Exactly this time, this month, four years back, around 9 pm, I was in New York City on a business trip. After a long, dogged and rather unsuccessful day, I was finally on the way back to my apartment hotel. I disembarked the Subway at Grand Central Railway Station and began walking towards Murray Hills. A few minutes later, I came across a road sign placed outside a regular looking Deli. It said, ‘Open for Breakfast – served all day & night’.
I was taken aback. There was a man hanging around the door. I asked him, “Are you really serving breakfast now? It’s 9pm. I mean isn’t this dinner time?”
He sneered at me and in that typical New York accent said, “Maybe for you my friend. But this is New York City! If you feel like breakfast at 9 pm, we serve it. You want somethin’? We got it.”
I felt a bit insulted and walked on. But his words struck a deep cord inside me; enough for me to remember that incident often.
Today, I feel inspired to expand on that incident and use it as a springboard to jump into future and predict changes I see happening:
I see four major themes:
1. People and their habits will change magnificently
Perhaps in 2009, there was a steady supply of New Yorkers eating breakfast at 9 pm (‘coz that deli would have to stock fresh croissants, bagels, etc owing to the sign outside). In 2013, I see a dramatic shift in the habits of people.
For instance, have you figured out what time people (in India) sleep nowadays? Let me illustrate by a litmus test…errr… digital test I have conducted pretty often:
I get the most reactions (likes, comments, private messages and shares) on my facebook updates between 1145pm -1215am on weekdays! When I first realized this, I thought it was an aberration. But hundreds of posts and tweets later, I was convinced that midnight had become the new ‘prime time’ for India’s digital youth.
What does this mean for Entrepreneurs? LOTS!
Imagine digital agencies in India who could specialize in managing their clients’ communications across the vast social network expanse from 9:30 pm to 1:30 am. This would mean working in office at these amazing hours, serving India – not the US! Or imagine a content creation business that thrives on the imminent but sure death of TV (how many channels serve content at 12 am?) and creating an entire content bouquet served on smart phones that consumers can watch quietly?
Lesson? Beyond technology, platforms and the economy, people and their habits are going to change dramatically. It’s upto you to make that change a career opportunity!
2. Something for somebody. Everything for everybody.
The immediate future throws up lots of change. Traditionally (10 years back), 99% of people ate breakfast, lunch and dinner as their only meals. But look around you and check the eating habits of the young today!
You don’t have to be in New York at 9 pm in front of a deli that serves breakfast to know that consumption of everything (not just food) has now become completely fragmented today. As I like to put it, there is everything for everybody or something for somebody.
Sounds like Spiritual Voodoo? Well, look at your favorite App Store.
The Candy Crush game is the ‘everything for everybody’ example. But the ‘LA Traffic Mayhem’ game (Disclosure – it's a game my company made) is a ‘something for somebody’ example. The LA Traffic Mayhem game is not featured on any charts or ranks, but believe it or not, it generates over Rs. 25,000 a month via advertising revenues alone! If you are a hobbyist app maker, a couple of such apps could earn you enough pocket money to make your relatives working in State Bank of Tamanakadu & Hyperabad look like they were doing charity!
Lesson? Don't get fixated on building ‘big’ ideas that sweep the world. Do things that you enjoy. A small but loyal consumer audience will love and reward you for your efforts!!
3. There are NO RULES. None.
Forget the myriad apps, platforms and ideas that emerge on the web and app stores everyday - that seem to be doing “new and ground breaking” things.
Amazon Inc., a company that the world loves and respects, is valued at 140 Billion US$ (Sattar Hazaar Karoar Rupiya - repeat thrice to understand the gravity!). Now Amazon is a company that regularly makes zero or negative profits, yet remains the delight of Wall Street – the most punishing capital market in the world. This is the most bizarre example of valuation if you apply Wall Street Rules!
Metaphorically speaking, Amazon was the Deli I saw in New York that fateful night; Jeff Bezos was that ‘guy’ who spoke to me with that swagger and asked me politely to get lost and grow an imagination.
Your pet name may be Tunnu, Chimpee, Gullu or Lumbu; but the pet name of technology is ‘NoRules’. The greatest challenge in the next four years will be managing the ‘positive’ destruction that technology will wreck on companies and businesses (that are living in a fool’s paradise) - because there will be no rules to operate with. Example – no magazine (oops! this is a magazine that you are reading now!) or newspaper saw the potential (or danger) of digital tablets and how they would put the print business out of business.
Tablets operate without the ‘Rules’ of a printing press. They don't have ink, paper, supply chain or trucks to deliver their digital product. Their Tab content just ‘flies’ from one laptop to another. Or put more metaphysically, from one brain to another!
Lesson? Take all the rule books you have and burn them. Destroy the rules physically so that you don't follow them mentally. Then be free and start that Deli in New York. Or better still, be the next Jeff Bezos.
4. There will be place for everyone.
I laugh and my Marwari tummy wobbles when I read media abuses hurled at the Indian government which is proposing to let Walmart enter India under new amended FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) guidelines.
The illiterate junta who opposes this says, “Every small kiranawala will become extinct. Walmart will gobble them up... Small businessmen will suffer…”
If you have visited the hyper expensive cities of the world such as New York and San Francisco, you would have realized that there are more small cute shops (a la kirana shops) than you could ever count! These entrepreneurs sell food, polish nails, give you suntans and even read tarot cards to stay in business. And boy, they are flourishing. Oh, and if you missed the context – the USA is the founding country of Walmart :).
To me, the Deli in New York that sells breakfast is ‘cutting edge’. They have used circumstances, capital, place and opportunity to create a real business that thrives!! They have adapted and understood that if they sell what Walmart does not – they will win.
Yes, you got that right – Walmart does not sell breakfast at 9pm.
Lesson? Don't be afraid of big competition. They will only encourage you to innovate and leverage what you have or had forgotten. There will be place for everyone.
On second thoughts, instead of feeling insulted, I should have gone into that Deli at 9 pm and had my croissants, double shot cappuccino and tall orange juice. That ‘wrong’ meal at the ‘wrong’ time would have inspired me to learn a completely new lesson in entrepreneurship – that nothing is really wrong in life if you try it once!
Originally published as my column in the Special Anniversary (September) issue of the Entrepreneur magazine.
Read ALL my other articles published in Entrepreneur mag HERE.
i really loved this one. you have a story for every article!
this to me, is sheer writer's delight - the perfect full circle breakfast, lunch and dinner!
[yeah - that was aapki billi, aap hi ko meow!]
Exactly.. Every time I read Alok's post, I know that I'll get to read a new story.. Firstly, it's good to have stories. Secondly, it's better to share those stories. Lastly, it's the best to learn from those stories...
WOW ...... breakfast at 9 pm .... Mumbai mein vada pav ....... mind boggling ....... what a gift on Teachers Day from you Sir.
Thank You so much Sir
Your story is mouth watering. Awesome and enlightening.
Nice Article. Buy why be next someone? being first Me is more preffered.
this is awesome breakfast at midnight
I think the biggest takeaway for me from this Article is to do what you like. Lot of people are doing things that they are good at but may be they don't like. Instead of doing it the other way round. If you like something you will become good at something because you will only use positive energy. Well that's what I think.
May be this Deli Owner had a craving for Breakfast at 9 PM (Hey, who doesn't like a good Breakfast ?!?). I think it is/was a brilliant idea. All Day Breakfasts are actually very common in US. You will find them in all cities. I used to see them frequently in Pittsburgh where I did my Masters (CMU).
Lot of People in India join the E-Commerce race doing the same things that others are doing thinking they will do it better. Either they fail or get consolidated(that's good - they at least make money). But I think the real revolution in E Commerce space is yet to come. We as a country are yet to see it full potential. We have seen nothing yet. The amount of Ideas I hear with the circle(friends / business work people) I interact are mind boggling. Some are even outrageous. I think it will be great see the this space evolve and ideas and business we didn't even imagine come to fore.
Best Point of the Article - Don't be scared of Competitors. Take them head on. They raise you out of your slumber, keep you on your toes. Evolve the Industry for the better. Customer always benefits. Jo Dar Gaya Samjho Mar Gaya.
Alok, if this doesn't kick start a revolution, then perhaps nothing can. This was energetically brilliant !
Absolutely brilliant read!.:)
Alok, Aptly said..in this rapidly changing ecosystem around us...any rule which you create hardly last for some decent time frame hence better to live boundary less. Rules do limits us...the mere idea of no limits is exciting and pushes your creativity to greater heights