Almabase: Building scalable alumni networks

almabaseProfessional networking plays a critical role in individual and the organization’s growth. Even dealing with customers, we are actually working with a human being, where professional connect is super important. Thanks to the Internet, there are tons of professional networking sites (ex: LinkedIn) available which do wonderful job of connecting people worldwide. However they still fall in short when it comes to alumni of a particular college, who are spread across multiple batches, courses and geographies. It is highly possible that alumnus of a particular college/university is seeking a professional help, which can be easily provided by another alumnus. Just because they are not able to connect many such win-win propositions doesn’t get leveraged. Compared to any other references, saying ‘I am from the same college’ immediately establishes trust among individuals in any conversation, that eventually make things happen.

After passing out from National Institute of Warangal during the year 2001, I have been reasonably connected with our local alumnus chapter. It is always challenging days to maintain multiple spreadsheets, mailing lists etc, in a world where information about each individual is changing very fast. Considering that we all are working professionals with pretty busy schedule it’s hard to keep the data updated all the time. Having networked with alumni helps in multiple ways (seeking mentorship, getting reference with a potential customer, applying for a new job with a company, building personal/family level connections, building social community, contributing for a special cause, simply recollecting those good-old-days etc…). In each of the situations mentioned above, when unknown people are coming together it takes a lot of time to establish trust because both parties don’t know each other. Alumni networks significantly help to establish the trust factor quickly, thereby making things happen much faster than it would be otherwise. Building this gap of connecting this trusted network with the power of technology was lacking for quite some time.

Recently came across Almabase, build by couple of my college juniors which perfectly fills this gap. It is a hosted solution that helps to build alumni portals (check out this URL, built for NITW Alumni)in no time. The main power of this platform comes from the powerful algorithms that builds the alumni tree in no time by leveraging social networks. For example today we have built about 28000 strong alumni network in no time. Once this network building (which is the most difficult task) is established, other activities like creating chapter wise sub-pages, specific events, news and collaboration activities can be done quite effectively which also this portal supports quite well. By subscribing to this service, all the college alumni network need to do is to buy a domain, configure it and forget it. It is quite easy to maintain and gives quite a lot of customization features that can be built on a per college basis. With collaborative content editing and sharing such portals make the alumni networking a real easy and effective one.

I have gained a lot both professionally and personally thanks to alumni networking. However there is a limit to individual’s ability to establish and sustain the network, where solutions like Almabase can come handy. Nowadays I am performing some specific search in my alumni portal (powered by Almabase) which is providing accurate and latest information about alumnus located across the globe. I am sure this is just a beginning, quite a lot of things that can be done with this.

Trusted network powered by technology is a killer combination, which Almabase is trying to leverage. If you are college alumnus or local chapter member or want to revive you connections, go ahead have a look into it, it’s worth your time.

My talk on “Open Source and Embedded Systems”

Lounge47 is one of the new age entrepreneurial platform connecting Entrepreneurs, Ideas and Businesses. Couple of weeks back I got a chance to talk on the topic “Tracing the evolution – Open Source & Embedded Systems” among entrepreneurs, enthusiasts and seasoned professionals. The talk was for about 45 minutes followed by Q & A which triggered many interesting questions.

Here is the presentation slides:


Aapkapainter – Home painting at ease

Aapkapainter.com
Aapkapainter.com

It’s been quite some time since I got my house painted. As our little one was growing up, she ensured home walls were her initial canvas using pencil and wax crayons! During vendor short-listing, I came across Aapkapainter (incidentally it is a start-up done by some of my RECW/NITW juniors), eventually signed up with them to get my house painting done. It’s been an awesome experience working with them, right from shortlisting to painting work completion. Wanted to write few details about the work done by them.

Competitive pricing

Initially I had no idea about how to get the painting done. Upon some search, I came to know popular brands (Asian Paints, Nerolac etc…) are offering home painting service on a contract basis and took initial quote from them along with Aapkapainter. To my surprise prices quoted by Aapkapainter was very competitive compared to popular brands, even though they assured me that they will use standard paints for the work. Please also note the fact that standard brands redirect their work to local contractors/vendors, we are also not sure how well they do the job. Finding competitive pricing and placing initial trust (as you know they are my college juniors) I signed up with them for my house painting work.

Professional approach

Right from initial phase, Aapkapainter folks have been very professional in their approach. Understanding painting requirements in detail, providing quotes, suggesting which paint to use for what type of wall, recommending some cost optimization approaches etc, were something I didn’t expect from them. It was a very professional approach in area like home painting, I could clearly differentiate this approach from other vendors with whom I had some initial observations.

Quality in execution

After starting the work, painters showed up properly every day on time, without any major hassles or follow-up. Since we are also living in the same place, they ensured a step-by-step approach by starting the work from one room. Before starting the work they ensured house hold valuables (TV, sofa, fan, wooden/glass cupboards etc…) are well cove

Texture wall
Texture wall

red. None of my family members need to put any effort to move any single item as the painters themselves taken care of it completely. Every day before winding up the day’s work painters ensured cleaning is done in order to ensure living conditions are maintained. The same thing they demonstrated after completing painting work at a particular room by moving back things and setting up in the way they have taken the work before. During the painting they ensured work surface preparation, main-painting and minor corrections were done to the minutest level possible. Check out some main texture work done at my home wall to have a look at their quality of work.

Concerns on safety

As I spend most of the day time at workplace, I was having some initial concerns on my family safety as painters would be working throughout the day in my absence. Aapkapainter folks ensured they sent qualified and proper painters with regular supervision. This ensured here is no safety concern.

What they can do better

This article would remain incomplete if I fail to mention on areas that they can do better. Primarily Aapkapainter has taken an approach to connect consumers to paint services in a vendor independent manner, where their website plays a major role. In that context, their website user-experience can improve. I understand they started off recently, can think of making it much more interactive (ex: Some links are broken in the website). Also some interesting tools (ex: Color comparison, Paint calculator) can be introduced using which users can get a better online experience.

Definitely an area like Home-painting is an unorganized segment. Even though big brands are trying to get it organized, eventually it is up to the local vendor to execute it, where there are definite challenges that need to be met. This also presents a huge opening, which Aapkapainter is trying to address.In summary I got my house re-painting work done in a cost-effective manner with very high quality with zero hassles. I would highly recommend Aapkapainter folks for people who want to get their house-painting work done.

Innovation – Type 10 – Customer experience innovation [Case: Bigbasket]

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

The tenth and final type of innovation is around customer experience, which is all about creating a superior experience to customer’s entry to exit. In India many players attempted to do online grocery store for quite some-time now. It is extremely challenging business in Indian context (logistics, poor roads, unpredictable traffic, varying climate conditions etc…), which Bigbasket is able break by creating very good customer experience around it. I have personally tried and tested this many times, it works all the time with great experience.

Simple and effective User interface

The first thing that impressed me about Bigbasket is their simple and effective user interface. It was very easy to search/navigate for individual grocery items and create an order in a hassle free manner. Every item contains optimal information (neither too less nor too much) with put me into ease. Also when individuals go back for re-ordering, it keeps previous list handy for modification, which saves time for second time. This works very well for monthly grocery ordering.

Prompt alerts

While building an easy to use user interface might look relatively easy, integrating with backend supply chain to meet the promise is super critical. Especially in India, where the probability of providing prompt service is less (due to inherent challenges like infrastructure) providing prompt alerts to customers about the order status creates a lot of trust. In case of Bigbasket I get regular alerts (both in form of email and SMS) about my order status. Just before the final delivery of goods, authentication PIN is provided via SMS, so that both delivery person and customer can be assured about delivery.

Service delivery guarantee

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

After placing order, customers get to choose the time-slot in which they wanted the goods to be delivered. This super critical item (similar to Flipkart’s cash on delivery service) which helps office goers to get goods delivered at a convenient time. Their interface also shows the current booking status and slot availability in order to help customers choose the proper delivery time. From execution point of view, I have always seen they deliver goods on the time promised.

Return policy and wallet

During delivery, in case of item mismatch (ex: quantity) or damage (ex: broken seal), Bigbasket delivery folks take it back without any questions. Upon entering these items in backend (using Mobile application) customers again get immediate notification about when the updated item will be delivered. In case of item return, the money is kept back in a digital wallet which can be adjusted for next purchase.

In summary right from order placing to goods return, Bigbasket has done massive integration and prompt execution of their service. This gives a great end-to-end experience for customers in terms of quality, on-time delivery and reliability.

Startup city event in Bangalore

Yesterday I attended ‘Startup city’ event organized by SmartTechie magazine. More than 40 companies showcased their products and services in the event. There were many interesting keynote addresses and panel discussions held as a part for the event.

The event was kick started with inaugural keynote by Ashish Gupta from Helion Venture partners. He spoke about various stages/milestones of a startup and challenges at each phase. His venture capital firm has invested in many of the early stage entrepreneurial ventures. I have heard Ashish’s pod cast some time back, but it was a good experience listening to him live. Followed by that there were some panel discussions with participants from companies like Microsoft, Sun, Amazon etc. I was not that interested in listening to them, primarily because they perspective changes (or rather looks out of phase) when big company’s senior executives start talking about entrepreneurship.

The real cool thing was the product demos from many startup companies, who have built great technology products. Almost all of them have good product, have already raised capital (self/angel/VC funded) and gained initial traction with customers. I personally know the promoters of companies like Sloka Telecom and NGPay and it was nice meeting them, with their products in deployment stage.

It was 11:45 and I got back into the auditorium for the concluding keynote address by Rajendra K Mishra. He is an entrepreneur, turned activitist (by winning the Lead India campaign organized by Times of India). He is currently working on various private-public-partnerships and leading ‘change India’ campaign. He shared his entrepreneurial experiences in his keynote address, which was really scintillating. He started his first venture of selling imported American trailer houses to Japan. He came across crazy issues but successfully pulled it off. Followed by that venture, he built three ventures and made successful exits.

Then he started discussions about politics and the role of educated, urban Indians in that. He re-iterated that middle class Indians are the major culprits for the current state of affairs as majority of them won’t vote. Added to that he explained some of the initiatives he has taken with politicians, bureaucrats, and corporates to make things better. If not for anything, he has got a great communication and convincing skills. With his clear headed thoughts, he will make a difference for sure.

Compared to other entrepreneurial/startup events, this was by-far a mature one I have seen. Loads of importance and discussions happened around raising capital, marketing strategies and acquiring initial set of customers rather than talking about “that great cool idea”. I was also able to see and connect with folks from Open-coffee-club and Startup Saturday.

Last but not the least! The growth of event organizers (SmartTechie magazine) is been amazing. I have been associated with some of them from the time they launched their Bangalore edition in 2005. Initially started off with career workshops and tech career advising, the magazine has grown well over the years by covering various other aspects like entrepreneurship and professional networking. I had written couple of articles for them some time back. Hope will write some more in the near future.

It was a nice event packed with loads of energy, enthusiasm and passion. The first half of this Saturday was really worth spending out there.

New Horizon Media raises second round of funding

Chennai based New Horizon Media (NHM) has raised the second round of funding from Beacon India Private Equity Fund. I have been following NHM company for the past three years. They are mainly into regional language publishing. To start with they published few non-fiction books in Tamil and went on publishing in English, Children books and Malayalam. Check out more details from their website.

Coming to their books, I have read about 6 books published by NHM. Check out the book reviews of Marketing Mayajalam, Charlie Chaplin which are published them. Almost all the books are priced less then 100 rupees, which very much affordable for an average Indian consumer. Added to that paper quality, cover design and bigger fonts makes the reading as a pleasant experience. I have also listed to one of their audio books about ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and found it useful. Stay tuned for reviews of remaining 4 books.

Areas like book publishing is one of the fragmented areas in India today. By bringing in professional approach, NHM folks are able to attract venture capital for the first time in publishing. They have already built a great brand in Tamil publishing industry and I am sure they will go places.

I wish Mr.Badri and his team all the very best for touching ‘New Horizons’.

My previous post about NHM: New Horizon Media – A ‘positive’ media company