Breaking Stereotypes

Breaking Stereotypes

Who am I? It’s a question that I often ask myself. Sangram and Alok thought that I was a breaker of stereotypes.
A fascinating journey of stories ensued followed by thought-provoking and heart-wrenching questions alike from the audience who had tuned in from all parts of the world. If I had to summarize in one word what I felt – it’s GRATITUDE
Sometimes you just live your life and realize how far it has taken you. Here are a few notable things I have learned along the way.

I got my first job as a salesperson by indignantly storming into the office of the Co-Founder of Microland, demanding an explanation for why I was being denied a job in sales, on the basis of my gender. It’s important to selectively show your emotion at the right place, at the right time. You must have the courage to stand up for what you think is right.

My first encounter with Bill Gates was when I was introducing him at an event to mark his first visit to India, to a packed audience of the Who’s Who of the Indian industry. Nervous and intimidated as I was, I walked up to him, and said – Don’t be nervous, we are all just human beings at the end of the day. He repeated my comment on stage, and remembered my name. I got to be the girl who told Bill to just chill.
When I was bullish about India’s demand for premium computers, I had to present the business case to Steve Jobs in order to get supply diverted to India. He simply said – Badge on the Table. I happily accepted the challenge, not knowing it was a challenge until later. When my boss said – What have you done? I told him to relax too. My forecast was accurate, we sold everything and I got another word email from Steve. Nice!
So let’s get power distance out of the way, because we are all just human.

Networking without purpose has served me well. I have worked for the world’s best tech companies and all of them happened through my network. At Intel, I asked our sales head whether I could buy him coffee one morning, and that led to a series of coffee chats. A couple of years later, when I wanted to relocate back home as I was pregnant with my first child, I couldn’t find an opportunity to transfer within Intel. He generously introduced me to his friend at Apple who was looking for someone to open the Apple office in Mumbai.
Be helpful to everyone. You have no idea of who might open doors for you one day.

Support Systems are important both at work and at home. You have to be helpful first. But when you need it, you have to ask for help too. At work, I asked and got a huge people management opportunity. It meant I had to pack my bags to go live in a new city, with a 4 year old. My grandma came to live with us. Another time, my boss asked me to get an MBA. I took night classes. My husband looked after our 2 year old. When he had to be away for a few months, my parents and in-laws took turns to help out. It meant they had to put their own lives on hold. But that’s what your support system does.
Conversely, when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I changed roles to allow myself to stay close to him in his last days. My old and new team helped me get through those dark days. At the cost of repeating myself, that’s what your support system does.

Your sources of inspiration can come from anywhere. Someone I know got a PhD while working for Google and being a mom to two kids. She just moved countries with her 2 kids, without her husband, and decided to pause a 14 year sales career, to come work in my CX team for a short term assignment as an individual contributor.
Learning never stops. We are surrounded by incredible stories of courage and passion to change the status quo. Find the stories that inspire you and learn from them.

All of us have some sort of privilege. We can all be allies for those who were not as lucky as we were. I’ve had great mentors, both men and women who have stopped me from burnout, protected me from wrong career moves and been advocates for me when I am not in the room. I have learnt from their experiences.

Convincing the Bond franchise to change the storyline by getting the Bond heroine to detonate the bomb and save James Bond’s life, just to get my product placed in the movie – The World is Not Enough. Looking back, that movie changed the stereotypical representation of women in spy thrillers, not just Bond movies. Who could have thought going way beyond my job description would help me change the world?

In conclusion, I did not go about planning to break stereotypes. I said YES to opportunities and gave myself freedom to figure it out later. Most times, my experiments succeeded. Sometimes they failed. But if you don’t fail, you are not trying hard enough.
The boundaries of what’s possible is only in our heads. Unshackle your mind, the rest is easy.

– Anuprita Bhomick

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Business of Nature is The Nature of Business

Business of Nature is The Nature of Business

“If this picture does not move you, then what will?” This was Babita Sinha’s impassioned plea and start on Guts Glory & Story. The picture on the screen was that of a half-burnt Kangaroo who was being given water to drink by a teenager – a terrible, heart-wrenching picture of how humans may have directly or indirectly pillaged the earth.

The earth seems to be burning – Australian bush fires, the Amazon forests, California; water seems to be running out from cities and it took a Cape Town to prove that such calamities will be witnessed by all of us living today. Trees are being indiscriminately cut, temperatures are going up and massive droughts and floods are common occurrences; a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees centigrade will be the tipping point for life on earth to begin its descent towards extinction. This is an emergent situation and needs urgent action.

If Your Green Canvas being in the “Business of Nature” cannot catalyze a reversal, then who can? – self-questioned its founder. The sequence of sustainability for them, deep-rooted in their ethos, is Planet, People and Profit and not the other way around. Funnily, if humans were not there on earth, nothing would happen to nature but if a small worm or a bacterium were to vanish, life will come to a grinding halt on earth. Can we, the ordinary people on the street, bring about any change? Yes of course. If 100 people could create 100 green spaces – big or small – and become flag-bearers and catalysts for converting yet another 100 in their immediate network connections – be it by gifting seeds, or helping small indoor kitchen gardens, gifting plants instead of other items – guess what? 100x100x100 makes it a million-people touched in just a few months. Such is the power of our network! YGC proudly claims that it is not just profit-based but passion-based. They have grown from creating small terrariums now to plant-staging both indoors and outdoors, landscaping, and planting trees on highways and roads. But it needs to be all about impact.

Simply put, it is about no negative impact on the earth and a positive impact on people. No chemical soils – the suggestion was to use kitchen waste like banana peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds, to rejuvenate the soil; water-wise plants like succulents, and planting the right tree at the right place, is important. In short local plants and trees are critical for sustainability and improving the resilience of the environment. Using coconut fiber instead of plastic pots, compost from waste, something that YGC procures from waste power plants, are easy alternates in direction of sustainability and environmental resilience. Impact via social inclusion, job skilling i.e. working with women in the local community and creating their version of ‘Shankarammas’ and finally via corporate workshops where they teach how “the nature of business is the business of nature” is their chosen route. Maintenance is yet another way where they employ and train differently-abled people for plant propagation or organic soil mixing.

COVID needs to be looked at through two lenses – environmental and societal. Nature saw its pollution levels at the minimum best. The Himalayas were visible from Saharanpur and Jalandhar. It looked like “corona was earth’s vaccine against the most petulant nature-virus – the human beings!” The founders mentioned that people have been flocking nurseries and in general, agriculture companies have been doing very well – just because “in extreme stress and anxiety, people turn to gardening as an antidote.” Gardening teaches patience.

COVID has shrunk our choices and access to spaces. The house is a refuge and a jail. People are now wanting to redefine their spaces into multi-use roles – office, relaxation, party-space, and out-door workspaces. Plants promote well-being – in-fact a large plant every 100 square-feet makes indoor spaces cooler and air quality much better. There are many studies to prove this.

Businesses can learn from nature and can make themselves resilient. Weeds in the gardens are important but if left unchecked will take over the garden; likewise, dissenters are important in an organization but if left unchecked will become corporate terrorists completely without control. Life is resilient – it grows in the most difficult places – even a compost bin! Likewise, startups operate in a similar model. Learn from your mistakes – it is fine if a plant dies, but if the second one dies then there is an issue. Sometimes you do everything correctly but yet the plant dies – relook at the entire environment. Finally, look at the root cause, not just the symptoms – a yellow leaf can have many causes – if you need to fix it you need to find the root cause. Find it.

On the grave issue of environment and sustainability, there is no time for discussions now, only action. Let us all join the choir! Thank you, Babita and Saumya… we are ready!

Full episode here.

– Alok Sinha

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Building A Legacy: Leadership during COVID Times

Building A Legacy: Leadership during COVID Times

In adversity lies immense opportunity. It was the short story of the ‘three questions’ from Tolstoy, Steven’s mom would often read out to him when he was a child. It seems to be so topical today. Steven keeps those three questions as his constant companion –

• When is the right time to do anything? ‘Of course – now!’
• Who is the right person to listen to? ‘The one you happen to be with.’
• What is the right thing to do? ‘To serve.’

… because the past is slipping away and now is the only moment…

Leaving a lasting legacy:

Usually, there are three other questions that dawn upon people when they are at the end of their career lives – did I live well? Did I love well and did I matter? Did I make a difference and was it worth it at all? And therein lies the question of legacy. Legacy is mistakenly regarded as something that one leaves behind. But legacy is built – consciously or unconsciously. Especially now in the continuously unfolding COVID crisis, every leader, and potentially every human-being, needs to question himself – how do I make a difference? A quick reminder that legacy is in someone else’s mind and hence needs the effort to get created in the mind-space of others. A legacy can be created in 5 domains and they are family, business, professional, industry, world, or community you live in. Steven’s suggestion is to look at all of them carefully and work on all.

The time to act is now!

The Story of Rami – a dynamic CEO-leader, born in Riyadh, who took over his father’s business in Beirut and grew the business from revenues of 200M to 1 B USD; the business was ready for an explosive IPO. When asked, Rami remarked that the IPO was just for leaving a legacy for his family – making sure that they are more than comfortable through generations. But beyond the IPO, he wanted to dedicate his entire life in serving the community. As life would have had it, destiny had other plans. He passed away, an untimely death at 33 – a burst blood vessel in the head. Unfortunately, just before the IPO.

Steven stressed that action needs to be taken now. Be impatient for change – if something needs change it must be done. Leadership, he reminded, is a responsibility, and one cannot be a continuous critic during times of need but has to be an active change agent. Leadership reputation arises from not just ‘doing’ but from ‘leading’. And today the need is leading people out of anxiety, troubled times, and pain. One constantly needs to question himself, what is he known for? If it is just for technical skills, then something is terribly wrong.

Leadership 3.0 – the new paradigm for successful leaders.

People have discovered new parts of themselves today. Nearly everyone has experienced a change in his leadership style. Steven’s research on Leadership yields a completely new evolution of this beast. Leadership 1.0 was based around personal charisma – Welsh, Iacocca. Leadership 2.0, which has evolved over the past twenty years, was all about teams and collaborations – so a lone leader giving dictatorial orders was not enough to create an institution but it was with a team of people working together. The new Leadership 3.0 style that is seen developing is all about community and community building. It is about pulling people together; it is about battling anxiety and fear – together. Pandemic has made us start-ups and start-ups have a huge overlap between people directing and people doing. With ‘long term’ seemingly be dead, at least for a while, Successful leaders of tomorrow will be those who would have built successful communities.

Authenticity in leadership

Is legacy building different in a crisis? If you were to seek answers for ‘leadership during the pandemic’ either on the internet or otherwise – usually they have been low calorie and very general e.g.
take care of your selves, or Parochial – do this. Surviving and thriving are big issues in general. Today when water-cooler conversations have gone and WFH has become more individualized, there is a danger that leaders are in an echo-chamber with people that they get on with. Dissenters could be unconsciously or consciously kept out of discussions. For being within the dictates of the leadership 3.0 paradigm, one would need to consciously seek out men and women, who have increasingly become individualized due to WFH, but especially whose ideas don’t necessarily conform to one’s perspectives. On this island of humanity and employees, it is the leaders’ responsibility to keep everyone involved and bridging the gaps.

If you have something to say to the world, say it now!

Writing books – a powerful tool to quickly put a book into print. In today’s world where the speed of communication is the key for sharing knowledge and research freely, conventional publishing routes that take 9 – 12 months to publish a book may not be apt. Writer’s Channel help authors publish their book quickly.

Steven’s own affliction that occurred fleetingly at a young age of 26 has kept him living every day of his as if his doctor’s words could come true – “your affliction may return any day.” But in the shadows of strength and not fear.

Full episode here.

– Alok Sinha

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Building brands in a digital age

Building brands in a digital age:

This piece is an extract from a conversation with Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO of Mirum – A WPP group agency. We have added a few pieces from our research and knowledge to make the article more useful.

Brand Building in the Digital Age:

This is Sanjay’s third entrepreneurial journey. The first 10 years were spent in a rather traditional business. Later he started an E-commerce platform for selling ethnic Indian products to a global audience. A lot of efforts were put behind making that platform big and getting the kind of funding that would have really resulted in the platform reaching its true potential. However, despite his best efforts, they missed the bus. As a matter of fact, all the heartache and all the learnings from the university of hard knocks are documented in his book – ‘If I could do it again’. Sanjay exited the venture and he took a full time job. But the entrepreneurial bug, or rather as we call it in Hindi – the ‘keeda’ refused to go. So he started again, his third coming – Social Wavelength – this time as a social media marketing agency. This time, though, they got it right. They were at the right place and at the right time. Social Media was indeed booming. And within a few years itself, Social Wavelength made enough waves to attract the attention of the WPP group. JWT approached Social Wavelength with an invitation to be a part of the group. Sanjay and Hareesh Tibrewala, Sanjay’s partner accepted the offer. Social Wavelength became Mirum, and an exciting journey began. To Sanjay’s credit, rather than losing steam after having sold stake, his fire in the belly only doubled. Mirum grew to 3 times the size of Social Wavelength under the leadership of Sanjay and Hareesh. Sanjay generously credits this success to how the Network has structured the relationship with founders, after they took over their companies. The remuneration structures are structured in such a way that there is still a huge upside for them if they deliver on growth. In addition to this, thanks to the fact that these are global networks, the exposure to Sanjay and Hareesh was immense, and they only capitalized on it to spread their wings.

Sanjay’s journey: Age No Bar. Failure no Bar

Quite counterintuitively, Sanjay debunked the excessive credit given to the digital medium in brand building. He clearly called out that brand building is a process. Brands aren’t built in a day or even months. At the end of the day, there is a funnel that exists for most brands – It begins with salience, building preference, seeking information, making a choice and then fulfilment. The first two, for most of the big brands still happens offline. Attribution is given to digital media because the fulfilment nowadays happens online. But indeed, the preference building in lots of cases happens offline. He gave the example of search – The difference is between searching for bags and searching Samsonite. Branding is everything you do to enter the prospects mind to type ‘Samsonite’ instead of ‘bags’ in the search window. But how do new age brands who are digital first brands build brands in the absence of big television or print ad budgets.  Let’s look at a couple of things here. There are some distinct advantages of digital. Firstly, digital is not a carpet bombing medium. For example, it would have been media planners wet dream to have his television spots delivered to only television sets watched by women between 25 to 29, who are not yet married and who love yoga and wellness and who stay in Mumbai suburbs. This is what digital can do. So a small brand interesting in selling only to the above cohort can easily do so. Take the example of Aishani Chowdhury, all of 16, who started baking professionally (see our story) was able to launch her lil baking enterprise to appeal to baking aficionados, cater to her south Mumbai neighborhood and later expand all over Mumbai through lil to nothing in terms of marketing spends. Great product, an identified niche, some nice pics and a smartly crafted Instagram and Facebook strategy.

Secondly, Digital is a dialogue, unlike conventional media which is a monologue. Your customers can talk back to you. And if you talk back well, a conversation starts triggering off a virtuous cycle. Lastly, Digital is all about community – one happy customer can get 10 more – thanks to his posts, feedbacks, shares etc. This is the viral effect. Smart brands make use of these features of digital. Thanks to this, brand building is possible in the digital age without the big bucks.

But yes, that brings us to the most important question:

Digital Medium gives us a very smart ‘How’ but it doesn’t yet give you the ‘Why’ And to get to that ‘Why’, its going back to classical advertising.

So Mr. Porter, and Mr. Kotler, we still need you. No matter how digitally savvy you are as a brand, you need to identify your niche – who is your customer – why does he need you? (Relevance), How are you different from the competition (differentiation) and how are you uniquely posed to deliver? (Honesty). All the digital first brands which are successful got these basics right. We can challenge anyone to find a successful digital first brand, that’s faltered on these basics. This is a subject that needs a deeper exploration. We will be coming up with a separate blog on Brand Purpose soon. Stay tuned to this space.

So WTF is Agile Marketing?

The term Agile Marketing comes from the software industry, a large project was broken down into smaller and smaller chunks with very frequent checks and controls. The point was to trap errors early, course correct and ensure that the project does not derail too much due to errors. Likewise, Agile marketing is breaking down the marketing budget in smaller parts. The objective remains the same. But instead of betting all your money on a single large idea, one puts the marketing monies on A/B tests where one tries and tests hypothesis on smaller budgets. The idea is the same. Sharpen hypothesis, keep tweaking communication basis analytics and results and keep bettering the ROI on your investments. Agile marketing works best with digital marketing because everything is measurable, thanks to data and analytics.

Marketing Automation: Putting it all together

Our conversation also led us to decode marketing automation. What is marketing automation after all? Marketing Automation addresses a scenario where all the data with regards to your customer is scattered across various touchpoints. Some of it at point of sale, at the website, at your various social media handles, at the customer service kiosk etc. Marketing automation enables you to get a unified view of the customer by bringing together all this data points together. When collectively viewed across all customers, one begins to see cohorts and personas. Each persona has a specific set of behaviors. There can be a finicky mommy persona, there can be the bargain-hunting housewife persona, or the value conscious uncle persona and so on. Marketing campaigns can be different for each of these personas. So what was almost impossible in yesteryears was customized campaigns for so many personas. This is possible in the digital age thanks to marketing automation. Marketing automation also has implications for future careers. So menial tasks will be taken over by AI. Humans will have to focus on creative solutions and softer skills like intuition, which will yet be out of reach for AI for a few years.

Macro-influencers vs Micro-Influencers:

When speaking of influencers, we spoke of 3 types of influencers – Mass Influencers, Domain specific influencers and social influencers. Mass Influencers refer to mega celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan or any of the big Bollywood names or for that matter cricket. They can endorse or try to influence any product purchase and the chances are that it will work. Domain specific influencers refer to influencers for specific domains like automobiles, cosmetics, lifestyle, sports etc. Domain specific influencers work only for those domains. And then there are social influencers who appeal to specific social communities – like someone may be a teenage influencer, or an LGBT influencer or Mommy influencer. Brands can use influencers as per their strategy. Sometimes a brand may use a mass influencer to create the overall impact and the use a combination of domain specific and social influencers at much smaller budgets to spread the message and also for fulfilment.

“Hey Siri, what’s the forecast for the future?” Hmm… I think its voice all the way.

The rise of voice is the most exciting part of the digital business today. Already homes abroad are full of devices which will happily listen to you and do their stuff at your bidding. Alexa, Siri, Google Home et al. Our phones will soon be adept enough to listen to us rather understand us through the keyboard. Majority of tier 2 tour 3 searches on Google today are on voice – far higher than text searches. The best part of the voice journey is that it breaks the literacy barrier. This is very, very exciting for a country like India – for Bharat, where people don’t have to type but can ask for directions in their native language and google maps will happily lead the way. This throws open a massive opportunity for platforms to migrate to voice if not voice first when they are defining their customer experience strategy. I personally have Siri and Alexa in my home and I ‘listen’ to the economist. I don’t read it. I consume the economist on my walks, when I do household chores etc. Hope you are ‘listening’ to this big trend.

Hey Bharat! We are coming.

The big opportunity for India is not in big cities. It’s in the tier 2 and tier 3 cities. That for you, is Bharat. Big cities are saturated. And with digital crossing the language barrier and voice crossing the literacy barrier, the time for Bharat has come.

Full episode here.

– Sangram Surve

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


MSMEs: Surviving, Thriving & Driving the Markets

MSMEs: Surviving, Thriving & Driving the Markets

Many a times we have heard entrepreneurs lament – ‘the government says that MSMEs have been offered loans and support – but I have not got anything.’  Samir Sathe EVP, Wadhwani Foundation Samir spearheads the MSME program at Wadhwani (which has both grant program called Sahayata and a mentoring program – Advantage SME) had a very candid say on this! Any money is not to delay a certain death but to give a renewed lease of life. And the two are very different. The former alludes to the owners, that latter to their entire ecosystem.

The Wadhwani Foundation is a philanthropic organization founded by Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, whose mission it is to “accelerate economic development in India and other emerging economies.” The Wadhwani Foundation principally works through partnerships with like-minded individuals, organizations, corporations, and governments.

Growth is the base survival plan!

Einstein once remarked, so long as you are on the bicycle and pedaling, it will continue to be stable and will move, but the moment you stop pedaling it is a matter of time when it topples over. MSMEs’ need of the hour is not just cash alone but growth. Today SMSEs seemed to be needing money for keeping themselves afloat. This increases a big risk of them getting into a debt trap. Simultaneous shoring up of local demand is equally important. In short, growth is the base survival plan and if the plan is in cutting costs or managing cash alone, then it is a very risky plan.

Disruption needs to be managed across Industry, Firm, Individual

Headwinds for MSMEs need to be managed at three levels and each of the three will need differing interventions. If an entire Industry segment is facing disruption, for example travel or hospitality, or is slowly limping back e.g. cab aggregators or dining, then the problem needs to be solved at the systemic levels. Firms from such specific industries needs to be handled collectively e.g. peer learning sessions across firms at the entire ecosystem level needs to be catalyzed. Learning from each other becomes critical as success elsewhere can and should be rapidly replicated.

If a specific firm has been disrupted, then there could multiple reasons for it – whether it was competitive or not, the behavior of employees within the firm – whether they lacked collaboration or were hoarding critical resources, or they just lacked skills to manage the current crisis.

Many a times it is the individual who needs to ‘unskill’ and reskill and in those cases attitude counts. Focus is to build on very specific roles and skills in the immediate future for the needs of the firm. Hence a 360 view has been adopted by Wadwani Foundation to support the Industry across levels.

Layoffs – good, bad or ugly

Can layoffs be avoided in the short run? The unfortunate answer is, no! In facts layoffs provide managed reset. About 30-40 million people will either get laid off or will have their value that they command, get diluted. To overcome the poor impact of layoffs in the short run 

  • Unskilling and upskilling will be required
  • Survival Anxiety, which we are all going through today, accelerates learning. This thus seems to be the is the best time for employees to learn.
  • This also is a catalyst for people to perform tasks and undertake responsibility beyond their current roles and grades making organizational platform more stable.

The truth is that these are tough times and It is quite fine to focus on those employees who the firms believe are good for their organization and look at a spring cleaning those who don’t make the cut.

Innovation is equally critical.

With shrinking employee base, firms tend to focus on their short term needs and immediate problems. Entrepreneurs need to have a bifocal vision – to look at immediate term for sure, but also set aside a small modicum for innovation or investing in the future. Entrepreneurs sometimes get limited by their view of

  • They know it all.
  • Not asking for help. In-fact asking for help makes them smarter and tougher; it is like playing cricket and in the interdependence of the team mates lies the key to success.

Finally, who will be the winners in MSMEs? Likely those who have already built their trauma centres before this crisis descended. The trauma centre demands quick and clinical decisions. Entrepreneurs treat their businesses as children and hence are less likely to take clinical decisions.  Thus, the centre needs experts surrounding the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs must thus have complementary skills in their teams, they themselves don’t have. For example, most can spot opportunities but may not be adept at spotting risks.

The hungry, inspired, ethical and committed takes it all!

Impromptu creativity within broader economic rules creates winners because responses need to be quick and lie partly in deterministic domain and partly ‘exploristic’ based on gut. Musicians and vocalists do this so often! Entrepreneur usually display growth mindset looking out constantly for silver linings during any crisis situation.

So, who can get help from Samir at Wadhwani Foundation? Entrepreneurs who are 

  • Hungry, inspirational, committed to the process of transformation and ethical.
  • Believe on a 5x or 10x growth (not 10% growth)
  • And never say die!

India does more of such people.

For the full interview, click here..

– Alok Sinha

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


Brand 2.0 and Beyond

Brand 2.0 and Beyond:
The post Covid opportunity for consumer brands

This blog is based on our 3rd session of Guts Glory & Story –  The interview with Kanwal Singh – MD and CEO of Fireside Ventures.

Some additional inputs have been added based on our own research as well, but the piece broadly reflects the content extracted from the rich conversation.
Link to the recorded video is at the bottom of the page. 

The case for brands 2.0: Disruption of media and distribution

In erstwhile years, the darling of all campuses was the FMCG sector. And within the FMCG sector were the usual favourites  – Hindustan Levers, Procter & Gamble, ITC, Nestle etc. These were the FMCG behemoths having a slew of brands which were literally household names. Their business empire was impenetrable – standing on the citadels of deep distribution and big media. Both these citadels needed scale. All of them boasted of deep distribution and deep pockets to afford the so-called ATL or Above-the-line advertising which included television commercials -the iconic 30-second spot plus radio, outdoors and print. And the huge investments needed for both kept the business well insulated from newer entrants.

About 10 years back though newer developments began to disrupt the order of things. E-Commerce came into play with the Rise of Amazon, EBay, and later Flipkart and many more similar players. And there was a rapid rise in new media like Google And Facebook, followed by other platforms. The citadels began to have cracks and the FMCG opportunity was open for democratization. The most important development was the shift in consumer behavior. Consumers were looking at choices that reflected what they cared for. They were not happy with cookie-cutter solutions anymore.  Here is where new-age brands came into play. Brands that were born out of a passion for a space that reflected consumer tastes and preferences and which would deliver directly,  bypassing the conventional distribution channels through media that was not so expensive at all. Brands like Paperboat etc were the early ones that took advantage of this trend. Other examples are brands like Epigamia, Pepperfry, Urban Ladder, Licious, Bombay Shaving Company, luggage brand Away and Wingreens amongst others.

Covid: The Turbo button

While this shift to new age brands was already work-in-progress, pre-COVID, COVID only acted like a big turbo button to speed dial the trend. COVID accelerated the adoption of digital media. With touch and feel out of the way, going to digital channels even for the most basic needs became the order of the day. Even senior citizens started becoming friends with digital transactions, payments and e-commerce. On the other hand, digitisation was no more an option even for smaller hyperlocal brands. They also were forced to jump on the bandwagon. Local grocers were accepting digital payments, accepting orders on WhatsApp and got comfortable, not depending on the physical shop. The digital playbook got a huge boost. Direct-to-consumer is now no longer avant-garde. And now there is a third trend that is going even beyond the playbook of brands 2.0. And that is the rapid digitisation of another category of brands that were into services.

Content, Community and Commerce: The new Covid-sponsored opportunity

Take the example of some brand which ran physical classes at multiple locations – Sarva – the yoga studios, a Fireside investment is a case in the point. The business was doing well and then suddenly COVID struck and business overnight came to zero. The brand rapidly rushed to digitisation of its classes creating content and digital experiences online. Right from meditation, breathing, pranayama to asanas – there was content now that could reach anyone without the limits of geography. Sarva is now doing 3 times the volumes as compared to the pre-COVID period. We are sure there will be more examples in other domains. Sarva is now looking at billion-dollar businesses like apps like Calm and Headspace. The higher e-commerce opportunity should be used by traditional experiential brands to create content, community and digital experiences to drive robust commerce.

Bucking the discounting trend:

The important part of the journey of brands 2.0 is that they break the misunderstood perception about online brands being cheap and discounted. As a matter of fact, because these brands are crafted on a well-understood niche, they tend to satisfy consumer needs more intimately. They tend to pay attention to what consumers are saying, have a dialogue with them, are conscious of packaging thus creating intimate relationships.  They are therefore a little more expensive. Licious, Vahdam Teas are examples of brands that are not built on the ‘cheap’ premise. Most of these brands live on consumer reviews and have really high ratings. These ratings, reviews from influencers and customers alike enable them to charge a premium to their offering.

Brands built for the Agile World:

Brands 2.0 are not built on the old world of marketing – depending on the monolithic consumer research belted by a big research agency which led to a big TV commercial on all big TV channels followed by front-page ads, Instead they have a constant dialogue with the customer. They invest marketing money through A/B tests in an agile manner constantly optimizing the message, tweaking every iteration to pack in more bang for the buck. They use performance marketing, live and breathe data metrics and use these metrics to constantly fine-tune marketing, product SKUs, product iterations and also their service. They work with bloggers, influencers, reviewers and even collaborate with their customers to make this intimacy even more pronounced.

The growth rate of brands 2.0 is rapidly accelerating:

The best part of Brands 2.0 is that the time taken to reach an ‘X’ revenue figure is decreasing every passing year. For instance, it took Paperboat 10 years to reach an ‘x’ revenue but it took Epigamia just 7 and Licious just 3. And all of this is happening at much lesser investments. And this is all thanks to an increased consumer openness to experiment, faster digital adoption and democratisation of the media opportunity. New players thinking of launching consumer brands must capitalise on this virtuous cycle.

New Covid Niches for upcoming ideas for consumer brands:

Post-COVID, apart from massive digital adoption, there have been huge shifts in consumer behavior. A lot of these changes might be here to stay. These changes are creating various niches for completely new business ideas. Here are some of the niches that COVID is creating – Health – People are increasingly conscious of health and immunity – opportunities for pharma, beauty, skincare, and food products that can capitalise on this and build products that can address it. Work from Home: Opportunities for technology products that make working at home easier – ergonomic furniture for home offices, headsets, connectivity solutions, work from home apparel (WhyNot!), physiotherapy sessions for those strained backs from long working hours, yoga and mediation sessions, workouts at home etc. Food:  Increase in-home cooking, ready mixes, sauces, exotic ingredients, cooking apps, recipe apps, food delivery brands, small specialty restaurants, tiffin services etc. Content and Learning: With so much time being spent online, all kinds of learning will move online – right from your child’s learning to hobby classes for the wife to executive career-advancing learning to spiritual sessions for senior citizens Entertainment: There has been a massive upsurge in Netflix and OTT usage, and all ideas around home entertainment, gaming, e-sports will see a massive surge. There will be opportunities for stand-ups, artists to build smarter solutions for their audiences. Protective Gear: PPEs, gloves, masks, sanitizers, air purifiers and all kinds of brands that will offer high protection. Pet care: One of the categories that experienced a surge in spends in India is petcare. This will be one domain to see smarter brands to emerge. These are just some examples. As we uncover more stories, more such niches are coming forth.

New age Consumer brands are built on passion:

New age consumer brands are not built on stacks of statistical analysis, but rather a passionate entrepreneur excited about a niche he wants to fill. It could be a passion to take yoga to every home or a niche to provide a clean sanitized and hassle-free way to buy meat. These things can’t be done while doing a full-time job, You have to be all-in, and fully committed. It’s only when you take the risk, that an investor will put in money. And in some cases, you will go a long way without a VC investment.

Lastly, always remember Valuation comes only if there is Value:

A clear clarion call is – Forget valuation – Focus on creating value.
If you create value consistency the valuation will come.

For the full interview, click here..

– Sangram Surve

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.



The Resurgents:

Winston Churchill is attributed the above line when he was in Yalta and used the crisis represented by the World War 2 to seed the formation of the United Nations between the unlikely trio of himself, Roosevelt and Stalin.

The word crisis represents unprecedented change – the kind of change that disrupts the current order of things. It’s an out of syllabus question. Something that’s out of our comfort zone. Out of our rule book. It’s our most feared enemy – the Unknown.

When Covid 19 came knocking at our doors in early 2020, it had all the features of a mega crisis. Things have gotten so bad, that Covid and 2020 have become synonymous for typical ‘between devil and the deep sea’ kind of situations. “Shit man, 2020 happened to me today”.  We have been affected in many different ways, since Covid is simultaneously a health, humanitarian and an economic crisis. Unfortunately, we cannot control to large extent, how Covid has done to us. But we can control what we can do about it.” And the premise of this whole series is to pick our response to Covid. Covid was given to us. Let us pick what we give back to Covid!

The current order of things is completely disrupted. Maybe some aspects of the way we used to do things may come back, but a lot of things are going to change for good. And when things change, especially for good, its wiser to change ourselves. For if you don’t, you will waste a lot of wisdom Charles Darwin left the world with. Adapt. Change. Learn the new rules. Darwin gave us a hint – The fittest survive. The ones who adapt, live to tell the tale.

These series of articles are meant to get a hint of the new rules. So in a sense it’s an attempt to uncover the Covid Playbook – The Word Playbook may look it’s a business strategy focused initiative. Actually its far from it. For the wisdom (If it at all it emerges) is not from me but rather the experiences and stories of various people coping with Covid. This series will have less gyan and more stories. Stories of you and me and people like us. People struggling with personal loss, financial crisis, disruption in business, anxieties of the future, loss of income, and then the resurgence of the human spirit, the innovations, the new beginnings and fresh learnings – attempts to understand the new order, learn the new rules, adapt, change and hopefully make Mr. Darwin smile.

The playbook is based on our conversations with lots of people – young, old, married, single, students and working professionals, artists and entrepreneurs. The lessons emerging from these stories are organized into themes – each of them landing in the Covid Playbook. How Covid19 has attacked us, and how each of the people in these stories responded back. Some of the new rules uncovered may be helpful to you. And you may also add some new dimension to the new rules making them your own. And while our twin series on Guts Glory Stories focuses on industry perspectives and trends, Covid Tales focuses on micro-stories. 

So here goes our first one:

Covid Playbook Rule #1: Geography is Dead

How a small yoga business from Bandra to Borivali now caters to Los Angeles, France and Pakistan.

Ritesh Shah is a young yoga teacher who runs a Yoga Studio called RS Yoga. Having started off early in life, he had a healthy set of loyal clients whose homes he visited every week for conducting personalized yoga sessions. He operated from Borivali to Bandra, starting as early as 4 am in the morning and conducting as many as even 12 sessions in a day. Ritesh’s warm disposition makes him a much loved instructor and a favorite amongst his clients. His popularity ensured that he always had more demand than he could ever deliver. But a day only has 24 hours, and he could only squeeze in as many sessions, given his commute time between sessions. He always explored the option of marketing himself online and did his best with rudimentary efforts to establish a digital persona.

And then suddenly Covid happened.

Given the intimate nature of his work, the lockdown immediately impacted the quantum of work. All home visits pressed the pause button immediately. From 20 sessions the business came down drastically. Cash flows were hit and no one knew how long this would last. So, he did what the world around him was doing – Take the sessions online. Now that involved 2 things – learning the online game. And then figuring out how many people were willing to accept the online medium to continue the classes. Lastly, if they did accept it, would they be happy with paying the same fees? Let’s worry about whether people would join in later, Ritesh thought. Might as well focus on his own learning since that was in his own hands. He managed to figure out Google Hangouts, Facebook Live and thought of even conducting classes on WhatsApp Video. He was now ready to take his class online. Next was to speak to people and ask them if they would like to continue online. To this end, he discovered people were still wary of signing up. Slowly though the Work-from-Home and Work-At-Home routine began to get to people and most of them realized the importance of health. They all needed yoga, pranayama and meditation all the more. Most were also missing the regular sessions, interactions etc. Slowly, people started showing interest in starting online. Ritesh now realized that if it was a matter of practicing yoga online, combining batches would not just save him time but also offer a chance for batches to have some social interaction. Ultimately Ritesh was able to conduct all 20 batches in the time slots of just 5 batches. All saved time was spent learning digital marketing to expand the customer base. He used to serve clients between Bandra and Borivali earlier. Today he has batches in Los Angeles, Dubai, France, Baroda and one batch from Pakistan too. Ritesh is not just digitally savvy today but caters to 100 % more students post Covid. His enhanced social media presence attracted two sports brands to appoint him as a brand ambassador for their yoga mats. “Covid may have shut down many borders, but it opened up quite a few for me”

Covid Playbook Rule #2: Explore a new business model

How a COVID affected events business is trying to invent a new business model.

Hemal is a seasoned event industry professional. After a long stint in various Event marketing agencies including Percept, Hemal embarked on her own and launched Mercury Integrated – a boutique Events, Communications and Marketing services company. In 2012, She launched Weddings by Mercury – a specialized division of Mercury focusing on weddings. Everything was going very well and two international events were lined up for March this year. Little did anyone know that Covid was creeping in.

The nationwide lockdown sponsored by Covid gave a heart attack to a number of industries and the Events industry was one of the first to bear the brunt. Needless to say the two international events were cancelled and business and cash flows came to a complete standstill. Months went by but no solution seemed to be forthcoming. Everyone was cooped up in their homes. With the social scene slated to be absent for a long time, no events were going to be possible. Yet, Hemal observed that the need to celebrate hadn’t disappeared. She saw that people were still improvising. Housie was being played on Zoom. Birthday cakes were being cut and even Antakshari had made friends with Zoom. That’s when it struck her that if one can’t leave the safety of the home to go to the party, why not bring the party to the safety of the home. That’s when she thought of Maison by Mercury a home party solution. Maison – meaning Home in French was a solution to bring themed parties to the home. The solutions include pre-plated contact-free food, readymade easily installable decor themes and musicians and artists who can perform online. She is confident that even post Covid the home celebration trend will stay and home parties will be big. Some online components will move offline and become more intimate. Its early days, but a new business model could emerge from the limitations of the current crisis. She has already got her first event and is now learning digital marketing to scale up from there.

– Sangram Surve

Guts, Glory & Story © 2020. All Rights Reserved.


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