Quest for Friction Less Experiences

Yesterday, I got to experience the WhatsApp payment flows. It surely felt like a neat experience both for adding/mapping bank accounts and for in-chat payments.

And in my excitement I forwarded it to a friend who didn’t have any UPI handle so far. And I was surprised by the reaction.

How does WhatsApp know my bank account ??!! 

Payment friction

And frankly I had looked at it the other way round – they are showing me the specific account that I want to associate here.

And this got me thinking about friction in digital consumer experiences.

I remembered my Amazon experience.

I have recently changed my laptop and phone and each time I logged into my Amazon account from a new device/browser I got a security challenge. I had to enter a security code that was sent on my email.

Friction during logging in

This is inspite of me using my Amazon login id & password. So why the additional step? Why add to the friction of logging in?

  • Its a friction-less way of doing XYZ !
  • We have drastically reduced the friction in each transaction
  • Our platform provides the most friction less experience for ABC

Am sure like me, you keep hearing how every venture and corporate is focused on reducing friction and there by making it a significantly better experience for their consumers/stakeholders etc.

And I get it.

If I almost always use an offers platform to look for offers near me on a mobile app, it should not ask me to choose a city, then location etc – it should just pick my location and show me the offers. I get it.

Similarly, if my online or in-app payment process need an OTP and there is a way to automatically read the OTP rather than needing me to toggle from the merchant app to the messaging app and back. It is definitely so much cooler and easier.


What I don’t get is how suddenly friction has become such a bad thing.

Way back in my school days, we were taught in Physics that while friction caused wear and tear, it also was the main reason wheels work – friction prevents slippage and aids rotation. Snow chains for tyres – aid driver confidence by increased traction (apart from helping break the top ice layer).

My current thinking on friction less experiences is as follows:

  • All consumers are not same. What is a great experience for some may be a concern for others (elevators vs escalators) . Hence it may be best to have varying levels of friction available for consumers.
  • Friction can help build consumer confidence – esp amongst users concerned about security
  • Friction may be useful in the on-boarding or early days of consumer-product relationship. As confidence builds, some more steps can be reduced.
  • Friction is also an industry level phenomenon. As an industry matures and consumer confidence builds, need for a faster, smoother way to do the same old task would become stronger.

What do you think?

Beyond Big Data – A Small and fast data example

Big Data is all the rage. Everywhere you go, any meeting or presentation one sits through, Big Data seems to be there.

But there are opportunities beyond big data. E.g. how we handle small data fast.

Here’s an example of small data that I experience almost everyday.

In many corporate buildings in India, you would notice that you need to punch in the desired floor into a panel, which prompts you which lift-car to hop on to.

Fast data ElevatorsSimple yet brilliant solution.

You club the waiting passengers into specific cars by their desired floors. The average wait time is lower, the average travel time to your floor is significantly lower.

And all the magic happens in a jiffy.

The data becomes irrelevant soon (apart from being used by the algorithm for learning and further optimization). And in a classic example of not-so-big-data. But the fact that this small set of inputs from users is taken, crunched and optimized for elevator allocation in almost real time makes it so amazing.

Small but fast Data.

In Data-led-solutions, the following typically have significant impact:

  • Data-accuracy: How accurate is the data that we feed into the system
  • Data-freshness:How fresh is the data as it moves across the value chain
  • Data-velocity: What is the speed with which we process and move data

This small-data use-case is very high on the data-velocity parameter and I guess just solving for data-velocity has allowed for the solution to be adopted.

So in summary, there is life beyond Big Data too. 🙂

What do you think?

Good rules should be designed for higher adoption

How do we drive adoption for rules in a country, a community?

Should a good rule be easily enforceable too?

I think it should be.

If we want to build a society where most follow the rules, enforceability should be an important criteria.

To decide whether a new rule should be introduced or not. Whether an existing rule needs to be modified or scrapped.


It is my belief, that when we have rules that can be easily broken without any consequences, it sends a signal to the community. And this signal usually leads to a gradual loss of respect for the law of the land and for the fellow citizens.

Effective rules implementation

Let me explain with an example of two rules, which most of us are familiar with

  • Front seat passengers should wear seat belts while traveling in a car
  • All vehicles should have a valid pollution-under-control (PUC) certificate

While both these were introduced in the last 20 years or so in NCR, the first one has seen significant levels of adoption whereas we all know that very few cars and bikes have a valid PUC certificate.


If you ask me, the reason is very simple.

For seat-belts, the fact that you are complying (or not) is visible each and every time you are driving. Any traffic-cop who sees you not wearing the seat belt can pull you over and issue a challan. So you run a very high risk of being punished if you are out on the road w/o wearing your seat belts.

Contrast this with the pollution certificate rule.

A traffic cop on the road has no clue if your vehicle currently has a valid PUC certificate or not. Hence the cop would rarely pull you aside asking for the certificate. It is usually asked for when you have already been stopped for some reason and they feel that they might put more pressure on you if you are w/o the PUC. Hence as car owners, we are usually not very afraid to drive w/o this certificate. The risk is just too low. And hence very few cars actually have a valid PUC certificate.

So while almost everyone knows that the laws need them to drive a non-polluting vehicle, very few actually end up doing so.

And I think its very simply just the issue of how easily the rule can be enforced.

In my opinion we should have few rules, but all should be enforced strictly.

What do you think?

Search Vs Social – the long tail of ad revenues

Google and Facebook together took away 64% of the total US online advertising spends. And Facebook had around 65% of the overall online display ad-spends. These are incredible levels of consolidation in the ad spends among the leaders.


Enough has been said and discussed about

While one cannot argue with the numbers and the line of reasoning, I somehow felt that this discussion has ignored the long tail of ad-revenues or the lead generation aspect of these platforms. These reports are focused on big co’s with big media budgets who may typically have brand-building as the key target.

Let me explain this in some more detail.

There is no doubt that for Google or Facebook, the big marketing dollars would come in from big spenders like Ford, Coca-Cola & Pepsis, Samsung, Levis, Red Bull, Wells Fargo, Amex etc.

But if we were to evaluate these platforms from a start-up point of view (small budgets and maybe need to do lead generation instead of brand building), the story is very different.

1. Social targeting is profile based, too many bidders

On Facebook, the same user may be targeted by multiple brands, because there is hardly any other context. E.g. a 35 yr old male who lives in a metro and has liked multiple lifestyle brands would be a good target for many.

We do NOT have additional context for the specific session on FB when the ad is being displayed. One FB session is hardly different from another in terms of the intent or maybe when mood based marketing algorithms evolve things would change.

This means, each of the target users FB session will appeal to all the brands. Multiple brands would be vying for that same ad-impression, which in turn means higher bid rates and CPMs etc etc.

And this means that small budget advertisers would be elbowed out of the platform by big budget cos.

While this article on Forbes also has the same conclusion, the logic used is very different.

2. Search has deep context, removes non-relevant advertisers

Search on the other hand has hugely relevant context. E.g. a user looking for Mortgage loan options on Google will be targeted by Financial Services brands vs someone searching for Fine Dining Options in India.

And this means, that as an advertiser you are just competing with other competitors or maybe some adjacent industry players.

Bid rates would be lower and even with small budgets one can get the message out to a relevant audience.

3. Lead qualification is efficient on search

If one is looking at online advertising for lead generation, chances are search may be a better platform.

Before the Facebook fans pounce on me, let me qualify my statement.

Many of us run “boring” ventures – we pitch services that consumers may not want to share. And/or we do not have the creative bench strength to get a funny/interesting message out. Our content strategy may still be a WIP. Realities of life.

If the message/ad we create has low viral coefficient (i.e. we do not expect people to share it much), Facebook may not be the best platform. Coz then we are burning marketing dollars to talk to a prospect who may not be primed for our services and who is also not helping spread the word.

Google, on the other hand is a very different story. If a consumer is online actively writing into the search box key words that resonate with your offerings, you may have a very interested customer. Intent is high.

Also, my guess would be that the long-tail ad-spends are stickier.

But all this is just my 2 cents on how small ventures, start-ups and SMEs should look at spending their advertising money online – across the broad theme of Search Vs Social Marketing for the long tail in particular.

What do you think?


Unit Economics in the times of Auction Marketing Models

Unit Economics is all we hear these days in the consumer technology world. Unfortunately for many start-ups seeking venture funds, this is the biggest hurdle they need to cross to build a strong case for their business.

What is the concept of Unit Economics

I will not go into the definition and relevance of Unit Economics. That’s well documented here and here. Or just Google it.

Lets refer to Microeconomics 101 for our discussion – Marginal Costs(MC) and Marginal Revenue(MR). We all know that its a healthy sign if Marginal Revenues are higher than Marginal costs. And this delta (MR-MC) is what is unit economics.

On the other hand, if we are losing money on each transaction, either we see the losses reducing or we stop growing transaction volumes.

At least rational individuals would choose to do so. Or so goes the basic Economics assumption.

Unit Economics in web/mobile start-ups

  1. Marginal costs are volatile

A big chunk of a start-ups costs is the customer acquisition cost. ( I am excluding businesses with very high repeat volumes in early days where the operating costs contribute heavily to the overall transaction costs).

Most start-ups need to market their products and services. They are in a continuous state of transaction ramp-up along with concurrent improvements in experience or efficiency.

And in a world where most advertising/marketing channels are bid/auction model driven – this translates into the marginal costs being highly volatile. How volatile?

  • In the early days when you don’t have the luxury of brand-pull or of time, almost 60-70% of transactions may be coming from Google Adwords/Facebook/Ad-networks. Meaning 60% of your business is not insulated from pricing shocks.
  • Bid-rates may vary as much as 30-40% to maintain the same positioning. Maybe more, if there is a competitor who has just raised a round. Also, if you are competing in a category where big brands play, anything can happen. E.g. At Deal4Loans, we had seen bid-rates on our key-words jump significantly every time a competitor raised venture money or a bank launched a new digital campaign.
  • Add to this that the conversion-rates of your campaigns have not yet stabilized. Remember, these are early days, you are experimenting on your landing pages, and funnel optimization is still underway. So the final cost per account gets even more volatile.

2. Customer Pricing is relatively in-elastic

Theoretically, if you could pass on the burden of increased bid-rates and hence the ups/downs in marginal costs on to the consumer, your unit economics would be safe. The neighborhood vegetable vendor who has daily-prices does exactly this and is hence able to retain his margins.

Unit Economics

But this is rarely possible. Pricing is just not that elastic.  Most mobile/web start-ups can not /do not change prices so frequently.


We know that the bid-rates can inflict wild fluctuations(as seen in pt1) in the cost of acquisition, thereby making it unpredictable. But a bigger challenge is that the Marginal Cost curve is not smooth.

Realistic MC MR Curve

One rarely finds gradual changes in marginal costs with increasing through-put. It happens in unpredictable steps. Here’s why

  • Each fluctuation in effective bid-rate leads to drastic ups/downs
  • As a start-up you are experimenting with multiple channels. Success in any one will bring down the blended MC immediately.
  • Referral/Viral coefficient and % of in-bound of the campaigns can impact the costs significantly. e.g. One PR mention may bring in huge self-select traffic.
  • SEO traffic which is typically very predictable can also swing wildly with a new Google update as we saw with Penguin and Panda.

So what do we do?

  • Keep Experimenting. Do know that customer-acquisition at optimal price is a moving target. You are never really truly there. It can always be better.
  • Invest early in content. In-bound has significant ripple effects.
  • Raise money but don’t throw it all on branding. Consumer memory is short lived. Discover and test more channels, unlock access to more segments.

I would love to hear from bootstrapped ventures as to how they are/have handled the customer acqui costs. What worked, what didn’t?

Public policy, ripple effects and feedback loops

I have always been intrigued by product design and by extension policy design (& implementation). If the government were to look at itself as a start-up technology venture, the policies, schemes and guidelines issued by the government would possibly be the “products” of this venture.

And like any good product manager, one should study not just the immediate impact of change(s) in product design but also the delayed and maybe stickier changes in consumer behaviour.

And that is what I want to share with you today.

Shift in dietary habits due to Green Revolution

Sometime last month, I was visiting an uncle of mine – someone who is in his mid 70s, reasonably fit, exercises regularly and has borderline diabetes. While we sat at the lunch table, I noticed that he had multiple other grains in his roti as against mine which was from just wheat atta. It seems most physicians recommend adding ragi, chana etc in your atta mix as a healthier alternative.

And that’s how our conversation began.

Wheat Green Revolution

And what came out was quite surprising for me.

It seems in their childhood days in villages of western U.P., wheat was not the staple grain. Infact it was considered a delicacy and wheat-chapattis were made when they had guests over. And he comes from a well-to-do farmer family. This was not because of economic constraints, it was just how things were.

So as the elders started talking about this significant shift in probably the most important component in a typical North-Indian meal – roti – what emerged was that the shift was triggered by the Green Revolution in all probability.

This lunch group which included scientists and government employees, agreed to the following sequence of events:

  • Wheat was one of the chosen candidates for green revolution . Though am very curious to find out why?
  • Government stepped in on the supply side with higher yield varieties, irrigation support etc
  • It also created artificial demand by setting up floor prices thus encouraging farmers to grow wheat. Making wheat a critical component of Public Distribution System also ensured a big buyer for wheat at these prices. This in turn ensured that a higher percentage of land under cultivation now got sowed with wheat
  • This brought the otherwise-considered-premium grain into the middle-class households at a very affordable price. Imagine if suddenly, you find yourself able to afford an item which for years or maybe generations was considered premium, chances are you will buy more of it to feel good (my assumption)
  • And they all started eating wheat more, skewing our diet heavily towards this singular grain in North India.
  • And the subsequent generation(s) like ours has come to believe that our rotis have always been a wheat-only product. Coz wheat rotis is what we ever saw.

Am also very clear that India’s self-reliance on nutrition has been contributed heavily by progress on wheat and rice. So there’s no doubt that this has worked as planned.

The fact that wheat may not be the healthiest grain is probably something new. Gluten intolerance was probably unheard of during the Green Revolution.

But with the new facts before us, should the government re-evaluate its focus on just a handful of grains in its policies.

What if, the support prices on wheat are relaxed a bit? What if other “healthier” grains are encouraged similarly? Will the cost of managing supply chains and warehousing for multiple grains offset the advantages of a wider-spread in our diet?

Many questions and I don’t have any answers.

Low availability of fodder for cattle

Ask any elder who has seen standing wheat crop in the fields now-a-days vs in the old days. One thing they would tell you is that the wheat crop is now stunted. Its much much shorter.

This am told, was probably one of the biggest breakthrough in developing High-Yield-Varieties. The nutrients and water is no longer “wasted” in the growth of the non-grain-yielding parts of the crop.

But on the flip side – this has increased the cost of cattle-management for local farmers. Why?

There just isn’t enough fresh fodder for the cattle. The non-grain part of the wheat crop was used as fresh and dried fodder for the cattle that the farmer had at home. This is gone.

As my friend (who runs a dairy farm) tells me, procuring fodder is now a big challenge in most regions.

I am not an economist or an agriculture scientist and probably have understood just a very small part of the whole picture here.

But I learnt few important lessons from this lunch conversation :

  1. There are usually multiple ripple-effects of any new policy change ( or product change)
  2. While the product may deliver on the core metrics initially identified as measurements of success, we should zoom-out and ask ourselves, what else has changed
  3. I should start eating healthier. Right now  🙂

Payments are a critical piece – Digital Banking ToolKit

In India, digital and mobile Payments is a really HOT space right now.

  • HDFC Bank introduced PayZapp which intends to be the gateway for all m-commerce transactions, with incremental offers as the initial incentive
  • ICICI bank introduced “Pockets” – a way for even non-ICICI Bank customers to have access to mobile payments
  • Axis bank launched Ping Pay and Lime
  • 11 new Payment Bank Licences have been issued. This not only includes some of the bigger telecom players but also the likes of PayTm.

All this action is triggered by multiple factors including a huge opportunity to move transactions away from cash. In the fact that ecommerce is booming and so is the comfort that consumers have in paying online or through mobile. Mobile, smartphone and 3G penetration is booming etc etc.

But from a bank’s perspective, payments are critical.


Payments are high-frequency use case

You would probably take 3.5 loans in your life.

Your salary gets credited into the account once a month. If you have a SIP instruction, the investments may also happen once a month.

You withdraw cash probably once a week.

But you make maybe multiple payment transactions everyday. And in most cases, banks do not have an idea of the payments we make.

More transactions allow banks to have more interactions with their consumers and hence move a step closer to being an Everyday Bank (Accenture coined this interesting term to bring banking into consumer’s day-to-day activities).

Payments provide rich-context

During my brief stint in the Life Insurance industry, the key challenge was that post acquisition, there is not much context to go back and start a dialogue with the customer.

The same is true (or will soon be true) for banks that miss out on the payments. Access to payment level data gives so much deeper insights into the consumer.

The bank understands where do you spend (which markets, which segments), when do you spend, your typical ticket size etc. This is really powerful data, which can help generate insights into customer segments and their needs. E.g. a banking customer who pays school fees (for her kids) online has told the bank that she might be a good target to be pitched Children Plans (life insurance).

It can also help the bank design better products that resonate more with the consumers.

Payments will see sticky behavior

In the early days of Digital Banking, it was said that the bank which manages to get Bill Payments on to its account will be a sticky account. If you can get the customer to map his utility payments etc, you were on a path to be the preferred banking account.

Why ?

Because these are important transactions yet not something customer wants to spend a lot of time on. Hence if he gets used to a specific platform/UI – until and unless something changes drastically, the customer would not move. Same reason why I am so loyal to PayTm ever since they made it so easy to pay bills and do set-top box recharges.

The bank or service provider, which onboards customers to a frictionless platform will be tough to unseat.

Showing Contact Addresses in Google Maps

Quick Summary:

Here’s a small product feature recommendation for Google Maps on Android. Currently when I am in Google Maps and typing in the search box, it throws results that match with Google Places directory on the web. If it also throws matches with local contacts in the phone (or Google account) that have an address field added, it will ease usage.

Google Maps & Contacts

A quick background will help understand the use-case much better. I was travelling to Jaipur and wanted to go to my friend’s place in Bani Park. I had asked him for his address the day before and stored that in the phone’s contact against his name. Now when I was close to Bani park and looking for exact directions to his place, I had to

  • go to the Contacts,
  • search for his name,
  • View and copy the address,
  • Close Contacts and open Google Maps,
  • click on search(in GMaps) and paste the address (without the door number etc),
  • See the matching list of places from Googles Places directory,
  • Choose the right one and get started

Recommended Solution:

It would have been so much easier if

  • I go to G Maps
  • Click on search and type the friend’s name
  • IF there is an address field against it, gets thrown up
  • [CHALLENGE] – Smartly remove the part(s) of address like door or flat number and match it with Google Places
  • Get started

Better still would be if
GMaps and contact addresses
Once I have used the (text based) address for directions inside maps for the first time, it asks me to “pin” the place on the map when i reach my destination,so that an accurate latlon (latitude longitude) can be entered in a hidden field against this address.

If this pinning of a text address is done, it can add more wow – as soon as I open up Google Maps at a particular location, it can show me my pins in the vicinity – no more typing or searching needed – just choose the pin for directions and get started.

What do you think?

Is this something that would make your GMaps experience better? Do let me know in the comments section below – will love to hear your feedback.

#Android #GoogleMaps #GMaps #Google

Thin Mobile App or a Fat one – Digital banking toolkit

Mobile is the new frontier and banks know this well.

Amongst the various choices to make as part of the bank’s overall mobile initiative, is the decision around the structuring of mobile app(s).

Thin App Vs a Fat App.

These might sound strange terms especially in reference to mobile apps and no, we are not talking about the size of the app in MBs.

A Thin Mobile App is a niche solution available for select instances or customers, which allows a small subset of activities to be handled.

On the contrary, a Fat app is one where all the possible features and functionalities are available in the single app.

Banks have chosen to tread either of the paths. E.g. ICICI Bank has multiple apps in the playstore and HDFC Bank has just one main app.

Bank Mobile App - Fat or Thin

As one would expect, there are pros and cons of both, and I am listing a few here that come to my mind.

Attribute Thin App Fat App
 Clean UI  Easy to deliver  Needs design assistance
 User Engagement  Higher – as less distractions  Lower as many features irrelevant
 App Marketing  App adoption slows as marketing dollars split across multiple apps  Overall downloads look better as one single app
 App Development  Becomes complicated with multiple apps in market  Easier since tracking just one app
 Channel Migration  Depends on how the bank approaches it   Depends on how the bank approaches it

I personally feel, more than the final choice, it is the reasons that drive the choice which are important e.g.

  • It makes more sense to have a separate thin mobile app, if there is a unique customer segment that seems to have very different transaction or enquiry profile as compared to the others. E.g. Retail bank customers vs SME business owners
  • Building Traction. Many banks want to keep their mobile banking app for transactions only and do not see value in building any pre-login use-case. This makes the mobile adoption target so much tougher as there has to be a very precise value that the customer foresees in using the mobile platform for transacting. Plus its a two stage goal, get downloads and then get usage. It might be useful to break it down into easier goals, get downloads by providing a use-case even if its a pre-login e.g. offers on debit and credit cards. And then get the customer who already has your app to start using it for transactions.

What do you think?

SMS is reborn as an acqui channel in the Smartphone age

In the early days of Deal4Loans, we used to get a lot of traffic and leads through SMS campaigns. Especially for products like Personal Loans (Simple pitch and high-urgency in a need based product)

SMS reborn in smartphone ageDuring those days, NDNC (National DO NOT CALL) list was not introduced and there were very few players who were sending bulk SMS for lead generation. Response rates were high.

Market quickly figured out that this was a cost effective and easy channel to scale up. A tsunami of SMS campaigns started to happen and finally the National government had to intervene with its NDNC initiative.

And while SMS acquisition campaigns have largely died out, it seems to be back again.  And with even more potential.

In a recent campaign we closely observed, a bank reached out to a select base of consumers through SMS and emails. The resulting traffic on the portal was significantly higher in case of SMS.


Apart from all the other factors (higher delivery rates, targeting time of intervention), now most recipients have a 3G or Wifi enabled smartphone, where CTAs are simple. This campaign had a short URL taking to the Landing Page after a crisp text talking about the offer.

Lesson learnt:

If you can withhold the temptation to abuse your mobile registered users, SMS can deliver amazing results even in marketing campaigns.