10 years of startups and tech Entrepreneurship

How did tech entrepreneurship become mainstream in the last 10 years? What led to explosive growth of tech startups? Was it the abundance of VC money or was it the spirit of Entrepreneurship? I tried answering this on Quora.

The last 10 years of startups worldwide is influenced by a) the expanding reach of the internet through mobile devices b) tech advancements.

The internet now has reached to almost every corner of the world making it easier to scale a business that’s built on the internet. This started to happen in the late 90s but wasn’t very successful back then. A lot of VCs lost their money in what was called dot-com bubble. Most of this happened due to the ‘growth over profitability’ mentality. Things didn’t work that well back then because of limited reach and access internet. But things changed in a few years,

  1. Mobile internet became mainstream
  2. The phone became a multi-gadget with camera, music, GPS etc
  3. The survivors of the dot-com bubble and post-bubble companies became platforms or enablers for the new age startups – Amazon, Facebook, Google etc.
  4. Faster, flexible networks around the world – 2g to 3g to 4g all around the world
  5. The middle class or the mass consumers got comfortable with the internet
  6. Business policies got liberal and global expansion became easier
  7. Banks evolved, payment gateways came in – making it easier for people to actually perform transactions online
  8. The world started discovering new stuff – like APIs, tools built by internet companies, growth hacks etc
  9. We also advanced in hardware, education and business policies
  10. Venture capital started flowing and Unicorns were born making it a dream for lots of tech folks to be a unicorn entrepreneur.

Then the world thought, let’s do it. Let’s build a Unicorn. And in a way, what we call the 4th industrial revolution or the digital revolution began and started spreading around the world.

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Urban Mobility: Trends, Challenges, Opportunities

Growing urban population and rapidly growing cities in emerging countries has given rise to a lot of problems and hence opportunities in the urban mobility space. For entrepreneurs and policy makers, these growing trends present challenges that need immediate action and solution. The biggest problems in urban mobility today are affordable public transport, traffic management, enabling multi modal transport and ensuring a safe commute for everyone.

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Image: New Delhi, 2014

 

If we take a closer look at the urban transport landscape, we understand that it’s quite a complex and diverse system. The focus of urban planners or designers in such a system is always based on certain trends. For example, if we look at Bangalore, the key focus of urban planners twenty years back was to build bigger roads and fly overs so as to accommodate more cars on roads. Then about ten years back, the focus shifted to establishing mass transit systems like the metro and sub urban rail. Recent trends show us that the focus of today’s planners is towards pedestrians and cyclists. We’ve seen roads becoming smaller and pedestrian foot paths getting bigger. We’re seeing the growth in the number of pedestrian over bridges and separate lane for cyclists. Present day trends especially the one’s from Europe suggest that the future might be car-free neighborhoods, more affordable and sustainable public transport and even massive bike sharing systems across the city.

It get’s even better when we talk of the massive businesses that can be based on these challenges of urban transport. Hailing a taxi today has become easier and more affordable and it’s also providing better livelihood options to many. It’s usually one idea that’s executed well in the west that is later copied, adapted or brought here to India. We’ve just begun exploring wide range of possibilities provided by such big operations. Today, using similar processes we’re achieving better logistics and delivery of food, groceries etc.

It’s not always easy to adapt an idea and bring it efficiently to India. Mass transit and bus services similar to Leaptransit or Bridj could work in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad etc. But the laws involved and the permissions required are quite complicated. Such opportunities are also not limited to private entrepreneurs, government corporations could also take an initiative, provide such services and add another strong revenue stream. For example, the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation started a taxi aggregator service for airport service.

There are a few companies that try to do something in this space but are either ahead of their time or are not executing well. Bike sharing systems have been introduced a few years back and are yet to gain traction. May be the infrastructure, the mindset is not ready yet. Similarly, Bla Bla Car hasn’t been able to gain as much attention as Zoomcar, may be because people feel it’s not safe or just because they’re shy and do not want to share a car.

However, the future looks bright. More population in cities, more complex transport systems and more challenges for the Government and Entrepreneurs to solve.

The Music Festival Scene in India

Music Festivals are everywhere today. A few years back, there used to be few concerts. Now, there are lots of concerts and so many Music Festivals. At times one has to sit and decide what all concerts or Festivals to attend in the next month. How many weekends to spend partying? Damn. There’s a concert or a festival happening every weekend. And you don’t want to miss any of them. Either because you liked it last year or the line up or for the extra activities or just as another leisure trip. These are the days in India when a music lover can enjoy live music in any of the cities. This is the era of Music.

The change in the way Music Industry marketed itself came with the change in technology. The Music industry, once upon a time depended on record sales for their revenue. Not anymore. Who pays for a record that can be downloaded off the internet for less or no price? Its free most of the time. They explored and analyzed the demand for live music. Now major artists sell their songs or albums on i-tunes and upload HD videos on the internet and let people watch it for free. They connect their songs to everything, they write songs in every theme, they pull up great acts and stunts and market themselves for the live performance. People pay huge money to be there, at the live performance of their favorite artists, and every show brings more fans and more popularity. The feeling, or the experience drives it all. Unlike concerts, where individuals are generally drawn to hear and view a live performance of a specific artist, music festivals often involve a pool of talent and may or may not follow a particular genre. That’s where music festivals stand out. They’ve everything you want. All possible genres, tens to hundreds of different artists, different activities and places, Its like a mini vacation.

Brand Marketing

The major idea behind Music Festivals is to make money and build a Brand and may be promote some artists. The Brand will do most of the work next time. But how’s a Brand’ built for a Music Festival? Experience. Experience is the key to selling anything and everything on this planet. ‘Experiential Marketing’ as it is called these days, makes people buy something for the experience of it. The experience drives the market. Thus, the core idea is to provide a great experience to the revelers, the crowd and make them feel good so they come back next year, paying a higher entry charge. But this is for people who have come once. What about acquiring new audience? That’s where Social Media and other powerful marketing channels are used. Videos, pictures of the event in high resolution, full of colors and full of joy are put all across the internet and social media, letting others know something Awesome happened and they missed it. Just an after – movie of the festival can cause a big stir. More people would want to be a part of something that great the next time it happens. ‘BookMyShow’ got a new look for their website recently and they’ve added features like photos and videos of previous events. On the Sunburn page, there’s a tab, ‘Relive Sunburn’ with all great photos and aftermovies of previous Sunburn Festivals and related events to help the Branding and experiential marketing. The ‘Tomorrowland 2012’ video is a great example for this. It made ‘Tomorrowland’ world famous. It was the greatest thing many music lovers ever came across and they decided to make it a way of life. There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the ‘Tomorrowland’ story, ‘Do something new or if it is not new, make the world believe that it is new or you’re the best they can get.’. That’s what they did. They made a story and many many others around the world copied it. Lot many Indian music festivals copied their ideas like Aftermovie or a camping music festival. I don’t really think all these were influenced by ‘Tomorrowland’, but the way people talked,  everytime they compared most things to Tomorrowland. That’s a brand.

Why do people go to Music Festivals? Studies and surveys show that most youngsters get the feeling of freedom, love and happiness at music festivals. And there are lot of Music festivals that brand themselves with same words. It’s like attaching a feeling to your product while selling it. NH7 weekender, the 4 city festival brands itself as the ‘Happiest Music Festival’. The India Bike Week, happens in Goa comes with a biking spirit and promotes itself through te concept of ‘Biker Brotherhood’  and are sponsored by Harley Davidson Motorcycles. The upcoming EVC festival at Amby Valley, comes with an Adventure theme. Its just the feeling of having everything that you need around, the feeling of freedom, the same some people call Heaven. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about ‘disappearing’ into a music festival, leaving behind their phones and laptops at home just to be free from work or any other pressure for a couple of days, to bring the crazy self out, to party like a madman. Then there are people, who go to music festivals to shoot a joint and get lost in the music. There are many other people who do many other things, get high and peace out. It’s just that not many people ask you what you’re doing inside the festival gates. Nobody cares, though there are a few cops. This also brings a large crowd to festivals.

The pictures and videos of the event being on the internet is the most important thing after an event. It helps in better branding of the event and also better joy and experience for the crowd if the event they attended and liked gets famous. It is also important for the next edition of the festival. Recently, I saw RFID tags used at a music festival for the same. People were given RFID tags for a Facebook app, and made to login on facebook and give access to the app. Then everywhere in the venue, there were cameras and TVs. One could just go, show his tag and pose for a pic which gets updated on social networks immediately with the details of the Music Festival and how Awesome it is. Now that is some brilliant use of technology.

Other factors that contribute to good marketing are sites like bookmyshow where people buy passes online one or two months prior to the festivals. This guarantees some crowd and money for working capital. This reduces loss in case of failure. For example, The NH7 weekender in Bangalore this year was a total disaster. It rained heavily over the weekend making the venue look nothing more like a paddy field. The crowd that wanted to come, didn’t turn up. And the crowd that came, couldn’t stay. A lot of people who had bought passes online didn’t go. OML even rescheduled a few acts from Saturday to Sunday due to heavy rains, but the rain never stopped. It was back on Sunday. In this case, if at all they didn’t have pre – booking, they would have lost everything.

The Money

Almost all music festivals rely on sponsors for most of their money. There are also a few music festivals that get all of their money from sponsors and offer free entry to the venue. Strawberry fields is one such music festival organized by the NLSIU, Bangalore. They claim themselves to be a ‘Grassroots Music Festival’ and rely completely on sponsors. They’ve been in the scene for 18 years now and the crowd turn out is great. These free festivals offer a great opportunity to market the brands that sponsor them. Another example is ‘Bengaluru Ganesha Utsava’, which is not exactly a music festival but has a lot of music, art and performing art events for abut 20 days in Bangalore during Ganesha Festival. It is a crowd funded festival organized by a local organization. There are artists belonging to various genre, from folk to classical to Bollywood and it attracts huge crowd within Bangalore. It has the complete feel of a music festival but no alcohol. When we look at all the music festivals that offer free entry to the crowd, there is one thing common . No alcohol. That’s because either these people are not ‘OK’ with endorsing alcohol brands or because the crowd management won’t be easy.

The major sponsors for Music festivals are Automobile companies like Hero, TVS, Royal Enfield, Tata and Harley Davidson, Cellular companies(most of them) and Alcohol companies under the name of ‘Music CDs’,  Mobile phone manufacturers like Nokia, Micromax etc. The sponsorship comes in different categories, a title sponsor or a major sponsor gets his name as the presenter and depending on various scales, different brands are given space on the posters, social media and the venue. The good thing here is, after obtaining the space, the sponsors try to sell his brand through the event. They conduct contests on the internet, make it trend and give out free passes. Even at the venue, they do a lot of stuff to pull people towards their stall or space. They make sure everyone notices them. About a month back, the ‘Sunday soul Sante’ happened. Its a flea market, music and food festival happening in Bangalore once every two months. TVS was a major sponsor and at their stall they had a contest. To design the side vinyls for TVS vego and get a free sketch of yourself by a caricature artist. Similarly, last year at the Bacardi NH7 weekender, Tata Nano had a contest to design a t-shirt using their own stencils and spray paint. People were playing there with the paint, the recognition needed for the brand was obtained. Micromax, the Indian smartphone manufacturer, got their much needed attention after sponsoring Sunburn.

The sponsorship from alcohol companies is quite difference. They have a ROI right at the venue. Most alcohol brands that sponsor are the title sponsors or sponsor a stage or an artist. For this they pay a huge sum to the organizers and get the bar rights. Then they sell their exclusive drinks at a higher price and mint money. Similar things happen with food also. But there is always a wide choice with food and not alcohol. People are forced to buy whatever is the even if they don’t like it. But people don’t care, few of them either drink outside and come or they get high any other way. But most people buy it here, and once they are drunk they’re filled with the illusion of freedom and happiness here at the festival. They dance, they love, they have all the fun.

Then there is money from the crowd. Most people who go to music festivals are the Indian middle class. People who spend. They want the cheap and the best. They attract a lot of sponsorship too. The Pre bookings, student/under 21, VIP, one day, early bird etc categories. Another thing about ticketing is that most organizers have very unfriendly rules towards ticketing. Not transferable, non refundable, ID proof etc. This is huge money and quite hard to earn. But the right brand can market itself to sell out for great money.

The whole Idea and the Influence

With Music festivals happening all across India, from major cities like Bangalore to small towns like Naukuchiatal, it is a great feeling of nationwide love towards live music. Experiences may vary from region to region, festival to festival, but everything is aimed at Peace, Love, Happiness and Freedom.

The laws are quite strict now and may be someday, they’ll be quite free. May be someday we can have concerts on till midnight. But with such huge crowds it is not very easy to manage. Service tax, entertainment tax and many more other taxes make the festivals expensive. Also social issues like women safety, drug abuse must be checked at all the festival venues.

Music Festivals, like religions and drugs, keep the people busy and happy at the same time. This is very much necessary for a country like ours with such huge population and diverse ideas. Politically, all these make sense and such concepts should be supported.

Music festival scene is a huge market and gives opportunity for a lot of other industries to grow. Food and beverage, clothing, security, gifting, transport, media, marketing etc industries can grab a lot of opportunities at music festivals. There are stalls, flea market, exclusive space for sponsors at every music festival venue. The stalls and flea market mainly help the small businesses in food, clothing or gifting business and the large companies and brands are benefited by sponsoring. Looking at the number of stalls in different categories at ‘Sunday Soul Sante’ I was shocked to learn that a festival can give a platform for this many small businesses to establish themselves. Also there are start ups like Grallo, which is into providing transport, car pooling options to all events and festivals. There are a lot of other companies that do marketing, design, branding, sponsorship, event management etc for such big Music Festivals. This way, Music festivals can boom the economy too. The entire scene is giving rise to lot of innovation in the event, music and marketing industry.

And today,  we have festivals happening in lush green landscapes of Ooty and Coorg, in deserts of Jaisalmer, amidst the traffic of the metropolitan concrete jungles, on the beaches of Goa and also at the Himalayas. People love music. Music can bring people together, It can contribute, It can drive innovation. Music can bring change. It has brought a change in the society in the past. The Music Festival Culture is also bringing change in the society. People now, tend to look at things in a broader way. People know where to head for a feeling of joy, happiness and freedom. Getting high isn’t such a bad thing now. Many people get to do business, earn money, earn happiness with the Music Festival Scene. I feel this is good. This is great.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of something like this. Worked my ass off to make my college fest great. But I could never make it to this level. Now I visit music festivals, enjoy my freedom, party hard and think about how they put it all together.

Big Bazaar Direct

Famously known as the Retail Czar of India, Kishore Biyani has recently announced the launch of Big Bazaar Direct, A unique, direct to home business model. The Big Bazaar brand name is a huge success all over India for various reasons. Their deals, discounts and various marketing strategies are proven in the Indian market. Big Bazaar is one of the world’s fastest growing hypermarket chains with a lot of achievements, milestones and awards.

And now they’ve launched Big Bazaar Direct (BBD) where customers can dial and order what they want. According to future group, this “aided-ecommerce” idea is keen to concentrate on areas not serviced by organized retail. The idea that it won’t be easy to find retail spaces in the future to meet the needs of growing population led to the thought of the business model. This can meet a lot of demands in the retail industry in a cheaper and efficient manner. However, there are a lot of products consumers don’t want to buy unless they see, feel or try them. Conventional shopping could still be the preferred way and this can just be an alternative. But this type of business model can bring a revolution in the industry. It can cut down costs and increase profits for everyone.

So how does this work?

Anyone can pay a sum of 3 lakh rupees and become a direct franchisee of BBD. These franchisees are provided with tablets with complete data on products, deals and discounts. Customers directly interact with these franchisee/agents and place orders which in turn are placed by them to BBD. And BBD ships these order directly to the homes. This is like a win-win-win situation where the Business, the franchisee and the customers are all happy with the deal. The customer gets the deal, discounts on his shopping right at his doorstep. The franchisee/agent earns a commission on every order. BBD acquires new customers in areas it can’t serve otherwise and also saves a lot of money and resources compared to its conventional operations. Here, the company just maintains a godown or a distribution facility for a certain area. For example, According to BBD, their current distribution facility at Nagpur is enough to handle operations for the entire Vidarbha region. The operating cost of a retail business is reduced because maintenance, staff training, power, security, parking, rent/lease etc expenditures are much less compared to the conventional model. This makes it a very profitable business model at all levels.

Doing it Right means everything

The BBD model has a lot of advantages. Though this is something new, there is great planning, research and a most trusted brand name behind this idea. The backing of future supply chain, technology and building a strong franchisee network could make this a success. The most important thing is marketing, building up a franchisee network, letting people know that the service is good, setting up the brand.

Big Bazaar has done a lot of great marketing campaigns to woo customers. It has explored new markets and offered different deals. It has done everything from celebrity endorsements to offering free food at the hypermarkets. It is also planning to add Value added services like grinding, de-seeding, vegetable cutting etc services for free. This can mean a lot to customers. Extending such strategies and plans to BBD could help it grow. Imagine someday if this type of business model is success, one could buy cut vegetables while sitting at home with a tablet. Life could be made so easier.

The tagline says it all – “घर बैठे!” which translates to english as “While sitting at home”. The tagline stresses on the comfort of getting your shopping done with best deals while sitting at home.

The major target, the Indian middle class, thinks this kind of idea is cool. Most middle class people work on hectic full time jobs. They don’t have much time to go for grocery shopping. The traffic, parking problems, crowd, fuel expenses everything adds up to their woes. The concept of BBD can give a perfect solution to these problems. Actually people might not mid paying an extra few bucks for this kind of service.

The cool factor – The technology, pleasure of getting the work done and getting best deals while sitting at home adds up to the feel or experience a customer can have with BBD. People coming home with cool gadgets and taking orders makes the customer feel a lot more superior than waiting in long queues for billing in conventional outlets. As long as the customer enjoys the service and has a better experience compared to other models. this will be a hit.

Further, the delivery time can also be reduced with efficient planning and market research. Speeding up the delivery process can be an added advantage. Also, e-commerce sites and apps could be designed to take orders. And may be the franchisee/agent can take samples with them helping the entry of new products to the market. There surely is a lot more scope in the future.

Kishore Biyani has always been a great entrepreneur. Coming from a middle class family, he has great insights on the Indian middle class who are his major target. His famous lines like – “Garv se kaho, hum kanjoos hain” and campaigns on savings etc help in creating a bridge with the customers. According to his 3-C theory, Change and Confidence among the entire population is leading to rise in Consumption, through better employment and income which in turn is creating value to the agricultural products across the country. This new model implies the same. Being someone who has done this before and has a clear picture of the market can make something like BBD work effectively in the Indian market.

The brand name, the funding and the people behind this idea are all strong, educated and experienced and have the potential to make it a success. If at all it fails, it can’t spoil the brand reputation of Big Bazaar or Future group.