list also helps us be grateful of what we have by our side. We often tend to forget that there are things worth appreciating in our work and personal lives.

Quoting this article:
Living your life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on what you appreciate. The goal is not to block out difficulties, but to approach those difficulties from a different perspective. Appreciation softens us. It soothes our turbulent minds by connecting us with the wonderfully ordinary things, great and small, that we might otherwise take for granted.

I don't know Andrew Hoag but I would like to wholeheartedly thank him for sharing such a wonderful concept to live life.

Strong convictions precedes great actions

In 1997, Eric Yuan joined a video conference start-up Webex as an engineer. Webex went public in 2000 and was eventually acquired by Cisco. Yuan was given an opportunity to lead Webex engineering group in Cisco. Over a period of time, Eric grew unhappy because he believed that the product sucked because of the following reasons:
1. Each time users logged on to a Webex conference, the company’s systems would have to identify which version of the product (iPhone, Android, PC or Mac) to run, which slowed things down. 
2. Too many people on the line would strain the connection, leading to choppy audio and video. 3. And the service lacked modern features like screen-sharing for mobile.

Eric tried to convince Cisco decision makers to consider making the changes to make Webex more useful and desirable but couldn't manage to do it. As a result, he decided to move on from Cisco and later found Zoom recently raised its IPO, price of $36 per share, valuing the company at $9.2 billion and making Yuan a billionaire.

Story source: Forbes article

One of the things that amazed me about this story was Eric's conviction about where Webex was going wrong and the extension of that conviction that led him to start Zoom to fill the gaps he saw at Webex. 
A lot of us find ourselves in similar situations at work where our ideas and solutions find no place in decision maker's list of priorities. 
What do we usually do ? 

More often we don't choose to pursue our path and surrender to the suggested path because we choose to believe less in our ideas and thought-process. We choose to embrace a lesser version of ourselves. One thing that bears mentioning in this case is that the odds of success that Eric achieved is probably one in thousands or even less but still lack of conviction is something that plagues individual's growth even for initiatives with lesser things at stake.

The learning that stands out for me is that we shouldn't change our beliefs, thoughts and ideas at the first glimpse of rejection. We should figure out alternate means to express, present and convey them and be creative in finding alternate routes to success.

I am no expert at teaching anyone about conviction but i at one area where i successfully applied power to conviction was in my running career. When i started running longer distances, I did face resistance from my family and closed ones (being from a family where there weren't any active sportspeople). To be fair, there was a degree of loving concern behind the resistance. They didn't want me to get injured or over-exert myself. While i listened to the concerns and tried to explain my point of view as patiently as possible, I didn't drop intensity in practice, training and in running long distances. My conviction in what i was doing lead me to run 17 full marathons (including 2 100Km runs, 1 75 km run) and several half marathons and a shorter distance runs.

Images source:

Friday, May 31, 2019

How effectively do you exist with your product ?

In one of the Innovation demos i was a part of a particular idea team started their pitch. Roughly speaking their idea was about enabling the remote access across various networked Mac software (there were more nitti-gritties that spelled uniqueness of this invention which can't be shared due to Intellectual Property reasons).

They started their pitch with a PPT with an usual agenda slide. The last item in the agenda slide was 'Demo'. The presenter (say John) did a great job to complete the pitch on time and now it was the time for demo. John paused for a bit and said- 'There's no separate demo. The presentation you saw was the live demo'.
What he meant was that the presentation he was showcasing for last 5 minutes, was actually running on a remote system with John having keyboard-mouse control.

This was one of the outstanding things i heard while going through a demo pitch. It sent a clear and crisp message to judges that the team wasn't selling a concept that 'will' be used at some point by a certain segment of users. It was actually in-use by the founding team and working like a charm.

In my experience in attending many innovation demos, i have often noticed a certain disconnection of demos with real-life. Demos are often seen as a representation of future, a reality that hasn't been stitched yet in it's entirety. Another cause is the non-existence of users in early stages of the Innovation projects. Innovators, I believe, should try and be seen as 'existing' with their products as John (in previous example) managed to do.

I was also reading interesting Forbes piece on CEO Eric S Yuan. A part that caught my attention (in the context of this post) was that Eric made just 8 work trips in five years as a CEO. Why ? Because he made it a priority to conduct his business via his product, a video conferencing software. This is what i meant when i said 'existing with your product'. More seamless our connection with the product is, more clearer the message around value proposition is.

Sharing the cited part from Forbes article:
As the founder of Zoom, which provides video conferencing software over the internet, Yuan practices what he preaches. After Yuan hired hundreds of engineers in his native China, he went three years between in-person visits. When he raised money from top venture capital investors, he showed up just once, to make sure every investor in the room had downloaded the Zoom app. For his IPO road show, Yuan deigned to make the 50-mile trek from his San Jose headquarters to San Francisco for a single investor lunch—and then bolted back to work. Everyone else, money manager big or small, met with him virtually, over Zoom. When Yuan flew to New York for the IPO, it was just his eighth work trip in five years.
“Customers have always said, ‘Eric, we’ll become your very important customer, you’ve got to visit us,’” says Yuan. “I say, ‘Fine, I’m going to visit you, but let’s have a Zoom call first.’” That’s usually enough.

Leadership lessons from Eric S Yuan's tweet

While we all were busy reading a storm of content in our social media feeds last week, one of the simple, yet extraordinary tweets might have not gotten as much attention as it should have. Here's the tweet that i am talking about.


To put things in context, Eric S Yuan is the CEO of, the video conferencing company. It's market cap at the time this tweet was sent is close to $20B.

I find the response that Eric gave to a user extra-ordinary at many levels.

1. Most visibly, it's shows Eric's strong desire to go extra-mile to delight the user. Among the fundamentals that are responsible for the success of an organization, customer centricity is top of the list. Many say it, only a few do it.

2. As a CEO, to be able to go out in public and tell that he is willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work to make user happy, is almost a culture-defining moment. I firmly believe that the organization or team's culture flows directly from the top and manifests in the form of stories like these. A CEO can either put up posters about what he values or prove the same via his actions. The latter is often more effective.

3. Quoting one of the tweets citing Phil Knight: In quest to build great things, "there is no finish line". Eric is certainly looking like living these lines. More often the average teams get complacent after the product achieves product-market fit, and sales starts flowing in. Great teams strive harder for success not just when they are struggling but on a continuous basis, without any drop in intensity.

What are your favorite insights from this tweet ?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What is your preferred way of building products ?

How Porsche built Cayenne:

Let's move the clock back to 1990s. Porsche wasn’t doing that well. Annual sales were 1/3rd of what they were in 1980s. The arrival of a new CEO brought in cost and process discipline. As a result, cost fell and sales rose. The CEO knew that cost control alone wouldn't win the future for them. He put a big bet to build a new SUV. Skeptics said that customers wouldn't have the brand association as

Porsche was known for speed and engineering and that it was not a family car made for loading groceries. Porsche adopted an outside-in approach for building Cayenne.
If the customers were not willing to pay for what they wanted in Porsche’s SUV, they would walk away from Cayenne. The result was running extensive analyses and validation cycles to gauge not only customers’ appetite for SUV but also their willingness to pay the price.
They ensured that every single feature stood trial before the customer. At every turn, they removed the features customers didn’t value. Cayenne was a roaring success. Porsche’s famous six speed racing transmission was not on the wish list of Cayenne. These interactions convinced Porsche engineers to include a large cup holder, which the customers weren’t used to.  Over time, Cayenne enabled Porsche to generate the highest profits per car in the industry. 10 years after it hit the market, Porsche was selling close to a 100000 Cayenne’s annually - almost 5 times it did in the launch year!

How Fiat built Dodge Dart: Fiat Chrystler had six times revenue that of Porsche. In 2009 they started the work into getting the new segment: a reimagining of the classic 1970s Dodge Dart. They wanted to get int compact car segment. Fiat Chrystler’s approach to developing the compact car was totally radically different from Cayenne. Rather than looking at a hard look at customers, they had a hard look at the product. They came out with a marketing video- TV commercial and announced that their product development way was:

Design it -> Build it -> Rethink it -> Design it -> Build it -> Rethink it -> Until engineering team felt the car was ready to go. “Perfection” as defined by Fiat Chrystler and not the customer.

The market performance was a disaster. Launched in 2012, the Dart sold about 25000 units- a quarter of the total predicted by the market analysis.

(Stories source- The Book: Monetizing Innovation: How Smart Companies Design the Product Around the Price)

These 2 cases are contrasting in terms of 1)Outcomes 2)Approach taken to deliver products. While Cayenne was built with Customer Centricity at it's core, Dodge Dart was built with Engineering at it's core.  At the heart of the way Cayenne was built were the principles of Lean Start-up (as it is known
in today’s times), comprising of but not limited to the following concepts:
1.     Validated learning: learning what our customers want before building.
2.     Build-Measure-Learn cycle: More than a cycle, it is a mindset. Tackling the cycle backwards, it is intended learning that drives the building cycle.
3.     Pivot or Persevere: Be ready to change direction if the learnings and measures indicate so.

While following these principles is no certain guarantee to success as the start-ups can still fail for other reasons but these do increase your odds to attain success.
Fiat Dodge Dart’s approach was essentially engineering centric i.e. with focus on engineering at its core without much involvement of customers in the process of product development. One of the biggest disadvantages of this approach is that it increases the feedback loop i.e. the late we show the product to the customer and seek feedback, the late it is to gather any meaningful feedback and make any changes. This is more so for design-heavy products like cars.
But like with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. When Apple built say its first iPod or iPhone, it did follow design-first approach, but the products remained heavily engineering focused. Customers may have been involved secretly but given the way Steve Jobs operated, most of validation remained a secret, almost under-the-wraps till the product was released.

What is your preferred way of building products ?

Image source:

Sunday, May 26, 2019

17 things I learned from Erik Weihenmayer's talk

I had a privilege of listening live to Erik Weihenmayer during the recently concluded Citrix Synergy event. Erik is the first BLIND person to climb Mount Everest. He is also among 150 people who have successfully climbed Seven Summits, the highest peaks in 7 continents only BLIND person to do so.

He came on to stage with his dog who peacefully sat while he weaved magic with his words. He was articulate, fluid and super clear in his thought process. His intensity was high and it only grew as his talk proceeded. I could see his eyes moist while he narrated the stories of his and the differently-abled persons like him, who achieved feats that average full bodied people consider as impossible.

I have to admit that I left his session earlier than the finish time. It was less due to the fact that I had a meeting bordering on the close time but more to do with the fact that I got more than what I thought I would in an hour that I spent. In short, I found my emotional and mental cups overflowing with unprecedented wisdom. I have to admit this was the first time I felt that I got so much that I couldn't take anymore.

May be some day I would want to go back and watch the recording, but for today I just want to share the wisdom that I gathered in the nuggeTs that follow:

Three types of people:
There are 3 types of people:

What makes Climbers rare:
“Climbers are a rare group. They continue to grow, evolve, and explore. They continue to challenge themselves until the day the die.”

Why is being a Climber so hard:
“The question is, how do we climb when it is so much easier to camp?”

How does growth happen?
"It would be nice if growth happened in a nice linear curve. The truth is, growth happens the way a volcano spews lava."

My favorite learning from this session:
"What's within you is stronger than what's in your way."

When you are lost, remember...
“There is always a way forward, but it doesn’t always start in a glamorous way.”

Surround yourself with positive people:
“My secret weapon was the people I surrounded myself with”

“Link yourself with great people, tap into each other’s experience and wisdom. Stop each other from falling.”

Dealing with adversary:
"The amount of adversity we allow into our lives is directly related to the length of our reach"

"Alchemists will always find the way, even with the adversity. Harnessing the challenges in our lives is our greatest advantage."

"Alchemists always find a way." "Keep climbing!"
"We're all in the elevation business."

When we commit to this no barriers life we bring adversity into our lives... and then you commit tremendous energy to attacking the adversities that wear us down. It takes a courageous team to square off with adversity and head into the storm. -

Don't build walls around yourself:
“I was tired of building walls around myself. Life is full of choices."

When you are down, don't forget to try:
"Never say you can't do it. Don't ever not TRY."

“The process is always the same. Iterate, fail & try again. Never stop innovating.”

Embrace an no-excuse mindset:
"Many make excuses and accentuate challenges, instead of using them as fuel to move forward and make a meaningful impact."

"You have to come down the mountain before the climb really matters. The culmination of the journey isn't when we're standing on the summit, it's when we use the gifts we've been given to elevate our lives."

Are you living a no barriers life? Commit today to attack what is in your way.