Understanding and Designing Business Models (for creatives)

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On 6th March I conducted a workshop on ‘Understanding and Designing Business Models’ at The Coalition in New Delhi. In it, I explained Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas and Value Web.

The audience belonged to fields as diverse as content creation, comedy, gaming, journalism, art and fashion, to name a few. To explain the concepts, I had to use examples which struck a chord with the audience. Below I discuss some of those along with the questions they were used to address:

*Can you pin point your target customer group? Are your customers clear about your unique value proposition? Are you leveraging your skills to create maximum value for your business?

Ustraa :  Ustraa is a men’s grooming product range with the tagline – “Not tested on animals, only on rascals.” The name, Ustraa, is a Hindi slang for a razor blade used for a clean shaved face. Put together the tagline and the name, and you will get a clear sense of who the product is targeting – confident ‘somewhat hip’ urban male. They have done a terrific job at striking a chord with their target group. Seemingly that’s all they are doing, because their product development and manufacturing of its products is outsourced! And there is nothing wrong with such an approach. In any business, one should have a very clear sense of what value one is bringing to the table, and how one can leverage that to maximize value creation.

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Mónica Lou Mercadé’s Dance Photography : Mónica is known for doing one thing better than anyone else in Barcelona – capturing dance through her camera. Over the years, she has honed her skills and has built connections with those involved in dancing (and she gets invited to all the events). This gives her unfair advantage in a certain area of photography. Can you think of a way to build unfair advantage in your business?

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TaxiFabric : TaxiFabric is a platform which is allowing designers to showcase their talent by redoing the interior of Mumbai cabs (as of now). Cars are industrial products in the truest sense. There have been instances when while waiting at a traffic signal, I have seen same cars as mine on both sides. Everything about them is identical, except a few (hardly noticeable) accessorization here and there. But here’s one company which is trying to bring stories of a magnificent city inside its cabs. Perhaps tomorrow, the interiors of our cars will become a medium of self-expression for us.

*How are you nurturing your relationship with your customers? 

The Viral Fever : The The Viral Fever is an online digital entertainment channel which has become extremely popular in the last 2-3 years. They started on Youtube, but they now have their own website and mobile app called TVFPlay. The most interesting thing I find about their company is the way they connect with their audience. The speak directly to them, and often tell about what were the dynamics behind the camera and who all participated. In fact in a panel discussion at The Coalition, TVF founder Arunabh Kumar told that the promotional material of their upcoming works may feature the faces of the writer, director and other crew, and not the cast! It’s fascinating to see how over time TVF has evolved its relationship with its audience. When people think about TVF, they don’t just think of it as an online digital entertainment channel but they think of it as Arunabh Kumar, Amit Golani, Biswapati Sarkar, Nidhi Bisht, Anandeshwar Dwivedi, Vaibhav Bundhoo, Jitendra Kumar, et al doing some cool stuff. Would you like to bring that kind of transition in the way your customers look at what you are doing?

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Fine Art Gallery De Twee Pauwen : Fine Art Gallery De Twee Pauwen is located on a posh street in the Hague and sells pricey artwork sourced from artists from all over Europe. To make sales, should they just depend on people walking in their store? Lucas, one of the two owners, has an interesting way to draw customers. Once in every 1-2 months, he invites his customers to have brunch with one of the exhibiting artists. During the brunch people get to understand so much more about the art-pieces of that artist and they start to see those in a different light. Of course, purchases happen too! But more importantly, by doing such activities, Fine Art Gallery De Twee Pauwen, has gone beyond just being an art gallery, to become a place where people come to nurture their interest in art.

Dark Side of the Lens (video) : Everything around us is the outcome of someone’s imagination and hard-work. The sofa on which I am sitting right now must have taken a few hours of a few people’s work to make. But only now as I write this piece, I became aware of it. People’s perception of value comes from the meaning they assign to a product/service. ‘Dark Side of the Lens’ is a beautiful short video where an underwater cameraperson talks about what his work means for his life, and how it is to be behind the camera.

*What is the best possible channel/platform to sell your product to your target customers? Can you think of some new and inventive ways, such as cross-selling?

Pop-up street food markets in London : The pop-up street food markets in London are amazing. I at least go three rounds of the market before deciding what to eat! These group of vendors put up their stalls in clusters in different areas on different days. It creates a fair like atmosphere – more people, more buzz, and more overall business for everyone! Ironical it may seem – sometimes when competitors cooperate/collaborate, they can get interesting results.

Chirodeep Chaudhuri (photographer) + Sandeep Mohan (filmmaker) : Chirodeep is doing a photo story on life in Mumbai cafes. Sandeep is making a short film on life of a few individuals who work from cafes. Does it not make sense for them to cross-sell when their works are finished?

Something Sketchy : Something Sketchy sells products like notebooks and coaster-magnets on a few e-commerce websites. It’s a side business of Madhuvanthi Mohan, who loves to travel and make illustrations. Having a small but consistent income from Something Sketchy has given Madhuvanthi the confidence to explore her passions in new ways. For over a year now, she has been travelling across India and has been funding her travels by painting murals wherever she goes.

Tesco Homeplus in South Korea :  Tesco’s South Korean branch found out that a significant percentage of urban-living and hard-working South Koreans were finding the task of weekly grocery shopping to be a burden because they’re so busy at work, with family and in other activities. So they came up with the concept of bringing the store to the consumer! The company created virtual stores in subway stations in Seoul. Shoppers could walk up to the virtual store, choose the items they wanted to buy, and then scan the product QR code using their smart phone. Deliveries of the goods could be arranged to arrive within hours of the order!

Sandeep Mohan’s film ‘X’: In India, multiplexes like PVR cinemas off and on dedicate a few days to screen independent films. However, (silly) radicals often find something provoking in one of those films and the whole thing is made to shut. For his new film Sandeep didn’t want to go though the ordeal of first getting his movie selected for screening in a multiplex and then seeing everything abruptly coming to an end because of some intolerant folks. So he came up with the idea of taking his film to his audience! Once there is a demand for screening from a certain minimum number of people from a location, Sandeep travels there with equipments and screens the movie.

*Can you list down the underlying assumptions in your business idea? Can you think of ways to test those assumptions in the cheapest and fastest way?

Cardrops : Imagine there is a gadget which enables you to open your car trunk remotely so that you can get delivery from an e-commerce company. Great idea? But how do we decide how many people will in interested in buying something like that? How much will they be willing to pay? How frequently? How do we go about finding answers to those questions? This is what my friends at Cardrops did – without making any physical product they just made a website with description of the service and the pricing information. By promoting the website through different channels they started asking people, what price-service combination was interesting to them. Thus, by hardly spending anything they got valuable information from the field.

Cardrops

*What’s interesting in the things happening around you? Can you draw any inspiration from that and apply it to your current work? Try combining ideas from disparate domains to create new ones.

UrbanClap + Kickstarter : UrbanClap is platform for household services. Kickstarter is a crowd funding platform for projects. What if UrbanClap took inspiration from Kickstarter and allowed service providers on its platform to raise money from customers to take their service/business to the next level (for example, getting a better equipment), and in return provide discounts or some other benefits to those contributing money. Just like Kickstarter, the new version of UrbanClap can charge a small commission on the fund raised. We just created a new business model for UrbanClap by combining its business model with that of Kickstarter.

People who came to my workshop wanted to build business around what they liked doing. But interestingly, I found that most of them were too focussed on doing ‘the thing’ and had hardly ever given any thought to creating a business model around it. My advice to them was to start devoting 20-30% of their time to think about their business model and start operationalizing some of their ideas. It’s only by testing those ideas in the real world, they will be able to know which ones work and which don’t. Simple? Ain’t it?

Do you have any interesting examples to share or any suggestion to make?

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Why did Apple, known to think different, devoutly follow design cues of wristwatches for its wearable?

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Weren’t Macintosh, iPod and iPhone groundbreaking in terms of their form design? Those products defied prevailing design conventions of their category and were still hugely successful. No wonder then, followers of Apple were speculating Apple Watch to redefine the way watches look. For example, consider the following concept by Todd Hamilton, which I am sure you have seen more than once in Apple Watch related articles before Apple Watch was finally unveiled.

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And, look what Apple gave us! A product which even wristwatch magazines are praising – “…really pays great homage to traditional watchmaking and the environment in which horology was developed” [Hodinkee].

Apple Watch, Wearables

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Here are the questions in my mind about Apple’s iWatch launch

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Over the past months I have read quite a bit of speculations about Apple’s iWatch, and I am cautiously optimist about the its launch. No doubt the company has launched products which have reshaped the market landscape, but it has also been spinning out several ‘not very different from the previous one’ products. However, every single product launch sees an amount of buzz which is the envy of its competitors. There has been so much buzz about iWatch too. Seeing the past trend one may wonder if the iWatch is just going to be a ‘watch like something’ coming with iOS optimized for a smaller screen! The internet is abound with both optimistic and pessimistic speculations, and I am not going to add to the speculation grind mill with less than few hours to go before the launch. In this blog I am going to tell you what I, a strategic designer, will be keenly looking for as details of the iWatch are unveiled today.

How is Apple handling fashion, which is very much about self-expression?
Apple recently hired British luxury watch designer Marc Newson and it had hired Paul Deneve, formerly the CEO of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent some time ago, to work on “special projects”. Over the last two days, a news about Jonathan Ive‘s remark that the iWatch may screw Swiss watchmakers, has drawn quite some attention on the internet. The hiring of people from the field of fashion, and Ive’s remark, point to the fact that when it comes to form design, iWatch may be a fashion accessory (in addition to being other things), and a fashion accessory is essentially a medium for self-expression. Since each one of us is different in some way, innumerable variations in fashion accessories exist. I am curiously waiting to see how even when going the fashion accessory route to design, Apple will enable people (if at all) to express themselves uniquely through the iWatch. Perhaps the iWatch could come in a few different colors and form factors. Or perhaps, Apple could go a somewhat unexpected route and create many variations of iWatch by tying up with several renowned watch-makers and co-designing the interface with them – something similar to what Apple did with automobile makers for its CarPlay. Continue reading

Design that Enriches Our Inner Lives – Onset of A New Era in Design?

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Recently I attended the 2013 Rotterdam Design Prize ceremony. The design prize remains one of the few prizes – in the Netherlands and abroad – that makes no distinction between the different design disciplines. I took home an important message from the discussion of jury members – Design in the times to come will be very much about meaningfulness. One of the scout jury observed, “In a world where technology is becoming ever more influential, it is important to me that designers continue to look critically at what it adds.” Now technology is hardly ever a barrier to making what a designer can imagine. As a result, in western world we often have more varieties of things than we can even grasp. Still, new variants and upgrades continue to be added at an ever increasing pace. In this regard it is interesting to watch a video by Lernert & Sander, which is a sarcastic commentary on the ridiculous variety of stuff that we have (in this case, perfumes).

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Paris, New York and Design Thinking

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Paris vs New YorkSometime ago I came across the above picture [1], and it instantly stuck me as a superb metaphor for ‘design thinking vs. traditional project management approaches’. Let me explain what I mean.

Recently, I spent 6 months in Paris. When you are walking on the streets of Paris and trying to go somewhere, you often have only a sense of orientation. You may even lose that sense of orientation off and on. But you keep moving. And then you suddenly get a glimpse of a famous monument or the Seine or a well-known boulevard or something you are familiar with. Once again, you become aware of which direction you should be heading. “3 blocks down South and 2 blocks East”, doesn’t work for Paris!

I think what you experience on the streets of Paris holds true for design thinking too. When you are working on a complex problem, you only have a vague sense of direction. But you keep moving and keep trying out things. At times, you come to those vexing roundabouts of several possibilities. On those occasions, you use your best judgement to pursue a certain possibility. You are also faced with incomplete information and/or ambiguous data, but you once again use your best judgement to move ahead. Sometimes you can come up with an explanation for, why you did what you did. On other occasions, you just have to say, what Blaise Pascal said – “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing!Continue reading

What you missed while in shower, and the unbearable ‘one moment please’! – Part 1/2

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This post is first part of a two part series, in which I describe how the web is providing you relevant information from the ever swelling ocean of information. 

1. Think of the ‘10 minute’ shower you took this morning. Now think about this – in 2013, we are creating the same amount of data every 10 minutes that we did from the beginning of recorded time until 2003!

2. Imagine you entered a search query on a multibrand flight ticket web-shop to see rates of Amsterdam to Vienna flights for a certain date. How do you feel while the website makes you wait for 15 seconds by displaying ‘one moment please’ before it returns the results?

The above two cases underline two very fundamental aspects that are shaping internet based business ecosystem: we are generating content at an exponentially growing rate, and we expect to have relevant information at our fingertips.

In order to provide us with relevant information from ever swelling ocean of information, companies need to organize new information continually and present relevant information in an easily assimilable way. However, no internet based company has the complete answer to what is the best possible way to do so. And to add to the woes of the companies, the challenge only gets tougher by day as the amount of content grows and our average attention span decreases. It turns out that today the pursuits of companies is a work in progress. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to take a look at the various strategies that are applied in organizing and presenting information. Below I describe some strategies that I have identified.

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What you missed while in shower, and the unbearable ‘one moment please’! – Part 2/2

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This post is second part of a two part series, in which I describe how the web is providing you relevant information from the ever swelling ocean of information. In the first part, I described what strategies internet based companies use to organize new information continually. Click here to read Part 1/2.

In this part, I will describe some strategies that internet based companies use to present relevant information in an easily assimilable way.

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1. Maximizing Information Transmission Efficiency
Web pages overloaded with text and hyperlinks are giving way to cleaner layouts and more visual content. Most well designed websites provide a very good sense of modularity and hierarchy in their front-end architecture. I think there are at least two distinct styles which deserve mention. First, where information is presented in a single column, as if, on a long canvas, and you just need to scroll down to see more and more information. Some examples are the websites of Wunderlist, MotoX, Spotify and UberSecond, where the web-page is divided in grids, and information is usually presented in the form of large thumbnails. Pinterest, Groupon, eBay, your Facebook timeline and Google+ sport such a style.

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For Those Who Are Crazy Enough To Think They Can Change The World

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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead

And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards — and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one. — Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

Each of us has to find out for ourselves what is permitted and what is forbidden – forbidden for him. It’s possible for one never to transgress a single law and still be a bastard. And vice versa. Actually, it’s only a question of convenience. — Hermann Hesse, The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth

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‘Handpicked for You!’ – Gateway for New Business Opportunities

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When I see ‘Chef’s Pick’ on the menu, quite often I am tempted to pick it for my order. As a teenager, I used to wait for the arrival of Reader’s Digest every month. There is something weirdly beautiful about things that are handpicked. Even as internet giants such as Google and Amazon, strive to make their recommendation engines smarter, the good old handpicking thrives in various forms as competing alternatives. Let’s look at four interesting examples:

MistoBox – MistoBox enables people to discover coffee from around the world, like never before. The company chooses and sends four coffee samples every month to its subscribers, and they call themselves coffee geeks who know the difference between the merely-good and the truly-special coffee roasts.

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Strategies for Dealing with Complex Problems

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The complexity of the world around us has increased considerably. All of us not only cope with the immense complexity around us every day, but we thrive in it. We have developed sophisticated internal mechanisms to enable us to do so. However, when it comes to dealing with complexity in business context, very often we find ourselves using methods and vocabulary from the past. In this blog, I will explain three strategies that are crucial for dealing with complex problems. But first off, for the sake of common understanding let’s define what complex problems are. Complex problems are characterized by a large number of interacting variables and a large number of unknowns, and we cannot convert them into determinate problems in a feasible time frame. The three strategies that help us design our way out of complex problems are as follows:

Framing
Old management textbooks tell us that the first step to solving a problem is to ‘define’ it. But as we see from its definition, we cannot actually ‘define’ a complex problem. Instead, we ‘frame’ a workable problem out of a complex situation. One notable difference between framing and defining is that, unlike defining, framing has a personal angle to it, which means a designer or a team frame a problem based on their worldview, and there is no absolute right or wrong. The below video underlines the importance of framing in dealing with complex problems.

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