Tuesday, November 10, 2015

10 Takeaways for StartUps from Bihar Elections

I followed Bihar elections quite closely and as part of that, read many articles, talked to many friends (including Biharis), agreed/disagreed with them, followed Media (their hypes, sensations and facts) and saw/listened how various politicians spoke, strategized and worked day and night to have election results in their favor.

Bihar Election (Courtesy: India Today)
Election Results (Courtesy: Times of India)
Election results baffled me and it made me wonder what happened and why? My tiny entrepreneurial mind was looking for some analysis that what can a startup learn from this, what went well for whom, what could have been done better by someone and I could come up with the following:

1. Thorough Preparation before hitting market.  Elections reminded me of days of my engineering education where we used to have exams with 2-3 days gaps and it used to last a month. There were 2 kind of students, one who studied through-out the year and another who usually found it enough to study during the gaps of each exam and even few times, passed with distinction. JDU+ did a thorough study and worked from long time to build unprecedented tieups while BJP kind of relied on period between polling days. JDU+ had gone to villages, worked at grass-root level and campaigned while BJP relied on big rallies during polls.

Takeaway: We at StartUps, need to understand our market, prepare well with our unique positioning, understand our competitions with the limited resources we have. Whole marketing effort may go waste if we go to market and cannot serve on time with best quality.

2.  Its best to collaborate than going solo.  We see a clear trend that from multi-parties contest, it is becoming 2 coalitions contest.  Politicians have realized that its difficult to win even a state election alone hence they do make gathbandhan (coalition) to share resources, get more local updates, organize gram-sabhas, reach out to people in smaller rallies, get votes of each other etc.

Takeaway:  I do see that there are way too many startups in some domains, like food delivery etc. If two or more startups are trying to solve almost same (or similar) problem than at times, its wise to merge or collaborate with someone to be ahead of many other startups. If not done than the chances are that startup may run out of cash.

3.  One may collaborate with past competition as well to beat bigger opponent. This was one of the main highlight as 2 bitter rivals came together. They together understood Bihar Janataa (public) like no-one else. It would not have been easy for 2 rivals to come together but it did happen and results are remarkable

Takeaway:  If your opponent is quite big than even for big companies, it is wise to merge or have joint-venture or get acquired. At one point of time, Ola, Taxiforsure and Uber were competing with each other but to sustain against Uber, Taxiforsure got acquired by Ola and it became bigger to compete with Uber.  Startups can never say never. Do a good competition analysis.

4. One needs to be hyper-local to succeed. Knowledge of locality/region is critical. People have their local/regional problems and they need them to be resolved for daily life. When someone is struggling to earn 100 Rs per day, he/she is ok if someone can just offer that much. It was a state election and people understand that someone from state who understands their basic needs, can help them better. BJP+ top management seemed to not listen to local/regional leaders somehow and lost key insights to ground realities.

Takeaway:  Startups need to offer their services within a small region first, make customers happy and keep growing steadily. Develop local leaders who has best knowledge of that territory. Make it hyper-local with terminologies, language, clothing style and blend in local culture to get connected. E.g. Its not easy to make a sale in a village while talking in English.

5. Study your opponents well. If possible, get their key person on your side.  JDU+ got hold of Prashant Kishor, the person, who strategized the election campaign for NDA during National election and now, he was sharing critical tips with JDU+ leaders. JDU+ knew how to tackle large rallies, social/print/digital media etc. JDU+ successfully used the slogan of 'Bihari Vs Bahari'.

Takeaway:  Try best to not loose your key person, co-founder, CTO or even a junior employee who can be potential asset. Same time, Do have clauses in contract and ensure that your employee should not start working for your direct competition. Keep an eye that where are they joining.

6.  Customize products/services as per market size and target segment. We have been seeing the trend that voters are able to make difference between National vs State vs Panchayat election. We do see contrast when voters choose one party in National election and another party in State or Panchayat elections. Caste, religion does have its influence in Bihar politics and JDU+ had realized it well. BJP+ did not seem to care for that as their few leaders spoke out of turn. Many Biharis work outside Bihar and they could not vote and JDU+ did succeed in influencing actual voters in Bihar. There was big hype on Social media but they were not going to vote.

Takeaway:  Its easy to start anything but difficult to sustain over time. Satrtups need to carefully understand customer base and keep refining it. We usually start thinking keeping large market but actually find that we cannot offer many variants of products or services hence its critical that we refine ourselves to address minimum viable customer base first.

7.  Be connected and have an edge over others.  Indian voters have been giving decisive mandate from last few elections. They have understood the adverse impact of hung assembly hence they want clear winner. People are more connected than ever due to social media, like, facebook, whatsapp, twitter and once they understand the X party has an edge, they vote to that party so that there is clear winner. We saw that BJP got more seats than expected during National Elections, AAP got more seats than expected in Delhi elections and now, JDU+ got more seats than expected in Bihar.

Takeaway:  As a product startup, you need to keep an edge over your competitors all the time. Try to sustain for longer time as many startups may fade away by the time ecosystem wakes up for your kind of offerings. What may become viral, one may not be able to predict. Out of 1000s of videos, something becomes viral and gets 1 Lakh+ hits in no time and it closes down rest all by big margin.

8.  I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep. People seem to have literally understood this quote and implemented it well. Its the Leader who is more important than the party. Ideology keep changing on the basis of who are the leaders in the party. JDU+ chose Nitish Ji as their unanimous leader much before elections while BJP+ could not select a name. BJP+ could have called for a meeting of all Bihari leaders before election and democratically selected one. After-all, It was a state election and state leader was more important than national leader. 

Takeaway:  I think that everyone knows it but its important to remind that CEO and core team is the one which takes startup (or a company) forward.

9.  Decentralize. Have local Leaders. People understand that giving absolute power to anyone can be detrimental hence they keep everyone in check. One party cannot depend too much on one leader as Democracy is about everyone's participation and giving chance for everyone to grow. Also, Star performers should make their presence felt few times and continue focus on bigger things.

Takeaway:  In a startups, one need to realize that when CEO needs to make a pitch and when anyone else can do it. If junior staff makes mistake, CEOs can correct it but what if CEO is directly exposed every time. A human, even if he/she is CEO, can do limited work, after-all there are only 24 hours in a day. Its important to decentralize and develop leadership to accomplish many things in parallel.

10.  Consistent messaging over time. JDU+ had a strategy and they stuck to it while BJP+ kept changing it. JDU+ hired 5000 cycles and went door to door with their 10 slogans and delivered consistent messaging to each villager, towner and urban folks.

Takeaway: We at StartUps, cannot do everything as we have limited resources hence need to focus on our unique offerings and keep sending that message again and again. It takes time to reach to many people and if you keep changing your offerings, users get confused.

Last but not least, Many Congratulations to Nitish Babu and Lalu Ji !! Bihar has given clear decisive mandate to you to lead from front and fulfill its aspirations and I hope you would do so.

Hariprakash Agrawal (Hari)
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