Vegetable 2.0

5 minute read

Note: I no longer work with IonLab since Nov 12 of 2009.

The other day, mom was telling me why she has completely switched from the traditional neighbourhood HOPCOMS (Horticultural Produce Cooperative Marketing Societies) outlet to the fresh@ store to buy the vegetables. I got curious and asked to explain. She mentioned several points:

  1. HOPCOMS doesn't allow the customer to choose the vegetables/fruits, they can't pick the good ones. fresh@ allows it and this ensures quality.
  2. A minimum quantity of 250gm is imposed at HOPCOMS, but no such thing at fresh@.
  3. fresh@ is open from 7am-11pm compared to HOPCOMS which is open for 8 hours and is closed during the afternoon.
  4. fresh@ provides all kinds of items, like milk, curds, rice compared to going to HOPCOMS, neighbourhood shop i.e. different places for these items.
  5. fresh@ provides separate covers for each item whereas HOPCOMS requires customers to carry their own bags.
  6. fresh@ stores perishable food in the freezer whereas HOPCOMS keeps it in the open.
  7. fresh@ has a much better ambience and a more friendly environment (don't underestimate this)
  8. They have many offers and a points systems - this is not important according to mom, but if you're anyway going to buy from fresh@, people are going to use it.
  9. Amazing thing is that the cost is not the differentiator!
  10. The important thing is that mom never intends to go back to the old way. If fresh@ goes poof one day, it is going to have a negative effect. This shows that fresh@ is really making a difference.

This brings me to the 2.0 part... consider how fresh@ takes a leap forward in bettering the customer's life. Compare that to the latest mumbo jumbo startups out there. Are they really adding value?

I think the first thing a wannabe-entrepreneur should consider is whether it is a must-have or a nice-to-have utility that they are creating.

I mean how many more photo sharing sites or video sharing sites do you really need? And how many more social networking sites?

(Well, on the other hand, if you can sell your me-too social networking site for Rs. 39.3 crore, sure why not?)

But seriously, how many people really know all the India-specific social bookmarking sites out there? Ever heard of Well, neither did I until just now. And I'm probably never going back again.

I don't mean to pick on only 'social' websites, but I feel many other hardware and software startups out there are solutions looking for a problem. (On a lighter note, a christmas tree that lights up when I connect it to my laptop via USB can be really handy).

As Paul Graham says:

Let me repeat that recipe: finding the problem intolerable and feeling it must be possible to solve it. Simple as it seems, that's the recipe for a lot of startup ideas.

I can say that this is true because of (yes, you know it was coming) our experience in ion.

In fact, in one of the interviews we have given, we were asked the question "Why a product like ion?", and we replied:

  1. "To scratch an itch." Vikram didn't want to spend money on the expensive official Apple iPod Charger, and being an electronics geek, he designed a circuit himself and started using it to charge his iPod.

  2. Then, we discussed about many people who are facing the same problem. For example, people who are not aware of the official charger (or don't want to purchase such an expensive one) even leave their computer switched on overnight just to charge their iPod! That's a lot of unnecessary wastage of electricity.

  3. There are many unbranded chargers available in the market, but it is sold on the condition that it may or may not work, and there is no assurance on the quality, or even that your iPod will be safe when using these chargers.

The charger that Vikram built was a perfect fit to solve all these problems, with reliability, and within a reasonable cost. We got together to take it to market.

The bad news is that ion ran out of stock sooner than we expected after the recent Economic Times article and we apologize for the several customers who wrote in to us asking when it'll be available. We're working on it and will update you all as soon as possible.

One customer said he desperately needed it before Christmas because he's going for a long vacation and he wants to be able to use his iPod during the trip.

It feels good to know that we are solving a real problem. It's not life-changing but it does meet Paul Graham's criteria.


Pramod Biligiri says:

Haha, nice analogy and good article.

But I'm actually for people trying out all those crazy ideas. You never know what the next big thing is going to be. And for every successful startup there are tons that fail.

bablu says:

hi nice analogy and good article

Prateek Dayal says:

Agree with all that you say about fresh .. but giving a packet for each vegetable is something that may or may not be good ...

Its a lot more plastic for the environment .. just wanted to say this as Nithya and I often keep talking about this ... fresh has certainly changed our lives too ..


Pramod Biligiri says:

From that NYT article:

"Doostang. Wufoo. Bliin. Thoof. Bebo. Meebo. Meemo. Kudit. Raketu. Etelos. Iyogi. Oyogi. Qoop. Fark. Kijiji. Zixxo. Zoogmo."

Oh my god! I actually know about wufoo, thoof, bebo, fark and meebo :( Kijiji? Oyogi? Qoop? :))
I just wanted to add that even I've stopped looking at web startups now. Fatigue and also none of them seem to be solving problems I face.

Swaroop says:

@Ram: Well, I see both. There are initiatives meant for Indians, but they are not really useful.

@Pramod: Crazy ideas? Yes. Old wine in umpteen new bottles? No. The kind of apps that is only appreciated by people who have unlimited bandwidth and have used computers since a decade? Please no.

@Prateek: That's just 1 point out of 9 advantages that fresh@ provides. If fresh@ starts to use recycled bags, then that'll meet the eco-friendliness aspect. But then, why pick on only them for eco-friendliness?

rAm says:

i agree.
to add to you point, i keep hearing people asking why there is no great product company out of India.
Look around, how many companies actually solve a problem/ a pain point or at least meet the PG criteria.

It's time we take a different outlook and start making our lives better (than the US countrymen lives).