A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with an entrepreneur who had built India's premier Cinema Experience (and had recently made a big exit). While we were talking about some of the ventures that were coming up, he made a statement in passing about how he wants to go the next level of ventures - that is, being transformational. That got me thinking as to what these levels were.
I realized, that you can categorize every service into levels.
|Divine||New World View|
|Transformational||Reliable Stepping Stone|
|Experential||Out of the Box|
There are things that are considered utility — we expect the government to run most of these and the quality we are looking for here is reliability. There are also other non-government services that come under utility — operating systems for example, or the tools we use. We expect them to be reliable, durable, and consistent.
Then there are the subtle services — things that I’d call premium commodities. We don’t pay much attention to the brand here, but it is subtle. The pitch here is quality — be it cooking oil (where the battle is waged in price differences of Re 1) or gas for eg. It is far more subtle in terms of its positioning, and the battles are fought in a matter of razor-thin advantages.
Then there are transactional services — take Ola, Uber, Amazon, etc — as much as these services talk about LTV (Life Time Value) and such, at the end of the day, their stickiness is only as good as their last service. If you ordered an iPhone and got a brick (even if they have the best brand), chances are low that you’d make a high order purchase from there again. The quality here is customer service. When you are making transactions, there is bound to be issues here and there, but how quickly they respond and smooth is over is where these services make a mark.
Then there are services that sell experiences. Take the case of Sathyam Cinemas or that five-star hotel, or that trip you took (in first class). These are often things that we wouldn’t do every day, it is an elevated experience from our baseline and offers a scintillating experience. The contrast between every day and the out-of-water is what makes the experience. If there is attention to detail and the audience is picked right, it makes for a pleasant outcome — everyone comes out smiling, absolutely justifying whatever it is that they spent (even if they went to watch a movie and were busy adding spice to their popcorn).
If you manage to get up to these, that’s more than enough to build a brand. But the theory is that you could go beyond that.
There are moments in a person’s life, where there are roads to choose, and most often, the obvious road is picked because one doesn’t have the means — either the time, the connections or the insights to take the road less traveled. Being that reliable stepping stone, in the inflection point of people’s lives and businesses — can yield transformational results. It could be an investor who takes bets on the talented but often passed talent, or it could be a company that hires talent from tier 2- 3 towns and grooms them to build world-class products. You are essentially providing a product or service, that elevates people’s game — and the outcome could be transformational. Unlike experience or even transactional services, the feeling that people often respond with is loyalty. They will be super forgiving if and when you screw up and will even be willing to be part of the solution.
The last is a service where people define the experience as being “divine”. In simple terms, it is when you come to achieve a new world view, where everything you had thought was true seems to find itself in doubt. It offers a new way of looking at the world and alters you as a person and business.
Unlike what you and I think of, when we hear the word “divine” (i.e. Godmen), Education is supposed to be this experience for most. Making a trip to the top of the Everest — or diving into the ocean next to a whale does it for some. It is often that moment where we see things from a different perspective.
The startup world calls this, as the reality distortion field.
There are a few times when the whole world gets to experience such moments together — putting a man on the moon and looking at earth from there, was one such moment. These are mostly individual experiences and wildly vary. It also has a side effect of producing “bhakti” (i.e. Devotion) — which has some unintended consequences and gets exploited often. Even science is a bit of a belief system in some sense where we measure what can be measured, we see what can be seen and then we believe in a lot that is yet to be found. If you watched the Bad Boy Billionaires on Netflix, the Sahara story fits this profile to a tee.
Perhaps this is a space that is a caution zone and one that for-profits should avoid, and be wary of those who tread here.
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