Vegetable 2.0

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 xoomly.com?  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:

“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.

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.

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.