The Search for Emergic Freedom Customers

A few months ago, I had hoped that by the end of the year, wed have had at least 5-10 installations of Emergic Freedom, our thin client-thick server solution. But, the reality is that we still dont have any, and I dont think we are any closer to getting one. But that does not mean I am disappointed on the contrary, I am more optimistic than ever before on the prospects for the solution we are developing.

The past few months, we have lots of demos and trial installations, primarily in corporates in Mumbai. Of course, now when I look back, I realise they are not the right first market. The CIOs dont like what they consider as a low-tech solution. Their interest in saving money is not as high as their interest in ensuring that they stick to what theyve known works. At the same time, it is not easy for us to get to the financial decision makers. What we have got, though, is excellent feedback which has helped us strengthen the product.

In the past couple months, Ive also been out meeting people in search of new markets. Have given 3 presentations: at an eGovernance conference in Chandigarh, at an IndiaPost seminar in Delhi and an ICTs for Development seminar in Bangalore. The good thing is that all these have been targeted across the digital divide (non-corporate audience), which fits in well with my belief that we have to look at new markets.

Weve also sent our software to prospective partners in some other countries. This is what I am very hopeful about in times to come. The problems we want to solve are not unique to just India. In the developed markets, the same issues of cost-effective solutions face schools, cybercafes and NGOs, while in the developing markets, its there for the bottom of the pyramid.

So, the learning continues. I would have been happier if we had closed a few orders by now, but this is not disappointing. What we have got in the past few months is excellent feedback and market understanding, which would not have possible in any other way. I know we are on the right track. The timing is right. The solution is right. And very soon, we will discover the right markets, too.

One of the helpful things has been the brainstorming sessions Ive had with people from industry and friends on Emergic Freedom. Also extremely useful has been the feedback that has come through the weblog. They have helped embellish the thinking. In some of the coming columns, I will write more on the ideas that have come from these discussions.

On a personal front, after many years, I am re-connecting with India. I had done the rounds of various institutions trying to sell our image processing product in 1993. After that, the focus in IndiaWorld was more on NRIs and the corporate market for website development. Being pioneers, it was easy for us to get the first customers. Now, as we seek new markets, I am having to understand various value chains for technology deployment schools, colleges, rural areas, SMEs. Have even visited a village recently must have been 15 years since I did so. In some ways, I am bridging my own internal perception divide.

As an entrepreneur, these are testing times. One has to keep the faith in ones work, and more importantly, make sure, that the morale of those around does not flag. This is one of the chasms we need to cross. Yes, a lot of work still needs to be done. But, that is the path we chose of our own free will. As I keep telling people, quoting Dan Bricklin, As we jump from rock to slippery rock, we have to like the feeling.

More on this in the coming days.

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Mass Customisation

Writes Brad DeLong, echoing what CK Prahalad said in his interview:

Now we may be on the verge of the era of mass customization. Today, it’s possible – if not quite easy – to keep track of which pair of pants sewn in Mexico goes to which US consumer. And it is the extraordinarily low cost of information processing that is the key.

How important is all this? It may be very important. There may be a huge array of goods for which people are willing to pay a hefty premium to get exactly what they want. From custom Baby Gap sweaters and Barbies to personalized golf clubs and perfect reproductions of your broken-in jeans, mass customization is rapidly replacing one-size-fits-all commodities.

Prahalad-speak

I read CK Prahalad (and Gary Hamel’s) “Competing for the Future” in October 1994, just as I was struggling to come up with a plan for what I wanted to do next. And as I immersed myself in the book, I made jottings which later become the outline for IndiaWorld. His next book, expected in 2003, is tentatively entitled “Co-creating the Future”, according to FT.

Quotes from an FT interview with CK Prahalad:

The most fundamental convergence is between the role of producer and the role of consumer. The consumer goes from being a very passive person to being a very active co-creator of products, services and value.

Consumers can also help create value. Co-creation of value becomes a premise of the emerging economy.

We think about value being created through lower costs or improved processes. I am saying that we have to move to a consumer-centric view in which value is created through dialogue, collaboration and partnership [with customers].

We need to move beyond customisation to personalisation.

In future, companies will have to think of themselves as managing “experiences” for customers. Thus interaction between producer and consumer is not restricted to the point at which money changes hands. There are opportunities to exchange ideas when products are being designed, manufactured, or used long after the company ceases to have any warrantied responsibility.

Companies spent the 20th century managing efficiencies. They must spend the 21st century managing experiences.

TECH TALK: Disruptive Bridges: My First Computer

My First Computer is an idea to bring the computer on the desk of every employee in enterprises and government who are presently not using computers for no more than Rs 500 (USD 10) per month. First, we will discuss the concept in more detail, consider the economics of the solution, and how this can serve as the foundation for creating a platform for developing a variety of software and information services.

A word of caution: the approach outlined here may seem like a set of retrograde steps from our vantage point as power PC users, but let us remember that we are looking at users who have not in the past 20 years tasted computing. For every person who us using a computer, there are 10 others who are not perhaps because they cannot afford one, or they cannot use one, or their employer feels they do need one. This is the segment we are focusing on, and these are the problems we are trying to tackle: affordability, usability and need, and for which My First Computer is the answer.

The Rs 500 per month per person is an important psychological barrier. Considering that the computer can be thought of as a productivity enhancement tool, any person earning Rs 5,000 per month or more can become a candidate for using one if it can result in a 10% productivity increase. Looking at what the computer can do and what employees are typically doing in a company, a 10% increase in the efficiency of tasks they do should be an achievable target.

At a Rs 500 price point, what the employee gets on the desktop is a system which (a) enables letters to be written, read, stored and printed (b) allows for basic tabular data to be written and manipulated for contacts or phone numbers (c) serves as a communicator – with messages to sent to others (d) offers a window to browse the Internet, and (e) is an extensible platform on which new services can be added.

Note that we are not talking of the operating system and applications (yet). Instead, the focus is on what the computer can do the tasks and scenarios in which it can be used. This is where I think we have grossly under-utilised the computer and what it can do. (In fact, I cannot imagine any other investment where the asset is used at less than 5% of its capabilities.) We need to think of and explain to end-users what the computer can do for them. This must have been done in the early days of the computers. The same selling points need to be revisited now because we are selling to non-consumers. The big difference from 20 years ago: we are selling at a price point of a mass-market product for the bottom of the pyramid almost like a razor-blade shaving system. We need to explain the benefits of the solution (in case the connected computer) and show how the enterprise can get a return on its investment in terms of the increased productivity of the employee.

Tomorrow: My First Computer (continued)

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