Several weeks back I saw Rocket Singh. A decent film – has a sluggish and somewhat forced start with much too obvious character stereotypes, but the movie picks up after that and keeps you engaged, if not laughing out loud.
I found it particularly interesting because I run a company myself, and it was interesting to observe Rocket Singh’s (and his boss Mr. Puri’s) approach to running a company.
1. USP, Branding and Finding a Niche
My first observation was how Rocket Sales go about building their USP and brand. Their USP was the day and night service they provided – and that was so unusual that it got their customers really interested. I wonder how the conversation between the co-founders ‘might’ have gone (but didn’t).
Potey: You know what, other companies don’t provide after sales service – let’s focus on that.
Rocket: You’re right. In fact let’s go one step further and provide day and night service.
Potey: Tu pagal ho gaya hai. Kaun karega, apun do log hain, soyenge kab – aur aage jaake sustainable kaise hoga. Service se shuru karte hain, and then we will see how it goes.
And if had happened that way – they might have settled for a half-measure and though they might have done well – they might have grown a lot slowly. Another example comes to mind when 95FM launched, they launched with no ads! They only used social media and Orkut to reach out – but within a short while everyone was talking about the ad free radio company. I think the take away is this : “To create a brand and a USP, you might have to do something drastic, even if that might come at severe inconvenience to yourself”. Far too often we end up doing the easy stuff, because we do not want things to be inconvenient for us. Either that, or the solution is not obvious. For example, for us, one of the biggest issues would be shipping, which is out of our control – and even if we make a state-of-the-art product, if the customer receives it too late – his experience is sub-par. Another interesting example is McDonald’s franchising model – to have the same bloody burger served everywhere in the world must have come with some serious effort.
Another observation – Don’t be scared by the big guy, but don’t dare to do all that they do – find a niche – dominate that niche and then go forward from there.
2. Short Term Profit vs. Long Term Clients
This is always a tough call. Do you maximise profits? Or do you sell your product for a song so that you can capture the market. Rocket Sales did this by shaving off their margins and providing a better proposition on both service and price. But is that strategy sustainable? Jury’s out on that one.
2.1 Related to #2: Do the Razor and Blades model.
Remember the razor and blades model – sell the Razor cheap and then make money on the blades (Or sell the game console at a loss and make money off the royalties on video game sales). In this case, sell the computer cheap, but have a compelling after-sales service for continued revenue from the clients.
3. Team Issues
This was one area which I think Rocket Singh made it look really easy – but is the biggest challenge. Operationally, being in a team has one great benefit – sharing of work, and one big drawback – the tendency to settle for the consensus, and consensus is often mediocre (example, the half-measure of #1). Rocket Singh chooses to be inflexible – which I think is good, because then what they do, can only end in extremes – either do well or fail miserably – giving you the chance to try several others as against well rounded consensus ideas – which will give average returns (Idea churn is high and higher potential returns) .
Another thing I found interesting was his approach to equity – where he gave equal stake to every member – irrespective of the skill set involved – and interesting the earlier founders willingly diluted their stake. Good strategy/bad strategy? Jury out on that one too.
This one’s again a bit tricky. While in the movie – a righteous ethical businessman is something that will appeal to the audience – in real life this is much harder. Perhaps if everyone in the chain is a well educated professional – this might be possible – e.g. perhaps in the IT industry, but in several other businesses you have to deal with middlemen, especially when they are in the government or bureaucracy where they can bring your work to a standstill for want of a electricity load approval, liquor license etc. etc. Many an idealistic businessmen had to rejig their view of the world when faced with this (I personally know some of them).
5. Startup = Fun?
Besides Rocket Singh, another character whom I found very interesting was his boss Mr. Puri. Kudos to Jaideep Rajput for making a character who isn’t evil per se (except for the arrogance – which was his hubris) – but someone who only was trying to run his business the way he knows best. He says this fantastic dialogue in the end “Jab khoon paseena ek saath kagaz pe chapta hai na, table bed ban jaati hai aur office ghar, bhookh pyaas bhul jati hai, baal bachche rul jaate hain, tab jaake saali company banti hai.” And man, isn’t he right – a start up, while being fun, often takes over your life. So if you ever do one, don’t do it for the wrong reasons.
So all in all, an interesting movie for all these reasons.
PS: Given my love for logos, I must add that I also liked Rocket Sales logo. When you are a start up – don’t get your friend/bhai/bhanja to design a crummy logo for you for free (even though the Rocket Sales people did). It’s going to be your identity for several years – invest in it.