Raj now provides some insight on his time with Epinions, and then sets up the transition into the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program. We begin discussing the EIR program at a high level to prepare for more specific and detailed discussions.
SM: Was the move to Epinions the right move for you? RV: With Epinions I felt that I was part of starting something from the “ground up”, starting with the idea and business issues first. That is ideal because it was really what I wanted to try next, so it was a great fit. >>>
Design an end-to-end customer experience.
Designers tend to favor right brain thinking.
People’s perception of a brand is also very much about right brain thinking.
That is where magic takes place (or not). >>>
Here Raj details some of his lessons learned with @Home, and then discusses his transition to Epinions.com.
SM: How long did you work with @Home? RV: Well, about 3.5 years into my time with @Home, it was “grown” rather than “rapidly growing”. The merger with Excite was complete, and the 30-person company I’d joined now had over 3000 people. Along the way I’d learned that what I enjoyed most was having impact. It motivated me when I knew that what I did had an identifiable effect on what the company was trying to do. The sheer number of things now going on and the sheer number of people involved in the projects made it increasingly difficult for me to be as involved as I wanted to be. >>>
The answer to India’s growth may lie in a much tighter alliance between India and the US. These alliances will need to come from both industry and government and should be at the level of the reconstruction of Europe after the second world war. India has to do a great deal of catching up over the next twenty years. The growth cannot be just organic, but has to be well planned.
The US and India have a good fit in many respects. An example, the arrangement of large cities spread over large empty expanses is the same for India and the US. People now want to travel in hours and not days. You can now see in India a low cost air transportation infrastructure similar to the US. India is about to enter a major development phase in a scale unseen in the past. >>>
What is the next step for MicroFranchising?
First there is an enormous need for innovation in Design. There are a number examples of current projects designing specifically for the bottom of the pyramid: the $100 Laptop, Tata’s proposed $2000 car, AIDG products, or innovations out of the D-Lab at MIT, but there are endless needs for design to meet the specific needs of the poor and the conditions under which the products will need to operate. Some of this innovation can come from the poor themselves and they will need to be consulted on all such design.
There is also a great need for Middle Management. My personal belief is that while MicroFranchising should build off the systems and financial services of Microfinance institutions it should not target the same clientele. I think it will be the children of microcredit borrowers that have now been able to attend school that will be the target population to be employed as microfranchisees and the educated young adults from the city that are unemployed that should provide the middle management for the growing organizations. The poor will benefit most through employment under the franchisee and from decreased costs of essential products and services.
There is also need for MicroFranchise Accelerator or Incubator organizations similar to what Unitus is doing for promising microfinance institutions. One group of people that can fill this need is the growing population of baby boomers in the United States who are reaching retirement with vast amounts of expertise and wealth as well as vitality and good health not enjoyed by previous generations. In general, I think there is a growing trend of people who have been personally successful in western capitalism yet are unfulfilled and want to make a greater impact in the world. MicroFranchising is one way such individuals can use their skills and expertise do something that can change the world.
My hope is that MicroFranchising will remain true to its social mission while also being able to grow across sectors and across countries to help millions of people help themselves out of poverty.
In Bombay I saw several signs of progress that may point towards a future India. The housing projects in Powai (Hiranandani Gardens) was well rationalized. This massive complex offers attractive housing, well laid out streets, ample parking, with dedicated green areas and local shops within walking distance. The campus is made up of more than 20 buildings. The domestic airport in Mumbai is another example of progress. It is operated by a private firm (at least partly) and functions efficiently. >>>
Like many PhD students, Raj left prior to completing the degree because he found a passion to pursue. In this case, that was the Internet. His first venture was with @Home, the company striving to bring hi-speed broadband internet access to residential areas. Raj details some of that experience, including some key differences between the academic and business environments he faced. >>>
While the concept of microfranchising sounds simple and exciting, and successful models are starting to emerge, there are endless opportunities for research in methodology and impact evaluation. One university that is dedicating specific resources to researching the field of microfranchising is Brigham Young University in Utah. Their business school houses a Center for Economic Self-Reliance which conducts research with partnering organizations to help families become economically self-reliant. They have a specific MicroFranchising Initiative and have published a series entitled “Where There Are No Jobs” which consist of handbooks for business training of microentrepreneurs and case studies of microfranchises.
They are also sponsoring the publication of a new book that is currently coming off the presses called, MicroFranchising: Creating Wealth at the Bottom of the Pyramid authored by Jason Fairbourne, Stephen Gibson, and W. Gibb Dyer. My copy is yet to arrive but I look forward to reading their outlook and forecast of the movement.
I am personally aware of a number of organizations that are experimenting with the concept and hopefully integrate monitoring and evaluation into their models to help all of us learn from their experiences.
In the last Post: My forecast of immediate needs