Monday, May 26, 2014

Mouse charmers by Anuradha Goyal: A book review

If you live in India, chances are high you are familiar with companies like Flipkart,, Like me, you might have bought books from flipkart and booked tickets from Makemytrip. You might have paid using cash-on-delivery. And that may give you a feeling, “Oh, I know how this business works”. But, do you really know how these businesses really work? Anuradha Goyal points out in her debut book “The mouse charmers: Digital pioneers of India” – The devil lies in the details. Do you know how Flipkart uses A/B testing framework to perform dozens of experiments at a time? How Zomato manages to keep its menu updated? On an average, how much does it cost Games2win to develop a new online game? Anuradha brings out such details and much more through the stories of 12 digital pioneers of India. Here are 3 things that I liked about Anuradha’s book: (Note: Anu is a friend of mine and hence this review will carry a natural bias).

Broad canvass: Amazon, Google and Yahoo are all Internet players. However, they are fundamentally different businesses. Amazon is an e-commerce player, Google is primarily a connector and Yahoo a content provider. Anu uses this categorization (commerce, content and connectors) to cover a broad canvass of Internet players from India in this book. Apart from the big daddies like flipkart, it also has smaller players like ImagesBazaar, Games2win, Chai with Lakshmi. It covers commodity players like BigBasket (online grocery) and it also has luxury players like CaratLane. Two sectors which are conspicuously missing are healthcare and education. Reason is obvious – these are still in a nascent form. If we go by the buzz around where Venture Capitalists (VCs) are investing today, picture is likely to be different a few years from now.

Business model emphasis: The part of the book which I found most interesting is Anu’s abstraction of the business model for each player and emphasizing the components that are most crucial in that business. A content player like Zomato has a very different business model than a Flipkart or Makemytrip. For example, for Zomato, keeping the menu card updated is most important. It means visiting its 1,00,000 restaurants every 90 days. That’s a significant investment! For which delivers perishable items within hours of order, logistics management is one of the most crucial elements. Given the chaos on the roads of the Indian metros, how do you do it? Currently, BigBasket delivers in 4 slots during the day, 2 in the morning and 2 in the evening. Anu highlights various business model templates like Freemium, Media model (Zomato), SNAP (Studio, Network, Application and Portal – Games2win) used by the players.

What are they doing differently? Each player is trying to do various things to differentiate itself. Flipkart is using analytics in presenting live statistics, identifying sudden spikes in orders and taking policy decisions such as the minimum purchase price for free shipping. For Makemytrip it is the route planner, CaratLane’s emphasis on educating customer on how to judge a diamond etc. For many players technology platform is a differentiator and some cases Anu’s goes into more details to present the broad architecture of the platforms.

Here are two perspectives I feel the book could have done better on:

Financial perspective: For any budding entrepreneur, it is important to know how much investment is needed, how did these guys source the capital, how much did they put from their pocket, how long did it take to become profitable, how much is the typical margin etc. An important dimension is to provide VC perspective – Who all are the players who invested in these companies? At what point of time in their journey? How much? Etc. Not much is available in the stories.

Failed experiments: What did work is indeed useful. However, what didn’t work is equally if not more useful. Unfortunately, such information is not easily available especially in Indian context. Anu has tried to present this data wherever she was able to get it. In fact, Games2win has explicitly listed failed experiments in its website. However, not much of this is present.

Overall, Mouse Charmers presents an excellent overview of the digital landscape of India. I am sure budding entrepreneurs will find this book useful. The scene is changing fast but business models are re-usable. I admire Anu for wearing multiple hats at the same time – travel blogger, book reviewer, innovation consultant. With this book she adds another feather in her cap. I wish the book success.

1 comment:

  1. I found the book to be very readable, even though I'm not a business person. Anuradha Goyal is insightful in her descriptions of the businesses and writes in a style that will hold your interest.

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