Doing things that don’t scale; to truly scale!

The evening sun shone warmly upon us, as the three of us sat sipping hot tea together in the slightly cold November winds of India’s silicon valley. I had been hotly debating on a plethora of business topics with my partners E and S. (They would like to stay private. Hence, the post will refer to them as E and S). We realized we were falling into an analysis paralysis and decided to break our biases by challenging ourselves.

The challenge – Run an experiment where we had to sell a tangible physical product within 24 hours and generate revenues (and hopefully profits) respectively. The caveat – No easy stuff like food, chocolates, flowers, etc.

Breaking Bad

Post racking our brains for a good 2 hours, the problem statement we narrowed down upon was to help people surprise their respective partners / friends and give them the opportunity to make memories.

Planning for execution

We entered a mall and used the washroom entrance to target people. We felt washrooms were the best way to target a larger set of consumers. And would also be easy since we did not have the necessary permissions to openly sell within the mall!

Growth hacking the sales channel

Realizations –

  • While we received prospects, pushing them along the funnel and converting them into buying consumers was ridiculously hard.
  • A lack of diversity (women and children) on the team, which would have made our task of approaching female groups and families easier.
Trying to convert a potential user

Trying to convert a potential user

Selling in front of the washroom, that too without permissions was exciting. Luckily, we managed to spend sufficient time trying to run our experiment, before being thrown out by the security guards. ūüėÄ

Market Product Fit

This time, instead of taking the typical product market fit approach of figuring out a pain point, ideating upon it, building and trying out a solution in the market; we decided to take a diametrically opposed go-to-market product approach. The hypothesis was to target the areas which would have the largest crowd, and figure out what could be sold in massive volumes respectively.

A crazy value proposition

As we wandered around the narrow streets, we stopped by hopelessly near a temple. While S and me took to observing the people walking in and out of the temple, in hopes of coming up with a value proposition through observations; E wandered off to the nearby shops. A good 30 minutes later, E walked up to us and stated that we should be selling ghee (traditional clarified butter) which could be used by people to light up diyas (oil lamps) and place them in the temple respectively.

Our eyes widened, as S and me stared at each other. And then turned to stare at E in utter disbelief. We had a deep feeling that E had truly lost his mind! With nothing to loose except precious time, we very reluctantly decided to jump onto the bandwagon. Backed against the wall, the only worse thing that could have happened was a second failure and pivot to a third pilot.

Someone comes knocking!

Selling ghee

A woman noticed us holding the poster, and approached us, curious to know why two people were selling ghee. While she was extremely finicky at first, we did manage to convince her, and ended up making the first sale. It was more of a relief than a celebratory moment. However, nothing had prepared us for the moments that would take place a few minutes later. Since it was our first sale, we had not even estimated the potential growth curve or the preparation required for serving consumers at scale.

The Brian Chesky moment

As we got busy in attempting to turn around our business with a couple of more customers; our first customer returned angrily. She begun pounding us with details on where we were screwing up. In this fit of irritation, she mentioned a festival that happened to be on that particular Saturday.

While my partner pacified the angry consumer, I made mental notes of the various points with a high degree of astonishment. Brian Chesky (the cofounder of Airbnb) had talked about getting his hands dirty to serve his customers one-by-one. And not stopping until knowing exactly what they wanted. He had mentioned about visiting the house of a particular user who single handedly gave them the entire roadmap for the next few months. I stood in complete disbelief as the words started coming true in front of my eyes. We not only got a detailed roadmap for the next 2 hours. But thanks to her, we capitalized on this new found consumer insight of the festival on that particular Saturday. This turned our next 2 hours into absolute craziness.

The rocket ship ūüöÄ

We immediately diversified our categories to both ghee and diyas. In light of the new information about the festival, our core insight of people needing ghee became sharper. We took a step further and experimented with a hypothesis that a fully ready to light diya might sell more. And it did! Hence, we quickly shut down our original offerings of direct raw materials and focused on a packaged diya (bundled with a matchbox). My third partner S negotiated with a woman selling prayer material in a nearby stall to become our supplier (purely on credit and good faith).

As our consumer demand shot up, we soon ran out of ghee and credit. With S stuck trying to fulfill the remaining materials, I had to run barefoot to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash and replenish ghee from the nearby store. Running barefoot against the cold wind for approx 500m as people stared at me has made it to the bucket list of all the crazy stuff I have ever done! ūüėÄ

The Holy Grail of napkins

I kept interviewing customers in parallel to figure out insights that not only solved further pain points, but in turn also impacted conversion metrics and ultimately business metrics (gross margins and revenues). And quickly realized that we were dealing with multiple cohorts, divergent opinions, and a lack of ability to experiment with a small data set. While we collected sufficient ideas to form N number of hypotheses, we decided to regroup and revisit the consumer journey to prioritize the same.

This customer-centric mindset helped us nail superior profits in the closing hours of our experiment. We scooped up an idea from a particular user about requiring paper napkins to clean their hands after using diyas. As we turned something as simple as paper napkins into premium pricing for our product, we noticed a lift in our user base, and minted even more profits.

The right ingredients in the right amount = the right team

Having worked with diverse stakeholders, I have been a strong believer in teams, with whom I have shared both crests and troughs while working towards outcomes. This experiment brought alive the power of the right team.

E came up with the idea, S negotiated and ran the supply chain like a slick operations guy. While I did whatever it took to ship the product & run the business. I helped build the right product (as we moved from raw materials to bundling fully packed diyas with matchboxes), helped create the messaging, helped sell the product, helped interview the users for insights, fulfilled the supply chain, tracked margins, and ran barefoot to finance the supply chain (when we got sucked into a large vacuum of opportunity). 

Zero to One

As we experimented and iterated quickly, we not only went from zero to one, but ended up making a small yet neat profit from the measly amount we had invested. I am not sure if our success was correlated with being at the right place at the right time. It could have very easily turned into a miserable story if we had not failed with our earlier idea, if we had not ended up wandering near the temple, if E had not picked our brains on an absolutely insane idea, and so on and so forth.

An equation of variables – hard work, crazy boldness, humbleness, ethics, healthy skepticism, and undying optimism (weighted with the right amount of aggression and the right amount of luck) lead us to something truly potent. Along with some of the most exhilarating hours of my life, as the experience brought alive the Brian Chesky moment for me and my team respectively.

Reference

Seven questions I would ask as the PM of BankBazaar

The below notes are my thoughts, based on a LinkedIn post by Mr Adhil Shetty respectively.

  1. 75M is a metric that is like the number of app downloads, which can be influenced by marketing spend. Similarly, Alexa site ranks and Comscore data can tend to fall within vanity metrics, which typically do not help in indicating the health of the product / business.
  2. 23M monthly visitors is commendable. However, the better question to ask will be how many visitors are unique vs repeat, & how many converted in each bucket & for which category offerings respectively. That would offer a better picture of the acquisition and conversion numbers, & subsequently the revenue generators.
  3. The free credit score report had recently been offered by CRISIL as well for a short duration. While CRISIL ran a scheduled and limited campaign, BankBazaar is offering the same on a continuous basis (most likely subsidized by Experian through the investments into the company). While this approach could be acting as a huge acquisition channel, but whether it is acting as an activation channel is something to ponder upon. My understanding would be that the ROI of the free credit report would be easier to justify in the case of this campaign driving acquisitions + activations respectively. 
  4. To add to the previous point, which category these users are currently activating and can be activated upon would be an interesting indicator of the company’s positioning and digital marketing impact.
  5. Internet penetration while on the increase, will require dedicated focus from product managers who can drive offerings for the next set of users coming online to make BankBazaar a true one stop place for financial products. However, a pure digital only approach may not be the best way to acquire these new users, since many are not even aware about such products or their potential respectively.
  6. Offline sales channels might have thin margins of 10% but can actually act as a strong awareness / acquisition channel. A delicate balance might need to be held  over the next 3-5 years in terms of investing in offline vs online channels. While a paperless model and digital business might be projected to significantly increase and bring more revenue (with 80% margins), 10X increase in consumer internet might not be the right benchmark to measure it against. Increase in people actually willing to buy financial products (admittedly a difficult number to estimate) might be a better number to target and move towards.
  7. Revenue growth numbers would probably be the most attractive number in this article. However, a more important question I did be grappling with is whether 102% increase in customer transactions was in one of the months in the period of Oct 2016 – 2017 or Month-on-Month. Additionally, what factors influenced the spike in growth of respective categories; like stock market downfalls, ad campaigns, industry sponsored campaigns like Mutual Funds Sahin Hain, etc.

The above data, coupled with collecting qualitative information through customer interviews, would help in prioritizing the road map tangentially towards the categories that are the revenue drivers. As a consequence, such vectors will help make users happy and the business healthy respectively.

Why I defend this AMP project as a product manager?

The below thread fired up my imagination and subsequently this post.

While many others denounced the project, in the larger scheme of things (pun intended), I strongly believe this product makes a lot of sense.

  1. It could serve as a potential new revenue generation channel. With Google serving multiple programmatic ads; if users end up using the app in their email itself, Google gets to know more details on the products that have a claim on the users’ attention. Essentially, the project serves as an additional data layer on users’ behavior, thereby feeding back into their programmatic advertising and video advertising systems, and improving targeting scores.
  2. Facebook has recently been coming under a bit of a fire for not only acquiring, but also discreetly pushing Onavo, a VPN app as a feature on the Facebook app itself. While privacy gets thrown to the dogs here, the ulterior motive was to be able to figure out the latest trending apps / sites / products that could be picking up steam among different segments, countries, etc. In essence, spot the competition before anybody else does, and either buy them or kill them. The tbh acquisition was also a result of a similar sniff/spot/kill strategy. This Google product serves the purpose of a similar defensive weapon. Gather data on the competition and then take a call on how to defend the company.
  3. The project helps in evangelizing Google’s own AMP technology, thereby creating the perfect flywheel. As more people use the product, the technology improves, the data helps improve the advertisement serving system, and improves Google’s top line, which in turn brings in flexibility to invest in such projects.

If even a small percent of users end up utilizing the above, it could lead to a satisfaction of the projected metrics / revenues, marking the project as a successful endeavor.

Disclaimer –

  • This is a humble attempt to reverse engineer the thought process behind this product’s strategy.
  • The author is a supporter in the fight for privacy. The post does not in any way whatsoever, support the collection of every actionable data point on users.
  • The author currently does not have all the requisite numbers to back the above line of thought. However, the post will be updated once the requisite data is available.

The decision fallacy: From the eyes of a product manager

Dragonflies swarmed around, as I stood in the balcony, sipping my hot cup of tea. Zigzag they flew, as each made their way from a nearby muddy pool to the huge tree outside my balcony. My visual systems made notes, observing Mother Nature’s¬†randomness being enacted by these little actors.

I wondered how they made a decision to make the next movement in their flight. Which in turn, made me curious about our own methods of decision making. Considering this sample of random dragonfly movements; either we are still the four legged primates who fail to understand how Mother Nature functions, or we are unwilling to accept that Mother Nature is simply full with randomness that cannot be measured.

In the latter case, this got me wondering about how humans make decisions in a continuously uncertain world (more popularly known as VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous). After all, if I could even get an inkling to the workings of this phenomena through statistics, then making users pay for a product might become easier; as I would be able to pinpoint the true factors and nudge them to make that decision (acquisition), and keep them coming back (retention), thereby impacting positive cash flow and the business.

With this inspiration, I set out to plot myself (a sample of the homo sapiens) as a data point. However, a data point like the above has multiple dimensions (eg – upbringing, work experiences, partners, food preferences, etc). Since measuring in multi dimensions is difficult for me; for the sale of the argument, I shall stick to two dimensions.

Cognitive Dissonance – The independent variable

To put it in simple words, people make mistakes, think they are right, and honestly believe in it. If one had the chance to interview Hitler just before he popped the pill, it is very unlikely that he would have admitted that he had made any mistakes. Instead, he would have offered a remarkable perspective that not only had he done good but also acted in the best interests of the future of humanity.

A relatively simpler example would be of a human that faces a difficult time integrating two conflicting beliefs, such as “I’m in a decent situation” and “I messed up”. Therefore, the second step the person takes is producing responses to diminish the less desirable belief (“I messed up”) in favor of the highly desirable belief (“I’m in a decent situation”).

“The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting delusion that we, personally, do not have any. In a sense, dissonance theory is a theory of blind spots‚ÄĒof how and why people unintentionally blind themselves so that they fail to notice vital events and information that might make them question their behavior or their convictions.”

Confirmation Bias – The dependent variable

To convince oneself that the higher desirable belief is the correct one, one narrowly focuses on the evidence supporting the higher desirable belief and ignores the lesser one.

As dissonance increases (eg – faulty data, beliefs, etc lead to a hypothesis), the person becomes biased to prove that it is true (drawing a wrong conclusion based on a wrong hypothesis). Additionally, it creates an erroneous bias in the person with whom one is communicating in the real world. (eg – negotiations leading to bad blood, making a decision to buy a product & regretting it, believing in the wrong team, making a wrong statement in an interview, etc).

Conclusion

Having varied experiences (personally and professionally), and interacting with users through multiple products; my neural network has evolved to a state of recognizing that confirmation bias was at play when those users made decisions (positive and negative). However, I am no guru and have been equally susceptible to falling prey to cognitive dissonance over and over again. Those decisions impacted my bias towards the negative on the Y-axis and lead to erroneous decisions.

If bad times / bad luck are the usual stated philosophy, this essay is an attempt to correlate the abstract with a statistical phenomenon. It is a mix of the social sciences, statistics and product management in an attempt to map the under the hood workings of the why of bad decisions.

“At all ages, people can learn to see mistakes not as terrible personal failings to be denied or justified, but as inevitable aspects of life that help us grow, and grow up.”

Disclaimers

  • The observed sample of dragonflies might not be a true representative sample because my thoughts happened in that particular time period. A constant recording of this behavior across time would be nearly impossible. Additionally, there could be multiple other reasons causing variances in the behavior of the dragonflies (eg – temperature, humidity, wind direction, availability of prey, etc), which led to the perceived flight movement in that particular time period.
  • I am cognizant about the lack of appropriate data set to support these arguments. However, this concept might need to be measured with sufficient research and does not in any way indicate a lack of data driven abilities on my part.

References

  • My own decisions, and the persistence to¬†keep working along¬†the journey of understanding people & becoming an even better product manager (because a product professional ultimately serves end users / customers).
  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts (Link)
  • Explorations on the basics of statistics, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • Readings on some of the great mathematicians of the 20th and 19th centuries.

The simple way to lead, once more – A product leader in the making

‚ÄúGulati, you shall be talking!‚ÄĚ

It all began when I was tasked with talking about a product that I had been driving as a product manager. The product, at that point of time, had been going through tough times. Yet, I was supposed to be delivering a talk about it to the entire company.

Dumping myself into a chair, I zoomed into the history of my transactions with the various stakeholders I had had over the last multiple months. As I grappled with the question of what to talk about, it struck me that on one hand, I was supposed to be introducing and talking about the what and why of the software. On the other hand, since the product was already live, most other employees were already biased with opinions about it (some of them fiercely negative). None the less, I went ahead and delivered the talk.

A day post my talk, I proceeded to understand what various other employees thought about the same. An insight that came out as the hidden surprise within the patterns was about a simple introductory line that I had utilized –

‚ÄúI, Nitish Gulati, the product manager of xxx, on behalf of our company xxx‚Ķ..‚ÄĚ.

A weekly talk had been¬†a regular affair¬†at the company. In effect, the neurons in employees’ brains had been wired to get and plant their derriere on the chairs, simply to accommodate the session and speaker respectively. Yet, despite the unwelcome¬†thoughts, I was able to take it a step ahead with the above introduction line.

All I did was to play around the above bias, making all feel that it was actually me who was obliged to have them listening to my voice. In addition, it drove home my credibility of standing in front of them. The new links in their brains created signals that the individual standing and communicating meant serious business, and was not presenting simply because he was supposed to.

A side effect of the talk was that people who were vocal about the flaws of the product went on a restructuring of their thoughts. Instead of further criticism, they began talking to me about the same faults, putting it forth as a suggestion, rather than a complaint. Those 20 minutes reinforced the fact that the product, despite its flaws, was meant to be heard out. That the team deserved to be respected for all the hard word put in. That the product will come back strong, no matter what.

In the Masters of Scale¬†podcast,¬†Sheryl Sandberg crisply mentioned the example of how valuable it can be, when a meeting is begun with the what and why. “What are we doing” and “why are we¬†doing it”. A simple approach of repetition work to¬†influence the thought process of the team in the direction of the product, rather than authoritatively¬†pushing them towards a predefined expectation.

As I take inspiration from the wonderful podcast series, I look forward to increasing the number of rating stars on my influential index as a leader, while still being the nuts and bolts guy who can relentlessly execute.




Holding true in the decade of AI

It is very rare that one comes across a book that not just tells a story, but is also a case study of case studies. The authors have done full justice by sharing real incidents of metamorphosis across divergent company sizes. 

The book talks about multiple scenarios where companies, running under disparate market and competitive situations respectively, have engendered a major transformation. The evolution lead to both success and failure, which have been garnished by the authors with deeper points of view. An aspect elaborated is of culture playing a crucial role in the change that any company undergoes. An excellent example presented is of Capital Holding, where executives were clear early on, that communicating and reiterating the changes would be the second step. The first step would be to understand the existing logical behavior that people adhered to within their business environment. This contributed to pacifying and empowering employees, who were thrust under unfamiliar circumstances, brought about by the new processes in place.

Another example that shined brightly was of Taco Bell. In today‚Äôs age, a plethora of¬†startups tend to fail because of a lack of product/market fit. There could be multiple reasons for the debacle. Yet, one of those reasons is not focussing on the user. Taco Bell’s story in the early 1980’s rings true even today. They had been¬†under significantly losses, when the top management decided to undertake a restructuring, with a vision to focus on what the customers wanted. This enabled them to understand where there had been unnecessary money burn, and helped make a successful turnaround.

While the lessons brought out may make a lot of common sense in today’s world (that has been eaten up by software and faster product life cycles), the book serves as a good reminder to product managers and digital leaders. It provides a no holds barred indication about information technology being a key ingredient for overhauling the functioning of companies. With technologies like machine learning knocking at the doors of a new and rapid digital transformation, multiple companies are still reluctant to let go of a culture that could imbibe and integrate the knowledge worker. While it may serve in the short run, it could turn out to be disastrous in the long run, which the book succinctly brings out.

Reengineering the corporation is a book that can help build a mindset which can navigate the emerging complexities of new dimensions in business.

A primer in managing creativity

ci

If you are a CXO, an executive, a general manager, a product guy, or just someone interested in learning how computer animated movies came into existence, the book could turn out to be a potential gem to read.

The author Edwin Catmull, takes us through the life of Pixar Animation Studios, the production house behind critically acclaimed, profitable and wonderfully animated movies. In this case, the movies being memorable ones like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E and a myriad of other such films. He walks us through his humble beginnings, his interests in animation and his dream to make the first computer animated movie. He pinpoints the events that led to the birth of Pixar, and subsequently the impressive movies the company is known for.

Post Pixar’s initial success, Edwin turned his focus on how to run the company. As he deep dived into how other stars of Silicon Valley were running businesses, he was struck with a lack of knowledge on the subject.¬†His determination to keep churning out profits, while keeping Pixar’s creativity intact, and more importantly, delighting the audiences through a track record of successful films,¬†has positioned him to offer unique insights through¬†this¬†book.

The core areas that the book addresses are; the inevitability of change, the presence of unseen factors, and how employees can help drive the company to new heights.

Inevitability of change

Ed begins his story through the bedrock of animation research, the University of Utah, where he was able to kickstart his exploration with the pioneers in the field. This was where he had his first brush of working within an empowered group. The success in varied sub domains of animation research was a culmination of the efforts of multiple people. They worked towards a common goal of establishing the computer animation field.

Ed takes the reader through the changing dynamics of the Hollywood industry. It took a film like Star Wars to push Hollywood executives to sit up and take notice. George Lucas, the man behind the space trilogy, always believed that technology would be a strong enabler in the way stories were told. Ed also introduces the legendary Steve Jobs into the book, who had a critical role to play in the roadmap of Pixar, both as an investor and advisor.

The narrative moves deeper into the processes and approaches honed over the years within Pixar. Edwin brings out examples of the above through the various movies that were produced. In a way, the processes are similar to what are followed in the IT industry today under the methodology Agile. But simply following a set of rules never really works! This is where Ed provides key analogies to how such processes can be an enabler to creative employees.

Change could be defined as the occurrence of random events. These events could be predicted or completely unforeseen. Management guides / philosophies tend to throw around optimistic aphorisms about change all the time. Edwin debunks such slogans, bringing out incidents during the making of multiple movies, and how his team faced them head on. These experiences were later sharpened and applied to the management of such creative employees as well.

Unseen factors

He clarifies from the very beginning that a great team is necessary and that the film making process is not for the faint hearted. The author mentions one of the movies, where the basic plot line went through multiple reworks; before transforming into the powerful plot that we all know of today, as Up.  He also addresses that companies are always in blind spots. He mentions an incident from his childhood, where a mere two inch distance saved him and his family from a fatal accident. Those two inches could never have been predicted, nor could the outcome of the accident. And could have been the distance that mattered in the existence of Pixar.

In a similar vein, he brings out a beautiful example of three random incidents tied into one another. The first, that of 90%¬†Toy Story 2 being wiped out in a singular¬†moment. The second being the discovery¬†that the backup mechanisms had¬†also not been working. This would have proved catastrophic for a small sized company that had recently gone public. The third was that of recovery¬†happening through¬†the personal troves of an employee’s hard disk, who had by chance been working from home and required the data backups for the same. Importantly, Ed highlights that of all the questions asked post these incidents, one never came up – Who was responsible for the deletion in the first place?

Empowered employees

Companies that can institute processes to manage such occurrences, without playing the blame game, will be the ones that will thrive in their future business cycles respectively. These examples tie into the fact that businesses operate in a pool of uncertainty and such events can make or break the company.

Ed writes about an important factor, that holds true for companies, irrespective of their size. That is, if a company has attempted to hire smart people, it should trust them to stop the process if necessary. He brings out examples from the automobile industry, where all workers, irrespective of hierarchy, were empowered to report and halt the manufacturing, if they felt that the quality of the product was being affected.

The finer nuances about mixing individual intelligence with group collaboration are portrayed through actual examples of tough times that Pixar faced. This concoction of motivated employees, and fine-tuned management approaches lead to great products.

The book highlights that as part of building great products, misfires will happen. But, the questions to ask of those misfires is the learning gained, rather than reprimanding the people involved in its implementation. He mentions that a fine line has to be tread between accountability vs repercussions.

The book has found space in Mark Zuckerberg’s list of books to read.¬†It¬†rises above being a how to guide, or X¬†steps to success. It is packed with vivid examples of the peaks and troughs of running a start up and thereafter running a successful company. It brings forth¬†meaningful themes of management, reflecting deeply on the day to day problems that can crop¬†up when running projects, irrespective of the industry one is in.¬†Creativity, Inc. is a first hand account of how creative genuises¬†came together to not only build the first computer animated movie. But,¬†is also a detailed insight into how the same people worked hard; to keep the creativity intact on¬†the floors of the company. All the while ensuring that they could produce film after film as astute managers.

 

The Loyalty Dilemma

Problem Statement

Focus on loyalty programs to drive increased conversions on the e-commerce site of a Middle East conglomerate.

Market Requirement Specifications

Why build a Loyalty program in the first place?

According to a research by Business Insider in 2014, loyalty programs are not very effective in general, if you as a company are counting on getting a bump in revenue or profit growth from them.

However, market caps of those with loyalty programs did outstrip those without over a five year period which means that the market rewarded these players over the long haul for them even if their numbers didn’t get a bump. Which brings us to customer loyalty.

These programs help cement your relationship with your customer where it becomes exceedingly clear that the service and site is your go-to destination for shopping.

Existing Consumer Demographics

Online Payments

  1. Based on the seven key country markets studied, United Arab Emirates showed 24 percent year-on-year growth respectively.
  2. Forecast is that the volume of online payments could increase nearly three times by the year 2020 to reach more than US$69 billion of transactions per annum.
  3. UAE is the fastest growing markets for online payment transactions, with 23% average growth across the Middle East region
  4. For online payments, UAE has the highest percentage at 71 percent respectively.
  5. UAE continues to lead the region in terms of adoption with 71 percent of the country shopping online
  6. Credit card adoption across the region varies greatly between countries, with Kuwait and the UAE having the highest penetrations of 97 percent and 89 percent respectively.

What are the products being bought in the UAE?

  1. 55% electronics
  2. 43% are clothes

Influence for buying

  1. FB Ads – 17%
  2. TV Ads – 13%
  3. Google Ads – 13%

Mobile Devices

The adoption of mobile e-commerce in the UAE is second only to China, with close to 60 per cent of UAE users buying something with their smartphones in the past 12 months, according to PayPal.

Growth

As per April 2016, 63 per cent of the total shoppers on the website of the company are Shukran members.

Consumer Preference

According to a 2015 report,

  • 56% of respondents in India and UAE¬†are willing to share online purchase data
  • 66% of respondents in India and UAE are willing to share mobile phone number

What are other businesses doing to counter old method loyalty programs?

  • British Airways made radical changes to its Avios air miles scheme used by millions. The earning power of the cheapest economy class tickets was slashed by 75% while business and expense-account flyers found they could earn more reward
  • Marriott Hotels¬† announced changes to its Marriott Rewards scheme amounting to a net increase in redemption costs for 323 hotels.

The key point being made here is to be frugal.

It makes sense to target the existing consumer base, and generate an ROI on the loyalty program.

Product Requirement Document

Key Metrics to Measure Success

  1. Customer LTV
  2. Repeat Customer Rate
  3. Net Promoter Score
  4. Redemption Rate
  5. YoY comparison
  6. Average basket size

Product Road Mapping

Objective –

To integrate features that

  1. encourage users to gain Shukrans.
  2. ensure repeat transactions that will impact overall volume.

Sprint 0 РPossible Product Backlog Items

  1. Check if a user has shared the product details on Twitter/Facebook
  2. Online payment rather than COD (Considering the adoption of online payments)
  3. Start¬†monthly shopping days when additional¬†points can be gained. Eg – “[Company Name] days”
  4. Provision of priority customer service
  5. Same say delivery for the first few orders
  6. Buy for your family – enter the other account’s mail, both earn Shukrans
  7. UX – Clear view of how Shukrans will work
  8. Share on WhatsApp – include a referral code, person receiving can also claim Shukrans
  9. Reviews of products bought
  10. Push personalized campaigns each week
    1. Spends
    2. Transactions
    3. Brand Loyalty Index
    4. Price Sensitive
    5. Other attributes
  11. Progressive Web Apps – to improve speed and achieve superior accuracy on mobile site.
  12. Convert Shukrans to donations for charity.

Product Backlog Prioritization

The main factors used for prioritization are quick implementation, faster go to market time and overall impact on business value of the product.

First quarter¬†–¬†2,6,7,8,9,12

Next quarter¬†–¬†1

Third quarter – 3,4,5

Fourth Quarter –¬†10,11

Notes¬†–

  • The prioritization has been made based on market research and certain assumptions. They may change subject to input of more¬†data.
  • The tech team size is small
  • Further breakdown into user story definition and acceptance criterion can¬†be done¬†once the listed¬†items¬†receive a go ahead from the business stakeholders.

Batman vs Superman – From the eyes of a Product Manager

bvs

The movie recently released to high expectations. I noticed some heavy Twitter campaigns as well. For the record, I have been¬†a huge fan of Nolan’s Dark Knight series and cannot envision any other Batman other than Christian Bale.

None the less, the concept of the two superheroes¬†going all out against¬†each other is a plot line (product idea), that holds enormous potential. Additionally,based on the reasoning provided by the production house, I felt that the decision to cast Ben Affleck was actually a good one. Without wasting further time on dilly dallying, let’s dissect¬†the product –

Development of modules (scenes) that were not needed.

Clients usually demand a full suite of features without actually going after a specific target problem or target user base. This leads to the creation of a bulky product with multiple features which may not address the core problem. Even if the problem is taken care off, it might create a negative impact on the actual target category of users. This generally occurs because a user might tend to feel bombarded with multiple features.

In this case, the initial half an hour of the movie was utilized to establish the beginning¬†of Batman and a bit¬†of Superman. This was completely unnecessary as the target audience mostly comprised of users who were aware¬†as to¬†how¬†Batman “began his career”.

Spent a ton on user interface (CGI) without defining a user experience strategy (core offering for the user)

When I conduct initial meetings with stakeholders, I try to extradite the ideas sitting in their heads. Along with that, I also try and study their psychology. This helps in understanding the vision that they have for the product. Which in turn, helps me in extrapolating and defining the true vision of the product to be built.

In this case, multiple resources (time and money) were heavily invested on the UI of the product. The resultant effects produced, were visually stunning, but lacked the connect. In order to reflect the darkness within the characters, the movie itself was shot in a very dark frame.

This tends to reflect the reality of many a product out there! A lack of clarity on the UX tends to overflow into the UI as well, leading to a domino effect on the entire product.

Villain was a repackaged dude seen before (lack of innovation)

With a plethora of mobile apps and web apps on offer, competition is extremely stiff is an understatement to make! It has become really hard to capture the attention spans of users.

Jesse Eisenberg was delightful as the disturbed villain, Lex Luthor. But, his creation, Doomsday, snatched the fun out of the game. The go to story line for almost all superhero movies these days, has been about varied forms of aliens; bursting on to the scene with an intent to either conquer or destroy the citizens of Earth. From a personal perspective, I really do not mind this sort of a story line. But, when the product looks like an imitation of other successful products on the market, I tend to draw the line there.

Which is what happens in today’s world! Even non technical users are increasingly becoming aware of the kind of apps they use. And that is where imitation becomes less of an art and more of a disaster.

Product manager (director) trying to handle 5-6 advanced features (theories) in a single product (movie)

Without a doubt, I have to give due credit to the director for helming this film. It takes courage to direct such a plot line when people have seen really great Superman movies and have savored the Dark Knight trilogy respectively.

But as a product manager, it goes without saying that one has to walk a tight rope, between balancing the vision of the product and the demands of the stakeholders. Especially, if the demands point towards high end features that take time to build. More importantly, features that might not be needed in the current iteration.

I believe that if there is a strong use case for such features to be integrated, then the details should be ironed out thoroughly. Such an approach helps in

  • Clear reasons to actually move ahead with the implementation, thereby helping in defining clear flows within¬†the¬†product. Some data might definitely help. Or in the case of this movie, some more feedback could have been gathered while scripting (user story mapping)
  • Seamless integration while implementation
  • Frictionless experience for the end user.

End Product РDisengagement of end users, Negative effect on the branding of the entire DC universe.

Well, as a product based company, your product defines who you are. And is the lifeline for revenues. In this case, the impact of the product went south. This was touted to be a product that would get users engaged into its plot. It was supposed to have a great emotional connect with the audience. Thereby, leading to the launch of further related products (Justice of League movies).

Instead, it has affected the entire DC brand of comics. Warner Bros. is trying to reinvent the wheel from what Disney Studios has already achieved through the Marvel universe.

With so much at stake, surely the executives will have to be a lot more careful; before they can boomerang into the production of further movies.

The Facial Conundrum – Phase 1

How it all Started?

Staying in 8 different cities, including 3 abroad, I have come across various facets of people. I was fortunate enough to interact with foreigners from different countries. I also observed various cultures across India, right from the North to the South.

This experience truly¬†broadened my horizons when it came to understanding the diversification of the human race. It generated more and more queries in me¬†–

Why do people prefer a subset of facial features over others? If they do, then is the definition of beauty even accurate?

The likes of such questions kept meandering like small rivers across the landscape of my mind.

The Push to Shove

The push came when I came across a face. This particular face forced me to aggressively find out the answers.

A couple of weeks passed, as I grappled with the questions in my mind. I tried to clear the chaos out and filter it down to a few questions.

It led me to wonder –

  1. Why are people attracted to this face?
  2. If they are attracted to this face, then how do I prove that this is indeed an attraction?
  3. Was this just a layer of physical allure under the pretense of actual magnetism?
  4. Would there be a way to quantify and negate this reaction?
  5. If it’s based only on aesthetic beauty, then can I¬†draw conclusions to prove a¬†relation!¬†The relation would be between
  • the beauty people saw¬†using their¬†eyes,
  • the attraction that processed¬†through their¬†mind and,
  • the emotions¬†they¬†felt through their¬†heart

6. Could a formula/algorithm be generated for it? Subsequently, can it be converted into a product based on images and the algorithms?

As I explored further, the question kept growing like a climber plant against my mind.

The final motivation to get an answer came from a most unexpected source, that is, the subject itself!

And this gave birth to this new case study, The Facial Conundrum.

The Path

A couple of occurrences guided¬†me to the approach I undertook¬†–

  1. A newly minted friend of mine mentioned Biotechnology as her interest. This mention threw me back by almost 9 years to my school life in class 12th. In the quest to understand the IT ecosystem and explore start ups, I had completely forgotten this aspect of mine! I remembered that I felt alive and excited when I studied that particular subject. That was because of the growing interest I had in it. I was also a school topper in it. I was the only one to have built the virtual simulation of a hardware equipment called the fermentor. I have never been a geek but my interest towards the subject helped me in making big achievements.
  2. I had recently been involved in a conversation with a senior product manager. Over coffee, we ended up discussing over the various elements of a particular problem he had come across. He challenged me to use geometry to solve that generic problem. Now, I have never really been a fan of Maths. But, that discussion opened my mind to the beauty of maths and geometry.

In basic terminology, Biotechnology is an amalgamation of Maths and Biology. When my friend mentioned this subject, I had a Eureka moment as I realized as to why did I not think about it before! Hence, I decided to return to this school interest of mine and in turn go through the basics of geometry.

The Theory

I¬†began researching Biotechnology. It led me to theoretical biology. Which in turn led me to bio statistics. And this led me to¬†an equation called the golden ratio. It’s been stated that the likes of Leonardo da Vinci used this ratio to build masterpieces.

It has been a subject of huge contention between scientists. But, I found the concept interesting enough to at least start my exploration.

The Subject

As a product guy, a part of my job is to simplify decision making with few resources at hand. That entails utilizing data as well. But, the data could be limited or there could be no data at all!

I faced the classic case of utilizing my instinct and analytical brain with limited access to the subject.

The Control

I will be using my own face as the control for this study.

Before a techie, I deem myself as an artist. In order to visualize and build things, an artist can get inspired from the simplest of things in mother nature. Or can take motivation from random strangers in the world.

The famous Indian painter, Mr. M. F. Hussain, was supposed to have considered the successful actress Madhuri Dixit, as his muse.

In similar fashion, I had my own muse for this particular case study. The face that made me ask such questions, belonged to my above mentioned friend.

The Control

The Picture

The control’s picture had to match the subject’s available picture.¬†The match was based on the following criterion –

  1. Zoom level
  2. Tilt angle of head
  3. Similarity in expression

The Implementation

 Step 1 РMeasure the length and width of the face. Then, divide the length by the width.

Subject РLength =  3 CM, Width = 1.5 CM, Ratio = 1.5

Control –¬†Length = ¬†22 CM,¬†Width = 12.5 CM,¬†Ratio = 1.76

Factor – Scaling factor of 8 has been considered between the picture and the actual face.

 

Step 2 – Measure three segments of the face –

Subject

From the forehead hairline to a spot between the eyes = 1 CM

From between the eyes to the bottom of the nose = 1 CM

From the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin = 1 CM

Control

From the forehead hairline to a spot between the eyes = 6.5 CM

From between the eyes to the bottom of the nose = 3.5 CM

From the bottom of the nose to the bottom of the chin = 7.3 CM

Factor – Scaling factor of approx 7 has been considered between the picture and the actual face.

 

Step 3 –¬† Measure symmetry and proportion

Subject

Length of an ear is equal to the length the nose = 0.8 CM each

Width of an eye is equal to the distance between the eyes = 0.5 CM each

Control

Length of an ear is equal to the length the nose = 5 CM each

Width of an eye is equal to the distance between the eyes = 5 CM each

Factor – Scaling factor of 5 has been considered between the picture and the actual face.

 Conclusion

This study requires subsequent growth phases. It requires

  • heavy additional work on averaging the above calculations.
  • a¬†deep¬†dive into¬†the concept behind golden ratio formula and it’s implementation.

The Product

Once greater clarity is achieved on the concept, a product roadmap can be mapped out to build a well functioning app out of this.

The Questions

None the less,  I can still try to answer a couple of the above mentioned questions.

1. Why are people attracted to this face?

2. If they are attracted to it, then how do I prove that this is indeed an attraction?

The subject’s face does seem to match the golden ratio closely. But, this is just a bare basic calculation.

In terms of symmetry, the subject’s face¬†has almost equivalent¬†numbers. It¬†satisfies this equation as well.

Hence, the aforementioned attraction.

3. Was this just a layer of physical allure under the pretense of actual magnetism?

Probably yes. But new metrics will be required to differentiate between infatuation and affection.

*Note

1. The identity of the subject has been withheld in order to protect their privacy.

2. The above study in no way discriminates between people on the basis of looks or aesthetics. It is¬†the author’s private opinion. Any reactions to this article are subjective based on the readers mindset and experiences.

3. The author reserves the right to publish his opinions as the owner of this domain and platform.