Entrepreneurship lessons from Biking and Running!

The idea for this blog was seeded on my high school WhatsApp group- a bunch of fellows doing various things in their professional lives, connected by experiences shared in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In this WhatsApp Group (like any other) we share and debate everything under the sun. There are arguments- with data at times and with emotions at other times. Let me put it this way, it is a typical group of “men” in their 40‘s.  

One of the topics we keep going back to is ‘Health’. Most times when it comes to health, there are no arguments in the group, it is pure sharing. However, last week started different, we bantered on health, and the topic was  cycling vs running.  It was a long thread of arguments and finally, we agreed to disagree; to each their own poison. Good Fun!

Fast forward to the weekend (March 19), I competed and finished duathlon, Olympic Distance- 10Km run, followed by 40Km biking, followed by 5Km run. I have run many half marathons, a few marathons and biked maximum 120K in a day. However, had never done duathlon earlier.

2017- Pune International Duathlon

2017 Pune International Duathlon

It was an amazing first experience! Different from what biking or running. I think  the exciting and wierd parts were transitions- from running to biking and from biking to running. At the start of the finish run (transitioning from biking to running) for about a kilometer I felt like a penguin- hopping more than running.

In this blog I have tried to capture the similarities and differences of these 2 endurance sports and how biking and running have made me me a better entrepreneur and a better person.

Lesson 1. The definition of ‘inertia’ needs a relook.

Inertia is defined as “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force”.

Learning from endurance sports : In my experience there is no external force strong enough to make a person jump off the bed at 3:30AM every sunday and say to themselves let’s burn 3K calories. There’s no external force strong enough to make one run the last mile in a marathon with cramps. For good 10 years there were people around me running marathons, eating healthy. However, these external forces did not change my state of inertia.

The force is ‘internal’, perhaps the definition of inertia should be “a property of people by which they continue in their existing state of rest, unless that state is changed by an INTERNAL force”

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Do not jump on the entrepreneurship boat inspired by the success stories. Look at the sacrifices and years these entrepreneurs put  in to be successful. Speak with entrepreneurs who failed. The calling should be from within because there is a psychological price of entrepreneurship.

Lesson 2. Understand the game before making your ‘move’.

The one big difference I find between biking and running is how one deals with elevation- both gain and loss. In plain english, while biking going uphill is super exhausting and coming down is super relaxing. In running going uphill is less exhausting however running downhill is a skill hard to master.

Learning from endurance sports : Descending feels easy aerobically, but each step triggers muscle-damaging eccentric contractions in the quadriceps and lower legs. On level ground, these muscles shorten as they fire; on declines, they elongate while under tension as they work to control your speed. This creates more micro-tears in each fiber, which stimulates muscle growth but leaves you fatigued and sore.

While biking get in the right gear while approaching elevation, maintaining posture and pace your ride. While running do not give in to gravity, tread with caution, try other techniques like shorter strides.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Evaluate the opportunity, understand the macro environment, follow your competition before you venture out. Copy pasting business models is a recipe for disaster.

Lesson 3.  Everyone is alone alone, in their special timelines.

This is where biking, running and all endurance sports are similar. For athletes every race is about “Personal Best”. When one (amateur athletes) laces up or takes to the saddle of the bike it is not about beating others, it is about giving ones personal best.

Learning from endurance sports : The experience in the holding area could be daunting. Thousands of atheletes all lined up waiting for the gun. Some warming up, some meditating, few joking and singing. However, few minutes into the race everyone is running alone. Similarly, even in our lives we have many  many people around us- friends, family, acquaintances and the unknown. However, if one really thinks about it, they are alone in their timeline from womb to tomb.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: There’s no right age to start and you could fail any number of times in this journey. The best time to start a business depends on the maturity of the industry and more importantly maturity of the entrepreneur.

Lesson 4. There’s opportunity when things are “Going Downhill”

Normally the phrase “going downhill” means declinining and growing worse. It is not very uncommon to hear this phrase in organizations and life, for example-“2016 was bad year for startups, everything went downhill”. However, in biking and running going downhill presents an opportunity.

Learning from endurance sports : Most people learn to ride bike downhill because it is so much easier and natural. Even for experienced bikers going down slope seems such a bliss. Looking at the course gradient is integral part of race planning for any athlete. For runners, hill runs are initially a challenge, specially going downhill. However, after training for a few months on long hills, short hills, hill sprints, hill endurance, one barely notices these hills and starts gliding downhill. Looking back at 2016, Matheran hill endurathon was one of the most enjoyable events for me that year.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: There are 2 lessons here, an entrepreneur must cherish failures as much as success. There’s more learning in failure than in success. The second lesson is that it may be the best time to start when the economy and industry is going “downhill”- there are opportunities and resources are available.

Keep running, biking, walking, hiking and creating awesome stuff by starting again after every failure!

SCMM 17- Endurance Running- First Year

Last Sunday, January 15, I ran Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon- my first “major” public Marathon. Awesome effort by the Organizers, Volunteers, Mumbai Police- truly world class event. Special call out to all the Mumbaikars who were out on the streets in swarms cheering the runners- You guys Rock!

I was targeting sub 4 finish; missed it by 3 minutes- clocked  4:03:27. This blog is about how I prepared for SCMM and why I missed the sub 4 finish.

Split 1: No New Years Day
Let me step back a bit and share why I took to endurance running.  In my earlier blog 10 commandments to Hack Your Health I shared how I got in shape- reduced from 98 to 68kg and ran my first half marathon on September 15, 2015. It took me 18 months. I continued my cycling, yoga, running routine remaining of 2015. By December 2015 I had started running about 25km and week, that included a 12-18km weekend run.

In the last week of December 2015, like every year, I was working on my resolution for 2016. I had done reasonably well with my 2014 and 2015 resolutions and wanted 2016 to be as good if not better. I thought why not run 3 half marathons every month? It sounded a crazy idea for some one who had just taken to running. After a few days of thinking I decided to set that as my 2016 Goal.

36 half marathons was a huge challenge for for someone who had just taken to running and I needed a start that would be super motivating. I thought why not do some unusual the new years eve? No party, sleep at 9, get up at 4:30 run 21 on January 1?

I did exactly that. Got up at 5:00, laced up and did 21. While I was running people were still returning home from NYE parties all very happy, all high! I was also high- a different high, though.

To my delight I ran 21 in 2 hr! My first! I was super excited and over beer that weekend I thought why not target 42 half marathons in 2016. Why 42? Couple of reasons-
1. I would turn 42 in 2017. 42 half marathons in a year would give me bragging rights
2. 42 = 2 x 21!

The goal was reset to 42 half marathons.

When I was over the 2hr half marathon hang over my first reaction was “what have  I signed up for?” No NYE Party was fine; 42 halfs mean no Friday night outs, no Saturday beer brunches! OMG!!

January 1, 2016 Bhaskar Thakur 21K Run

 

Split 2: You are Under Running
I continued my weekly 3 run schedule in the spring and summer. I fell sick in April and had to take 6 weeks off. By June 2016 I was consistemtly doing 21 under 2 and had completed 18 of the 42 committed half marathons. Pune had good Monsoon in 2016 and I chanced across Matheran Endurathon and Durshet Forest Marathons. I had heard runners go to different cities for races, however, I had never done that. I discussed the idea of running 2 half marathons with my wife Shweta. She does not like to run in the city, however she love trails.  We signed up for both half marathons.

Matheran was a beautiful yet challenging 25 km trail run. Beautiful? Ask anyone who lives in Pune or Mumbai how mesmerizing Matheran is in monsoon. Challenging because in was mud, muck, gravel and gradient.

To add to the challenge we had to hike up 5km to the start point- we did not get accommodation near the start point as we signed up late.

The race started at 7am and I was  completely drenched at at start line. We ran fully drenched for almost 3 hours across hills, muck and thick forest.  I finished strong that day. Hiked back 5Kms to the hotel and drove back to Pune. Awesome day! I had done 25km run and 10km hike and the beautiful drive! Not bad.

 

Durshet was a different story. The trail description goes like ” Durshet Forest Marathon is in the Sahyadri range beside the river Amba. The rough terrain and the soothing rain makes it an experience to cherish. 
Tough terrains, a track mixed with steep uphills and downhills and the rain to make the running trickier.
The final part to the higher areas of the forest and grasslands begins with a rocky uphill climb, which after almost 7 kilometers of run proves tough for the most, again the rewards of the toil are laid out in abundance by nature. The uphill trail leads to open grasslands and the overwhelming beauty of Sahyadri mountain ranges around the valley. The efforts is more than worth it.

I was all pepped up after Matheran to take on the Rocky uphill climb of Durshet. Packed my gear August 7 and started driving to the hotel around 9:00am.  The roads were flooded and the drive from Pune to Lonavala was more like riding a speed boat. Few minutes after Lonavala my car broke at the hairpin turn- we were going down hill and car had no acceleration or break. I somehow manage to park the car with the gear and called up the support. Rescue came in an hour or so however that’s a story for a different blog.

To cut the long story short the day before race day I got drenched in torrential rain for about 5 hours had no lunch and reached hotel at 6pm. I was shivering and in no condition to run. I couldn’t resist a couple of drinks with dinner.  Back in the room I set my gear and discussed with my wife plan for the run. We agreed to take a call in the morning.

I got up at 4 with a little cramp and had a hangover. Took a hot shower and decided to give Durshet a shot.  As I lacing up the thought of  rocky uphill was giving me chills. we hitched a ride and got to the start line.

The race was flagged off at 7am. First 2Kms was killing- I was running like a zombie (note to my self- Drinking the day before Race is a BIG NO!). I was almost about to give up however, I thought lets run for a few more.

Around the 3km mark there were villagers playing Dhol Tasha. The  drum beats did some magic and I got my rhythm back and was running the mucky trail gliding over small streams . I did a sprint of 2km and managed to get close to my 5km time target. It was business as usual after that.

Durshet is a unique trail. After running 7km there is a 3.5km steep hill and half marathoners have to do 2 loops of the hill.  It was tough, however I throughly enjoyed the 2 loops. I finished in 2:08:35– good time considering the trail and what I had gone through the previous day.

Back in the hotel, Shweta and I joined Sanjay (a runner from Delhi I first met at Matheran) for breakfast. Sanjay has done all credible marathons in India and is now doing the ultras. He did 50 in Matheran and 42 in Durshet.

Sanjay shared his plan for the next few months that included Goa Beach Ultra and Rann of Kutch. His advise to me was “You are UNDER RUNNING. You should have done the 50 and 42.That hit me.

On the way back to Pune I thought, I managed finishing Durshet in top 10% finishers after such an awful day, maybe I’m UNDER RUNNING. Before I reached home I had changed my resolution for the year from “running 42 half marathons” to “running 42 times 21km or more“. Call it taking Stretch Goals.

The following weekend (August 14) I did 30km solo in 3 hours and applied for SCMM17 (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon), I was ready to shift gears. Thank You Shweta and Sanjay!

Split 3: The Training
After a few weeks I received conformation from team SCMM. I was super happy! This was my first marathon that had a qualifier and getting accepted was almost like winning the race. :)

I had 3 months to train for SCMM so I started looking up blogs on running marathon. I was consistently doing half in under 2 so most blogs suggested I was ready. After reading 25-30 articles and blogs I created a very simple training calendar for myself:

September:
Run 3 days: 45 to 50km/ week that should include one 25- 32km every weekend
Yoga 3 days.
Did that all of September. No events to report. No trophies. Sweet.

October
In October I decided to Run 30- 38 Km once a week. The training plan changed to:
Run 3 days: 50 to 55km/ week that should include one 32-38km run every weekend
Yoga 3 days.
Did that all of October. Signed up for PRBM- Pune running Beyond Myself (42km) to test if I was marathon ready.
PRBM 42 was on October 16. I reached Shaniwarwada around 5:30am and the race started at 6:00. I was cursing first 21. Was on target at 21 (1:52) feeling strong. At 30km after doing the Baner- University gradient my legs started feeling like logs- I could not move. I limped, I stopped and crawled for the next 4km. I knew I had hit the wall.

In plain English, “hitting the wall” in endurance sports is a condition of sudden fatigue caused by depletion of glycogen in the muscles. This was my first experience in a marathon. Finished the race limping in 4 hours 47.

The silver lining- I knew I could run marathon.

November
November was month to deal with the dreaded “wall“. After spending hours reading about “avoid hitting the wall” I knew I had to work on Nutrition and Hydration. Until October 16 I thought eating on the run would slow me down. I was so wrong. I also chanced across this article to run marathon sub 4.

I thought if I could do a marathon sub 5 without any food why not stretch the stretch goal? That day I decided I wanted to train for sub 4 for SCMM.

Again did a lot of reading. the final plan for November was no different from October. I augmented my existing plan with focus on nutrition. I started having breakfast before all weekend runs and started experimenting with nutrition and hydration on the run. I tried it all- Ragi Laddu, Bananas, Sweet Potato, Snickers, Yoga Bar, Gatorade, Salts.

Having breakfast at 4:00am is no fun, you almost have to force the food, however it worked. I started running 35- 38 every weekend. It worked and a month after disastrous PRBM I managed to do a Sub 4 full marathon. I did this one solo.

There was no medal at the finish line, no finishers certificate, however I felt like a winner!

Every Sunday when I go out for my run I wake up Shweta and let her know I’m going for my run. When I come back she invariably asks me “how was your run?” and my answer is “Good”

When I reached home that morning Shweta asked me the regular “how was your run?” However, my answer was not usual. I said.. Mumbai here I come!

 

I took a break from training first 3 weeks of December due to other commitments. Started training on December 18.

December 25 was a big day for me. The day I was to run my 42nd 21 or More. That meant no Christmas Party, no wine! However, I was high after 41 runs so did not miss celebration a bit. I thought of doing another 42 however SCMM was due in 20 days so I thought to stick to the SCMM plan.

I did 32km on the 25th and celebrated with Oban Single Malt!

2016 resolution Done and Dusted. 7 days ahead of Schedule! 2016 was a horrible year for work. I believe Running kept me going. I had earned my bragging rights!

My last long run before SCMM was on January 1, 2017 ( 37 KM in 3:28). I was feeling all set for the Race day!

Next week I prepared my Race Day plan. It had 3 components Nutrition and Hydration, Timing Targets and Note to Myself-

Nutrition and Hydration
Breakfast: Ragi Laddu, Dates, Pre Run Mix
During Run:
1. 250 ml hydration every 30 minutes for the first three hours, alternate between water and energy drink available
2. Half Snickers bar every hour
3. Salt and Orange every 30 minutes after 15 Km

Timing Target:
Distance Time Pace
5 00:26:00 00:05:12
10 00:52:00 00:05:12
15 01:19:00 00:05:24
21 01:52:00 00:05:30
25 02:15:00 00:05:45
32 02:56:00 00:05:51
37 03:26:00 00:06:00
42 03:57:00 00:06:12

Note to Myself: Training is Done. Go Out & Enjoy!

 

Split 4: Race Day and why I missed Sub 4.
I reached Mumbai on January 14, collected my BIB, set up my gear, wished my fellow runners Rohan, Nikhil and Sareen luck and signed off early. The weather seemed perfect.

Got up 4:00AM, laced up, had my breakfast and reached the holding area. I was in lineup B as I had submitted my Matheran (25km) timing instead of Durshet (21km)- SCMM has lineup A thru D. I thought proof of having run 25 is better than better pace in 21 for lineup- maybe, I was wrong.

The weather had changed overnight- it was hot and humid at 5am – and I had trained in Pune’s chill. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was all lighted up and mesmerizing and the energy of the other 5ooo fellow runners electrifying. I thought to myself Mumbai could have been worse, this is my first big Marathon, let’s just Run.

After the first couple of km one I reached Marine Drive I could the feel  of Mumbai. People cheering at 6am was simply amazing for a solo runner like me. I specially liked the Navy Band, their music was so peppy that I ended up doing a sub 4 minute km in the first 5- I avoid doing busts early in the race.

I was meeting my time targets till 28km when a mini cramp hit me (check out the blip in the pace chart below) however, I recovered and and made up for the time lost in the next 2km. Mumbaikars were cheering to go for sub 4 and that really helped. I was crusing at the 33Km mark all smiles and very satisfied. Then came Peddar Road section and my pace dropped to 8. Full 3 minute over my planned pace. I knew I was in for trouble. I even had another mini cramp. I grabbed some oranges and salt (many thanks to the Mumbaikars) an started to steady my run.

It was hot and humid by 8:45, I was trying to make up for the time lost.

By that time elites started to come in. It was some sight to see them run with that pace and stride. Simbu and Kipkorir were neck to neck and Kheta Ram was not far behind.

We were directed run on the side of the road and kept bumping into the last of 21k finishers. I felt like a car on Pune roads where few elites (BRTS) have half the road and bike riders have the right of way on the other half. Could never make up for Peddar Road time loss.

They say last 5km in a marathon is mind game. Your body has done what it could. In the last 4, I decided to go for negative splits and managed a mini dash in the last 2. I could see Shweta cheering at 40km mark and that helped!

Thank You Mumbai. Look forward to 2017 Marathons and More!


10 Commandments to Hack Your Health

On Your Marks!
I have been working on Internet & Mobile technologies for more than 17 years. That means I’m on my workstation 10-12 hours everyday. Human body is not designed to sit long hours, stare at screens of various sizes 72” to 4“ and keep hitting the keyboard. Recently, when I showed off my workstation to my friends on Whatsapp one of them who is in the Armed Forces commented “I have No Workstation, However my work takes me to stations”. I believe that’s the kind of lifestyle Human Body is designed for.

Set!
By end of 2013, 15 years of abuse had started showing on my body, I was unhealthy and weighed 98 Kilos.

Then things changed and I Hacked my Health in 18 months. By August 2015 I ran My First Timed Half Marathon.

It’s almost a year now after my first timed Half Marathon (September 05, 2015), I weigh on an average 67- 69 Kg and have ran distances of 21 KM or more 34 times with my personal best of 1:53:46 for 21 Km.

I’m just a beginner in the world of distance running and have miles to go. This blog is a summary of how I got admission into the school of Health and Endurance. How I hacked my health.

Go!

1. It all Starts with a Challenge.
I was  living a happy life throwing my weight around everyone/ everything (literally). Parking assistants and security guards never messed up with me- I thought, they think I was a mini Hulk!
And then it happened, on a vacation in December 2013, my wife Shweta @Shwetalakhimpur (who had been practicing yoga for 6 months) challenged me to Supta Vajrasana (Reclined Thunderbolt Pose). I could never get into the asana and ended up feeling Dizzy! That is the moment I realized I was no Hulk, I was Bulk.
Lot has been said about Body Shaming lately, however, I believe, If you care for someone it’s your moral obligation to challenge.


2. You are what you Eat.
Until 2013 my meal plan was simple. Big Breakfast ( 3 Alu/ Paneer Parathas), Bigger Indian Lunch and Biggest Indian Dinner. I felt starved if I did not have 3 whiskeys, Tandoori Platter, Dal Makhani and 2 Rotis Friday evening.
Changing food habit was  not simple. In the first few months I added Maggi Masala to salads and fruits to make it taste like ‘food’. However, the hack worked, I stayed the course.
Today my staple is salad. Thanks to stores and startups like Natures Basket, Green Tokri,  Olive Plato it is much easier to eat healthy.


3. You are your Sleep.
Since I started competitive education (read Class 7) the goal was to put in long hours at desk or staring at the idoit box. By the time I started working I was sleeping on an average 4 hours a day.
Today I sleep 7 Hours on average, have clocked 10 hours+ and we have not had cable TV at home for 3 years.

4. Know your Path.
It is super important to know your path.  For example “ 5KG weight loss in 1 month” or “join a Running Group” does not work for me. These are super awesome ways however, not for me. For 2 reasons-
I have never believed in “Instant”, apart from “Maggi”
My work week is full of meeting  people and working with teams, I want My Time.
For me the inspirations to hack my health has been the Internet and people who do not want to meet me. There’s tons of information, inspiration available. Seek and you shall get! For me Darth Vader, Yoda and Buddha are all heroes, You decide your path.


5. Get the right Gear
Indians are “Jugaadu” and our priorities are misplaced when it come to health. For example, typical  Indian male would have 3-5 shoes for office however, one shoe for Walking, Running, Gym, Cycling, hiking and every other sport. We pay for health insurance but do not spend on health. I was no different. However,  after 2013 I have made serious investments on my health that includes:

  • Trek 4300 with 2 sets of tyres for Road and Mountain.
  • Thule Bike Carrier
  • Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Surge
  • Hiking Boots
  • Inov8 Shoes
  • ++

Talking Of Inov8, I recently retired a pair. Here’s my Thank you to my partner.

Next on my list is Garmin Fenix 2 Performance Bundle. However, currently it is over budget. I’m accepting donation, inbox me, if you are interested :)
6. Track your Progress and Reward yourself.
For my profession I live by data and applied the same to Health. I tracked every Yoga session, Cycling Trip and Run. Looked at fat burn in each workout and over a period developed a plan for myself. A plan that works.
I have also developed a reward program for myself. Here’s 2 hack you may want try
Weighfies– When my weight reach south of 90s I was very happy and clicked a photo of the weighing scale to remember the date, after that day I clicked photo of the weighing scale every time I lost a kilo. So now I have a collection on my Google Photos called Weighfies!
BOLT– It’s tough on your body to cycle for 6 hours or run for 3 hours so you have to have a system to Reward yourself. Gatorade is my Reward! In India you get 3 flavors of Gatorade (Orange, Yellow and Blue- called BOLT). At the end of the exercise I give Reward myself BOLT if I achieve the target, if I miss the target it’s Yellow and if I’m way off it’s Orange. That’s my order of taste preference and also makes me feel like Usain Bolt for a few Hours :)

7. When the going Gets tough, forget your goal, think of the next milestone.
I started this journey I had set the weight target of 80Kgs- 18 Kg weight loss in 12 months. Losing first few Kgs was simple- essentially water in you body/ fat. However, the journey from 95- 90 was arduous and never ending.  It took me 4 months to shred next 2 kgs. The math did not seem to work, at that rate I needed 2 years to get to 80.
I went back to my learnings from my profession- The Lean Startup Methodology. I reset my goals. Now my goal was Lose 3 KG in the next 4 months- Or 25% better result than than last sprint.

8. You will be Embarrassed, do not give up, find solution.
After my first 2 15KM runs my Fluorescent Yellow T- Shirt was all red.  I realized my Nipple was bleeding. Now anything to do with their own nipple is embarrassing for men. I had almost decided to give up running and go back to cycling.
I did not want to go to a doctor with this problem so I put soframycin on my nipples and spent the weekend search the web. Turns out it is a very common problem with runners and could happen is warm or cold climate. It is called Runners Nipple. Primary reason- your T- Shirt rubbing against the nipple. Solution- wear fitting singlets ( I was wearing XL shirts from Bulk days when my frame was M) and applying Vaseline before the run. Ordered 2 medium running Singlets and a large box of Vaseline. Problem solved.
Pro Tip: Wear only Black Singlets! You never Know :) 

9. Listen to your body
In my opinion fitness is about your personal best and not competing with others. Non- runners have this notion that running is about reaching the finish line  before others. That is not what health and endurance is about, specially if you are above 30.  It is about improving “personal best”– podium finish will happen some day. Listen to you body and feel the rhythm.

10. Do not believe your body.
This is corollary to 9. You should listen to your body, however, you body has this trick to cheat you and conserve energy. Push your body and it will do more.
In my cycling trips and runs there are days when my body tricks me and I’m left with a lot of energy after the finish line. I feel horrible on those days and keep thinking I could have gone further or faster.
“If life is a walk from womb to tomb your handicap out of womb and bruises at tomb do not matter. Do your best and Hack your Health” Closing Remarks from Rio 2016 :))

 

User Personas- Get Early Adopters for your App

User Persona is a composite sketch of key segment of your target audience. Building User Personas can help streamline the growth process from acquisition thru virality and remarketing.

 There are about 1.5 Million apps on on iOs App Store and Android Play Store.  In the fast and competitive world of apps User Persona helps you reach out to your early adopters by customizing the acquisition , onboarding and engagement flows.

Most apps today are targeted for specific user groups and starting with User Personas helps app developers rise above the clutter and deliver compelling experiences.So how does one go about building user personas and what does a typical User Persona Look like? Here’s the beginners guide and checklist.

Where to start Building User Persona?

The biggest mistake I have seen app teams make is starting and ending the process of building user personas with “I think..”.“I think our users are 16-24 year old..” Let’s call him Sid. That’s not how User Personas are created. Here’s the process I have seen working:

  1. Start with Analytics and  Activity Logs.  Look at the source of traffic, Keywords, flow on the app, exit screen to identify their intent and behavior

  2. Get the Team Involved- Get insights from the Development, Analytics, Marketing, Offline, Customer Service and other teams.

  3. Conduct user survey. Ask them about their challenges and the solutions they are looking for? About discovery, first run etc.

  4. Reach out on Social Media– Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and other relevant channels for your business.

  5. Put the data from 1-4 in a Spreadsheet and share it with the team ask them to validate or question the line items on the sheet.

So what information should  the User Persona contain?

For a B2C app that is pre scale-up / growth stage i.e. when teams are working on MVP and trying to find Product Market fit I think teams should work with maximum 3 personas. This helps in running meaningful experiments and also does not overwhelm the team.

Here’s the information personas should include:

Name of the Persona  ( Makes it real in discussions and communications)

One Line Profile..
like “Miss Clean Gone Green”
or “ Deal Hunter- will buy sand on the beach if there’s a deal”

Demographics

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Salary / Household Income
  • Education
  • Family

Additional Information

  • Hobbies
  • Quotes from interviews
  • Content they read
  • Their favorite App
  • How do they discover new apps

Device

  • Phone Model
  • Data Plan/ Wifi usage pattern

Geo

  • City
  • Hyperlocal

Goals – What does the users want to achieve with the app?

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Challenges-  What are their major challenges or the problems they face currently

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Once you have this you should try to put together and Twitter Pitch for the persona. Essentially, communicate the core product value that would appeal to this persona in under 140 characters.

You may want to use to build your User Persona.

 

Bhaskar Thakur- User Profile
Building User Profile

Jeff Bezos- One reason why Flipkart, Snapdeal will never be Amazon of India

Amazon is the fastest company to reach $100 Bn in Annual Sales and is cruising along to gain leadership position in the Indian Ecommerce Space. Meanwhile AWS reached $10Bn in annual sales, even faster. There primary reason why Amazon will be the Amazon of India is Jeff Bezos clarity of thought and leadership- Very well articulated in the letter to shareholders-

1. “Customer Obsession”
Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different. One serves consumers and the other serves enterprises. One is famous for brown boxes and the other for APIs. Is it only a coincidence that two such dissimilar offerings grew so quickly under one roof? Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply. But beyond that, there is a connection between these two businesses. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed.

2. The culture of Failing Fast.
One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there. Outsized returns often come from betting against conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is usually right. Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten. We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.

3. Amazon is in India to win.
India is another example of how we globalize an offering like Marketplace through customer obsession and a passion for invention. Last year we ran a program called Amazon Chai Cart where we deployed three-wheeled mobile carts to navigate in a city’s business districts, serve tea, water and lemon juice to small business owners and teach them about selling online. In a period of four months, the team traveled 15,280 km across 31 cities, served 37,200 cups of tea and engaged with over 10,000 sellers. Through this program and other conversations with sellers, we found out there was a lot of interest in selling online, but that sellers struggled with the belief that the process was time-consuming, tedious and complex. So, we invented Amazon Tatkal, which enables small businesses to get online in less than 60 minutes. Amazon Tatkal is a specially designed studio-on-wheels offering a suite of launch services including registration, imaging and cataloguing services, as well as basic seller training mechanisms. Since its launch on February 17th, we have reached sellers in 25 cities.

4. Amazon is it’s own competition
Just over 10 years ago, AWS started in the U.S. with its first major service, a simple storage service. Today, AWS offers more than 70 services for compute, storage, databases, analytics, mobile, Internet of Things, and enterprise applications. We also offer 33 Availability Zones across 12 geographic regions worldwide, with another five regions and 11 Availability Zones in Canada, China, India, the U.S., and the U.K. to be available in the coming year. AWS started with developers and startups, and now is used by more than a million customers from organizations of every size across nearly every industry – companies like Pinterest, Airbnb, GE, Enel, Capital One, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, Hess, Adobe, McDonald’s, and Time Inc.

AWS is bigger than Amazon.com was at 10 years old, growing at a faster rate, and – most noteworthy in my view – the pace of innovation continues to accelerate – we announced 722 significant new features and services in 2015, a 40% increase over 2014.

Many characterized AWS as a bold – and unusual – bet when we started. “What does this have to do with selling books?” We could have stuck to the knitting. I’m glad we didn’t. Or did we? Maybe the knitting has as much to do with our approach as the arena. AWS is customer obsessed, inventive and experimental, long-term oriented, and cares deeply about operational excellence.

5. Amazon is fast
Our growth has happened fast. Twenty years ago, I was driving boxes to the post office in my Chevy Blazer and dreaming of a forklift. In absolute numbers (as opposed to percentages), the past few years have been especially significant. We’ve grown from 30,000 employees in 2010 to more than 230,000 now. We’re a bit like parents who look around one day and realize their kids are grown – you blink and it happens.

Source: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1018724/000119312516530910/d168744dex991.htm

10 Life Hacks from The Rickshaw Challenge-2016

Last week  I was part of a super awesome road trip with Mukesh Jha , Janardan Prasad, 19 other teams and the support staff & team of The Travel Scientists. What is Rickshaw Challenge – Malabar Rampage?  You can read all about Rickshaw Challenge here, however very simply put an incredible ~1200KM ride on 3 wheels ( Rickshaw/ Tuk Tuk) on Indian Roads.

Loads of Fun, Lots of Challenges and Humbling Experiences. Here are the top 10 Life Hacks I learnt in this trip and credits to people, event, places for the learnings.

1. What’s in a name that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Read: It Takes a bad ass to run the show. Call him Luke, John or Aravind :)

Credit: Aravind, Princely and The Travel Scientists- Don’t reason with Indians, smile :)

2. Junk the Manual.  Ride, Break, Fix. Repeat!

Credit: Chennai Garage Team- you are amazing clockwork!

3. Journey of 1000 mile begins with a single.. Crank

Credit: Practice Run. Go Mukesh Go! Thanks for taking the lead, revving and doing the donut moves for The Autowale.

4. when in Rome do as the Romans do and in Kerela do the Malayali 

Credit: Team Autowale.

 

5. what the heck Rome! Sumos are Sumos, Rome, Sydney, Japan or Mars

Credit: Butt, Sweat and Tears ( Chris, Mark, Hugo). Chris, Mark, Hugo you deserve the Bonkers Award. Who else would put up the Sumo costume for every event when it’s 40 degrees?

6. Life is a Journey! Live the Moment

Credit: India’s Coastline.

7. Share the Little Joys

Credit: Round Table and  Goan Places (Sheila and Nic.) Sheila and Nic raised over $20K sharing their journey with friends to support Schools and Education in India.

8. When life gives lemon, make lemon mint iced tea.

Credit: Awesome Food of India

9. Consistent and Persistent Win!

Credit: Stairway (Paul and Alex).  Paul and Alex were always consistent, very friendly and never too loud. Cheers!

10. Work Harder, Party Harder

Credit:Flying Birds (Thomas and Waltraud)- While we took turns to ride the rickshaw, typically doing 60- 80 Km/ day/ person. Thomas did 200-270KM everyday on his own. We ordered 1 beer in the evening Thomas ordered 3!

 

 

Template for the perfect 5 minute Pitch

I have been working with/ mentoring some very interesting startups at ET Power of Ideas, helping them with their pitch and also working on raising funds for my startup.

Pitching is a magic, more than anything else, you have 3-5 minutes to convince  investors. Here’s the template for 3-5 minute pitch. You may want to use it, if that helps. 


Please note- team slide (the last one) has details of exec team- founders, advisors, investors. I usually begin the pitch with my/ my cofounders introduction.

  • Slide 1 (Pain/ Pleasure- Causes )
  • Slide 2 (Need/ Gap)
  • Slide 3 (Solution)
  • Slide 4 (Secret Sauce)
  • Slide 5 (Competition)
  • Slide 6 (Current User Traction)
  • Slide 7 (Success Stories/ Press)
  • Slide 8 (Business Model)
  • Slide 9 (Unit Economics)
  • Slide 10 (Revenue Traction)
  • Slide 11 (Market Sizing)
  • Slide 12 (Product/ Revenue Road Map)
  • Slide 13 (Fund Needed)
  • Slide 14 (Fund Deployment)
  • Slide 15 (Team)
Happy Pitching and All the best!!

10 Commandments to decide your Mobile App is ready for Growth.

 

-Bhaskar Thakur

To sum it up here are 10 Commandments to decide your Mobile App is ready for Growth.

You have identified the Core Product Value (CPV)- The dominant benefit the customer expects from the app.

You have the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)- Smallest feature set that delivers core value.

You have Product/ Market Fit (PMF)- Product satisfies Market’s needs.

You have defined your Growth Goal e.g. 5 Million Installs and 50% actives in next 12 months.

You have Attribution Tracking (ability to ascribe installs to source/ campaign) setup and tested.

You have Google Analytics configured and tested- Features for apps like Speed, Tag Manager, A/B tests.

You have tested and identified channels for app installs- start with a few channels.

You have initial idea of Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)- Net value of entire future relationship with a customer.

Your app’s  K factor is >0. If every Visitor that converts to member/ customer gets 1 or more person.= Product is Viral!

You have funds for the growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Commandments for Push Notification

To summarize,

Report from Kahuna suggest 60% users opt out of Push Notifications, and the opt out rate varies across industries. Here are 10 Commandments to reduce Push Notification opt-outs.

  1. You shall remember Push Notifications is not SMS or Email or Tweet.

  2. You acknowledge Notifications and NO-Application is one tap away.

  3. You shall Personalize Notifications.

  4. You shall write Compelling Copy.

  5. On Sabbath Day phones are silent, motivation gotta be bigger.

  6. Image is worth a thousand words; You shall include Images and Audio.

  7. Every dog has his day- every app their Hour.

  8. Android’s Food is iPhone’s Poison.

  9. In data we trust. Test, Measure, Tweak.. Repeat

  10. If it’s done it’s no fun, try some new.

Managing App Churn with Segmentation and Notification

App Churn is the number or percentage of users that that stop using an app in a time period, in other words app users attrition.

For example, consider your app had 100,000 users end of April and you added 20,000 installs/ users in May and had 113,000 users end of May. The simple back of envelope calculation suggests that the churn rate is 7%.

Flurry’s research shows that apps usually retain 4% users after a year, that is approx. 8% churn per month. So the big question you would have – “Is 7% churn good or bad?” One would tend to think Yes! 7% churn is better than 8% however, there is more to the story. Here are a few questions that you should ask-

  1. What % churn was users acquired this month? Is the churn rate for new users going up or down?

  2. What is the engagement churn rate? Is it going up or down?

  3. What is the revenue churn rate? Is it going up or down?

Analyzing cohorts will get you insights into user behavior and the reason for churn. I will write about Cohort and detailed Churn analysis in a separate blog. In this blog I want to talk about one of the reasons for Churn and a strategy that has worked for me to fight churn.

In my experience “Notification Spamming” is one of biggest reasons why people uninstall/ stop using apps. No one like their home screen full of deals that they do not care about.

Here’s the typical flow for app users. They discover your app from one of the app download campaigns you are running- the ad. has a context (media, content, creative) and the user builds an expectation “ Looks like this app will help me do that”. However, the experience is to the contrary. There is no onboarding, no personalization instead 2 hours after app install user starts receiving app rating/ sharing notifications e.g. “You downloaded our app, please rate us or share with your friends”.

No! this is not user lifecycle management and no wonder users uninstall apps on the first day.

Here’s what has worked for us in bringing down the churn rate-

  1. Smart “automagical” onboarding- get to know your user asking no or few questions.

  2. Segment the app users- demographic, behavior, likings etc.

  3. Send personalized notifications and follow a user lifecycle management plan.