Startup Service Aggregators

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Startups with business models revolving around aggregating services have their days numbered, unless they offer a significant additional benefit (than the underlying services they aggregate) to the end customer . Because without it, they’re just tech-backed middlemen looking for their share of the pie for merely connecting two parties, which is a tough ask in an increasingly connected world.

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Think A-Team: For the Design & Strategy needs of Young Businesses

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Image: link

Hi, all you enterprising entrepreneurs,

I am pleased to give to you, ‘Think A-Team’, a growth partnering service for all your business strategy needs.

By way of it, I intend to help you make your business challenges a little less challenging, and work with you on growing your business faster & better.

The chosen services are a result of nearly a decade of close working with entrepreneurs and young businesses.

While the services portfolio will evolve with time, what will remain constant is reliability, effectiveness, accessibility and affordability to young businesses that have had few, if any options as far as growth partners go.

Think A-Team

Give it a try today! And I’ll look forward to working with some of you enterprising folks on building your businesses for you.
Have an awesome weekend!!

R,
Shrutin

Look forward to connecting with y’all on LinkedIn and/or on Twitter.

The Up Side of Consulting

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Here’s a post I had drafted for submitting as a resource to MosaicHub, in response to their call to members for ‘the Top 5 things businesses need to know about your area of expertise’.

Here are five top thoughts that we at the A-Team, believe would be beneficial for businesses who engage consultants, for those wanting to start a consulting business, as well as for people seeking a career in consulting. While they are based to a large extent on the A-Team’s experience and focus, it will also provide a certain insight into consulting in general.

To begin with, here’s a thought: The purpose of consulting, is not consulting, but the client.

1.  Never does a one-size fit all – while industries, products or services and even markets may be identical, the A-Team’s solutions to client problems are built factoring even less conspicuous factors like promoter aspirations or management vision for a business. Thus, no two solutions to seemingly identical business problems are exactly the same. So don’t let consultants sell you solutions that you feel aren’t in the best interest of your company

2.  No silver bullets here – you’ve heard of ‘easy come, easy go?’ We at the A-Team strongly believe that is exactly how quick-fix solutions are. While we might be able to quickly patch up urgent problems with a tactical outlook, all our strategies essentially apply for mid-to-long term growth of the company, which is akin to laying a strong foundation before a huge building comes up. Only strong foundations make for lasting results. If consultants promise you magic potions, you’ll know something’s amiss

3.  Who wants ridiculously expensive ‘paperweight’ reports – We have heard numerous stories of larger companies spending fortunes on consulting assignments, only to be left with a painstakingly prepared, albeit attractive report that no one at the company can make sense of. The A-Team, since inception, decided to stay away from merely fancy reports and focus on simple, effective and implementable strategies. We ensure that all our strategies are broken into logical, step-by-step tasks that are easy to understand and implement by the respective persons or teams at our clients’ company. Our retainer-based engagement model allows for our close association with businesses during implementation of our solutions. Do remember to ask your consulting firm ‘how easily implementable will your solution be?’ at the initial negotiation stage itself

4.  Grey haired scholars are a lot, but not everything – The bigger consulting firms normally look at recruiting fresh graduates or postgraduates and train them on the job. And respected consultants advising large businesses are people who’ve spent decades seeing cyclical patterns of those industries. With Small & Medium Businesses, the problems aren’t similar. Cyclical industry cycles apart, SMBs deal with smaller but way more critical problems than MNCs do. And unlike MNCs, where efforts and effects can take long to show, it’s do-or-die several times a month for younger businesses. Nimble, new, quick, and creative are the type of solutions that SMBs need, and therefore, given the need for freshness and new perspective, old and experienced advisors may not always be the best bet

5.  Stop at nothing – this one’s for aspiring consultants, nothing should stop you from becoming a consultant, if you have all of these – a logical and analytical mindset, and a transparent, ethical and unquestionable intention to do all you possibly can to add value in one or more areas at your client’s company. I had cleared several case study rounds at a few tier II consulting firms, but never made it through their final interview round. General feedback was that while my analytical skills were really good, my oral communication was not as concise and crisp as your average consultant [go figure!] The learning for you is, if you can solve problems logically and analytically, and have the noblest of intentions for your clients, nothing in the world should stop you from realizing your consulting dream. And this comes from someone who, 19 months down, has a few grey hairs of his own, to ‘show’ his distance run.

If you are interested in reading on, this is a little background story about A-Team Business Consulting that led to the above learning.

A-Team Business Consulting is a Management Consulting service committed to working with enterprising Start-ups, Small and Medium Businesses in India and abroad, in areas of Medium-to-Long term Growth strategies and Customer Delight strategies, with the objective of becoming their Growth Catalyst of Choice.

Back in 2012, prior to starting A-Team Business Consulting, I sought the advice of some very senior and experienced persons from industry on my intention of working with deserving small & medium businesses [SMBs] in areas of growth and customer-focused strategies. While I saw a huge unaddressed demand, I wanted their perspective too. The overwhelming advice I received included a considerable amount of optimism, acknowledging a huge need for growth consulting for SMBs. The advice, however, had a heavier share of forewarning, for reasons ranging from the fact that it is an extremely difficult space to establish a sustainable business model; or that younger companies are reluctant to pay high consulting fees, and that consulting was best left to the grey-haired stalwarts of industry [indicating those with over 20 years of experience, and who had ‘seen and lived through all kinds of industry cycles’].

I still felt strongly about my intention to help SMBs, so, taking their suggestions and warnings, I dived right in.

I’ll admit, it has been the roughest 19 months ever, and unfortunately most of the business is still operated single-handedly by me, but I have built a highly capable six-member external consultant team, and with over 16 assignments to our credit, things only looks optimistic. And while the A-Team is still a long way from being a smooth-functioning and scalable model, and more importantly, an established brand in consulting.

And has it been worthwhile? When an ‘extremely passionate about their young business’ client is so delighted with your recommendation strategies that they invite you to be a co-founder and help grow their business, that is the stuff that keeps us going. Or when, upon completing a small assignment for the company of a truly visionary 40-year old industry veteran, he sits beside you and softly expresses interest in having the A-Team partner with them for the long term; that is reason sufficient enough for us to endure all odds and grow, so that we may help deserving businesses grow.

If you believe you are building a great company, do get in touch with us, we would love to be of any assistance we possibly can, in areas of Growth Strategies, Customer Delight Strategies, and Ideation.

NA-NObody

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The Tata Nano, cheapest car in the world today, is arguably one of the biggest milestones in the auto industry in recent times, the world over. A close friend of mine, Sheshank Reddy shared an article which talked about how Mr. Ratan Tata, in hindsight, felt the Nano should not have been positioned as ‘the cheapest car’. Sheshank, another close friend, Pradeep Shetty, and I have, over the years, spent numerous hours over numerous pitchers of beer, discussing the Nano. We looked at the brand, the car in isolation, the car in the Indian context, imagined it in foreign markets, and so on.

Sheshank is highly knowledgeable in areas of brands and branding, and he’d throw light on lesser known areas like the powerful impact that appropriate fonts can have on a brand, and so on. Less detailed conversations I have had with several random people over time, has helped me form a rough idea of people’s perception of the Nano.

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A good friend, Viz, in his beloved Nano

Americans, for the longest time, has been obsessed with powerful cars. Even the average petite young woman would drive a car powerful enough to lug a mobile home behind it. Inexpensive fuel and lack of public transportation coupled with easy financing made the dream of powerful cars commonplace.

Indians, on the contrary, have given more importance to value, and show. Value includes getting satisfaction from haggling with the grocer for little nothings.

Tata Nano - Value

Image: Imgur

Now if you were planning on buying an SUV, I don’t think the Tata Safari Storme would have appeared in your top 5 options. And yet, this tough SUV that has seen well over a decade of sluggish growth, boasted of a 30% jump in sales after the brand was associated with the Indian version of 24 (TV series). That is about ‘show’. Justifying 30% jump, I guess the mindset was that if it was cool enough to be on the show, it’s cool enough to buy.

The Indian economy has been shaky these last two years, mostly compliments of a corrupt government that facilitated several scams. Many industries have kept aggressive growth on hold till there is a more positive and promising outlook. Fuel prices have soared in this period. Yet, despite fuel economy being a key factor in the Indian customers’ car buying decision, Nanos’ sales just trudged along, while SUV sales boasted 2-digit growth rates last year. Somehow, SUV sales seemed to defy common logic and correlations between cost/price and demand, among other things.

I believe the Nano is a masterpiece in many ways, and the team behind it deserves recognition and praise. Mr. Ratan Tata is wrong when he says that they made a mistake by calling it the ‘cheapest car’; because in my opinion, the problem isn’t so much with the car, as it was with our perception.

I read an interesting comment on a discussion board a few years ago. A fellow Indian had justified failure of the Nano stating that buying a cheap car goes against the status of the average Indian and such other reasons. A foreigner rubbished his comment, saying that it was a funny view coming from the citizen of a country which had a large section of the population living below poverty, where the per capita income was unbelievably low, and yet we thought so highly of ourselves, so as to find a great product like the Nano, beneath us to buy. The foreigner thought highly of the Nano, and given a chance, said he’d be thrilled to buy a few of them for his family.

I was listening to Mr. D. R. Mehta speak at a recent awards event. He is founder of BMVSS, famous for the Jaipur foot. He spoke about a visit to the United States, where American politicians were asked to name 3 brands from India that they knew of. They could only think of two, the Jaipur foot, and the Nano. That is the impact the Nano has had, everywhere but at home.

Most car ads in newspapers highlight fuel-efficiency, even if they don’t mention many other key specifications. Even some of the more premium car ads. And everyone’s talking about how affordable and how easily financed, different vehicles are. That being said, simply branding the Nano as, perhaps, ‘affordable’, would have been like winking in the dark, or crying in the rain, or whatever such amusing phrase there is to signify pointlessness. The Nano dream, dreamt by Ratan Tata, was TO BUILD THE CHEAPEST CAR. That takes daring. That takes passion. And that takes commitment. Everyone’s making ‘affordable’, and ‘more economical’ and ‘faster’, but how many are chasing seemingly impossible dreams like ‘most economical’, or ‘the fastest’? The Tatas did, to make a car accessible to a much larger population. And for everyone who has complaints against the Nano, and those who feel the Nano failed, I am reminded of the famous passage by Roosevelt. The man in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

To conclude, I will definitely look forward to new variants and more technology in the Nanos of the future. And there was never a fault with the Nano, but the lack of appreciation in the eyes of the average Indian, who failed to recognize the masterpiece our country has created for the world.

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The Tata Pixel concept car

Sell Blankets to Eskimos

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This post requires you to think a bit. Might be difficult on a Friday night, but do give it a thought over the weekend.

We all know how challenging the life of a salesperson can be. Unrealistic sales targets, unwelcoming prospective customers, unending follow-up calls and meetings, demoralizing posters outside offices, the crushing pressure of time as the end of the month approaches, and clients who like the thrill of being pursued by multiple businesses.

Salesperson 3

image: glasbergen

And if all that was not bad enough, there are the trials of making it through the day with erratic food timings. I have spent a grueling stint in a Marketing role, and while I had the luxury of driving for meetings, lunches were more like a mirage in the desert. I always had 6-7 bottles of water stacked up, and that usually kept me going. From skipping lunch to spending time explaining a concept to a prospective client, to pecking at food at god-forsaken eateries, to the thrill of eating after a chain of hopeful meetings.

The internet connection at home was down recently. Finally when the engineer showed up, it turned out that the re-configuring would take about an hour. There was a big mug of tea waiting for me, so I offered the engineer some. He declined, saying he suffered from acidity, and tea would only worsen it. Something I am very familiar with, thanks to the poor eating regime I’ve followed over the years. But, it got me wondering about the thousands of sales people and field engineers who spend long hours chasing prospects or fixing things, resulting in them neglecting their own health. So I wanted to ask you, for ideas on how we could find a solution to the people who sell all the awesome stuff, and for those folk who fix our gadgets and appliances whenever they act up.

Salesperson 2

image: TrinityMarketingSystems

Can you think of ways and means of making it possible for sales and support folk to be able to have their meals on time, especially when they’re doing the rounds?

To get the ball rolling, here are a few initial thoughts that came to mind…

  • a very basic concept of a reminder app on the mobile, reminding the person to drink water, or have lunch, etc.
  • food delivery services specially focused on delivering to sales & support personnel on the go. They should deliver to anything from the crossroads at ABC junction, to outside XYZ company’s office, or outside the PQR store
  • this one’s my favorite, something I’ve personally been longing for, to streamline my eating schedule. Food in capsules. Just pop a few in, and you’re good to go. Beats even the army’s combat ration MREs

Let’s have your ideas, and hopefully someone can actually start working on a business service that’s focused on selling to those who sell.

Just Like That

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I have always disliked the idea of businesses buying, and friends forcing ‘Likes’ on Facebook. The number of likes really skews the picture, and it becomes difficult to differentiate between a business that has bought 300 likes from one that has earned 200 likes with quality business and customer delight.

Surely, Twitter, feedback, and public reviews help maintain some transparency in the quality of services and show truer pictures of companies. But we cannot always be expected to undertake massive research before taking small decisions.

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image: Link

Here’s a simple question that businesses still considering buying ‘likes’ on Facebook should ask themselves:

“How many, or what percent of your employees ‘like’ you on Facebook?” (of course without you asking, beating or threatening them to, and without offering them some insanely tempting monetary or other benefit to do so)

If that percentage isn’t too high, you might want to re-look your focus on one of your important customer bases, your employees. If they don’t “like” you, how do you expect your customers to?

And there are a few suggestions from an older post, in case you missed that one [Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking?].

I’ll leave you with a good ‘ol song I ‘like’. [May not be safe for work].

Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking?

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We all remember the notorious financial meltdown of 2007-08 that washed away a lot of dreams. We all know why it happened. Some wise (read greedy) people built a huge structure on an extremely very weak foundation (sub-prime mortgage). And then went ahead and added floor over floor to their fantasy at the cost of the masses, till the foundation and everything with it, buckled.

While the ‘Like’ on Facebook (FB) and ‘Endorsements’ on LinkedIn (LI) probably could not, and definitely would not cause any such global shock wave, it is interesting to see how we are adding to its weak foundation, floor by floor, and to see what might happen when it buckles, and buckle it will.

Paid, Forced or Uninformed ‘Likes’ on FB, and ‘Endorsing skills’ without being sure on LI, are really creating a big mountain of unconfirmed information, which at best, is questionable.

Quite some time ago, when I’d see a few hundred likes on an business’s service page on FB, I’d assume it was probably a respectable/ liked business/ service. But once you know that Likes can be bought, or when you get ‘Like Requests’ from friends & acquaintances that almost forced you to like a page (most FB like requests I receive read like this ‘Hi Shrutin, please like this page [link].’), and when you see people around you obliging to such requests, then those hundred likes don’t seem that impressive any more.

On LI, people endorse skills of their contacts. Which, literally is vouching for a skill that your contact claims she or he possesses. I consider vouching a responsibility, especially since that endorsement is public. It means you know, and acknowledge that your contact is good at, or even just knows, the particular skill that you have endorsed them for. And when you get endorsed for a skill by people you haven’t been in touch for a while, and you are dead sure they haven’t a clue whether you even know that skill, that’s when you wonder about the genuineness of similar endorsements showcased on your contacts page. LI’s recommendation option is fine in itself, as contacts recommend based on good interaction or experiences based on past work done; and mentioning it in words gives more credibility than just clicking ‘endorse’ over some key words.

Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking

I recently interacted with an eminent person from the social media industry, at a TiE session. He was speaking on the advantages of social media for business. I asked him whether he saw concern over the  questionable ‘endorsing on LI’ and ‘Paid/ Forced or Uninformed Likes on FB’  that are creating a false world around us.  He, thankfully acknowledged the problem, which meant it existed. And he added that the average person wasn’t affected or bothered much about it, so life would go on at least for a while.

Many people you know might not have a clue as to what exactly you do, or how good you are at what you do. And yet they’ll go endorse you for certain skills. Which, I’ll agree, makes you feel good. And you might be the best your industry has to offer, but knowing that the person who endorsed you for it doesn’t have clue about what exactly you do, doesn’t that make you question the value of the heap of endorsements that you are piling up?

I don’t have any suggestions for the ‘endorsing’ deal on LI, but if you intend to spam inboxes with ‘Like Requests’, here are a few things you could take care of:

  • Write what the page/ company/ service is about
  • Highlight any achievements, differentiating factors
  • Reasons why I might want to like it
  • And last, and only if necessary, request the friend to ‘Like’ the page if they find it interesting and if they can relate to it. Also offer to provide them with more information if they are interested

Here’s a recent article that shows how this hype that’s been going strong for a few years now, is not much more than just a hype [Quality over Quantity]

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