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Innovate Or Die: The Cost Of Doing NOTHING !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is full of magical times, but do you wait for that special ‘Kodak Moment‘ any more? When you turn on the television, do you expect the ‘Blackberry Boys‘ strutting their stuff in a commercial? While catching the latest movies or TV show on Netflix or Amazon Prime, do you come across a slogan that proclaims ‘Be Kind, Please Rewind‘? Have you seen the words ‘The Document Company‘ anywhere lately?

The answer to all of these questions would be a resounding ‘no‘ – for the companies behind these once-popular slogans have either given up their market-leadership positions, declared bankruptcy, shut up shop – or are still present, but in a considerably weakened position. According a report, a measly ~12% of the companies from 1955 Fortune 500 list managed to make it to the same list in 2014 (only 61 companies were present in both the lists). One of the very few constants in the domain of business is ‘creative destruction’ – with old players struggling to keep up as new technologies arrive and markets change, and new companies taking up their positions.

The ability and willingness to innovate play big roles in determining whether a company or a brand – no matter how strong it might be at a given point in time – will be able to survive in the long-run. The basic business models and way of operations in practically every industry keep evolving – and there are many instance of big companies not being able to keep up with the changes, and consequently, going out of business. ‘Innovate or die’ has become the watchword for businesses across the globe. Many famous companies from earlier decades have failed to integrate that elusive ‘innovation culture’ in their working, and have ceased to be relevant at present. Interestingly, the importance of ‘innovation‘ is not limited to IT companies only – and several governmental and social projects have also failed, simply because the brains behind them were not proactive enough. Here are some classic case studies of companies that had ‘ignored innovation’, chosen ‘not to do anything’, and suffered as a result:

  • Mistakes-on-demand from Blockbuster – The two main factors for sustained success in any field of business are: a) identifying future trends, and b) grabbing present opportunities. Blockbuster LLC – once the undisputed leader in the video rental industry – failed spectacularly in both. The company had 9000+ stores across the world, and well over 84000 people on its payroll in 2004 – with hardly any competition in sight. What’s more, it had the chance to acquire Netflix (the company which is most often referred to as the principal cause of Blockbuster’s demise) in 2007, with CEO Reed Hastings practically imploring Blockbuster to take over his company. A mix of complacency, myopic vision and internal board squabbles led to Blockbuster doing nothing at the time. As internet became more and more mainstream, and Netflix started offering online video-streaming options (no more ‘late fees’, no burgeoning costs on physical stores/retail locations) – Blockbuster was unable to cope up, lost customers, and collapsed in a big way. The growth of Netflix ushered in disruptive innovation, and Blockbuster was caught like a deer in headlights.

Note: John Antioco was the CEO of Blockbuster at the time it passed over the opportunity to acquire Netflix.

  • Flight nosedives for Pan Am – With not enough proactiveness and more than little nudges from unforeseen external factors – Pan American Airlines was forced to shut down operations in 1991. The company had its proverbial time under the sun for 64 years (having been started in 1927) – and at its peak, was easily the biggest player in the commercial aviation sector globally. To be fair, Pan Am was innovative enough (upto a certain point) – having overseen the flight of powerful jumbo jets and computerized reservations. However, the terrorist bombing of Flight 103 (in Scotland) resulted in considerable negative publicity for the company – which had already started to bleed as a result of the early-70s oil crisis, dwindling passenger demands, and serious overcapacity problems. The invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was probably the final death knell in the flight path of Pan Am (as oil prices rose sharply). Once the biggest name in the business, Pan American Airlines simply could not adapt to the changes in its operating environment.

Note: Apart from Pan Am, two other major airline companies – Midway Airlines and Eastern Airlines – also shut up shop in 1991.

  • Picture-not-perfect for Eastman Kodak – One of the classic cases of how years of inaction can kill off a perfectly good business. Founded in September 1888, Kodak went from strength to strength right through the previous century – as the popularity of its cameras and films spiked. Remarkably, the company had the chance to move into digital photography as well – with an employee (Steve Sasson) having created the world’s first digital camera way back in 1975. Instead of jumping on the opportunity, those up top at Kodak totally ignored it – due to their failure to understand that digital photography was the future, and a reluctance to ‘cannibalise’ the sales of their existing lineup of cameras. To further complicate matters, Fuji started to undercut Kodak with its lower-price films – while Polaroid started taking away the market with ‘instant photos’. Kodak tried its bit to stay in the game with the Advantix Preview camera system (>$500 million was spent), but the results were disastrous. Remarkably, the company simply chose to stay in denial for many years – as film cameras grew obsolete, and digital imaging became mainstream. The struggles continued, and Kodak was left with no options other than to file for bankruptcy in 2012.

Note: Photography is not just about films and cameras – and that’s the biggest thing that Kodak could not understand. If the company had managed to position itself as a player in the ‘visual storytelling’ business, it might well have been still flourishing. As it were, the digital age just passed Kodak by.

  • (Dis)Connecting People: The fall of Nokia – Last year’s Nokia smartphones have done reasonably well – but the company is nowhere near replicating its halcyon days in the late-90s and the early-’00s. At the time, no one made better mobile phone hardware than Nokia – and the Finnish company had almost no competition to be worried about. What’s more, the company had been surprisingly agile right through its history – having moved in and out of several lines of business, identifying telecom as the focal point, and even bringing out the first smartphones in the world (the Symbian Series 60 handsets) in 2002. In fact, the Nokia Communicator was launched as early as 1996. However, the company dithered while deciding whether to join the Windows Phone platform – and more importantly, it continued to believe that hardware was the most important element in a mobile device – while software wasn’t something worth too much thinking. This short-sightedness is precisely what that led Nokia to the brink – with newer players like Apple and Android showcasing the value of mobile applications, and how a handset can do much more that only send/receive calls and text messages. In essence, Nokia was not quite in favour of doing the necessary transition – and was sadly mistaken in its belief of being able to catch up with smartphone vendors later. Microsoft acquired Nokia in September 2013 (a ‘monumental mistake’), and sold the mobile assets in 2016. The belated attempts to use the Android platform cannot mask over the heavy price that Nokia had to pay for not innovating – properly and in time.

Note: The squeeze from the high-end smartphone models and the low-end developing markets (with brands like Huawei and HTC joining the fold) well and truly stifled Nokia.

  • Yahoo! The fall of the mighty – For a company that survived the big dot com bust in 2000 and had ~10X increase in sales in the 2001-2008 period, the fall was – let’s just say – unforeseen. The tale of Yahoo! Is one of a series of missed opportunities, and a futile determination to stick to being a web portal – at a time when its principal rivals were turning to search, or becoming social media giants (or, for that matter, better news aggregators). Unbelievable as it might seem now, Yahoo! messed up chances to acquire Google (Terry Semel, the CEO at the time refused to agree with the $3 billion price) in 2002, and Facebook (the deal would have gone through if the offer had been even $0.1 billion higher) – while a great takeover offer from Microsoft was also scorned at (the bid of $44.6 billion was deemed as too low). The inputs from a string of CEOs ill-equipped to save the sinking ship did not help matters – and Marissa Mayer’s ill-advised (and outrageously overvalued) acquisition of Tumblr was yet another gross mistake. At one point of time, Yahoo! released 24 different company descriptions in 24 years – clearly indicating a lack of focus. A failure to make it big as a search engine (a deal was struck with Bing in 2009), poor performance as a social media site, and the general drop in popularity of web portals ensured that Yahoo! had little chances of a comeback.

Note: With Flickr, Yahoo also had the opening to make a Instagram-like photo sharing portal (well before Instagram!). That opportunity was glossed over too.

Taking A Break…

Even half a decade back, a ‘family lunch’ meant just that – everyone stepping out together to a nice restaurant. With the growth of food tech in general, and food delivery apps in particular – it has become easier than ever for the average Joe to order food without leaving his comfy couch. Restaurants, irrespective of their size, have also realized that they need to be a member of these services (Swiggy, Foodpanda, Zomato, etc.) to remain profitable. By April 2016, the number of active users of the Swiggy app had crossed the 1 million mark.

And Back…

  • Unused innovations at Xerox – If you do not innovate, you die. If you do innovate but then take no tangible action on your innovations, you die too. Xerox – the once-immensely popular print and document processing service provider – is one of the best examples of the latter. Its ‘914 photocopier’ was a roaring success, there were no dearth of resources, and ‘scientific excellence’ was something that the company became renowned for. Established in 1970, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) threw up a series of top-notch innovations – right from graphical user interfaces and laser printing, to PC prototypes, LANs and mouse – over the next three decades. Sadly though, Xerox never grasped the fact that it could move out of the ‘office photocopier’ business, and become a name to reckon with in the overall computing industry. The company just sat on its valuable innovations, and gave them away to competitors (Microsoft, HP and Apple were some of the companies that benefited from Xerox’s technologies). In 2000, the share price of Xerox had dropped to below $4 – and many short-term debts and other problems had piled up. Another tragic tale of lost opportunities.

Note: According to recent reports, Xerox will be taken over by Fujifilm. The deal will be worth $6.1 billion.

  • Blackberry fell off a cliff – The rise and fall of Blackberry (Research-in-Motion) has a lot in common with that of Nokia. Once considered the ‘ultimate smartphone’, Blackberry simply got too comfortable with its heady success – and failed to look out for the technological disruptions heading towards the mobile platform. Company co-founder Michael Lazaridis once famously said ‘I don’t get this’, while pointing at an all-touchscreen handset – a quote indicative of the tunnel vision that the company suffered from. Indeed, the management could never think of a smartphone as anything more than a mobile phone with a QWERTY keypad, decent network connectivity, options for push email (a USP of Blackberry phones) and robust security features. The world had, however, moved on – and by the later years of last decade, both Apple and Google had started to churn out handsets that qualified as ‘all-round smart devices’. The biggest point of difference was the third-party app support – with the Blackberry App World remaining a pathetic distant cousin of the App Store and the Play Store. Odd product choices damaged the situation further – with the weird Blackberry Passport having few takers. The first Blackberry touch-based smartphone (running on Blackberry 10) came out six years after the launch of the first-generation iPhone. Blackberry Messenger (BBM) was, on the other hand, replaced by WhatsApp by most users. Innovation and implementation have to be fast – and Blackberry missed out in a big way. From being the undisputed market leader, the brand is presently flirting with irrelevancy (0.0482% market share last year).

Note: In late-2016, Blackberry handed over its hardware-making licenses to TCL. To be fair, last year’s TCL Blackberry KeyOne did fairly well in terms of sales.

  • Enron ran out of energy – A mixture of innovation shortcomings and unethical financial practices spelt doom for Enron (founded in 1985) – which had once been listed as one of the top 6 energy companies in the world. By 2000, Enron was in the list of top Fortune 500 companies (peaking at number 7) – and was widely viewed as the most ‘innovative’ company in the United States. Soon after though, things started to go pear-shaped for the company – firstly with the broadband telecom networks that caused big losses, and then with the rapidly falling market capitalization figures following the recession at the turn of the century. Instead of coming up with solid plans to tide over the problems and make a smooth transition, all that Enron did at the time was hide/overstate its actual earnings – all under the watch of the then-CEO Jeffrey Skilling. It later came to light that the company had been inflating its income since 1997 (by close to $600 million). From a high of $90.56 in 2000, Enron’s share price tumbled to $0.26 in December 2001. The company had the base and the resources to tackle the problems and stay innovative – but chose to go with underhand practices. The infamous ‘Enron Scandal’ was the final nail in the company’s coffin.

Note: Arthur Andersen, the firm that had famously tried to destroy Enron’s audit documents to cover up losses, made a comeback in 2014, with ‘Andersen Tax’.

  • Posts stop for USPS – The United States Postal Service presents yet another case of business inertia. It has been in existence since 1775 – and has witnessed huge volumes of posts and document transfers in the previous century. Over the years, USPS has been innovative enough – taking the American postal system to higher efficiency and convenience. However, it has not been able to keep up with the current age of digital, paperless communications and smarter service providers – as rivals like UPS and DHL have have grown and consolidated their positions. USPS, meanwhile, have hardly done anything to retain its competitiveness – and the unfavourable government regulations have not helped either. Postal services as a whole are falling behind – USPS, with its outdated services, are, expectedly, suffering. Faxes, emails, text messages have all combined to bring down the dependence of people on snail mails drastically.

Note: In a bid to cut down on costs, many locations of the USPS have been closed down in recent years.

  • Fading of Borders – Bookstores are good. And there was a time, when there were none better than the Borders Group – which started out from Ann Arbor (Michigan) in 1971. Throughout the US, there were superstores – and the company went for international expansion, with stores in Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Sometime in the 90s though, the popularity of the Borders bookstores started falling – and ironically, the ‘size advantage’ that it had was what that turned against them. In other words, the huge bookstores – established on prime real estate locations at hefty charges – were no longer viable, simply because there were not enough sales. The need of the hour was prompt innovation – which, in this case, meant moving on to online sales of books (just like principal rival Barnes & Noble did). Borders did not consider the fact that the ‘traditional way of buying books’ was fast going out of fashion – and curiously, invested more on expanding their physical stores. No heed was paid to the opportunity of creating an ebook reader like Nook or Kindle either. The idea of moving to CD/DVD sales just as the world was warming up to digital music did not make much sense – while outsourcing book-selling rights to Amazon did not benefit the company. The widespread economic recession in 2008-09 was a big blow, and a couple of years later, the company was liquidated (with almost 11000 employees laid off).

Note: When Borders belatedly turned its attentions to ebooks, Cruz and Kobo were some of the devices it created ebooks for. The attempt was half-baked, the readers were not popular, and the Border ebooks failed.

Time for another break…

Unwillingness to innovate – or a failure to innovate ‘correctly’ – is a problem that bugs the public sector as well. There are many instances of governmental bodies planning perfectly good projects – which flop due to inadequate or improper innovations (i.e., poor execution). There are two broad reasons behind the failure of government-initiated innovations:

  1. Fear of failure – While the margins for error in the private sector are also decreasing, entrepreneurs still feel that they can take the occasional risks to take their companies forward. In the public sector though, a single mistake can lead to huge losses and probable firing. Staying ‘safe’, and well away from (potentially rewarding) risks is viewed as the better option.
  2. Detached from reality – The greater the bureaucracy in a government, the more is the chance of senior-level decision-makers being detached of the actual situations at the grassroot levels. As such, they can greenlight innovative drives that might have worked well in an ‘ideal’ economy – but fall flat due to the many existing bottlenecks. Unless the person/group of people have updated, real-world knowledge, innovations – however well-intentioned – will fail.

Back again..

  • Tower Records come tumbling down – Another flourishing company that was brought to its knees by the typical ‘big company syndrome’. From Elton John to Colin Hanks (who made the ‘All Things Must Pass’ documentary as a tribute to Tower Records) – celebrities and general public alike were big fans of these physical music stores. The collections and variety were impressive – and music could also be ordered through the stores. Founded by Russ Solomon, Tower breezed through the 80s and the 90s with high sales and very impressive revenues. However, no one from the company realized in time that Tower Records was becoming too big for its own good – with its aggressive expansion plans. As internet grew and digital music became the go-to option for more and more people, the large retail stores grew non-viable. In addition, the competition with big players like Walmart and Best Buy (who started giving out hefty discounts on music records) hastened the end for Tower Records. A combination of digital platforms like iTunes and Napster, along with indiscriminate expansions, killed off what was – at one time – a market leader in the music industry. Tower Records filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and 2006.

Note: Illegal music downloads are causing heavy damages to the music stores. For Tower Records, an inability and an accompanying unwillingness to adapt to the changing environment, made the difference.

  • General Motors stutters – From being top of the class to going bankrupt (in 2009) – the 101-year old journey of General Motors (‘old GM’) makes for an interesting read. By 1954, the company had a whopping 54% share in vehicle market of North America (in 2009, that figure had dropped to <20%). The need to innovate and improve was completely bypassed by GM – with the changing customer needs & preferences, and the latest automotive technologies being reduced to footnotes. Over time, the vehicles that GM turned out came to be viewed as outdated and uncompetitive (the time to make them was also inordinately high). Upstart competitors started to eat away at the market – and the financial policies taken by the company (particularly since 2006) were mostly poor. Moreover, the infrastructure involved huge amounts of fixed costs (unlike many of its rivals) – and as demands slackened, the company still had to bear heavy expenses. The acquisition of Fiat was poorly handled. However, the standout ‘failure to innovate’ factor for GM would be the killing of the EV1 electric car. There is a lot of buzz over autonomous cars at present – and GM could have had a huge headstart if it had persisted with the EV1.

Note: ‘New GM’ came into being in 2009. It bought many of the assets (and the ‘General Motors’ brand name) from the now-defunct ‘old GM’.

Food For Thought…

Innovation is something that encompasses nearly every facet of our lives. It would be a folly to consider its scope limited to businesses. For instance, the importance of social innovation is steadily increasing – with equity, fairness, social inclusion and collective well-being being some of its key elements. Just like a company suffers if it is not proactive enough, a society stagnates if ‘social innovations’ are ignored.

The Buck Does Not Stop Here

There are many other instances of well-known brands getting caught up in a time-wrap, failing to innovate as per circumstances, and facing failure. From Napster, Abercrombie & Fitch and Polaroid (which, incidentally, was one of the ‘Kodak-killers’), to Radio Shack, Toys-R-Us, MySpace and Pets.com – there is no dearth of businesses that were flourishing – only to be overtaken by competitors later. Remember the Motorola RAZR? It was a breakthrough device at its time – but its popularity was short-lived.

The Lessons Learnt

So, why do companies stay away from the required innovations, even when they have the brains and the means to move with the changing times? The reasons can be multiple – right from a reluctance to make the necessary additional investments, an over-reliance on strategies/products that were successful earlier, and not being prepared for sweeping market changes (more often than not, caused by technological advances). There are cases of companies that are doing well getting into a comfort zone…a veritable ‘innovation blind spot’ – and failing to pay heed to warning signs.

The biggest mistake that all of the companies listed here (and many others) made was to try and find the ‘one best way’ to do business – a way that will stand the test of time. However, there is no such holy grail of operating. Unless a brand transitions itself over time and adopts innovations (i.e., embraces an ‘innovation culture’) – the act of not doing anything can prove to be very costly.

It has been proven time and time again that status quo does not work in the business field. Innovate or perish – after all, that’s the name of the game!

12 REASONS WHY MOBILE APP STARTUPS FAIL

It might be pretty unbelievable but most of the startups investing in mobile app development are not able to set foot in the market from the very outset. Though the number of mobile apps are growing at an increasing rate, but the revenue from each are falling gradually.

According to Gartner (An American Information Technology research and Advisory company) statistics reveal that:

“In 2009, worldwide mobile app downloads amounted to approximately 2.52 billion and are expected to reach 268.69 billion in 2017.”

Hence with such a vast user base and thousands of devices being in circulation, there are innumerable app developers who wish to create the next best mobile app in the market but are unable to do so. Most of the new apps that are developed gain no or very little attraction and the mobile app startups fail miserably.

Why?

It is important to understand the following factors which cause this to happen so that an app developer can keep it in mind before developing his next successful app.

1.Wrong business model:

According to Gartner, “Less Than 0.01 Percent of Consumer Mobile Apps Will Be Considered a Financial Success by Their Developers Through 2018.” This is a depressing data in the world where people are using apps as pulleys to lift themselves and their business up. Neither focusing too much on technology is good nor on marketing. There must be a clear line of separation between the technology organization and the product organization. The right pricing must also be determined to keep the product competitive.

2.Premature marketing strategy:

In case of any business, marketing plays a vital role in taking the business to great heights. Failing to own a strong and well-knit marketing strategy will automatically prevent the product or service to fail no matter how good it is. App developers often concentrate more in developing and executing the app overlooking the marketing process which in turn makes the app a failure. Often neglecting the market competition leads to slow adaptability with the market reality. Therefore people with the right skill-set and the right vision must be given the task to get the app enough promotion.

3.Research of already existing apps:

The owner must make sure of gathering as much information as possible about the competing/similar apps already available in the app market, and analyze their differences. Slowness in app launching or launching it too early without standard publicizing may also prove fatal. It is the owner’s responsibility to launch an app that is different from other existing apps in its own way which will mark its uniqueness. He must also pay attention to the fact that how much better his app is serving its users than the other apps. Along with an exclusive name an app must also be useful to its users to sustain in the market for a longer period. Name can be anything, but it should just be catchy enough for people to remember it.

4.Poor app design:

Statistics reveal that around 8 percent of all app submissions on various operating systems fail or are rejected only because they have a bad design. Bad designing basically means that the app is not user friendly. This results in the app not being able to create an impact as expected and the app gets discarded immediately and fails miserably. A successful and well-designed app must have a proper user interface, high resolution, perfect placing of buttons and must offer a good user experience.

5.Undefined target audience:

Any app is built for a specific audience of users. The better it’s specified, the fewer are the chances to make a half-baked product. Thus the developer must see the needs, the goals of the app, the problems it will solve – and thus the most needed features will be defined and implemented. A startup owner has to think of mobile customers in the first place.

6.Consistency of the app:

If an app does not perform equally well on various devices, operating systems or networks, users become frustrated and often the mobile app fails. An app developer should update and test his app from time to time and ensure that the app works on all spectrum smoothly. This will also ensure maximum performance and user satisfaction.

7.Too many co-founders :

Some times too many co-founders add a lot of confusion with too many suggestions and ideas which not only delays the process but also results in the app’s failure. Again on the other hand a single co-founder lacking leadership qualities, can act as a silent killer too. Thus it is better to have not more than two co-founders who must have mutual understanding as well as free will on each others’ ideas. And in case of a single co-founder he must possess all the qualities of a good leader who is capable of guiding his team to win success.

8.Expecting too much:

It is very obvious as well as positive to have expectations. But expectations shall never be great. Especially in case of Gaming apps the app owners must not have too much of expectations. It is necessary for the owner to keep in mind that people will not play a game lifelong, they will gradually get bored of it at one point. Whereas Games launched for any series or movie promotion are nothing other than gimmick. Such apps tend to fade away in the competitive market in no time. Hence it is better not to invest in such short term ventures.

9.Updates:

The App market is changing at a constant pace. As per customer requirements the app trend too keeps changing. That is why the developer must be quick and resolute to make a decision that will push the startup higher, react and adapt efficiently and quickly, be ready for changes in the plan. If apps are not tested frequently, not marketed rapidly and and not continuously delivered it will not be able to reach the desired success.These changes may not be that radical; but it’s never bad to be prepared. A good app developer shall not prolong the next release and instead focus on frequent updates and bug fixes making the app reliable and favorable.

10.Flawed customer support:

To figure out the reasons behind the failure of an app, it is important to pay attention to the user’s comments. The feedback that a developer gets from its app users explains it all. Genuine users are particular to leave comments which can help a developer realize what is truly wrong with the app and how it can be saved from drowning. User’s point of view can also help revive a drowning app and make it a favorite among the users if only the comments and feedback received are taken into proper consideration.

11.Security (Too Much or Too Less):

Even in case of a highly attractive app if there are too many layers that the user has to pass through to access his/her data then chances of that app to survive automatically diminishes and probably soon it gets replaced by another one. Whereas if on the other hand there are no security protocols followed, then the users may not be able to trust the app and the data feed in the app at all. As in case of Banking apps there are usually a number of security checkpoints which generally irritates the user. Hence it is important for the app makers to strike a balance in the security systems, instead of hyping it up or completely neglecting it.

12.Not every idea is that great, and not every failed idea means failure:

The development and execution of an app is vital and forms the app’s basis come what may. Ideas which are inferior and fails an app to create an effect on the users are the ones that the developer should instantly be done away with. As the developer will only end up wasting both time and money on developing a useless app. The startup owner must be sure to gather as much information as possible about the competing/similar products, and analyze their differences. Slowness in app launching or launching it too early without standard publicizing may prove fatal. The idea needs to be closely scrutinized and checked for actual potential before one starts working on it.

Wrapping Up:

These are twelve reasons why a mobile app startup may fail in the app market. Following only these notions does not guarantee success – there are many other factors that may tip the scales against you. And the percentage of failed startups is high. As for instance sometimes it is sheer luck which changes the destiny of a single app. A lot of it is affected by unfortunate timing. If an app is launched on a Monday morning, during a period when there is a money crunch prevailing in the country’s economy or in case of a gaming app if it is launched during the exam seasons in such cases the app does not meet the expected target. In such situations it is found no matter how nicely the app is done it never picks up, it just gets lost in between the millions of other apps.

But this is business, and moving on, keeping these things in mind, will increase your chances for success in the mobile market. Ignorance of even a single issue can be the reason for the failure of a startup business and mobile strategy.
What are your personal experiences? Do put them in the comments below – I would love to hear them !

Slow and steady wins the race.

The Amazing Chinese Bamboo Tree

Recently I came across a small story which is quite famous. The Chinese Bamboo seed is planted in the mud. Constant watering the seed is essential. Fertilizers are put in, but no matter what, very little seems to happen the first year. Despite your efforts, only a tiny shoot pokes out of the ground.

You do the same for 2nd year. Nothing happens. You feel perhaps two years of effort are lost.

3rd year, nothing happens.

4th year, nothing as well.

5th year, nothing. You seem to lose patience.

This continues to 8th year.

Then, suddenly after 8 years of fertilizing & watering, the bamboo tree sprouts & grows 30 ft in just 3 months!

Did the little tree lie dormant for years only to grow exponentially in the 8th year? Or, was the little tree growing underground, developing a root system strong enough to support its potential for outward growth in the fifth year and beyond? The answer is, of course, obvious. Had the tree not developed a strong unseen foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew.

These days most people don’t have the capacity to focus on something long enough to make it work. If it’s easy, it won’t last. How big are your dreams? Are you willing to do what it takes?

Had the Chinese bamboo farmer dug up his little seed every year to see if it was growing, he would have stunted the tree’s growth.

Here is a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that is as true today as it was when he wrote it over 100 years ago:

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward through the night.”

Dear Startups, What are you actually selling?

A question comes to my mind which I always want to ask to all startups.

Dear Startups,

What are you really selling? Is it a product or a service? Or your own company ?!

——————————-

When I was a child, I never knew what a start up was. I only new business, businessman, customer, buy, sell, expenses, income.

Today’s jazzy world has come up with fancy names for everything. To start with, some of them are: Entrepreneur, Startups, Meetups, B2B, B2C, VC, Angel Investors etc and what not! A mere Google would reveal hundreds of them. Look for yourself : http://www.forbes.com/sites/kateharrison/2014/08/29/40-start-up-jargon-words-you-need-to-know-to-raise-money/

I said to myself: wow, People have so much energy to bash around the jargon lingo, I wonder if they put the same into customer relationships and better service!

Honestly, until a few years ago, I didn’t know what was B2B and B2C – I guess I am only a third generation businessman ( My father being second and grandfather being the first generation ). I am yet to learn the tricks of 4th gen kids!

Almost all big companies in today’s world have a customer care. We as a consumer just hate their template based replies, don’t we ? Why not focus your energy on building something beautiful and substantial. There’s no marketing better than word of mouth. Look at Google, do they need to market their search engine ? Any kid learning the internet goes to Google as his first website! Word of mouth peeps!

“Many business people focus on what is static, black and white. Yet great algorithms can be rewritten. A business process can be defined better. A business model can be copied. But the speed of execution is dynamic within you and can never be copied. When you have an idea, figure out the pieces you need quickly, go to the market, believe in it, and continue to iterate.”

Wise words from Gurbaksh Chahal, the founder of Radium One – but sadly, I do not find many startups paying much heed to it. People sit on perfectly good business ideas for too long, and are then in a mad, mad rat race to outsmart its ‘perceived’ rivals. And then, when their startups start moving south, they wonder – “Where did we go wrong?” Well, Sir and Madam, plenty of points.

Today’s startups are more about fundraising than actual work. What’s the big hullabaloo over ‘raising X million dollars’ via IPO?

Why as a customer I should worry about how much money you make. This is a false psychology built up in the mind of the customer. New reports like X company raised Y million dollars makes the public think “wow, they raised so much money, they might be a good idea”.

Rather focus on your core strengths. I don’t say marketing is wrong, but excess marketing without a firm backbone will leave you in a lurch.

Get this – you are not Jack Ma (you might become one day, but that day is not now), and no one is interested in knowing how much your startup has managed to raise. Stop showing off with such flaky announcements – and instead, try to focus on building a stronger base first. You may ask me that for building a stronger base – You need investment – Well, you’re right – You do need investment, but now a days where is most of the investment going? Not all funding are bad or should be avoided but its just that the hype now a days is just overrated!

“You need to know where you stand in a business at all times. Measure everything, because everything that is measured and watched improves.”

                                                                                — Bob Parsons (Founder, Go Daddy)

But, dear startup owners, most of you are too fond of over-analyzing things. As unpleasant as it sounds, for a company in its nascent stage – advanced accounting concepts like ‘valuation’ and ‘payback period’ and ‘MVP’ and ‘discounted payoff’ really do not matter. Even if you spend (read: waste) your time and resources to calculate them, the figures would be a fraction of that of the market-leaders. Why bother?

There is a simple saying – Don’t count your chicken’s before they hatch. Right now you not only count your chickens, but also count the chickens from the chickens! You’re just overdoing it guys!

I am not suggesting that business figures and metrics need not be monitored though. When you are gradually building up a company from scratch, estimate the following two figures:

  • Cost of Acquisition (COA)
  • Lifetime Value of Acquisition (LVA)

(And yes, put all the other complex calculations on the back-burner).

Accept projects for which LVA > COA, and run a mile from those for which the reverse is true. Bit by bit, your profit figures will grow, and after a few years, you can turn your attentions to more in-depth indicators of your company’s accounting health.

Next up, what’s with the overwhelming urge to go out of your way to please customers? Don’t for a minute think that I am saying customer-satisfaction is not important (it is THE most critical factor), but do not go about providing free service to everyone under the sun. As a startup, you simply cannot afford to spend time, money and man-hours on a project, and not get paid in return. If a client does not ‘show you the money’, do not be at pains to show him/her your expertise.

Case in point: Xmarks, which offered free service for four years, and then went kaput – because it could no longer pay for its hosting expenses, and even failed to pay out salaries to employees. Don’t get into such a sticky mess.

Another example: There was a company called “Caltiger” which offered free internet in Calcutta in 1999-2000. Went for a toss when the model failed. What do we have to say about all the money lost?

Why I personally hate VCs ?

I simply hate VCs – Sorry but I do, but not all of them, there is a cattle class of VCs whom I dislike particularly. In my story, I once approached a VC who failed to look beyond. Honestly, VCs are bunch of people who don’t bother about anything than money. It doesn’t matter to them if the product / service is right or wrong. VCs are not businessmen, they are just opportunists. They have no interest in your company to nurture them. In my honest opinion, they are guys with lot of extra cash and have no plan what to do with it and hence look out for ideas of others and slowly suck everything out from it.

About 8 years ago, I was presenting my company to a bunch of investors/VCs. There were 100 other companies in that event doing the same. The VCs present there had immediate funding options. My pitch was rejected outright because they didn’t understand what I was doing! A blessing in disguise. About 5 companies were chosen for funding that day. I didn’t have any reactions at that time but now when I search for those company which got funded are all shut down and  have no presence. And about 5 odd companies are still alive from those 100 companies and I’m proud to say our company is one of them. Now when I look back, I think to myself – Those VCs weren’t actually smart enough.

The point being- Startups now a days aren’t selling anything like a service or a product really. The end product or service is just a bait to actually sell their own company. The commodity is their own company rather than a product. The name of the product is just a sham and this I simply cannot approve it! Not in my business ethics. A company is like your child and it makes no sense for me to sell it if its already doing good business. Dear startups, would you sell your child? Or is it that you’ve started a new business of producing children and selling them ?

Business is not just about making money. Its about who is making it and how dedicated and how passionate they are about it.

Startups like Nouncer whine about how ‘Twitter/Facebook stole their thunder’. Strangely though, there is no dearth of startup companies which do not think beyond getting acquired by a big, well-established company. They will, in all probability, lose their identity (sigh, Nokia, sigh!) – and disturbingly, they are not bothered about it at all. Dear startups, if you lose your brand name…you lose everything!

About a year back, the world of business was all abuzz about the $19 billion acquisition of  WhatsApp by Facebook. With all due respect to Mark Zuckerberg and his tremendous business acumen – was this acquisition a good thing for WhatsApp? On a personal front, I do not think so, since being viewed as ‘a Facebook product’ would hardly do WhatsApp any favor (except, perhaps, expand its reach globally).

The ease with which Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is snapping up startups left, right and center seems even more weird. I mean, Ms. Mayer is strengthening the base of her company, but why are so many startups readily agreeing for the acquisitions? The fat paychecks from these deals have started a new trend – entrepreneurs are launching startups SOLELY TO COME TO THE NOTICE OF THE BIG PLAYERS – and selling them off for a nice, big sum. If this continues, that day won’t be far when the entire concept of ‘startups’ will get obliterated. Totally.

So, what is the right way to go about? For starters, resist the temptation (and the shortcut) of creating a company only for the sake of selling it. No one in the world can become a millionaire at 30 years of age, and remain so, only by selling his/her company to a big fish. Do not make products that impress the big-shot in your industry – and focus on customer preferences instead. The initial years will be difficult for a small fish in a big pond, but if you stick to your guns, your company can emerge as one of the big fishes.

“Do you want to be a small fish in a BIG POND, or a BIG FISH in a small pond?” – take a stand on this very, very carefully.

Although Coca Cola is one of the biggest companies in the world, there is a lot to learn for startups from it too. Just think – if the much-hyped and universally-hated ‘New Coke’ had not been withdrawn within 90-odd days – the company probably would not have survived till now. The key takeaway from this is, the makers were flexible and clever enough to understand that they had made an error. Coke Classic returned, and all was hunky-dory again.

“A good idea is not enough. Business aren’t just about ideas, businesses are about execution. Don’t get too enamored with your own idea.”

— Brian Sharples (Co-founder, HomeAway).

Strangely, this willingness to accept an error is lacking in many startup owners. Most newfangled entrepreneurs feel that their ideas are the best on earth – even when the chinks and cracks become apparent. Money is spent, resources are wasted, and employees are heckled, to run after impractical, unfeasible dreams. Every corporate leader makes mistakes – but only those who are smart enough to own up to them survive. Got my point?

As a startup owner, you can also face a myriad of other problems – ranging right from incompetent employees, lethargic partners and workplace conflicts, to unforeseen cash outflows, unfulfilled sales projections and competition from already well-established rivals. I would love to see you guys put up a fight, stay committed to your startup company – and you never know when you will be standing at the cusp of success.

“If you are doing something that has a universal, timeless need, then you need to think of the company in a timeless way.”

— Scott Heiferman (Co-founder, Meetup)

Bottom line? Any good act gets recognized, no matter how small it is. Keep doing your good work, focus on the things you really have to rather than getting attracted to do something large start with something small and one day you will definitely be rewarded !

Keep going, folks!

Apple iOS in-app purchase hacking – How to prevent specially com.zeptolab.ctrbonus.superpower1 hacks

Today I am going to list of various mechanism used by hackers to overcome our in-app purchase utility of one of our top apps in books section called “Story Time for Kids”

As you are aware apple stores each purchase receipts and allows developers an interface to verify each receipt before delivering the purchases (unlocking). Recently many jailbreakers have tried to hack into our system and unlock in-app content for free. I will discuss some very popular mechanisms and how we’ve tried to solve them:

1. Change the DNS of the iPhone. Hackers changed the DNS of the device and instead of redirecting the verification of purchase receipts to Apple servers, they could redirect it to their own custom server and send a custom verification. This way the app would get unlocked and no one would ever come to know. However, the good news is that Apple has patched this and now its kinda safe.

2. Change of DNS of the server side verification. If your in app purchase verifies the receipt via a server, then hackers could change the url via a firewall / middle-ware in between which could return a positive purchase of the unlockable item. There are many apps in Cydia who can do this and you as a owner will never come to know that the purchase was unlocked. Unfortunately there is no out of the box solution except your app keeps checking periodically with an online database if it was purchased or not.

3. Change of Product ID – Spoofing : Many jailbroken iOS devices just change the outgoing purchase receipt to an existing valid purchase receipt. (There are background apps to do this). Our server will then send this to Apple server for verification and guess what, apple will send a confirmation! A sheer good trick. But we’re smarter. Before sending the receipt for verification, unpack it (base64_decode) and extract out the product_id from it. Then check if the product_id is your genuine product or not. If not, just cancel it out. The most famous spoofed product id is :

com.zeptolab.ctrbonus.superpower1

If you encounter any product ID apart from your own, then simply block them. They are not genuine at all!

 

BB10 : BlackBerry 10 Review

So the much awaited BB10 is here finally!

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Thank you BB for sending us the devices to test and review. From the first looks what I could say is: Not bad! Not bad at all…!

From past several days, I just felt that BB guys will push up the same OS as the PlayBook but they have done a great job in modifying many parts of the OS to make it more native “Phone’s OS” rather than a tablet OS.( In the starting days, BB has just ported their PlayBook OS on BB10 devices, they had many references of the Playbook everywhere in the ported OS). Currently, they have not only revamped the entire look and feel, but also have added many more usability features which would make user feel good.

 

 

Things I like:

IMG_00000003The device doesn’t have any physical Home button, but rather a swipe from bottom to the screen would act as one. This is good, saves a lot of time. This feature was there in Playbook as well and I liked it then as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The back buttons for all the native settings apps and many more are below near the thumb, which is again a good advantage.

IMG_00000001The BlackBerry Hub: Most interesting part is that they have created an app (I’d rather call it as a separate desktop) which contains “All in one place” conversation app called “The BlackBerry Hub” which is really fascinating. The app cannot be killed or started, its always ON! Really really convenient for much of the conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_00000006BBM: The BBM is completely revamped and has a lot of exciting look and features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_00000007Side slide menus: The menus slide in from both sides giving out extra options, which is very convenient as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_00000008Browser: The browser is again a great one which I feel is more optimized version of the Playbook browser. I would call it the most advanced browser throughout all browsers. It passes every standard test with flying colors. Not only that, in my personal experience, I have been surfing on this browser in and out and have compared it with iPhone/iPad and Android browsers, but the rendering speed and look and feel is totally awesome! Specially the old websites with malformed HTML is also taken care of. Highly commendable job!

 

 

 

 

IMG_00000014AppWorld: BlackBerry guys have been very active in getting their apps ported and has been involving the developers very much. They have even sent developers cash + devices to get their apps tested proper and encouragement to launch more apps. I’m sure there are plenty of apps for the new device. Not to forget, BB has a very straight procedure of running Android apps on BB10 platform which will encourage many more developers to port their apps. Previously, BB10 Development was a big pain and developers like us wanted to move away, but this BB10 will give us enough flexibility to develop more and more apps and games!

 

 

 

IMG_00000011 This is our app on BB10!

Global search is another great feature, helps you search just anything on your phone.

Background apps is also great feature – but the apps do not run on background, they just go to the background (pause) mode.

Camera tools are great, they provide facility to modify the image. Lets say you shoot a picture and your eyes are closed at the very moment, you can go back 1-2 seconds and edit that portion of the eye. Good tool..!

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Big Keyboard: Really comfortable in typing. There is a ring which allows pointers to be placed properly at the exact place you’d like to .(This is more comfortable than in iPhone / Android ). The special feature is auto complete are at dynamically placed on the keys itself , rather than moving your finger to another place to auto complete, you can just swipe above the key and let it complete it for you. You’ll have to use this feature to see how it feels!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is our Flash site looks on BB10!

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Screenshot of Calendar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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System Settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things I do not like:

There is no great support for customize your phone. Its more like a professional phone and lacks a lot of fun side to it. I’m sure this is not a hardware constraint but the new updates to the OS would take care of it.

The starting of apps (initialization) is a bit laggy and makes the user wait for at-least 1second. I do not quite like this specially with my personal device where I’m most impatient to do several things at a time.

Multi-tasking is just as bad as the iPhone. I thought it would be like Android and specially they could have innovated multi-window like what the Samsung guys did with their Note II.

Conclusion: I like the device and it will definitely solve the business purpose. Much better than 9800 (except the qwerty keyboard!). The only question is how well the users accept it in the already neck-to-neck smart-phone market – Only time will tell!

Life without Jagjit Singh…

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For all those of you reading the blog entry and know me already would know that I’m incomplete without Jagjit Singh. For those of you who don’t, now you know!

Jagjit Singh has been a passion in my life since the early days of my youth. I have enjoyed his music like any other person. May be one step further. I am a fan – an avid fan, a religious fan! Jagjit Singh’s music and choice of poetry has inspired me throughout my life. Now that he is gone, I miss him very much.

I have always tried to attend his concert while he came to Calcutta along with Ghulam Ali. I remember the concerts which I attended alone and with friends. I used to literally drag my friends.

Everyone in my family knows that I am passionate towards his music. Any song of his on tv, my parents would call me immediately. Any concert advertisement in the newspaper, everyone would call and inform me!

The first ever concert that I attended was in an open air auditorium in Calcutta called Nazrul Manch. I still remember dressing up and parking my first bike and entering the concert. I had only come to listen to Jagjit Singh but Ghulam Ali started first so obviously everyone had to wait. I have great respect towards Ghulam Ali as well, but lets just say Jagjit Singh is my favorite. Jagjit Singh always sat on a chair and never flat on ground/platform. The stage had to be re-designed immediately. It was such a pleasure. He performed magnificently!

Jagjit Singh was a real performer. When he saw his audience were a bit bored in between, he would then change the tune into a bit hip hop tip tap number and everyone would be back with him. At other times, he just cracked some joke on stage. His logic was that people have come to get entertained and its his duty to entertain them either by music and if not, may be some joke in between. What he delivered was worth all the money spent.

Jagjit always had a smile on his face. He was always jolly. Always cracked jokes even when someone went for an autograph. I remember taking his first autograph and I was surprised that he was a little short height-ed man. I never looked on TV but he was about in between 5’4″ or 5-8″.

I had once even visited the hotel he was staying and even talked to him on phone and have even written several fan letters to him. I had lots to say to him but then when he was before me, I fell short of words. I often remember his Ghazal’s words “Chaha tha ye kahenge, socha tha wo kahenge. Aaye jo saamne jab, kuch bhi na keh sake bas dekha kiye unhe hum” – (I thought I’d say this, I thought I’d say that, but when he came in front of me I fell short of words and just kept looking at him).

I remember once of his concerts where he had come from Delhi and one wouldn’t believe what had happened before. Jagjit Singh’s mother had expired and he came to the concert after finishing the final rituals of her own mother. As soon as the event organizer Mr Badal Dhar Choudhary heard about his mother’s death, he wanted to cancel the show, but Jagjit insisted that he would still perform. The show must go on… This kind of a person is Jagjit..

I just feel I miss him terrible now. I only have his memories from the past songs but I still miss his concerts and although he may not be there, but his songs are always on my lips..

I would like to end my post by famous words of Ghalib (again sung by Jagjit Singh). It goes like “Hui muddat ke Ghalib mar gaya par yaad aata hai, wo har ek baat par kehna ke yun hota to kya hota..”

A long time has passed since his death, but I still remember him. That on every small thing he would say this and that and what if and what if not..

Honour Killing : How many more indian youth will die?

I am not just sad but ashamed of the fact that in a country which gives secularism as a fundamental right to its citizen, incidents of ‘Honour Killing’ still occur, and in numbers.

So what is ‘Honour Killing’? Taken from wikipedia: :”Honour Killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community. Honor killings are directed mostly against women and girls, but have been extended to men”

Its only recently that these incidents have come to limelight, but I am sure that A Romeo & Juliet story repeats every month(in the news of course, 100s go unnoticed) with a tragic ending.

Let the view points of family disagreements be taken in consideration;
Let the view points of the couple-in-love be taken in consideration;

Who’s to blame, who’s right or wrong? Who’s to judge?

A impulsive decision taken by the the couple flames anger among family and the heat reaches the couple. Its really obvious that the couple’s blood is warmer than their parents, resulting in a bigger flame. No matter what, the end is always tragic.

Most of today’s youth don’t care for their parents. But the is the reverse also not true?

All parents want their children to stand first in class, but there is one and only one first position. Who is to be blamed? Generation Gap? Communication Gap or Society’s pressure?

No matter what, the end is always tragic.

I just fail to believe that the one who bears the child for nine month inside her could one day kill the same just because they chose a life partner without their consent? I also fail to believe that some youngsters chose extravagant life partners which parents are bound to deny. I have also come across parents who think children as their own property. I have come across children who take parents as a liability. Nevertheless, it all boils down to some tragic moments which this age (both oldies and youngsters included) fail to understand.

So what’s the solution?

Talk.

Talking helps a lot. Talking leads to sharing of ideas, sharing of emotions, sharing of feelings. This leads to understanding which leads to a bonding. Most of the parent-children relation today involves least amount of talking and mostly assumption. Assumption, Miscommunication and EGO are the most satanic effects on any relationship. It dilutes the blood. Blood becomes less thicker than water.

So talk your problems! Take it out of the system. Speak, but listen too because the other also want to be heard.

In today’s mean world, society acts as a catalyst in fuming reactions. Many a times it has been observed that parents might not be opposed to the Child’s dream but the society would pressurize the entire family. I have heard several parents killing their own will when it comes to ‘showing face’ in the society. Do not let society bother you. Remember, society suffers from Amnesia. They will soon forget what they said or did.

Lastly, I humbly request parents and youngsters of my age – Be reasonable. Do not be stubborn. Sometimes its better to lose a battle to win others’ love. Both of you are important for the future generation to come. If you fight among yourselves, who will take care of the all so cool coming soon “NextGen” ?!