Some WOW mobile apps from India

mobile for blog

Everyone knows the India mobile internet story. And what a story it is. India is expected to have 371M mobile internet users by June 2016, adding more than 100M users in 12 months (Source). That’s phenomenal growth by any standard. And because it’s happened so fast, the mobile app ecosystem has struggled to keep up. For the last 2 years, we witnessed several debates on mobile app Vs m-site and saw some very sub-standard mobile apps coming out of the country. But, happily, we are finally starting to see some people who truly get that the mobile screen is not just a smaller laptop screen (face-palm). That the way people consume content on mobile is vastly different from how they browse online. And hence, the approach to mobile needs to be a radical one.

Although I’m a prolific consumer of mobile content, I’m no authority on the subject. But I’ve seen some great mobile apps come out of India’s start-up ecosystem recently, and wanted to call those out. Here are some of my favourites, in no particular order:

  1. Hopscotch

These guys got it right quite early on. They are a time-bound boutique product company, with a large focus on kids’ stuff. Theirs is a no-frills app without too many icons to distract you. The app demonstrates a great understanding of the customer – there are 2 ways their customers would search for products on the app, and icons for those are centerstage. Of course, the clean UI adds to the appeal. And the recent changes of introducing larger images and improving the scroll experience only add to their advantage.

Interestingly, they have a less-than-brilliant website. But I suppose they realized that themselves because as I write this, I see that the site has been taken down and there is a “coming soon” message there. Aha.

2. Myntra

Myntra is one of the largest fashion portals of India. There was a lot of hue and cry when they decided to go app-only. Time will tell how that worked out for them. If it doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of a quality app. I think these guys have done a phenomenal job of analyzing data consumption on mobile and then creating an experience to match. I say experience because it really is that. You’re not just shopping for products, although you can do that easily. You’re reading a magazine. Trends, fashion updates, brand updates, latest collections, new products, blog posts etc. Great visuals add to the appeal and it’s everything you would expect from fashion on your phone. Two thumbs up.

3. Urban Ladder

Another e-commerce start-up that “gets” mobile. Although, these guys took a bit of time to get there. But get there they did. As a company, I consider Urban Ladder one that holds good, clean design in high esteem and this shows in everything they do. The app is no exception. Good creatives, along with a magazine-style approach to browsing makes this an app that would see a lot of repeat traffic with high session durations. I did find it a little too cluttered in places, but I expect they will iron this stuff out eventually.

4. Swiggy

The boom and bust of the food-tech bubble in India has kept Swiggy in the news a lot lately as it is one of the few that survived the ride, so far. Theirs is an app that is very basic and functional. And that’s the reason it is on this list – it works. Not every app needs to be a creative and visual array that overwhelms the user. The Swiggy user is hungry and just wants to order food quickly. The app helps him/her do just that. They should probably add an easy access menu for different cuisines, but even without that, it does the job.

5. Cleartrip

Cleartrip is one of the stalwarts of clean, functional design and digital workflow in the country. I know their awesomeness is done to death already, but no list of good mobile apps from India can be complete without a mention of the Cleartrip app. They brought a paradigm shift in the mobile travel experience, focused on what was important and displayed an understanding of mobile that was way ahead of its time. Now better apps have come in since then, but Cleartrip remains a great app.

Unpacking the customer experience

How many times have you heard a start-up, or for that matter any organization, say “We are focused on providing the best customer experience”? It’s one of those cool things to say these days – understood in very few cases, and actually followed in even fewer. Which is unfortunate, because a focus on stellar customer experience is the one thing that can really differentiate a product or a service in a competitive market. Think about it – there are very few organizations providing a product or service that is truly unique today, chiefly because information is so commoditized in this digital age. So then the only thing that can set you apart in the mind of consumers and keep them coming back to you is how they feel when interacting with your organization – their experience.

In order to “provide the best customer experience”, we need to first figure out how customers currently experience us. This is where a customer experience map comes in handy (lots of literature online on customer experience maps; here’s one I liked). Building a good customer experience map is no simple exercise. It requires getting your hands dirty, so to speak, and really immersing yourself in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The best and most straightforward way to do this is to become the customer! But there are practical difficulties in this method. If you’re someone senior in your org (which is quite likely, if you’re undertaking this exercise) then it will be hard for you to get an unbiased and unpolished view of the service customers receive when they interact with your org. There are two ways to get around this. First, speak to your customers. Talk to them about their experience at different stages. Be careful to use a wide pool of diverse customers. Also, it is important to have specific questions ready for them if you don’t want the discussion to get sidetracked or be too generic. Second, use a mystery shopper. This is just a fancy term for an unknown outsider who uses your services and then reports back on the experience. Use a trained person for this as it’s not as simple as it sounds, and you need someone who knows what to look for.

A good customer experience map highlights what you’re doing wrong, where you’re alienating the customer, and this information is a crucial starting point in developing a stellar experience. But remember that it’s not just about where you’re screwing up. You will also find out what you’re doing right! And this is important – this tells you why your loyal customers are loyal, and why some people are coming back to you despite the screw ups. This is powerful information – to talk about in your brand communication, and to inspire and rally the team around.

Once you’ve mapped your experience, you’re ready to start working towards making it the best one and the reason that you will be chosen over all others. This is not an easy journey to embark on. It is especially difficult because both marketing and operations need to have joint ownership over this objective – both teams must work hand in hand. And that is never easy 🙂 But if the objectives are clear and the goals of all teams are aligned, the customer experience journey can show remarkable results for the organization.



Keep it simple

When one thinks about ‘organization strategy’, a 50 slide deck with complicated graphs and 20 colors comes to mind. Somehow we imagine strategy to be a scary beast that seasoned management arrives at after careful research and planning. That is why most of us find it hard to articulate our company strategy. We save the deck away carefully after the presentation and only open it a year later to try and remember what was articulated and how we can make the numbers look like we got there.

Honestly, what could be farther from strategy? The core purpose of strategy is to align organizations, rally them behind the vision and have it executed by every rung of the organization. How will you achieve all that by something that can’t even be explained in a conversation?

Real strategy is simple. It is something that “the doorman understands”, as Subroto Bagchi says in his book, The Elephant Catchers. His idea is simple too – strategy needs to be something so simple that everyone gets it. Only then can people get behind it. Because the proof of a good strategy is in its execution, and for that you need the organization aligned 100%.

But more important than being simple, continues Bagchi, a great strategy is an act of emotion. It is far-fetched, it is unreasonable, and it is powerful. Only then will it be memorable. Only then will it stir up the troops, because the battle to scale is not an easy one.

I am sold on this concept. I think an obvious corollary of this idea is the immense importance of actually having a strategy – a vision. An idea so simple and powerful that it gets everyone pedaling in the same direction, overcoming all the fears and apprehensions of scale and change. No one every got inspired by senior management locked up in a room and deciding on the company’s 5-year plan while everyone went along with business as usual. But with a leader who clearly articulates the one thing that the company needs to achieve as a team, repeats it at every occasion and to every employee – well, now we’re in business, quite literally.

The rear view mirror

One of the most ego-boosting experiences in life is being invited back to your alma mater to disseminate some words of wisdom to current students. Not only is it immensely gratifying that you were “chosen” amongst all other alumni to “show the way” to youngsters, but it also recreates a much-craved connection with the place you once called home.

So when student representatives from IITK (Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur) called me recently to spend a day with students on campus and talk to them, I was elated. The actual experience was even more pleasing than the idea of it. My student hosts were extremely gracious, and I was blown away by their hospitality. It made the experience of being back on campus that much more memorable.

The guidelines given to me about the “Talk” weren’t very clear. They were loosely about choosing management as a career path, opportunities along that path, advanced study choices etc. I don’t consider myself an expert on any of these topics, so I decided to start by talking about the choices that have shaped my career and some principles I seem to have followed along the way. I also spent some time talking to them about the HBS experience and the big bundle of opportunity called entrepreneurship. But that’s for another day.

So here are the three mantras that emerged, that have determined my professional path so far:

1. Analysis Paralysis

Don’t over-analyze things. And definitely don’t over-plan. I can bet that you won’t be where you think you will be 10 years from now. Or even 5, with the way things change today. So setting long term goals and trying to architect your path towards them is not the ideal way to spend your life. Besides, goals change. You change! So live in the moment. Think about what makes sense for you right now, what you would enjoy doing and thrive in, right now.

2. If not you then who

We are a privileged lot. Decent education, background and opportunities. We can take this privilege and view this in two ways. We can look at it as a burden – expectations from us are higher and we can spend our lives trying to live up to those expectations. Or we can look at it as a gift, a safety net. A good background gives us the power to try new things, and have something to fall back on if we fail. It’s a no-brainer which option I am recommending. We need to use our strengths as assets, and not liabilities!

3. Get on a rocket ship

I’ve borrowed this one from Sheryl Sandberg. But it’s apt. Always be open to new opportunities and experiences. And when you find something that’s exciting and challenging and has potential, get on board! You can only do this if you stay flexible, are open to new experiences, and are not afraid to fail. When you choose what feels right in the moment. Because the right time and the right opportunity don’t come together very often. So grab with both hands when they do.

It was a fun time talking to students about their hopes and aspirations. And all the questions they had. It also made me pause and reflect on how I got to where I am today, and how things have changed. But these mantras haven’t. And they hold as true today as they did when I was graduating and full of questions, just like the wide-eyed, enthusiastic and totally clueless students I had the pleasure of speaking to.

Planning to be spontaneous

I’ve never really been a planner. Now I anticipate lots of hands going up in protests here since I can be a little anal while planning vacations etc. But I’m talking about life. I know a lot of people who have a very clear life goal in mind (usually professional) and know exactly how to get there. Every decision takes them a step closer to that goal. Their career is well thought out and they go about systematically acquiring the skills they need to achieve their “long term” goals.

But that’s not me. My professional decisions have been nothing if not spontaneous, and most of my personal ones too. I tend to leap into whatever feels right in the moment – good people, exciting work, fearsome challenges. It has never been about where it will take me five years down the line and how I will be placed then. And so far it has worked out wonderfully. I have been lucky to have selected some fantastic opportunities and have earned valuable experiences through them. But lately, more and more as I’ve been looking for my next gig (much more detail on that later), I’ve been wondering whether that is the best approach going forward. As I aim higher, shouldn’t I be thinking strategically about the kind of roles I would like to own and the skill gaps I need to fill in order to get there? Shouldn’t I be foregoing some options that seem like they could be fun but may not necessarily help me develop areas I deem important?

As I was developing this rather unnerving train of thought, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. On a TV show I was watching today, a 29 year old girl finds out she has a terminal disease and just a few months to live. Now I won’t give any more details lest this get morbid, and anyway everyone has seen enough and more of these situations on TV. But something made me really think about this scenario today. Not the dying part, but the part about not really knowing the future. When you don’t know what lies ahead, how can you take it for granted? All you know for sure is what you have here and now. There’s something to be said for seizing the moment – doing what feels right, right now. You can plan for the future all you want, but should you do it at the cost of the present?

So Carpe Diem or not??