So Wingify won an Award? Bootstrapped Champ. Congratulations! So, what?

Sure, as father of the Founder, Founding Director and CFO of Wingify, yesterday evening at Lila Bangalore was a proud moment to see my son getting applauded by who’s who of startup and investor community in India on winning startup of the year award in bootstrapped category.

But while sitting through the proceedings of award ceremony and listening to the distinguished panelists my head was spinning with questions like;

  • Is bootstrapping an effective form of social proof, building credibility and trust?
  • Is it should be a matter of great pride winning an award in bootstrapped category?
  • What award would have brought us still more pride and happiness?
  • Does this award-winning status help us sell more?
  • Is only lots of VC funds and a viral growth but little proof of concept enough to define a venture’s success?

In a world where venture capital is more celebrated than utilizing your own, self-generated resources to take an idea from zero to one, being bootstrapped sure look like an outlier if not an outright pariah. Bootstrapping itself becomes a virtue. It’s outcome takes a backseat. This is worrisome. Perhaps Paras had same thoughts when he said, “We have never taken pride in being bootstrapped and a startup’s success shouldn’t be qualified by its source of funding”.

Yes, we would have celebrated very hard had we been awarded;

  • for being a profitable bootstrapped champ six year back.
  • Still more happy, if in the world of high growth – high loss Indian startup World, we had been recognized as being highly profitable from day one.
  • We would have been super happy if we had been recognized as one of rare Indian software Product Export Company (against Services – read ITES and BPOs) with over 4000 enterprise clients / brands including the likes of Microsoft, General Electric, and Walt Disney, Dominos etc. across 90 countries.

Lest you take above said as quibbles of a whining mind, let me assure you all of us at Wingify are very happy and proud at winning this award. Bootstrapping has its own advantages and success of Wingify is big proof and validation of this.

About time I share what we learned as being bootstrapped.

Taking money from outside may look like a path to glory and success but there is lot of upside when you make money quietly with your own resources. Even if you look disorganized and isolated from the business ecosystem, you bring out the best and original in you, you innovate, improvise, unlearn and learn, build your own unique company culture and move on steadily to organically grow idea and business in a profitable way.

Outlandish it may sound but our experience proves that bootstrapping attracts top talent. Tell me which situation can attract people with huge experience and great skills sets who consider building on an idea into a billion-dollar business and proving themselves in the process more remunerative and satisfying then earning a fat CTC at a MNC but doing something routine and pedestrian.

Wingify has plenty of such talent who believe in themselves and their capabilities to move the idea from million to billion. This is not to say that Wingify is miserly in remunerating its team members. Wingify take pride in compensating and caring its people at par with the best software companies in the industry.

Hats off to all of you Wingifighters for believing in yourselves. This award is dedicated to all of you.

Finally, most cherished advantage of bootstrapping is that it helps you maintain control of your company, doing your own thing while deciding on the right opportunities and partners to help you scale. Unless one is free to decide and act, freedom is rarely understood.

Let me end these ramblings with a note of thanks.

I want to express my sincere appreciation and thanks to the Economic Times for this prestigious Award. We are truly humbled and honored to receive it.

In a larger sense, however, this award is more appropriately deserved by Wingify team members who are collaborating day in day out in achieving our Vision: to make India lead the world into future by imagining and delivering products and solutions that are unique, innovative and inspiring, and therefore provide thought leadership and inspiration to other Indian organizations on competing and winning globally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Wingify should hire an Economist?

 

Pressing the pause button on life is one of the greatest advantage of travel. It is no accident that one such a pause provided me insights to write this post. The catalyst came in the form of a book I picked last fortnight from Dubai airport en route to Peru.  Browsing through the titles in Business and Economics‘ section, my eyes suddenly got fixated on a book titled ‘Narconomics’ with a strange subtitle “How to run a drug cartel’’. The book was written by Tom Wainwright, Britain Editor of the ‘Economist’. 

Thanks to Netflix, I had enough exposure lately on Pablo Escobar, El Chapo, their drug cartels and daring exploits of Narcos in many South American countries. A chance to go through economic analysis of Narcos was kind of god send. My own impending landing in Peru, the land of coca leaves, was an icing on the cake.  Finally, the blurb by ‘The Times’ announcing Narconomics ‘an economics book for the ‘Breaking Bad generation’, quickly sealed my decision to purchase this book. 

I’ve always been fascinated by economics, particularly of everyday kind. Its study provides a window on human nature in relation to men, machines and materials. True, economists (technologists also) have not been able to solve inequality, climate change and terrorism, three biggest issues grappling the World today, but economics and its study touches every aspect of human life. Be it within families, markets, work organizations, society or nations.

By the time I finished ‘Narconomics’ I was quite convinced on three counts.

1. Building and running drug cartels are exactly same as managing establishing businesses.

2. Economist, not police officers, would be more successful in winning the war on drug trafficking and abuse. One can include human trafficking, prohibition, prostitution etc. also in this list.

3. Wingify, our own company, or companies like Wingify also need to hire an economist – hence the title of this post.

I’ll talk about the first two bullets some other time, in some other context but let me dwell on point 3 for the moment. There is a caveat though. The scenarios depicted in subsequent paragraphs are imaginary and illustrative and in now reflect the reality at Wingify.

Wingify, like any other business on this planet, is an organized effort of individuals to produce and sell, for a profit, the products and services that satisfy its customers’ needs. It runs through the same business grind as any manufacturing company – Production – Distribution and Logistics – Marketing – Sales – Support. Though being a new age SaaS company, nomenclature of these function differs. But as any business with profit motive, it has to be on top of stuff like production cost, market share, comparative advantage, selling prices and hundreds of similar metrics that impacts its survival, growth and profitability.

What follows is the realization as to how an economist can add value to better understand various issues that currently touches Wingify in one way or another. There could be many impact points but lets focus on following select few right now.

Market size

Understanding market size is essential for a range of different strategic decisions, in areas such as: product and feature development, strategic alliances and distribution, organizational design and employee skillset. Huge variations in measurement of market could result in serious issues that adversely impact businesses.

For example – with a single tweak in spreadsheet, market size of apples trade (apple being a favorite pick of economists) could increase by 40% if the total traded quantity is multiplied by retail price instead of wholesale prices. What about the prices if the spread between minimum and the maximum price is very large? Which figure you’ll will consider and why?  Also, what about the potential buyers who want apples but for one reason or another they don’t have access to product right now. Factoring all these and many other variables would change the assumptions that impact market size, market locations and target segments – and thereby change your decisions also – for good or bad. So getting the right estimates is to be any company’s priority no 1.   

Same estimation problem prevails in SaaS  industry. In such a scenario who would be best qualified if not an economist to understand fundamentals of a market. 

Demand elasticity

When the price of a product goes up, the demand generally falls. But the size of fall varies drastically. Demand of some products is ‘elastic’ meaning that it drops significantly even with a small increase in price. However, demand of other products is ‘inelastic’, meaning that consumers will keep on buying more or less same amount as before, even in the face of big price rises. Measuring elasticity in SaaS industry is trickier for traditional marketers because data on both prices and demand is so hard to verify. Competing products have a wide variation in prices. Foe the sake of argument a company with same product feature sets could be loosing money just because it’s relentless focus is on pricing its products very low assuming (wrongly if the demand is inelastic) that it has customers because of low prices. 

With the right tools in hand an economist would be in a better position to analyze the demand elasticity of Wingify’s various products.  

Global regulations, Geopolitics and its impact.

Even if headquartered in one country, many companies, including Wingify, SaaS operations are a borderless business. So business of such SaaS companies  get impacted by regulations, tax laws, public policy, intellectual property policies, visa regimes, data security / privacy laws or currency markets both in production as well as consumption countries. All these require a good economic analysis and an understanding of costs and benefits.

It would be surprising if companies like Wingify don’t think of macroeconomic environment that exist beyond India. 

Though businesses have access to experts and subject matter specialists to advice on respective issue but it is only an economist who can synthesize a holistic view quite often needed to take a go, no go decisions. 

Partnership and alliances

In Tech companies acquisition / merger decisions are often taken by engineers whose focus is primarily on the interoperability and integration of features. Such mergers quite often turn out to be unsustainable or plainly backfire because incentives of various stakeholders are not aligned.

Economists, on the other hand are experts at understanding the rewards and incentive structure for each stakeholders and are better equipped to design a right framework for correct equilibrium.  

What is true for acquisitions and mergers is also true for building partnerships, alliances and franchises.  

Diversifications

Businesses usually diversify when they generate surplus. Diversification is often into either product lines similar to the existing ones or altogether different line where a company have no prior experience but perceives a big market potential and / or demand gap.

Diversification is a challenging decision. There are huge risks and rewards. So prudence ask for a cautious and informed decision.

Lets see how an economist will take a diversification decision, specially in the scenario where a company has no prior experience – S/he will not start with market potential but with the capabilities and strengths the company have acquired over the years. For example, if Coke has a solid branding and has built a dream logistics and distribution network, they will advice coke to diversify into Coca Cola branded wines not venture into SaaS business. Likewise, economists may be tempted to advise coke to not diversify into a low calorie Coke variant as it will have a channel conflict with Coke’s flagship sugared product.  

Moral of the story is – understanding of a market is desirable but a deep look at your strengths is absolutely essential. A good economist shall always build on those strengths. Economists knows that desirable strengths can be acquired either by building business alliances or through market research but inherent skills are earned over a period only through hard and smart work by various stakeholders within a company. 

Coming back to SaaS context – to a software company that have reliable and demonstrated strengths and having earned a reputation in using customer insight to program, design, market, sell and support  SaaS products, our economist friend will not shy away in recommending a diversification plan into areas like building an online trading platform for a category as different as fresh produce.

Finally, there are hundreds of micro chips like following which a company has to fry every passing day. 

  • Do we let employee choose airlines while on business travel?
  • Do we incentivize sale of upgrade packages against new packages?
  • Does a good PR give better ROI than huge spend on marketing?

Try to hazard a guess – who will be in a better position to provide answered to questions like these. A tech manager, a bean counter, a business consultant or our good friend, an economist. You guessed it right. The answer is – Economist. Reason is simple.  On the face of it, all excepts an economist, will have answers which even though look well meaning but doesn’t align well with the near and long term interests of company.

In nutshell – Economics and economists provides a more comprehensive view of business. They provide a more holistic view of the inter-relationships between individuals, markets and the larger economy, which help managers  to make more informed decisions and guide their organizations to higher growth and profits.

I sometime wonder why World’s best business weekly “The Economist’ and India’s best business daily “The Economic Times” derive their name from Economics but businesses themselves shy away from hiring Economists.

Any thoughts?

You may be losing significant business because of WhatsApp.

This truth hit me hard when I visited Azadpur Wholesale Market last week.

Ever since we started developing Vegfru, an online portal to bring together fruit and vegetables buyers and sellers on the same platform, I occasionally went to Azadpur to network with my old business associates and colleagues from corporate years to refresh my relationships and to get better insights on what jobs those folks are getting done through market mechanism, ecosystem and modern day ICT tools. Idea was to have a ring side view of what matters and what not so that our engineers could design appropriate functionalities, features and a better user experience for Vegfru portal and its Android mobile app, a business chat tool with search, indexing, file sharing and task management functionalities.
My first port of call was Lalit’s shop (name changed for (Names and other identifying details have been changed in the post to protect the privacy of individuals.) I had known Lalit for almost two decades now. 20 years back, despite initial reluctance and strong resistance from his father, he was the one who had agreed to buy some part of produce from his own auction to break the bulk to cater to Safal’s requirement for just sorted graded produce.

While greeting him profusely, I ask him “Why you are no longer active on various WhatsApp groups including groups administered by Vegfru team”. “Sir, I have lost almost half of my business because of this WhatsApp”. I got curious as I always thought WhatsApp as a good communication tool. I ask him, “How?” Thereafter he narrated a story which sounds too far-fetched yet true.

Lalit graphically explained how a silent WhatApp member was passing contact details of the leads with whom he was about to initiate business talks to one of his bitter rival. Lalit could never understand how that rival would exactly know who he was going to talk to and when particularly when the rival was not on that group or even WhatsApp for that matter. Mystery unwrapped when one of the customer who was common to him and his rival inquired from Lalit whether his accountant has quit and joined the rival as he had overheard the conversation between Lalit’s accountant and rival businessmen about some business opportunity in Gurgaon and exchange of contact details.

Lalit politely shifted the topic but his mind was putting 2+2 together on the mystery of leaked information. Hours of grilling later, it turned out that the Accountant, who had by virtue of his master’s reference had gained entry into that group, but was a silent member and was also getting private messages / forwards from his master for operational purpose. But the accountant had an another axe to grind – get the relevant information and pass it on the rival who had promised to employ his uneducated brother.

It could be one of incident but from that moment I started researching more and more and talking to many active traders / business persons on use of WhatsApp for business use. Here’re are my observations;

WhatsApp and other consumer messaging apps like Facebook Messenger etc are nowadays getting used as shadow IT tools also for business. The main advantage of these messaging apps is, that they are much faster and efficient than email, and lead to improved communication and higher productivity. On the other hand, when used in businesses these consumer messaging apps have significant weaknesses with regard to their various limitations, use cases, data protection, security, administration, ecosystem integration and support.

Let’s talk about limitations and use cases first.

The size limit of the group currently is <= 256 persons. However very few are aware that a Group-Admin can not only add the persons but can also give admin title to other persons in the group and all the 256 essentially can become the group admins. Try to visualize impact of this. The one you made a group admin can theoretically add another 254 persons. How many of those persons you may actually know is a matter of speculation but the implications are clear. Newly added may not be relevant to the purpose of group or could be plainly undesirable.

256 persons limit is also restrictive from business perspective. How many in your current WhatsApp group do you think share the common business or product lines.  In few of my groups I could not count more than 10 with whom I could share common interest. But do we need groups comprising of common interests or a healthy mix of uncommon interests, like say a mix of genuine buyers and sellers. In one of the group everyone was posting something for sale. But where are the buyers? Even if match mapping happened once, do you think you’ll continue to stick with same business partner even if better opportunities are available outside the group. Something that often ends up into creation of multiple groups and side groups which leads to information vacuum for few and glut for some.

But more than that, WhatsApp, for most users, is not strictly for business. For most it is used for personal conversations and non-work group chats. Mixing personal and business groups can be downright annoying, disturbing, and possibly dangerous. Sharing business information anywhere where conversations about business and personal conversations blend is not at all smart and can result in the leakage of confidential information outside the business. Besides going through all such nonsense chats quite often is so frustrating and productivity losing proposition.

WhatsApp is a great tool for communicating with family and friends. That is how the app has become popular. However, with the professionalization of messaging more and more business use cases are emerging that require a sophisticated feature set like searching for content, file sharing, to name just two. WhatsApp is meant for casual conversation. Anyone can create groups, anyone can private message anyone. If your business needs remain as transparent, this is not the right thing.

One never give a thought before pressing the “Allow” button to read one’s contact, messages, photos, files, location etc. when one signs up for services like WhatApp.

Imagine this. WhatsApp accesses and stores the address books of employees, which contains confidential corporate and customer data. While WhatsApp has announced an improved encryption, it currently does not provide enterprise-grade encryption (e.g. metadata, storage on device, storage on servers, etc). Besides, there is still that very big problem of a user’s account being tied to a personal phone number. You cannot limit the roles of employees or restrict access once someone is a part of a group chat. Even after employees leave, they will continue to have access to the information being shared. As a result, changing roles becomes a logistical nightmare.

In addition, free services like WhatsApp require user data to make a living. WhatsApp has announced to generate revenues from businesses by allowing them to communicate to customers. Such a business model requires knowledge of your users and is in conflict with minimal use of personal data, general data reduction and strong data protection. Think about this and you’ll find real answers on WhatsApp’s business model.

And finally, the biggest daddy of all issues. WhatsApp can land admins in jail. See this. https://is.gd/hnhKSm. With no control over persons and information they post this is a highly likely scenario.
 

 

 

Robert M Pirsig died last Monday – An obituary to an icon of my generation.

I don’t know how many of you would have read or heard about “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M Pirsig, but the book was a kind of cultural anthem for youth of post hippie generation of ’70s.

Was this book about a cross country motorcycle road trip Robert, author, took with Chris, his son, or was it about technology and its relationship with men, culture, roots or insanity. But one thing was very clear (I recall author also pointed this out in his forward) that the book was in no way associated with Zen Buddhism and was also not very factual on motorcycle maintenance either.

After so many years I’m still haunted by the conversation that took place between father and the son at one of their stop somewhere in Montana. The conversation that follows will give you enough clues on what this book was all about that made the author, a small time technical writer at a mofussil town in USA, a publishing phenomenon for more than two decades.

Chris asks “Do you believe in ghosts?”
“No,” Robert says,
“Why not?” Chris asks.
“Because they are un-sci-en-ti-fic.” is Robert’s answer.

“They contain no matter,” Robert continue, “and have no energy and therefore, according to the laws of science, do not exist except in people’s minds.”

“Of course,” Robert add, “the laws of science contain no matter and have no energy either and therefore do not exist except in people’s minds. It’s best to be completely scientific about the whole thing and refuse to believe in either ghosts or the laws of science. That way you’re safe. That doesn’t leave you very much to believe in, but that’s scientific too.”

How true. We continue to believe that 1+1=2 but neither the digits or the formula or the outcome contains no energy and therefore unscientific except in peoples’ mind.

When employees believe their employer cares about their health and well-being, they are more…….

Title of this post says it all. No need to spell out what shall come after ‘more’. Readers can make their own sweet guesses. What comes to my mind is the word ‘engaged’.

Various studies have shown that when employees eat healthier their productivity increases. But the value of nutritional benefits go beyond that. When employers offer nutritional benefits as a part of their health and well-being programs, they can help improve employee health, decrease absenteeism and sick leave, and lower healthcare costs.

With above truism in mind six months back Wingify started offering a assorted cut fruits (a tray comprising of 6 different cut fruits) to its all employees as a daily pre-lunch snack as a substitute for unhealthy chips or fries.

The results have been amazing so far on what we could directly measure. For example – even with an increase of 20% of our headcount since we started this fruit snack, the consumption of unhealthy snacks didn’t increase. As a matter of fact, consumption of one unhealthy snack actually decreased. However, the most important benefit of this introduction was creation of an awareness in team to introduce more healthy items. Goes with saying, our company has already started moving on a path built over healthy, hygienic and nutritious food foundation.

Having said above, logistics for providing on the spot cut fruit trays to employees was not easy. It was not easy to find a vendor who could provide such a on the spot service and also remains within our allocated budget. There were many who offered fruit trays from their centralized facilities. No one offered any temperature controlled shipment of pre-cuts. Being in the industry for so long, I would never agree to something which could turn out to be more unhygienic than the unhealthy snacks we were thinking of replacing. So on the spot and on demand processing was what we desired.

With the help from Vegfru, a group company, we were introduced to one budding entrepreneur who was willing to try his hand in setting up such a service. In just couple of months Vegfru has been able to replicate similar model to four other corporates in the vicinity. In the meanwhile, the vendor has also expanded his business.

May I suggest something to all my dear readers from Delhi NCR. In case your company also provides you food and snacks, take some time to suggest to your admin teams / management to introduce something similar. Introducing healthy options in your canteens / pantries does add to cost but just a change of mind. The benefits of eating fruits are too obvious to list here.

P.S: In case you have any difficulty in finding a vendor for on the spot service, I’ll be more than happy to help.