Jerry & Filo Framework

I belong the generation that grew watching Yahoo! grow big, used Y! messenger endlessly, and carried a dream to create something as simple and as big as Yahoo. During my Undergrad school in 2004, I came across a small video advertisement that portrayed Both Jerry Yang and David Filo in a casual setting.

This ad was the first of its kind I had ever seen. I connected with them almost instantly. Their chemistry was so smooth that it was deeply imprinted on my mind. Whenever I looked at someone to work or start a company with, I always imagined whether we could behave like the way Jerry and Filo did in the ad above. I called it as Jerry & Filo framework for myself. The framework was simple, but very effective. It helped me choose some amazing people I have worked with so far. It works even today, all the time, and I carry huge respect to both of them.

Following years Yahoo had its fallout and Jerry resigned as CEO in 2012. It was emotionally breaking for an insignificant admirer that I am. Last year through a friend, who now reports to Jerry, I discovered that they are based in Palo Alto. I came from India, visited their office, but returned back without meeting Jerry. He was probably sitting in an adjacent room. I was so close to one of my role models yet stayed away. Of course I’m sure about meeting him some day soon but with the right opportunity.

Today, Forbes published an insider story Finding Alibaba: How Jerry Yang Made The Most Lucrative Bet In Silicon Valley History. The story outlines the professional journey of Jerry, the epic role of Mayasoshi Son (Softbank), and the bonding between Jerry and jack Ma. An unexpected piece of information that really touched me

… But guess who’s getting a seat on Alibaba’s board post-IPO: nobody affiliated with Yahoo except Yang.

It is great to see genuine credits to Jerry Yang and hear about him in the valley again. I highly appreciate Jack Ma for this decision. The article has a video, The return of Jerry Yang, embedded at the bottom that shows he is back in action. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and seeing him in action again. It gives me hope, energy, and focus again.

Happy to have relocated to valley this year, don’t know why but it feels like coming home!

Rocket Execution

“It is not the idea, but the execution that matters”

For a long long time, the above principle has been the key to huge success, but for innovative entrepreneurs the above principle is seeing a generational shift.

I am reading a book called ‘The Dhandho Investor‘, written by Mohnish Pabrai - an iconic figure in the investment world, and the Chapter 14 in his book is titled, “Invest in Copycats rather than the innovators“. Simply because copycats are likely to show multiple degrees stronger financial returns to the investors than the innovators.

Despite active participation of people globally in consuming technology innovation at a higher rate than the previous year, stock markets continue to behave absolutely opposite. Such a contrast it is!

Having seen two pioneering software product startup cycles, and having witnessed both web and mobile evolutions very closely over last decade, I have come to believe that it is not the execution that wins the innovators anymore.

It is the “Rocket Execution” that keeps the innovator alive in today’s times.

Rocket Execution

Rocket Execution

I often state the term “Rocket Execution” in my conversations, however, people end up misunderstanding/ misinterpreting the term every single time. In a quick succession since yesterday, I read news about two young companies, which I truly admire.

Yesterday, I read about the next round of funding news of InMobi. InMobi team started early 2007 and pivoted towards current idea after a failed attempt. Let’s look at their statistics

165 countries (presence),
1000+ employees
$400 million revenue
750 million monthly active users
2.6 billion app downloads
126 billion monthly ad impressions (which is roughly 170 million impressions per second).

The company was valued at $1b in 2011 (within 4 years of existence). It is aiming to double the valuation in 2014 (within 3 years). Hopefully the next billion would be added in 2016 (within next 2 years). This is a classic example of ‘Rocket Execution’ because if you do not grow at that rate, technology innovation elsewhere will outpace you.

Today, I read about the $19 million funding news of Housing.com. A company that started around June 2012. Let’s look at their statistics

25 cities covered in India
12 co-founders (Whoa!)
900+ Employees
2000 houses listed per day
50,000 houses mapped in Bangalore
80,000 houses mapped in Mumbai

If you notice the quality of listings on their website, you will understand the value of listing 2000 houses per day. At this rate, the company will list 700K houses annually, which is not at all a bad number. But just 2 years in operation, the company is aiming to list 10,000 houses per day, 5 times the rate at which it lists today i.e. 3.5 million listings annually. This is another fantastic example of rocket execution. Scale before another technology innovation trumps your innovation.

If that was not enough, an interesting tweet from Navalkant validates the emergence of Rocket Execution little scientifically. It states

1999 – $5M to launch a product, 30M serious computer users.
2014 – $5K to launch a product, 3B serious phone users.
Leverage per $ is up 100,000x

So don’t get excited if you got a million users within a year, until the next million happened in 6 months and the next million in 3 months and so on. Rocket execution is the only way to leverage the never-existed-before power of the connected world.

Disclaimer – The published data is gathered through public sources and it does not reflect actual number that may be relevant now.

How twenty-somethings can change India!

Youth is the future!

That’s one statement you would hear from every next person anywhere in the world and wonder how could that be true for India since there are so many problems in our country and our youth is absolutely disguised. However, there are certain stories that put the above statement in the right perspective.

I recently learnt about a very young company, led by a team with an average age in 20s. Below presentation starts with an eye-catching statement, “Why the hell are you spending your twenties at …?”

I congratulate the team on their successful entrepreneurial journey. They are definitely weaving an inspirational story for twenty, thirty, forty … somethings in India. Hats-off!

4 Steps framework to cultivate Product Thinking

Product Thinking? You probably think that the answer is obvious but like the term “strategy”, the term “product thinking” is elastic. As an entrepreneur I often use this term and sub-consciously evaluate product thinking quotient of people I meet, only to find that most do not understand or still care.

What exactly is Product Thinking?

A product acknowledges that teams are really working to ensure superior experience. It encourages the delivery of small features, frequent releases, continuous flow and releases that cover more than one “project”.

Every product provides some sort of a service to its user. Facebook is a product but it provides communication, photo sharing as service. Mobile handset is a product but it provides ubiquitous communication as service.

Services have always been differentiated by its quality and customer experience e.g. Dell and Apple both are examples of fantastic service quality and customer experience respectively.

In order to ensure highest standard of service quality and customer experience, the organization structure, systems and processes need to be efficient, smooth and must have a feedback loop to feed improvisation, leading to a cheaper, faster and better output. The fact that the service design is now a never ending process brings it closer to product design process. The ability to apply product design framework is precisely the product thinking.

Confused? Read on.

How to cultivate Product Thinking?

More often, the cue comes from user experience by breaking it into as many distinct logical steps. Watch out for the 4 steps framework below to design better experience

  1. Optimize the time and motion in one or multiple steps
  2. Embrace obvious ergonomic convenience
  3. Eliminate dependencies on external agents
  4. Eliminate maximum possible manual effort

Let’s take the example of commonly used “hand soap” used for washing hands and try to break down its user experience in distinct logical steps with respective exit points.

S.No. Action Exit

1

Open the tap Water supply begins

2

Pick the soap Wet hands/soap

3

Rub the soap Soap layer between palms

4

Leave the soap n/a

5

Rub the palms Lather creation

6

Hands under water Lather washed

7

Close the tap Water supply seized

 Note

  • Soap has an ergonomic issue with multiple people using the same bar.
  • The external agent here is water.
  • User engages with the soap in steps 2, 3 and 4 and hence require manual effort.
  • Exit column identifies necessary outputs through sub-processes and it is this column that matters more than the Action column.

Now look at the picture below

soap-vs-dispenser

Think about it, isn’t it interesting how someone would have thought of replacing soap bar with the liquid soap in dispenser.

As a product thinker, we can safely begin with user experience and one could take varied approaches. Keeping the above 4 steps framework in mind, I came up with following questions

  1. Can the three steps (2, 3, 4) be reduced to one or two steps to optimize the time and motion?
  2. Can we remove dependency on the external agent (water) in 2nd step completely?
  3. Step 3rd requires specialized manual effort, can we completely eliminate it? If yes, then step 4 could possibly be eliminated, being an extension to step 3.
  4. Water supply begins in 1st step and seizes only at the end of process, hinting at the wastage of a potential resource.

While this is the way to think, actual insight can come through any of the above questions. Whosoever came up with the idea of liquid soap using dispenser achieved few important things

  1. It eliminates ergonomic problem associated with the soap bar, providing key mental convenience.
  2. External agent is eliminated in the early part and gets introduced later, ensuring efficient use of a resource.
  3. Eliminates step 3 completely, improving the time and motion.
  4. Overall manual effort reduced.

You can apply similar steps on existing systems and services around you and it is guaranteed that over a period of time you’ll start to conceive not only innovative but scalable product ideas.

An aspect that I have purposefully not covered is the cost-effectiveness of solution. This has got a lot to do with its market size and perception and the subject requires detailed discussion. I will probably write a separate post on it soon.

How to get Psychometric tests to help you?

Recently, I was interviewing people and it was averaging 3 Skype calls and 2 in person meetings every day. Quite crazy it was! Soon I drifted in a mode, where one would look at macro behaviors to conclude people’s personality but I can confidently say that it is dangerous! It is humanly impossible to make consistent conclusions in such a high pressure circumstance and your company runs the risk of limited understanding and personal biases of one person.

I immediately looked for psychometric solutions to save us from this menace and also provide scientific ways to understand people’s personality. Soon, an award-winning and well-known solution provider got in touch and their sales guy did a brilliant job of convincing me why they are best suited to us. Soon I got a demo account and as a natural step forward, I wanted to validate accuracy of results.

I attempted the test myself, the “Situation Judgment Test” score was quite impressive, so I din’t bother much but “Personality Test” result was not that straight forward. Since it was me, I could drive logical conclusions, which made the challenge of validating the accuracy of results even bigger.

  • Can the score be taken at its face value to make hiring decisions?
  • If not, how to drive logical conclusions for new people?

While I immediately got a senior colleague to take the test for the help but the confusion persisted; we had to still apply mind to make logical conclusions. What do you do in such a case?

And then I decided to take the test again, to check the degree of variation in my scores itself. The outcome is really interesting and helped me a lot in driving better conclusions for new hires. Here is what I found

Big-5 Model for Personality Assessment

E = Extraversion
C = Conscientiousness
ES = Emotional Stability
O = Openness
A = Agreeableness

Both the test show how I’m low on Extraversion (i.e. reclusive, shy, silent, introvert etc.) in both the cases. It actually depends on what kind of group I’m in but on a broad level I found it okay. I was also okay with three more trait scores such as ES, O and A in the first result but conscientiousness score improved in the second result. Below is the comparative analysis and conclusions that could be driven

  1. Top (O) and Bottom (E) traits came out constant sharply (although actual rating has some deviation). I concluded that the algorithm to compute both O & E score has some stability.
  2. Two Traits (ES and A) jumped one level each. Deviation in A is not high although it jumped a level being a boundary case. Therefore, approach to compute A’s score still seems fine.
  3. Deviation in ES score is significant. It definitely needs attention due to significant deviation.
  4. Conscientiousness is the only trait which jumped two levels with high deviation in score. This particular trait I feel is not properly computed and needs attention; for now I’m ignoring this trait for all the candidates being tested.

Having tested these tests over multiple hires and potential recruits, I absolutely understand that statistical models are not fool proof but they do provide some indicative personality traits. It is highly suggested that the tests be used for some time over a bigger sample of people to either understand their accuracy patterns or reject the solution for it to be any useful. Otherwise, it is highly likely that despite the availability of such scientific solutions, we will end up making incorrect conclusions.

Business Idea – Tool for HRs

For sometime, I’ve been organizing LIVE MS-Excel Proficiency Tests for potential recruits at Eko. It is an open test and candidates are allowed to use Google or any Excel reference material. While the test is very simple for someone who excels in basics of MS-Excel but unfortunately, no candidate has managed to complete even a single problem out of two.

We also setup the tests on a projector for live view. This is to capture entire approach to problem solving. It was easy till we had to interview a candidate remotely. While we used Google Spreadsheets but faced following challenges:

  1. Time Adherence – We had to manually keep track of duration and deactivate the link.
  2. Live View – We couldn’t observe how the person is approaching the problem and din’t have a quick/easy way of recording the screen and seeing it later.
  3. Communication Gap – Due to time pressure, remote people assume something in case of doubt while a physically close person would ask questions or express their concerns for such as asking for more time etc.

An obvious Solution is to get a screen sharing application running on candidate’s machine to see his entire activity live. We even tried it once but low acceleration of frame movement made it a very uncomfortable experience and of-course getting an application downloaded and installed on candidate’s maching is a tedious and time consuming process.

I’ve since been wondering about solving this problem because a solution to this could be generically used for organizing open skill assessment or psychometric tests remotely and record them for later consumption among team members.

I couldn’t find a ready solution in a quick search but definitely found tools which could be mashed up to create a solution. For example, Screenr is a great web based application to create a screencast and they have a simple API. While Google Spreadsheets already comes with an API. One could easily embed a widget to send SMS to HR in case of doubt for immediate response, irrespective of the fact whether HR is on move or not.

This mashup could help us record the activities of candidates and provide basic analytics like duration of test, number of attempts etc. HR team could see this screencast later and easily share it with the relevant team members if required.

I wish I could quickly create an application and use it. If someone can do it quickly, I’m willing to pay for the service and I genuinely hope that the platform could really be leveraged by so many HR consultants and corporate HR teams to automate their pre-employment assessment process for skill testing.

This is how success feels like!

Lifting the Tech AwardEko recently won Tech Awards, one of the world’s most prestigious award (often referred as the oscars for the social enterprise industry).

My colleague Anupam shared his experience from the event as, “It was a great experience at the tech awards gala, with a room full of silicon valley execs and VCs. The net worth of that room would be a couple of billion dollars! Their planning and organization was meticulous. There was a 150 ft long screen as the backdrop and Vinod Khosla himself was tweeting :)

This was the Oscars for the Social Enterprise space and all of us have worked through the past few years to have got here. But above all, lets thank God, our investors, destiny and providence”. What a splendid messaging!

The video below shows Abhishek sharing his experience and journey at Eko, while Abhinav candidly hearing him.

I probably watched this video 10 times, smiling and slowly forgetting all the mountainous  challenge that look ahead at Eko for a while. Abhishek looks so bright and full-of-emotions and probably that’s how success feels like.

A 30 something guy whom I met a few years ago as part of a small group, inspired each one in the group to nurture a billion dollar dream and to make this world a better place. Just 4 years and to be able to closely see how determination and hard work can make dreams come true is absolutely a pleasure that comes to a chosen few.

I feel proud for Eko and for the team. This achievement also forces us to think that, “It’s probably easy to make a buck, it’s a lot tougher to make a difference“.

Official release of Tech Awards video can be seen here.