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5 Ways to Boost Innovation

Creativity and innovation are often stymied because there just aren’t enough resources.

One of your responsibilities as a pragmatic leader is to make sure you remain within budget while ensuring your team is performing at its peak. You can’t throw every dollar at a project. You can’t get people all the support they would have in an ideal world. The sad truth is that supporting one project often means diverting resources from others.

You have to cut costs, save resources, and keep in step with a budget, all while trying to sponsor creativity and fuel innovation. It’s no easy juggling act.

Here are five strategies that will help you do it.

1. Forget about the bells and whistles

While Google and other tech companies have in-house chefs and ping pong tables, there’s no need to follow suit. You won’t be able to inspire much more creativity or innovation with expensive toys, nice workplace amenities, and other small perks.

In fact, employees may end up taking advantage of all the gifts and, worse, get used to the office luxuries. Too much of a good thing can even demotivate your team. Improving their equipment and adding little perks become the main goal, rather than the work they’re supposed to be doing. This happens all the time.

2. Don’t sew your wallet closed

Leaders often err on the side of too much cost-cutting. Too much belt-tightening can undermine the progress of your most important projects. When people feel they don’t have access to the resources they need to do their job, their enthusiasm will weaken. They may start rethinking whether they really want to stick with you and your agenda. To sustain momentum and move ahead, you have to make sure, as far as possible, that everyone has the tools they need or at least the possibility of attaining them in the future.

3. Don’t use more resources as a goal

Some leaders tempt teams with the promise of more resources if they can meet certain goals. That’s fine if the team can meet the goals, but it’s a different story entirely if they fail. Then they’re missed their goals, they don’t get their resources, and they end up feeling disappointed and resentful. And they can always argue that the reason they failed is because you didn’t give them enough resources to start with!

4. Educate and listen to the team

During projects, leaders should be very clear about the size of the budget, what’s going where, and why. If your expenditures aren’t transparent, team members may see certain purchases as wasteful or grow aggrieved when their bid for new resources is turned down.

The best way to figure out if your team is happy with their access to shared resources is to simply ask them. You may wish your team could work on vapors, but they can’t. You cannot afford to be insensitive to their needs.

5. Balance the allocation of resources

Don’t vacillate between feast and famine. Find the sweet spot where your team has the resources it needs to move ahead, but isn’t kicking back on your welfare system. Facilitate what they need, and scrutinize what they want. Don’t slam on the breaks and then hit the gas. Find a steady pace.

As a pragmatic leader, you need to make sure your group’s access to organizational resources doesn’t fall below a certain threshold-;from “hungry” to “discouraged.” There is no science here. There are no quantitative metrics. You have to be intuitive and sensitive to your group’s level of motivation and creativity.

Mobile Startups: Insights from Mobile India 2014 conference

The Mobile India 2014 conference, held recently in Bangalore, showcased a range of opportunities in the space of Social, Mobility, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC). In addition to SMAC, there are also opportunities opening up in security and smart sensors, leading some speakers to joke that the acronym SMAC should actually be SSMACS!

In an earlier article, we looked at the top trends in enterprise mobile as identified by speakers from the 2014 conference. The 2013 edition of the conference also featured a panel on mobile startups (see my coverage here).

Mobile FI

“Mobile is the centre, cloud is the backbone and analytics is the nerve centre of digital business,” said Manjunath Gowda, CEO, i7 networks. Here is my pick of the Top 15 tips for mobile startups, based on the discussions at the Mobile 2014 conference.

1. Focus on solving real business needs

We are living in an age of realtime information overload. $300,000 is spent on online shopping every minute; 600 videos are uploaded to YouTube each minute; Facebook has over 700,000 updates each minute; and Twitter generates 12 terabytes of data daily – and this is just the tip of the proverbial data iceberg. However, for analytics to make sense of this data  is much more than just statistics; it connects realtime occurrences to the big picture and to pressing business needs and insights. Many startups are going after the low-hanging fruit, but there is much more value in sensemaking and decision support.

“The key challenge today is the inability to think big and ask the right questions to make a difference to businesses,” observed Venkatesh Vaidyanathan, VP, Product Management, Business Analytics, SAP Labs.

For example, true benefits arise when startups connect Big Data to predictive maintenance, brand sentiment, threat detection, product recommendations, fraud detection, realtime risk mitigation, realtime demand/supply forecast, personalised care, and resource optimisation. In this regard, Bangalore company Ramyam Intelligence Lab is rightly positioned by offering analytics and Big Data solutions to telcos to help address their needs of personalisation, churn reduction, loyalty management, and cross-selling of services.

2. Tell a story

The business opportunity lies not just in crunching data and unearthing patterns but building a larger narrative, a compelling story. “There are stories lurking in data. Analyse it, capture it, tell a story from it, make it actionable,” urged S. Anand, Chief Data Scientist, Gramener.

Fields like analytics are as much art as science, and players entering this space need to mix analytics skills with IT. Winning customers will depend not on technical skills but on the ability to deliver insights, discovery and new business knowledge – and thus clinch deals with powerful stories.

3. Address enterprise mobile

Much attention understandably focuses on consumer apps, but there is a world of enterprise and productivity apps also fast emerging. Startups can show how SMAC can be used to improve field worker productivity, for white collar and even blue collar workers. Services offered as “also mobile” will become “mobile first” even in the enterprise environment.

More than 50% of employee devices are purchased on their own. 70% of professionals will use smartphones by 2018, said Archana Kamath, Manager, Mobile CoE, EMC Software and Services India. BYOI (Bring Your Own Identity) is the next wave of consumerisation of IT in enterprise space.

Mobile cloud and workflow tools are now becoming available for SMEs too, and a new wave of value is being unleashed. Mobiles give companies not just deep consumer insights but continuous consumer insights, according to Alwyn Lobo, Senior Mobility Solutions Architect, IBM.

4. Offer security solutions

The increasing digital nature of the economy is also creating chaos, and the ‘attack surface’ of businesses is increasing via mobile. This calls for tools and companies who can provide better monitoring and governance of enterprise networks. For example, Misys GeoGuard uses customer location to reduce fraud for banks. The SnapChat hacking incident shows API vulnerability in world of mobile. API security will play centre stage as mobiles become gateways in the Internet of Things, predicted Shreekanth Joshi, Vice President, Cloud Practice Head, Persistent Systems.

“Look out for Trojans like mRats, host-based jammers, and tunnel borers,” cautioned Manjunath Gowda, CEO, i7 networks. 71% of mobile devices have OS/app vulnerabilities, and there has been 600% growth in mobile malware over last couple of years. 90% of BYOD enabled Indian businesses had a mobile incident in last 12 months, according to sources cited by Gowda. This opens up new markets for security products and services.

5. Watch the competitive space

Startups should aim for a ‘blue ocean’ strategy and enter fresh waters – or else figure out a way to do things better, faster, easier and cheaper than existing players. Several existing players and case profiles were highlighted by Dr. Sanjoy Paul, IEEE Fellow and Managing Director, Accenture Technology Labs India: such as blippar (mobile ads with augmented reality), and use of analytics by Walmart to predict product demand and by Google to forecast ad keyword demand. This reflects the overall trend of increasing real time bidding (RTB) exchanges; static models are declining. Reach.ly mines Twitter to help hotels reach potential guests in real time. Coursera is using analytics to better serve learners. FitBit and OnStar are other good examples of realtime analytics in action.

6. Address the “Four Vs” of Big Data

Big Data is important because there is too much data and too little time for businesses to take informed decisions in realtime. Hence startups should find opportunity in one or more of the “four Vs” of Big Data: volume, variety, velocity, value. In other words, they should show business leaders how they can help tackle data overload, data diversity, realtime data, and mining of insights.

7. Watch sensor networks, M2M and IoT

The Internet of Things (IOT) is currently at early hype stage, but will soon become mainstream, as the recent Consumer Electronics Show indicated: this ranges from wearable devices to smart tennis rackets, and also opens the door to a new range of analytics products and services. Mobiles are cumulatively becoming sensor aggregators, said Shreekanth Joshi, Vice President, Cloud Practice Head, Persistent Systems.

In healthcare, for example, the ‘digitised patient’ will become the hub for measuring, modelling and predicting treatments based on instrumentation and on-body sensors. Typical M2M scenarios encompass energy and water meters, cars, cranes, vending machines, fridges, air-conditioners, and ATM machines. The ATM attack incident in Bangalore shows the importance of monitoring all locations via M2M, said S.Girish, COO, ConnectM.

8. Move beyond location to context

Location and context are blending together to create new kinds of mobile-powered services and advertising. For example, a Tokyo company recruits drivers for two-hour time slots in different neighbourhoods; the matching is based on proximity of available drivers. Analytics coupled with mobile is a powerful combination.

9. Choose cloud for scale

Cloud computing drastically reduces barriers to entry for infrastructure improvement for startups in the growth curve, as shown by the acceleration of companies such as Animoto. The costs for launching a startup and promoting it are much lower these days than before, thanks to cloud infrastructure and social media. However, it should be noted that the business fundamentals of team management and financial models remain unchanged.

10. Evolve from being aware to becoming smart

“Tomorrow’s enterprise is hyperconnected, super-aware, and borderless. Will it be smarter?” asked Ramesh Adiga, AVP & Head, Global Delivery, Mobility Unit, Infosys. The next stage of mobile evolution is ‘superphones’ driven by platforms and lifestyle devices.

Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas is using Big Data in blackjack tables to figure out how to make gamblers comfortable and stay longer. Designer shoe store Meatpack in Guatemala uses realtime analytics to ‘hijack’ customers from competitors. “Analytics is changing the face of what we usually think of as mundane business,” said Sanjoy Paul of Accenture Labs. Startups need to go beyond ‘the usual suspects’ and identify opportunities right at the street corners and not just main street, and help clients move ‘from dashboards to decisions.’

11. Track emerging business models

The acquisition of Bangalore-based app optimisation company Little Eye Labs by Facebook for an estimated $15 million has shown that app infrastructure and ecosystems are also ripe targets for startup activity. An interesting model to watch is MBaaS – mobile backend as a service, as shown in app cost estimation and cloud models (Kinvey, Appcelerator, FeedHenry). Nicira can reconfigure physical network into multiple virtual networks.

12. Think big

Startup founders should not just look   at the idea or product but also the overall context, customer needs, scalability, UI/UX, andMobileIndia222 viral effects, advised Bharati Jacob, Founder Partner, Seedfund. For example, Limo service Uber may work well in Bangalore, but not have as much impact in Bombay where there are reliable taxis everywhere, she observed.

Many startups with good models focus largely on the local market and are not thinking global from the early stages. A few are, such as Zomato from India. “Maybe the Indian education system does not encourage us to think big and aim high,” added Jacob.

13. Make mobile marketing more targeted

Mobile marketers should stay away from the ‘spray and pray’ model of mainstream media, advised Ashvin Vellody, Partner, KPMG. There are numerous ways in which startups can help marketers experiment and refine ways of segmenting users and messages right down to, for example, passengers stranded  at airports and train stations.

14. Focus on social discovery and not social shopping

For a range of reasons, social shopping online has not worked well, but mobile social media has accelerated the discovery, inspiration and validation of online shopping, according to Kaushal Sarda, CEO, Kuliza Technologies. Social media is about conversations, so digital marketers and advertisers should figure out how to be part of or stimulate conversations, he advised.

15. Multiple mobile payment models will co-exist

Mobiles accelerate consumption of content and commerce, according to Ravi Pratap, Co-Founder and CTO, MobStack. “Multiple kinds of m-payment models will be needed in India, including via mobile operator billing as in the US,” said Pratap. Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities are takeoff markets for e-commerce in India, for everything from the latest books to lingerie sales, said Ashvin Vellody, Partner, KPMG. Retailers in India are executing their marketing campaigns on mobile social media now, not just PC-based Facebook, added Hrish Thota, Senior Manager, Social Computing, Happiest Minds.

In sum, mobile is pivotal to sense, influence and fulfill demand. “Mobiles will be ubiquitous and pervasive,” said Adiga of Infosys. But only an estimated 15% of Fortune 500 organisations have a concrete mobility strategy, opening up a wide door of opportunity for players in mobile space.

“Every business is a digital business, thanks to mobile, social, cloud and analytics. This is happening on a scale not possible before. SMAC helps companies simplify, accelerate, adapt and make better decisions,” said Accenture’s Paul.

Interesting questions to ponder – possibly at next year’s Mobile India conference – would be whether Facebook will be eclipsed by the next generation of social media, how cross-pollination between sectors will throw up new opportunities, and whether regulation and government may dampen the enthusiasm of the tech sector.

Simplify Your SEO Program : 5 Strategies

The SEO industry is in a constant state of flux depending on Google’s algorithms, but that doesn’t mean that you need to revamp your entire strategy every time a new update rolls out. Instead, use the following five strategies to implement a simplified SEO program that’ll stand the test of time — no matter what changes the search engines make.

Focus less on keyword research. “Old school” SEO put a heavy emphasis on keyword research, requiring that webmasters spend hours measuring anticipated search volume against the relative competitiveness of each query. Not only does this take an excessively long amount of time, it’s becoming a far less viable approach as Google restricts the amount of keyword data made available to SEO workers.

Instead of wasting time chasing data that isn’t readily available (or accurate, when it can be found), simplify your research process by brainstorming a list of the keywords you believe your customers are most likely to search for and building content around these phrases. Check your stats after a month or so and then either add more content for phrases that are performing well or refocus your efforts on a new set of potential search queries.

Use SEO tools effectively. Even if fields such as page or post meta descriptions don’t have the SEO impact they used to, it’s still worth including them from a usability standpoint. If you write an extra-compelling meta description that displays in your search results listing and causes a user to click through to your site (versus your competitor’s), that’s a win for your site in terms of both overall performance and SEO.

Instead of coding these fields by hand, look for SEO tools that’ll simplify the process for you. WordPress extensions such as Yoast SEO (free) or All-in-One SEO (free) make managing blog SEO a snap, while programs such as QuickSprout Tools (free; paid versions available) or Moz SEO ($99+ a month) help you to tackle other SEO processes from a single, centralized location.

Invest in viral content pieces. Backlinking is a continual challenge for the SEO world. While it’s important to obtain backlinks from well-regarded websites, it’s best to do so in a natural fashion. But even if you do pursue links as part of an SEO campaign, you’ll find that the backlinks that will do the most for your site’s performance are also the hardest to get!

All of these challenges go away if you redirect your efforts towards producing viral-style content pieces, rather than proactively seeking link sources. As an example, one well-produced infographic could go on to earn you hundreds of backlinks from great sources — with no extra effort on your part beyond the initial creation of the graphic and any early seeding of your content that you decide to do. While it’s true that you won’t “go viral” on every content piece you create, just a few wins using this strategy can do more for your site’s external SEO than weeks or months spent trolling for backlinks.

Use responsive website design. When you use responsive website design on your site, both your desktop and mobile site versions come from the same URL — only their relative displays are altered. Contrast this with hosting two separate sites for desktop versus mobile visitors. If you have two separate websites entirely, you’ve got to run two separate sets of SEO campaigns. Using a single site that displays differently depending on the platform can cut your SEO time in half!

Outsource repetitive monitoring tasks. Finally, consider outsourcing some of the repetitive monitoring tasks that are a part of any good SEO campaign. For example, a few of the tasks you could pass on to others include:

  • Checking your monthly search engine results page rankings (if you don’t already have a tool that does this for you)

  • Conducting competitive research on the keywords and keyword phrases your competitors appear to be targeting

  • Making sure all the content on your site is accessible to the search engine spiders

  • Adding new page links to your website directory (if they aren’t added automatically)

  • Monitoring SEO news sites for algorithm changes that could require your attention or substantially change your strategy

When outsourcing tasks, you can work with either SEO agencies or individuals who are knowledgeable about these tasks. Be sure to do your research and understand the relative pros and cons of each option before bringing on a person or a team to assist with your SEO. Instead of simplifying things, failing to do the proper due diligence could actually make your SEO strategy more complicated than ever!

Have you implemented any of these strategies? Or are there other things you’ve done to simplify your SEO strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Startup business and technical founders, and developers who are eager to take their idea to “minimum valuable product(MVP)” and scale fast to build their next big thing.

John Taschek, VP of Strategy at Salesforce.com recently wrote, “Yes, after 5 years of being a big fan of cloud computing, I admit defeat. I am, as of today, changing my worldview.” Don’t get shocked, his next words were, “Cloud Computing is no longer the future. Cloud Computing is now an accepted reality – it’s the present – the market has tipped.”

That tech solutions today must be cloud-based, is a foregone conclusion. But how do you truly leverage cloud computing as a startup? After New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, YourStory is delighted to brin

g the global AWS Cloud Kata learning sessions to India. Kata (型 or 形 literally: “form”) refers to a series of choreographed patterns of movements used for teaching, through which successful techniques are mastered. And that’s exactly what the Cloud Kata sessions aim to do.mapos

Join the AWS team for a day of live discussions as well as business and technical mentoring on the latest cloud computing best practices. Geared specifically to growing startups and development teams, the Cloud Kata sessions will guide you through tips, customer testimonials and technical best practices to help you grow faster on the AWS Cloud.

Who should attend?

  • Startup business and technical founders, and developers who are eager to learn how to run lean and scale fast to build their next big thing.
  • Development teams, engineers, architects and system administrators from enterprises who are eager to learn how to deploy applications in highly available, scalable architectures.

Ten reasons to attend:

  1. Discover pro tips that help your startups as you go from idea to minimum viable product (MVP), to scale, and ultimately to profitability.
  2. See live demonstrations and learn more about services such as Amazon EC2, Relational Database Service (RDS), S3, CloudFront, and AWS Elastic Beanstalk.
  3. Leverage AWS reference architectures, SDK, and services to build your MVP quickly.
  4. Get hands-on guidance and coaching on how to build your MVP on the AWS Cloud.
  5. Gain insights on the six best practices for “cost aware architecting”.
  6. Explore smart ways to lower your costs by leveraging various AWS pricing models.
  7. Learn first-hand from India startups on how they succeeded with AWS.
  8. Find the best fit for your co-founder, your technical stack and services, and the right architecture for now and the future.
  9. Network with your peers and the AWS team.
  10. Bonus: Understand venture capital (VC), how it works, and how to pitch to VC’s to obtain the capital needed to grow your startup.

Where & when

  • Mumbai: 14th December, 2013. Venue: IIT, Powai
  • Delhi: 11th January, 2014. Venue: IIT, Delhi
  • Bangalore: 8th February, 2014. Venue: TBD

Broad agenda

  • Welcome address
  • AWS Training: Hands-on training and coding on the latest AWS services and APIs
  • Getting to Minimum Viable Product ‘MVP’ on AWS
  • Getting to scale on AWS
  • Getting to profitability on AWS
  • Technical Co-founder Handbook
  • Panel discussion: Venture Capital, Funding and Pitching with top VCs
  • VC break-out sessions: Share your business plans and get direct feedback.
  • AWS Coding Challenge:  Watch 20 developers compete head-to-head at the AWS Coding Challenge live.
  • Networking reception and snacks: Network with entrepreneurs, hackers and AWS members.

 

More details will follow shortly. But as seats are limited, apply for the free learning session right away!