THIS IS OUR TURNAROUND STORY
There is nothing better that captures our story than this blog. This April will mark the 6th year for this blog and this is 148th post. Till now it captured our start and our journey till yesterday and now it is time for us to ink the story behind our turnaround.
HARDWARE IS VERY HARD
Real product/hardware start-up is insanely hard. While we burned our blood, around at the same time India has seen as an e-commerce/services revolution. To get some perspective, let’s consider Tata Steel. It is 100-year-old (started in 1907), has manufacturing operations in 26 countries, employs 80,000+ employees, build a city to host its largest plant (Jamshedpur), is the 11th largest steel producer in the world has a market cap of $5.16 billion as we speak today. Flipkart, started in 2007 on the other hand, was valued at $12 billion last December. In offline retail space Future Retail does double the revenue of Flipkart but is 1/10th in its valuation.
And no, it is not about profits (right now). This chart was published on Livemint and talks about TaxiForSure, recently acquired by Ola Cabs at $200 million.
With 2 year’s combined revenue equal to 50% of what Notion Ink did in its first 4 months and with at a staggering INR 20 crore loss, it was acquired at $200 million.
Here is an awesome article if you want to understand what is going on.
Ok, now that this bitching against the segment we are NOT IN is over ( 😦 🙂 ), let’s talk about us, the Inkers.
2013 was hard for us. From 1 person in April 2009 we had grown to 100+ by 2012 and by 2013, we were 25 which further deduced to 9 people by early 2014. No co-founder are there any more. Few started their own companies, few got lured out by the handsome package and equity share, and the rest got absorbed by the competition. This is when the turnaround started. Everyone who has left Notion Ink has given their heart and soul and only when it was impossible for them to handle the pressure (emotional, financial or by the virtue of their ambitions), they decided to call it quits. When you are around with people who think that the plan is not going to work, it doesn’t work. In retrospect, everything happens for a reason.
Notion Ink was not started to make tablets which many started believing. Notion Ink was started to make computing easier (computing here does not refer to browsing internet, chatting, emailing or watching movies, that’s entertainment). Even today if you are not a programmer, you cannot make computers work. A doctor with 20+ years of experience can not use compute power to get better results, make sense out of the statistics/large-study or discover missing correlations, unless he is a programmer or someone else has written an app for him. Notion Ink was started to solve this problem – to actually make computers help us.
However this must go hand in hand with what is practical. Business must go on, and it must be positive.
Cain was the course correction for us. By July 2014 people who were not aligned with this goal had left or were asked to leave, we had strong products ready for productivity, a great new member for the Operations and good relations with Microsoft and Intel.
THE KEYS TO EXECUTING A TURNAROUND
A hardware/physical product company needs 3 more things along with an excellent product. First is the distributor’s confidence for inventory, second is a great plan for massive visibility for marketing and third is the best possible customer care and services support. All these 3 are super critical and cannot be ranked for their importance.
India is a vast country and the current solution of setting up service centers across the country is not the correct solution. Majority of these service centers are actually drop-in and pick-up center for the customers. PCB today cannot be fixed by hand, they need special machines operating in dedicated environment. Moreover, customers spend uncounted hours in delivering and picking their products. We resolved this by setting up an extremely strong Quality Control mechanism. Every single device is tested thrice before they are packed and sent out to the customers. Most of the competitors are selling the boxes as they arrive from China, not knowing whether the manufacturer’s claim on quality are valid or not.
The irony starts in here. The very eCommerce revolution we spoke about earlier is also the way out for product companies looking for effective marketing. The performance of 1 day front page banner on Snapdeal.com is 100 times better than placing a hoarding in the busiest place. Snapdeal helped us resolve our visibility problems. Fellows at Snapdeal.com are great and we also got the opportunity to see, how one of the top start-ups actually function, up close.
Once we got Snapdeal.com for the visibility, customer services model in place, excellent product and backing from Microsoft’s and Intel’s team on the product’s future, getting the distributor’s “cautious” confidence become easier.
“We launched in September and within a fortnight, Notion Ink became the highest selling Windows 2in1 in India”
NOTION INK IS THE HIGHEST 2IN1 SELLER
This is based on the real import and sales data of all 2in1 and tablets in India and we hold a very impressive share in overall Windows tablet market as well. This is after we have the foreigners dumping in their products at insane price points.
To counter this attack we have started strategically placing our products offline. The plan is not to fill in every shelf, but being visible and available at most probable places where one would look for a 2in1/Windows tablet. The map below shows our offline presence currently spreading out from Bangalore (Karnataka)
We have targeted Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharastra, Gujarat, Delhi (very important market for us), West Bengal, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The locations picked are strategic and contextual (below is an example of Cain available in Microsoft Priority Stores in Delhi).
Cain is beautiful, and we have poured out our heart while making it. The 4.3+ rating after 800+ reviews is the testimony of our hard work.
We have made lot of friends and critics in this journey and today we are even more driven to them say soon, we have done it. Our only message to all the product start-ups out there is: