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Ashok Suppiah

How do I get the Timing of my Product Launch right?

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

The biographies of every successful entrepreneur will throw up one recurring theme, and that’s timing. From Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to Jeff Bezos, all will mention their immaculate timing when bringing their products to the marketplace. But for every successful business, there are those who fail to capture the zeitgeist, with innovative, revolutionary products and services that don’t appeal to the public at that precise moment in time. Sometimes they are behind the curve but often they are visionaries, seeing something others just can’t see, yet.

In the late ‘90s, I worked with an exciting American start-up called Decorwala. Their concept was to provide an interior design service for those undertaking home renovations, but in a virtual marketplace. By supplying your room dimensions, you could choose your furniture, wall and floor coverings, and lighting, all from multiple suppliers, and try them out together, in your own virtual environment. The items could then be ordered in one place and delivered directly to you from the individual manufacturers.

The concept was revolutionary, bringing multiple products and vendors together in one marketplace made so much sense, and I loved the idea, becoming a seed investor in the business. I also advised on the design of the product helping them launch the pilot. If this method of shopping sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Sadly, Decorwala didn’t capture the imagination of the consumer, and it wasn’t until Amazon launched its online marketplace after 2000 that this powerful method of selling really took off. Decorwala were ahead of the curve in concept and execution.

History is littered with near misses. As the leading phone manufacturer at the time, Nokia famously brought the first smartphone to the market in 2006 with modest sales. However, when Apple launched the iPhone is 2007, it captured the imagination of the public, revolutionising the market. Back in 1973, Xerox built the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) for their desktop, but it was only in 1979 after they shared their vision with a young Steve Jobs that the concept was embraced by Apple to create the Macintosh operating system.

Getting the timing right is not just about luck. One way of gauging whether your innovative product is likely to hit the timing sweet spot, is by reviewing the Gartner Technology Hype Cycle. For the digital market, Gartner produce an annual report ranking the progress of technologies on their patented Hype Curve. This gives a clue as to the perceived market readiness for your product or service.

It’s also worth mentioning that if at first you don’t succeed, don’t bin your product. Being ahead of the curve doesn’t mean you can’t retry the market at a later stage.

Bringing innovation to the market needs:

  • An understanding of your market and a knowledge of competitors products and services
  • Insight gained from research and advisory organisations like Gartner and McKinsey
  • Patience, perseverance and belief in your product, to re-try the market at a later stage
  • A little good fortune!

About the Author

Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services.  He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.

How do I compete with more established brands? Ashok talks to Sahil Verma about The Cookaway.

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

Perception can make or break a business, and in a year where reaching your potential client base has never been harder, the impression you create online with your website and across social media platforms is critical to the success of your product or business. You may start small, but there is no reason to think small, and embracing high production values with your marketing material and web content shows care, attention to detail, and importantly, demonstrates the credentials of an established and successful brand that customers want to buy from.

A business that has done this so successfully is The Cookaway.  After running a successful cookery school for over 10 years, my dear friends, Sahil and Nidhi Verma decided to launch a recipe-in-a-box business with a twist. Rather than following in the footsteps of Hello Fresh, Mindful Chef or Gousto, they created a chef-based, global cuisine recipe box offering with YouTube instruction videos. They concentrated on quality ingredients, eco friendly packaging and highly curated instructions that turned a recipe box into an engaging, shared experience. 

As Sahil Verma says “Our focus from the beginning has been to offer our customers an elevated experience across each and every touchpoint including the overall website experience, engagement on digital channels, no-subscription offering, product quality and range and customer service, to name a few. It’s a tall order to achieve all this for a young start up but we believe this is the only way one can build a sustainable brand with a loyal following that doesn’t need to be tied into a subscription.” 

To support their young enterprise, my wife and I decided to invest in their friends & family round of funding. In the early days, I advised them on choosing the right technology platform, ensuring their systems provided the functionality they required, at a price they could afford, and could be easily scaled as the business grew. In addition to offering business and entrepreneurial insight, it was a delight to try their prototype cook at home boxes. From advice on packaging, quality of ingredients to critiquing the boxes used for delivery, my wife and I worked closely with Nidhi and Sahil who proved to be inspirational entrepreneurs. Sahil was kind enough to say, “Ashok has been pivotal in helping us with our digital strategy both in terms of setting up an agile infrastructure as well as the softer design and UX elements. His experience working with start-ups is invaluable and he’s a great mentor, friend and sounding board to have on the team.”

By recruiting professional, high profile chefs for each of the global cuisines they offer, and using their cookery school knowhow, they opened their market to online cook-alongs. During the pandemic, they saw an opportunity for businesses to reach out to employees with corporate, remote cook-along events, adding yet another USP to this brand as it pivoted to B2B. This entirely new spin on corporate hospitality, offers groups of colleagues cook at home boxes with chef-led virtual gatherings. 

Recruiting chefs from different world cuisines immediately elevated The Cookaway, with the virtual gatherings providing the social aspect missing from other recipe boxes, something which resonated with customers during the last year. The social aspect and the global nature of the cuisine brought depth and breadth to the brand while disrupting the existing recipe box market. A decision not to use the subscription model also set The Cookaway apart from their competitors.

The Cookaway ticks many of the boxes required for success. In emulating their model try to:

  • Use association with other successful brands to hitch a ride on their wave of success
  • Ensure an excellent product – high quality, ethically sourced and packaged
  • Gain support from friendly investors, building collaborative relationships
  • Build a sound technology infrastructure providing flexibility and scalability
  • Be creative about the ways to market your product
  • Respond to changes in your market with agility and speed

The Cookaway is a small business with big ideas, and it’s leaving the established brands behind.

About the Author

Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services.  He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.

What does it take to scale up your start-up to a US$2Billion company?

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

I’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of thinking big when starting your business but visualising what big looks like from day one, envisaging your dream and developing a strategy to get there, is key to achieving the growth required to turn your start-up into a billion-dollar company. In my experience businesses that grow from small businesses into global corporations excel in four main areas: Culture, Innovation, People and Ambition. I’m going to use my time at Virtusa to demonstrate why these characteristics are important, and how, when brought together, they shape the future success of any business.

Founded in 1995, our strategy at Virtusa was to provide technology services to US companies to accelerate innovation at an affordable level of investment. During our first 5 years we successfully built products for many Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and software companies, but as the company grew, we wanted to attract corporate clients, so capital was required to build a bigger enterprise team. In 2000 after a $13.5m Series A investment from Sigma Partners, we won our first enterprise client, Bank One. Citigroup and Bank of America followed, along with expansion to the UK and Europe. From 2005 we added BT, P&O, Deutsche Bank and AIG to our client list, with IPO (NASDAQ: VRTU) following in 2007. Having weathered the 2008 banking crisis, Virtusa grew from strength to strength expanding into various industries and markets and following the acquisition of Polaris in 2016, became one of the largest Technology Services companies in the world. 2020 saw revenue in excess of US$1.3 billion and net income at US$43 million. Virtusa was acquired for US$2 billion in February 2021 by Baring Private Equity Asia.

1. Culture

As employee number one with Virtusa, I was in a unique position to participate in the building of a strong, creative and open culture that put the customer first. This was extremely important to the founders, who while ensuring the financial metrics were sound, encouraged creativity amongst staff, to increase the variety and breadth of the services we offered. The organisation had a flat structure, engendering the values of a true meritocracy where endeavour and ideas were recognised and rewarded, building strong relationships between leaders and staff. The strong culture at Virtusa provided the foundation for growth needed to achieve the dreams of the founders.

2. Innovation

Or as I call it, the ‘Innovative Mindset’, the ability to apply cutting edge technology to everyday business problems. Kris Canekeratne, one of the founders, was an ambassador for bringing new technological capability to large enterprises, making this a key selling point for Virtusa, and critical to the rapid growth of the business. As Sanjeev Palihawadana, a former Vice President at Virtusa remembers “What stood out for me was the ability to consistently stay ahead of industry and tech trends. We were always talking about where the puck would be 2 to 3 years ahead and almost all the bets placed turned out to be spot on.”

We were an ideas factory, specialising in re-platforming, providing integration that could be used at scale, across multiple businesses. ‘Productication’ was a framework we invented to educate enterprises to replace duplicate systems with a single platform.

3. People

Investing in great people, training them, recognising their worth and making the success of the business their success, made a huge contribution to realising the dreams of the Virtusa founders. With only a small pool of skilled engineers in Sri Lanka at the time, I remember running weekend bootcamps, training between 30 and 40 graduate recruits from the local universities in object-oriented coding, then from Monday – Friday reverting to coding for the customers. That culture of training and support evolved and became endemic throughout every part of the business from sales to people management, to finance. With the focus always on expansion, hiring top talent was crucial, as was training and engagement to keep your best people within the organisation.

4. Ambition

Sustaining the ambition to grow your business can be a challenge after early successes. But if you had that dream from day 1 and developed your strategy accordingly, ambition will keep you going. With Culture, Innovation and People providing the basis of your success, keep a close eye on your financial indicators, using every metric available to you, mapping these onto your 3–5 year scale up plan to gauge progress. At Virtusa the Board had a vision with an ambitious plan, no corners were cut, and a program to re-invest profits paid off. Dammika Ganegama, a former Director says, “At Virtusa we were encouraged to think big and look at different business models, financial models and partnerships that would make all parties succeed.” Clayton Locke concurs, “As Managing Director for Virtusa UK, a key objective was expansion into EMEA. We opened our first office in Amsterdam and invested in a few key hires but success in the new geography was not a given.The decision to invest in regional expansion is one of ambition, confidence, timing and market analysis. Our timing was right, and the EMEA business proved to be an engine for growth and diversification within Virtusa.” This was great for staff who worked with high profile corporate clients, launching new services and businesses in a variety of sectors including financial and telecoms. Fulfilling that ambition through large but calculated risks with a series of funding rounds and mergers and acquisitions, and never giving up in the face of adversity, Virtusa grew to the US$2 billion business that was bought in February 2021.

Virtusa succeeded by focussing on:

  • Culture
  • Innovation
  • People
  • Ambition

And never letting go of the dream. It was my privilege to be a part of this fast-growing organisation and to learn from their inspirational leaders.

About the Author

Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services.  He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.

How do I find my First Paying Customer in Year 1?

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

In the first instance, most start-ups concentrate on their product design or service and leave the thorny task of finding customers further down the line, almost as an afterthought. But keeping a keen eye on your market from the outset can put you well ahead of the game. 

Remember, everyone you come across on your journey is a potential customer, as is everyone in your personal network, and these will be the people you approach for their help in testing your concept and validating your product design. Using rapid prototyping and launching quickly, provides you with customer feedback that will hone your product more quickly and efficiently than you could ever achieve with costly, time consuming iterations. 

My golden rule is to get customer validation as early in the product life cycle as possible, using customer feedback to achieve faster error correction and adapt to your market. People will also pay for a product that has other customers’ endorsement, this can be everything from likes and comments on your website to large enterprise endorsement for your corporate offering. Obtaining a paid pilot, with a friends & family customer, within six to nine months of starting your business is an ideal way to validate that customers are willing to pay for something you are building.

Working with Kevin Laracey at eDocs, a Boston-based start-up we launched back in the late ‘90s, we pioneered an electronic bill presentment solution for consumers. Until then all credit card statements were printed by bespoke fast printers, such as Xerox, churning out 2000 pages per minute. We reverse engineered the raw print file and extracted the statement data. Our model was to take this harvested data, create the credit card statements and email them to customers. Early prototypes and customer feedback demonstrated we could not ensure adequate data security via email delivery. So, we pivoted, developing a web portal where customers could login securely and view their statements online. We developed a model that is still being used by several financial institutions today, on the back of early customer validation. Kevin suggests, “The key to early customer validation is to listen to your prospects and adapt your solution if you see a trend of multiple prospects making the same sensible request. But also keep in mind that sometimes customers don’t know what they want, and sometimes their requests can send you down the wrong path. Liberally apply your judgment to discern what feedback from prospects has merit.”

With the second prototype, we demonstrated the product to American Express in Year 1 by simulating their statement data with their own brands. The stakeholders fell in love with the innovative concept and AMEX became a pilot customer. As we all know, winning an enterprise customer early in the start-up journey can make a big, in fact a huge difference to its success.

The rest is history, as they say, with AMEX, Toyota Cards, Telstra and BT on board as clients, we raised US$20M in venture capital and completely rebuilt and scaled the platform. eDocs was acquired by Siebel for US$115M in 2004 and remains part of the Oracle Financial Suite, and the lessons learnt have guided my path with subsequent projects. 

So, the key to finding your first paying customer is early customer validation. Customers typically buy on the basis of recommendation. The ability to engage customers from the beginning, listen to their early feedback and win their approval and buy-in, results in a growing network of referrals and early adopters. 

Ask Ashok: If you have any questions or comments about eDocs, customer validation or on any of the topics covered in my blogs, I’d love to hear from you.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

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How do I build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with little or no funding? Ashok talks to Paul Moorhead of Kraydel

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

This may be the question you are asking yourself, but is it the right one? Perhaps you should be asking, how do I bring my product to market sooner rather than later, while retaining as much equity as possible? 

An idea is just an idea until it gains form, function and fans. To that end, building a prototype to prove your concept works, to yourself and to potential investors, makes perfect sense. But it’s not the whole story. Prototyping can be a costly business, and as a start-up, you will want to keep those costs as low as possible. Look for where you can make savings, do as much of the work as you can yourself and try not to get sucked into costly iterations, call in favours, and ask for new ones. Use a virtual CTO or a tech partner who is willing to share the risk and the rewards. Using your own capital, or that of friends and family, as much as possible, will mean you can make your own decisions, and with friendly investors who are going to be wholly supportive of your plans, you won’t have to give away precious equity in your business. 

When I co-founded Kraydel in Northern Ireland, we used industry standard, cost-effective technology to build our prototype. I had long wanted to use tech to help the elderly stay safe in their own homes and using a Raspberry PI (at the time around £22) and a Bluetooth chest band commonly used in gyms, I built a rudimentary home monitoring device that would record heart rate patterns and provide analytics. I was introduced to Paul Moorhead, an ex Intel CTO, by old cycling buddies and discovered he had built a similar device for his elderly mother. Together we developed a blueprint for what would become Kraydel. With a grant from the Belfast Government, we hired a Mitra software engineer to build the MVP. We trialled the MVP with friends and family to prove the concept and gain customer validation. As Paul says, “You’re not going to get everything right, and it’s unlikely that the thing you want to build will turn out to be the thing that you need to build – so spend as little time and money as possible in exploring this.”

Timing is crucial, take your prototype to investors too early and you will find yourself giving away too much equity to secure funding. If you can wait until after you have an MVP and the all-important customer validation, you are in a far stronger negotiating position. Equity should be regarded as gold dust and protected as much as possible in the early days of your business. Paul concurs “You may be thinking ahead of the market and assume that they’ll get there, or you may be wrong about what people are willing to buy – but you can only find out which it is by building something – and if you spend all your money to get there, you’ll end up having to give a lot of equity away to fund the development cycle needed to correct your position.”

In the case of Kraydel, we didn’t initially understand the huge value of adding easy-to-use video-conferencing to the product, and of course we hadn’t foreseen Covid-19 and the massive shift to telehealth which made paired medical devices e.g., Pulse-Oximeters, compelling. By working with Mitra’s cost-effective offshore teams in the early years and focusing on features over infrastructure, we educated ourselves quickly, were able to showcase the product at Health Care and Age Tech events and became highly visible – far more so than would be usual for an early-stage company.

Kraydel is thriving and has since raised multiple rounds of funding and evolved their products to include communications via smart TV and automatic alerts based on environmental factors. Their systems are used by NHS trusts and care homes, as well as individuals.

So, my advice is to innovate cost effectively, assume that you’ll be throwing away your first prototype, seek funding from friends and family and where possible apply for government grants. Focus on showcasing the capabilities of the system and minimise the finer points, but remember your prototype is just that, and you will need time and funding to build your actual product. Work at gaining customer validation by testing your prototype with as many friendly adopters as possible and last, but most importantly, guard your equity jealously. 

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

Conversational AI is the Voice of the Future

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

When a child learns to speak, they do so through interaction with parents and siblings. They mimic the sounds they hear; they find associations with those sounds, they learn what responses they get, they pick up accents and slang, short cuts and alternatives; in short, they acquire the language they hear spoken around them. When technology learns language, it has always started from a different place. In the past chatbots have translated all sounds to text, stumbling over unexpected language or accents, making the whole experience frustrating and often futile. But this is changing, the technology is evolving, the bots are growing up. 

Contextual understanding and Natural Language Processing (NLP) are just two of the components we at Mitra have brought together to develop our Conversational AI platform. We have elevated the conversational experience, through technological innovation, providing an engaging, more ‘human’ communication experience. We have also unlocked many digital services for those who struggle with accessibility, for example the elderly or visually impaired. Our Conversational AI understands what the customer is requesting without sending them into cycles of doom, drawing information from APIs to enhance the customer experience. By learning as it goes along, following the conversation history, or ‘remembering’ what has gone before, it also avoids tedious repetition, making the whole experience not only effective but also effortless for the customer. 

Applications for this technology abound, and the benefits are far reaching. Virtual Agents increase voice enabled productivity by providing information efficiently or by speeding up issue resolution, thus increasing customer satisfaction and retention. Virtual Agents are always available, share learning and can be replicated as needed, thus ensuring much reduced waiting times for customers, especially at peak times. Conversational AI also liberates highly trained, valuable staff from repetitive work, making them available to perform more interesting, demanding and complex tasks, increasing employee satisfaction and reducing churn. 

As an entrepreneur I can see the far-ranging benefits to both business and customers. You don’t need to imagine a world where you can have a digitised conversation and be understood, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Echo Dot are examples of the technology working effectively today.  But as the bots grow up, these conversations evolve and become more complex, the responses more appropriate, the outcomes more fruitful, no matter how you choose to articulate your needs. Mitra is currently negotiating with a large healthcare provider in the United States and is partnering with several companies, pooling our innovative and entrepreneurial drive and our technical expertise, and sharing product platforms to create the Conversational AI solutions required for this major project. 

Of particular interest to me are the many applications in Healthcare, meaning the benefits of this technology can be enjoyed by many. In Healthcare scenarios, patients or clients are often stressed and dealing with situations and procedures outside of their comfort zone. It is therefore vital that the virtual agent has the maturity to take an initial call from a patient, pass them through security to authenticate their identity, and check their level of cover. It can then offer a choice of Hospitals and Consultants, make appointments, order tests and send out supporting documentation. This must all be achieved with ease, instilling confidence and calm in the patient. Conversational AI can also seamlessly integrate with Dynamedics, Mitra’s innovative, lowcode platform which helps organisations deliver remote, high quality, digital health and wellbeing services. 

Few technologies alone increase job satisfaction, reduce wait times and costs, speed up issue resolution, have algorithms that ‘learn on the job’ getting more efficient over time, and transform the user experience for the better. It is not a leap to say Conversational AI is a technological revolution and the voice of the future.

Stay safe.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

Dynamedics partners with The Suwodaya Program to help Communities across Sri Lanka

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

If the Covid-19 global pandemic has taught us anything it is how much we need our fellow humans. We are social creatures, at work and at play. We seek the company of others for comfort, for support, for fun, for achievement; to spark ideas and to share the load. 2020 has seen unprecedented isolation of individuals, families and workforces, and it is universally recognised that many have suffered as a result.

 I have long nurtured an interest in the health and wellbeing of my global team, from an academic as well as an empathetic viewpoint, so developing a platform that could enable remote consultations and assessments, and deliver digital wellbeing services for employees, was a project close to my heart.

With Dynamedics, Mitra used low-code technology allowing for rapid development of the required applications and workflows. Easy integration with existing systems also simplified the capture of comprehensive real time data. But it’s the analysis of that data, our alignment with clinical standards, and the ability to connect with third party systems and workflows that is at the heart of the system. Indeed, Mitra used Dynamedics to deliver a Covid-19 pre-screening tool for US based Plumb House, where daily data collection and analysis ensures employees or contractors are symptom free before entering a workplace, significantly reducing the risk of infections, and providing feedback for government and regulatory third parties.

In its simplest form, Dynamedics is a digital platform to measure the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. At Mitra, employees use an interface on their mobile phone to the Dynamedics platform, to answer daily and weekly questions, which are designed to flag health and wellbeing issues at an early stage. With many employees struggling with mental health due to isolation and fears around job security, the benefits of the daily survey are twofold. Employees assess their own mental health, receiving daily tips and expert reminders to help them self-manage their wellbeing, while managers can oversee their teams, providing support to employees if needed. Integrating with HR platforms and external specialists, we can refer employees beyond their team manager for health assessments with specialist consultants or refer them to testing centres or counsellors, and offer practical support with childcare providers, debt management services or specialist trainers; the possibilities are boundless.

 As an entrepreneur there is a profound sense of fulfilment when technology you have developed can be used to help people in your own community. The Suwodaya Program is a collaboration between Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a social regeneration and empowerment charity and the largest NGO in Sri Lanka, a team of senior medical professionals and of course Mitra Innovation. We are using Dynamedics to build a web-based questionnaire that is being rolled-out, initially to 10 districts, questioning between 2,000 and 5,000 people. The survey will seek to assess the health and wellbeing of those questioned and measure the impact that Covid-19 has had on their lives, including employment, social circumstances and mental health. A full analysis of the captured data will be undertaken by a team of medical professionals led by Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, with all resulting findings and recommendations published in a White Paper. The objective is to use this information to highlight particular needs within these communities and apply for funding to run programs addressing those needs.

 I feel a keen responsibility for the wellbeing of my team, people are what make Mitra special and our business successful. By investing the time and technical resources to listen to each and every person, and help them address concerns and issues, we will emerge from the challenges of the global pandemic a stronger and more connected workforce. And with The Suwodaya Program giving the communities across Sri Lanka a voice, we can gain real insight and craft better outcomes for our citizens.

 

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

foodie-mitra

Foodie – Delivering your favourite food and groceries to your doorstep, safely.

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

By definition, entrepreneurs build businesses, hire staff, develop corporate and financial structures and chase profitable growth. But in the best of us there is often a desire to share the rewards of our ideas, research, innovation and exploration, with our communities first and then further afield. We seek opportunities to make a difference, to empower and to enrich, particularly in times of strife. With Covid-19 seeing communities and businesses struggle through lockdowns and enforced closures, there has never been a better time for business leaders to come together to help support communities and reach out to small businesses and help them recover.

The simple act of shopping for food essentials has been disrupted forever by the pandemic. Enforced global lockdowns are headline news but the need to feed your family is personal. In many countries supermarkets and restaurants delivering food has been part of the retail landscape for years, but not in South East Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, where daily grocery shopping from independent stores and markets is commonplace, as is eating in local restaurants or collecting take out. Covid-19 has had a detrimental effect on many food vendors’ livelihoods, especially those in more remote cities and rural communities, where establishing a distribution network is not cost effective.

To this backdrop, Foodie was born. As an innovator, I strive to see the gap, the place where technology can be developed to fill a need. By ordering groceries online from local businesses and favourite meals from restaurants, in an easy, seamless way, some sense of normalcy and control can be returned to the individual, while also throwing small vendors a lifeline. Mitra used modern technologies like Flutter and Java Spring Boot to rapidly develop an app to bridge the gap between vendors and consumers. Vendors simply register their business and consumers download the app for seamless access to groceries stores and local restaurants. Goods are delivered to the door and payment made in the app or cash on delivery.

Initially we approached the banks to allow for seamless funding of purchases, but their inherent bureaucracy forced us to be more creative. So, we approached YouCAB, one of the largest taxi and vehicle hire services in Sri Lanka. Their passenger services had dried up during lockdown and they were looking for new revenue streams. We also approached Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara for investment capital. They have long invested in food-based enterprises and saw the project as an opportunity to help small vendors. They joined us as equity partners.

We worked with YouCAB to enhance their systems to integrate with, and support the new app, initially in Kandy and surrounds. Foodie is available free for consumers from the Appstore, and we took the decision not to make any charge to the small businesses and restaurants that register. This way we are helping to restore their link with existing customers and bring in new business, whilst delivering enhanced, and importantly safe, retail choices throughout Sri Lanka at zero cost. We chose to make Foodie a non-profit app in Sri Lanka from a strong sense of social responsibility, that desire to give something back that launched the project. Foodie has worked so well, we are keen to partner with innovators globally, starting with Indonesia, Bangladesh and South Africa.

Entrepreneurs gain so much by bringing their expertise to joint ventures, building strong working relationships and mutual respect with business leaders, whilst at the same time driving digital enablement. I believe collaborative empowerment and innovation are the keys to unlocking the challenges of a post Covid-19 world.
Thank you & stay safe.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

How to turn a great idea into a successful business – Part 3

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

Entrepreneurship would be easy if there was a science or formula for a start-up to become successful. Right? Unfortunately the formula doesn’t exist. However experience does tell me that many successful entrepreneurs and start-ups master three very important characteristics:

  • Commitment and team strength
  • Passion to innovate
  • Early market validation.

Last week I published two articles about ‘Commitment and Team Strength’ and ‘A Passion to Innovate’. This third article in the series is about ‘Early Market Validation.

Market first: Get market validation fast
All entrepreneurs believe they can sell their product or service. But the entrepreneurs who succeed are the ones who validate their offering amongst potential purchasers very early on. What they also validate is how they will sell their product or service.

At Mitra we cannot stress just how important this is and our advice to help achieve validation is as follows:

1.Take the Agile approach.

Agile helps to breakdown ideas into small manageable execution blocks, that lead to the creation of a planned roadmap, and a product which is built incrementally and fast.

Agile supports our belief that entrepreneurs should aim to take the prototype to market within 30-45 days. Especially in the tech world where people are innovating at breakneck speed.

Time to market is crucial for new ideas and Agile helps to keep the process moving incrementally whilst validating the concept early.

2.Find some early customers – even if it’s just for the pilot stage.

Finding a partner or potential customers can be very powerful to help validate an offering, not only in terms of obtaining reviews, improving the offering, and spreading the word, but also because it can help to raise funds.

3.Avoid running user feedback forums.

Instead, find some target users and observe how they use your prototype or product. Use the findings for further improvement.

4.The validation stage should never be about perfection.

Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of not launching their product or service until it’s perfect, but we believe perfection takes too long and could end up costing entrepreneurs their whole idea. It’s important to get the boat in the water, rather than miss it entirely. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that early adopters are usually happy to take risks using new products, especially if they feel they’ll have a part in forming the future make-up of the offering.

The timing of market entry is just as important as getting the project right.
If you’re a budding entrepreneur, we hope you’ve found this article useful.

Do you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Strive to be the one out of 10 startups that succeed.

This is the final article in the series. If you would like to read all three characteristics, contact Mitra for a copy of our complete publication titled ‘How to turn a great idea into a successful business: The important characteristics of an entrepreneur or start-up’.

Mitra for entrepreneurs

If you have a start-up that needs starting up, contact us today about the Mitra Start-Up Kit: an intensive three week programme that will help you transform your idea into everything you need to launch your business, and you’ll walk away with a fully-fledged business model, a product prototype, and a kick-ass investor pitch.

For further information please contact us at 0208 090 4121, or innovate@mitra.com.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group

Start_up_blog_2

How to turn a great idea into a successful business – Part 2

By Ashok Suppiah, Blogs

There is no science or formula for a start-up to become successful. However, experience shows that 10% of the entrepreneurs and start-ups that succeed master three very important characteristics:

  • Commitment and team strength
  • Passion to innovate
  • Early market validation.

Last week I posted an article about ‘Commitment and Team Strength’. This second article in the series is about ‘A Passion to Innovate’.

A Passion to innovate
Entrepreneurs have a passion for change and create products that are innovative and ‘right’ for the market, which also simplify or enrich people’s lives
At Mitra, we see various types of products and services innovation, however, not everyone gets it right first time. With reference to the technology world in particular we see three types of technology innovation amongst entrepreneurs:

1. Entrepreneurs with ideas which provide consumers with new ways of doing things.

For example:

  • We bank nowadays via mobile apps, rather than visiting the branches.
  • We watch entire series on Netflix in one sitting, rather than waiting for the TV to air new episodes each week.
  • We don’t call cab companies anymore, instead, we hail an Uber taxi on 4G.
  • When did you last read a printed dictionary? There’s no need when Google provides the answers.

Banking, watching TV, understanding the meaning of/how to spell words, and finding a taxi are not new activities, but tech entrepreneurs have made them seem new by making it possible for us to do things differently, more efficiently, perhaps safer even and without taking much time from our busy calendar.

2. Entrepreneurs disrupting old ideas, with better, new improved versions

Some entrepreneurs may not have the initial ideas, but their innovation, their drive, and their passion enables them to take old ideas (phones, shopping, holiday accommodation) and improve them to such an extent that they are now seen as innovative.
For example:

  • Apple did not invent Smartphones, but they’ve been innovative in the types of Smartphones they’ve launched and the way they have launched them.
  • Online shopping also existed long before Amazon did, but Amazon have managed to perfect it, especially with their offerings such as Amazon Prime next day delivery, or even Amazon Now delivery within an hour? (Who would ever have thought you could order something online and have it delivered to your door with 60 minutes on Boxing day?)
  • Holiday accommodation websites have been around for years too, but AirBnB have managed to launch a new version where everyday people can easily make some money by renting their homes out for mini breaks or holidays. This is an innovative approach which has certainly disrupted the traditional idea of booking cottages, holiday homes, or hotels on traditional travel sites.

3. Aggregators entrepreneurs who bundle individual services into much bigger offerings.

Some entrepreneurs may not have the initial ideas, but their innovation, their drive, and their passion enables them to take old ideas (phones, shopping, holiday accommodation) and improve them to such an extent that they are now seen as innovative.
For example:

  • Apple did not invent Smartphones, but they’ve been innovative in the types of Smartphones they’ve launched and the way they have launched them.
  • Online shopping also existed long before Amazon did, but Amazon have managed to perfect it, especially with their offerings such as Amazon Prime next day delivery, or even Amazon Now delivery within an hour? (Who would ever have thought you could order something online and have it delivered to your door with 60 minutes on Boxing day?)
  • Holiday accommodation websites have been around for years too, but AirBnB have managed to launch a new version where everyday people can easily make some money by renting their homes out for mini breaks or holidays. This is an innovative approach which has certainly disrupted the traditional idea of booking cottages, holiday homes, or hotels on traditional travel sites.

Aggregator entrepreneurs have a vision because they see the potential in a number of products or services and what can be achieved by bringing it all together. They focus on simplifying our purchasing process within a specific area.

Examples include:

  • Travel sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor have empowered consumers to make the right choices for travelling. Every hotel provides their own reservation system, but Booking.com has made it easier to book many hotels via one single app. It’s very elegant.
  • There are websites available where we can find childcare services or dog walking services in any location, with many recommendations, all from one place.
  • When shopping across the web, instead of simply looking at individual luxury clothing websites, we can now visit sites such as Net-a-porter.com where many products from luxury brands have been aggregated into one place and are available to buy.
  • For fans of Nando’s and Gourmet Burger, there’s no need to simply stick to an Indian or Chinese if you want your food delivered, as Deliveroo – a London start-up founded in 2013 – aims to deliver Nando’s and Gourmet Burger to your door within 40 minutes. (They also now support numerous other restaurants in the UK and few other countries.)

When it comes to product innovation, passionate and innovative entrepreneurs have a head start if they are constantly thinking of these five paramount questions:

  • Am I simplifying someone’s life?
  • Why would customers buy my product? Am I adding value?
  • Will they really ‘love’ my product?
  • Is the market ready or am I too early?
  • Can I raise the funds and assemble the right team?

They will be successful if their ideas are strong, powerful, innovative and focused on simplicity, solving peoples’ problems and improving lives.

If you’re a budding entrepreneur, we hope you’ve found this article useful.
Do you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Strive to be the one out of 10 startups that succeed.

The third and final article in this series ‘How to turn a great idea into a successful business: The important characteristics of an entrepreneur or start-up’ will be about a ‘Early Market Validation’.

If you would like to read all three characteristics please contact Mitra for a copy of our complete publication titled ‘How to turn a great idea into a successful business: The important characteristics of an entrepreneur or start-up’.

Mitra for entrepreneurs

If you have a start-up that needs starting up, contact us today about the Mitra Start-Up Kit: an intensive three week programme that will help you transform your idea into everything you need to launch your business, and you’ll walk away with a fully-fledged business model, a product prototype, and a kick-ass investor pitch.

For further information please contact us at 0208 090 4121, or innovate@mitra.com.

Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group