Most people put in a lot of effort to complete their tasks. Some tasks or projects are their life’s work. Some people use their smarts to complete the same tasks or projects, though by different means. Technology is an enabler for these people. They also see collaboration with likeminded people and building a capable team so that they can ideate, innovate, and launch projects. Let us look at examples.
Story 1 – A Village that Works Smart, Stays Smart
We will start with the story of a village with hardworking people. This village was in the middle of nowhere. They would wake up in the morning, fetch water from the nearby pond, go to the fields to work, and then come back in the evening to their homes, eat their supper, and sleep. As days went by, the village pond began to dry up, and no amount of rainfall could fill it up enough for everyone.
The village council called for a meeting to discuss the issue. The village head announced that they need the lake water far away from the village at the base of a hill. They sent word to the villagers. Only two villagers, Amit and Sumit, showed up at the office. They said they would work hard for the benefit of the village. The council wrote the contract, and both the villagers signed.
Amit picked up a bucket, walked to the lake outside the village, filled the pots, and filled the pots in everyone’s home. He charged Rs.5 for a bucket of water, and he did that every day. No matter how hard he worked, the demands of the villagers did not seem to wane. Though he was happy with the amount of money earned, he was not happy because he was bored with the same routine. If he stopped, his income would stop. He sometimes woke his family up in the middle of the night and fetched water for his villagers despite the fear of wild animals’ attacks.
On the other hand, Sumit nowhere in the village, and the villagers lost hope of ever seeing him. However, one day, he came back with a few people carrying construction equipment. The workers dug and laid pipes that connected to every home fixed to a meter. They connected to the main pipe rigged to a generator.
They dipped the other end of the pipe in the lake water. Sumit spent his absence going to the city to rally support for his water project. He gathered enough funds and support from the government and private individuals to lay a pipe from the lake to the village. The villagers were happy to see water flowing into their homes, and it took less than 10% of the time than fetching water at half the cost.
By the way, the village also had no electricity. Sumit’s innovation brought water and helped electrify the village after the workers built a mini-turbine to generate electricity. While working hard is not an ordinary trait, working smart can do wonders for the community.
Story 2 – Video Streaming Idea Becomes a Blockbuster
This story is about how technology can bring entertainment to people’s smartphones and smart televisions. In the 90s, Blockbuster, a movie and video game rental service, was at its peak success in terms of the number of stores owned at 9,000 with 65 million customers. Valued at $3B at this time, it famously earned a big chunk of its revenue in late fees. A decade later, it filed for bankruptcy with almost a billion dollars in debt. What happened?
Sometime in the late 90s, a man rented a VHS tape from a Blockbuster store to enjoy a good movie. However, he felt he had an unpleasant customer experience. He had forgotten to give back the VHS he rented and soon raked up a late fee. The experience irked him because he wanted to control the experience.
At this time, DVD was an emerging technology. He mailed himself some DVDs to see if it reached him intact. After it did, this man, Reed Hastings, started a subscription service of movie DVDs. His company had a website where people would place orders on a rent-by-mail using a pay-per-rental model. The company later switched to a subscription-based model.
At the same time, the internet was getting popular, and Reed knew even DVD rentals would phase out, and fulfilling DVD orders by postal service was not a smart move anymore. Besides, his company directly competed with Blockbuster with this business model. Reed by then had a co-founder named Randolph, who was an experienced marketing director and entrepreneur.
Inspired by Amazon’s e-commerce model and Randolph’s seed money from the sale of his previous company, they named their company Netflix. They initially kept their distribution model of mail order on their website. However, they soon turned it into an online video service. The company started streaming content in 2007. However, their closest competitor Blockbuster still had an in-store rental service.
The company chose to go public in 2002, and they managed to rope in more than 200 million subscribers worldwide, through the power of the internet. The company has also adopted AI into its system. Subscribers get recommendations and suggestions based on what category or genre of content they watched. They also priced their subscriptions competitively. The highest end of the pricing pyramid is still less than a traditional cable subscription, despite raising its prices.
Blockbuster had a chance to buy Netflix earlier. However, their CEO declined the offer with a laugh. They also refused to start an online streaming service like Netflix, a smart move at that time. Netflix today is worth $35 Billion due to their conviction to work smart. Watch the story.
Story 3 – A Fresh Perspective to Customer Service
A tool to ensure excellent customer service being born due to lousy customer service is ironic, but a true story. This came true for Girish Mathrubootham, the founder of Freshworks, one of the most valuable software product companies from India.
Growing up, he had an inkling to learn programming languages and teach it to whoever was interested. His teaching experience also came in handy in mentoring other startups later in his entrepreneurial journey. This self-taught and self-made professional also went to the US for work.
In 2010 when he returned to India, he had a bad experience with a home moving company. Despite many emails and calls to the customer service department, he was unable to get proper service, infuriating him. He got a suitable resolution after he expressed his displeasure about the company’s customer service on Twitter, attracting the company’s attention. Companies must not let things escalate, and they need to be smart about dealing with customers, Girish thought.
He took inspiration from this incident to build a helpdesk. He even worked at Zoho for a while and made helpdesks for them. He took his love for creating helpdesks and started Freshworks, a helpdesk that many enterprises love today with a capable team in Chennai. Today’s product line includes a cloud-based call center, a multichannel customer support helpdesk, a CRM solution, and a cloud-based service desk.
When Zendesk raised its prices, Freshworks kept the price low, expanded, and roped in customers, directly competing with the helpdesk giant. In the early stages, Girish would also pitch at contests like Microsoft BizSpark and raise funds from the prize money. The startup also raised funds from CapitalG, Sequoia, Accel, among others, over the years. Freshworks also put in resources to make their customer service a delightful experience.
Being a poster child of the software-as-a-service (SAAS) space also gives him a unique position of advising upcoming startups. The company’s cloud-based suite is used by over 150,000 companies worldwide. While on the one hand, many companies seem to miss with regards to customer service, Girish and his team built Freshworks that offers smart customer service tools.