Starting up in the age of T20Vinay Kanchan
India is likely to develop 20-20 vision over the next few months.
Before you decide to toss those spectacles, let me add that this is largely due to an unprecedented festival of cricket which will demand eyeballs, off TV and mobile screens, over the next few months.
The three words that will strike the most empathetic cord will be ‘What’s the score?’ And while corporate India finds a welcome diversion in the exploits of the men in blue (and later in myriad IPL colours), should the startup revolution pay separate attention to this, our national pastime?
The adrenaline-infused arena of the 20-20 game offers a lot more than just cricket. For the discerning entrepreneurial eye, inspirational lessons present themselves. From parallel ‘Power Plays’ that might just take the startup innings past stiff targets to intriguing ‘Thought Starters’ that could keep the business from being stumped; 2020 is a hotbed of ideas.
It is time we took guard to open ourselves to a few of them.
Have a shorter version
20-20 cricket essentially was created to have a crisper, more marketable form of the game, considering the advent of audiences with shorter attention spans. While 50-over cricket tournament energised sagging interest in the 80s and 90s, 20-20 is the antidote for boredom and indifference towards cricket in the new century. And this remarkable adaptability of the game has to be appreciated.
This aspect holds interesting insights for the startup world. Shortening the consumer journey from market to home has fuelled the entire e-commerce story. However, there are other opportunities available if the same principle is applied to diverse processes in the business cycle. Even shortening aspects like one’s business pitch, in essence, having an elevator version always handy of what one is all about, can really add zip and power to the business endeavor. Mies Van Der Rohe famously said, ‘less is more’, and that is true from 20-20 cricket to the challenge of initiating a startup.
Put on a show
20-20 cricket has added an unquestionable glamour and showmanship to the game. It has successfully combined the influences of Bollywood, entertainment, and a bit of razzmatazz from a host of other sport, to concoct an offering which is at times overwhelming and immediately demanding of one’s attention. Care has also been taken to see that every minute of the three to four-hour-long festival, has some element to keep audiences transfixed to their seats, and their hands off the remote.
In today’s highly cluttered times, every business and brand can do with a bit of sheen added to its functioning. There is so much noise in the market place; one needs a strategy for standing out. Making launches epic events (in the way Apple did). Having a work culture that goes favourably viral (a path blazed by Semco). Creating an office environment that nurtures a buzz (many from Infosys to MTV). All these and more initiatives go a long way in helping a new startup trouble the airwaves more frequently. To paraphrase the spirit of Las Vegas, ‘there’s no business unless you make a show of your business.’
Forget the past, Forge the new
20-20 cricket has created its own band of heroes. Men like Suresh Raina and Sunil Narine perhaps would not have found such stardom exclusively in other versions of the game. That is because, in many ways, 20-20 cricket is a whole new sport. What made players successful in test cricket, is maybe even an impediment sometimes in the high octane slam bang nature of this game. And the players of true test pedigree, who have risen, are those who literally wear a different cap when they turn up in 20-20.
The trait of moving away from what has brought success in ‘traditional’ business is going to be vital in startup stories. Conventional business places emphasis on stability and the replication of successful processes. But startups often tread ground where there is no precedent. Invention and innovation are the need of the hour. Adaptability is the name of the game. This is a time for new heroes to emerge. Interestingly, the manner in which the likes of Amazon and Flipkart (to name two) have expanded the scope of their offerings, would have sent cold shivers down the spines of ‘stick to your knitting’ espousing management consultants. But these companies interpreted expansion more in terms of exploiting opportunities, however, away from the off stump these might have seemed.
Experiment and abandon
20-20 cricket is actually a laboratory of rapid ball by ball experimentation. Everyone involved is trying out new things at that microcosmic level. What works is persisted with. What fails is quickly discarded. This process of ceaseless trial and adoption typifies successful teams. Those which are stubborn in their adherence to one idea often lose out.
Startups are writing their own genetic code. There are no best practices which have been set in stone. These have to be discovered. There is no optimal version of the product on offer. This was to be continuously tinkered with. There are no employees who are an ‘ideal fit’ for the workplace, because often when recruitment is happening the founders are grappling with that very same question. It is all about taking an action and quickly evaluating its results. The manner in which Facebook repeatedly tweaks with its audience interface, to see what might work is indicative of this startup mindset. Just like throwing in the odd slow ball never hurts in the overall scheme of things.
Have an ongoing conversation
20-20 cricket is also typified by constant, nonstop conversations. Be it in the commentary box, amongst the excited spectators, or between the men on the field and television anchors. That last aspect has represented a captivating addition to the game, even if the jury is still out on whether this should be persisted with or not. Discovering what is going on in the minds of those on the ground, and those influencing strategies off it, has always held a curious fascination for the viewer who has often wondered, ‘what goes through Sehwag’s mind when he decides to belt the first ball he faces for six?’
Startups need to embrace this concept of continuous contact. In businesses where the processes might be new to the consumer, having the lines of communication open at all times can only reassure her doubts. There is also the facility of applying last minute tweaks to the offering. The customer can be made to feel involved in the entire process, and this can only be helpful. We live in an era where people crave to know what is happening, which is why international flights show maps indicating where exactly the plane is; courier companies offer facilities to track the same with your parcel. The feeling of being in control puts the customer at ease. The perception that her voice is being heard calms her anxiety. She is likely to want to revisit that same experience again, much as audiences love it when Sehwag replies ‘Absolutely nothing!’ to the previous query.
As a carnival of cricket unravels, there is going to be a feeling of frenzied energy that will permeate the nation.
Offbeat ideas will surface every day. Interesting events will unravel. There will be inspiration staring back at us every single moment.
We have to be alert that those ‘insightful edges’ of strategic thought, don’t slip our grasp and fly away to the boundary.