SaaS software for building social communities within neighbourhoods

Missing Communal Groups

I’ve been living in a Delhi Development Authority (DDA) neighbourhood for nearly 20 years now. Yet, apart from small groups there is hardly any “community” feeling among most residents. One of the key issue is that people do no know each other. There are few communal platforms for them to gather under. Such platforms are often restricted to a few festivals, which are also often limited to different religious or regional communities.

Politicizing of the Resident Welfare Associations

As with most of the country, the dirty politics has even vitiated the welfare associations. And voting is limited to a very small margin of members, and just like at the national level, inept and incompetent people get elected. And most often they have little / no community agenda but rather their own one-up-man-ship.

Decisions are often taken by suppose elected members of these RWAs which are often not aligned with the priorities of the community. Several such agenda is decided by the narrow viewpoints of the elected repsresentatives themselves.

Unlike the large number of populations at the national level, there is no reason why in communities of 500-5000 houses, in cities like Delhi, an online hosted software platform cannot be used for further community voices through direct suggestion and voting of the agenda that people wish to follow.

This software platform is inspired by this motive.

Features

Here are some features that this platform should have:

  1. Allow  members / elected representatives to raise “issues”
  2. Allow members to vote on issues raised by members / elected representatives
  3. Enable discussions around each “issue” under the same thread
  4. Log of expenditure under various heads for increasing transparency
  5. Issues being “worked upon” – conversion of up-for-voting issues to be converted to “Issues Undertaken”
  6. A profile of each resident, if they choose to disclose – for community development and engagement
  7. Allow residents to login using their Social Profiles such as LinkedIn or Facebook; and create their community profiles with specific talents or/and interests they feel they could offer their community members

Consulting Business for “Online Media Publishing Solutions”

I’m looking for a partner to help incubate a Consulting Business for Online Media Publishing Solutions. This may be a business covered under the Srijan brand, which would ensure that the business has a high chance of finding success within a short period of time, given the ecosystem and brand equity Srijan has already built.

Online Publish consulting business model
Online Publish consulting business model

NextDrop – Getting Reliable Information on Water Availability

NextDrop provides households with accurate and timely information about local piped water delivery, over cell phones already widely in use in India. This information comes from water utility employees who call our interactive voice response system when they open valves to distribute water. These reports are used to generate real-time water availability updates and notifications 30-60 minutes in advance of water delivery. In addition, NextDrop uses crowd-sourcing to verify the accuracy of utility reports and create a feedback loop, introducing much needed visibility for engineers in the water utility.

http://nextdrop.org/

Shareholders’ Agreement for an alternate business

Motivation/Reasons/Inspiration

Traditional Corporate model

  1. Businesses work hard for “increasing shareholder value” quarter after quarter with little care (perhaps face-value) for the environment and community they work in
  2. Shareholders are initial investors, who mostly have little/no contribution in running the day-to-day business, yet it is for them that all the mess in the corporate world exists – greed arising from measurements of company’s success based on profit increases quarter-on-quarter; else CEOs are booted out, and so on.
  3. Who are the shareholders? Mostly large investment firms who pay obscene amounts of money to their employees who risk people’s (tax payers’) money for increasing the wealth of the already wealthy
  4. A business’ goal is to increase its share-value – for an investment they made years ago, most-often through wealth that they did not create themselves (but perhaps inherited)
  5. Capitalism was invented to distribute wealth; and make it accessible to whoever was willing to take risk, and put in effort
  6. Now, effort/work/skills is de-linked from wealth-creation; worse there is often not even an equal opportunity for wealth creation by those who do not have much access

 

Stress between Employees and Employers

  1. Equity and ownership for employees is mostly left to offering ESOPs, which are also unpopular these days, specifically in India – where the laws are just-not as evolved as they are in the US
  2. Every business wants its employees to offer their 100% to the growth of the business
  3. While the enjoyment of the results of growth mostly lie with the promoters.
  4. Most often the promoters work the hardest – especially in small businesses – while employees can often take things as “another job”
  5. Those employees who take 100% ownership and responsibility and far few; and while they do tend to get rewarded, most often the rewards are not commensurate to their efforts
  6. Attitudes at both ends are problematic, dissatisfying and lead to slow-down in the pace of growth of a business
  7. For an employer/promoter it causes stress and a work-life imbalance, and most often dysfunctional lives in spite of the wealth created
  8. If everyone shared “equal responsibility” (in their own respective roles and functions), and rewards for such equal-ness could also be proportionately distributed, the complete dynamics of the running of a business could change
  9. A key principle in this whole equation is “transparency” (in finances and information access) and “fair yet strong methods of measuring accountability”

 

Resulting problems in society

  1. The larger impact of such concentration of wealth with a few, creates complete disparity in society and results in the ever-widening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”.
  2. The haves, further lobby and push government policy through often corrupt means to further maximise their opportunities for creation of wealth.
  3. Equal opportunities cease to exist; human self-expression and innate creativity (and meaning of life) takes a big hit, and eventually causes our social pathologies of rage, murder, rape, wars, and so on
  4. What we see in the Middle-East is at its core, just this inequality (in opportunity) erupting.

 

Successful business models that inspire

There are actually quite a few companies around the world who have created successful companies while make such partner models or even simply democratic models. Some examples:

  1. John Abraham has created a successful co-operative with his construction company in the USA
  2. Ricardo Semler has created deeply democratic structures at Semco in Brazil

An alternate business model

Learning from the Big 4

  1. It is possible to have an alternate model by copying the core ideas from the the biggest wealth-creation accounting and consulting firms such as KPMG, Deloitte, E&Y, PWC (Big Four), Accenture, others
  2. They have a model of “Partners”
  3. KPMG example:
    1. KPMG is registered as a co-operative in Switzerland
    2. All its country-specific arms are registered under laws of their respective countries mostly as Companies; KPMG India is a Pvt Ltd
    3. KPMG India has some few (perhaps less than 10) Senior Partners who are partners in the Swiss Co-operative
    4. Then there are Senior Partners in every practice, and region within India
    5. There are Junior Partners in every practice, and region within India
    6. Then there are employees
    7. The key difference between an “employee” and a “partner” is the amount of bonus a partner can make over an employee.
    8. As an example, an employee could only make 20% of bonuses, if the company did well, of their annual salary; however a junior partner could potentially make upto 80% (these are just example figures)
    9. Most partners, in spite of being partners, have really no say in any policy making or larger decisions covering the direction of the company – such as direction, M&A, or even how much profit sharing should be distributed.
    10. Financial information is not transparent and remunerations are likely to be extremely disparate
    11. Equal opportunities do not exist – because of the “political nature” (non-democratic) of their functioning

 

Fairness between Employees and Owners

  1. If a similar partner-model could be extended to creating all businesses, it seems, we could create a win-win between Employers and Employees certainly; and as a result of this a win-win-win between the Business, its Customers, and even the larger society it operates in.
  2. The legal structure in India now offers an LLP – a “limited liability partnership”, which allows promoters/partners to limit their liability in case of the failure of the company, while enjoying the ease of business of a partnership – which can be determined by the Shareholders agreement – which can be made just as they like – without any governance regulation imposed under the companies law. [This is to be verified].

Shareholders Agreement

The Good Food project

About 5 years ago, i had helped start-up a home-made tiffins business for the ‘help’ at my mom’s home — Puran. The first contract for about 10 tiffins + an evening snack came from Srijan (the company i promoted and run) via its employees who i enrolled into the idea of signing up for clean home-made food instead of the rather unhealthy Nehru Place food (Srijan was operating from Nehru Place then).

Puran got a loan of about Rs.30,000 from me for purchasing utensils, and tons of support from my mom — who had to manage her anxieties of him not being able to give attention to her home, but as usual we all loved Puran, and she gave in as well.

Over the course of next 2 years or so, Puran’s business flourished. With Fortis hospital being set up, resident doctors who stayed in Vasant Kunj started ordering not only their lunch but their dinner as well — in tiffins ofcourse — from Puran’s “Lakshmi Rasoi“. Each tiffin was priced at Rs.50/-, and his business scaled up to ‘100 tiffins a day’ — he had gladly told me.

I had always imagined this business to become a co-operative with more Purans joining the fray — and i had Kargil war widows of lower rank jawans, retired army cooks, in mind as potential candidates. However, life at Srijan had kept me super-busy, as usual, and the scaling of the business as a co-operative could not take off. Puran, meanwhile was bogged down with working 14 hours a day, as he did nearly everything himself, including delivery and payment collection — as the boy he had kept, he suspected was lying and stealing — tiffins went missing, payments were denied, and so on was the regular story. Given Puran’s success, a 4-5 more tiffins business sprouted in the same area where he operated from, and started eating into his margins.

Losses from theft, too much competition, and the toll of the stress took over Puran’s entrepreneurial zeal, and after about 3 years of starting this business, he decided to shut it down. Actually he handed his business and clients over for Rs.6000 per month to a competitor.

Puran evenutally got back into my mom’s home, and joined my father in helping him in his business. All good for him now, and he’s doing well. And happy.

But i am not! Argh! 🙂

The tiffins business — of supplying good hygienic food at economical prices — is unfinished business for me. While, i’ve had bouts of investing and running it like a proper ‘business‘ funded by me, my heart keeps tugging at me to make this a “co-operative” run by people at ‘bottom of the pyramid’. And i’d like to ‘volunteer’ my time on this business to offer leadership in sustaining the business for these ‘partner-suppliers‘ without ever a need to want to earn personally out of this. This would be ideal.

Let’s see when life allows this to happen again!

An alternate products portal

Inspiration
The central inspiration is to make available “alternate wellness products” to a large section of society. Mostly these products are manufactured in small women-self-help-groups, or my mom-pop shops, or small non-profits; even small companies; and some really large companies (such as Dabur, FabIndia, Patanjali Yog Peeth).

Giving access to markets in large cities in India to these small groups (and often with fantastic products) is the inspiration behind this portal. Ofcourse, we do not want to exclude larger brands, as they only help further the cause of large scale adoption and consumption of alternate products.

Nature of products
Ayurveda products by different brands; perishable and non-perishable organic foods; Bio-manures; Compost utilities; “difficult to find” books in various vernacular languages of India; “difficult to find” music from small and rural musicians and music companies; spiritual music and books;

Business Model
Either one can “source” and become the “supplier” of such products and run the portal; OR, one can enable suppliers to have their own shops setup in a common marketplace under one brand.

It is the latter that is the proposed business model for this portal.

We want to enable such organizations to use this portal to setup:

  1. their own online shops (www.alternateproducts.com/naturally-pahadi :: all products with categories under which “Naturally Pahadi” has products should get listed here)
  2. consolidate all products under categories in the larger portal brand (www.alternateproducts.com/drinks/rhododendron/naturally-pahadi/ :: this is a category based view, leading the buyer to click on the detail page of Rhododendron drink sold by “Naturally Pahadi”)

Promotion of the brand/portal would be the goal of this business; while the suppliers’ business will be to sell their products using this brand.

Writing articles around each of these products – collaboratively (by the community) – would be a central goal of this portal. The more organizations write, the more their products are found on Google, and the more they sell.

The portal will charge a commission on each sale; and assist buyers in ensuring that the Sellers have shipped the goods and completed the order.

Technology
Magento (commercial version) – seems to have this. If it is affordable – then buy and implement it. If it is too expensive, or features are unavailable, then there could be two routes. Build and enhance Drupal; OR build and enhance in Magento.

I imagine “SOLR generated product views” being used with Drupal 7, to “zip” the portal browsing experience, as has now been implemented at http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in by Vivek Puri). This ofcourse, if Drupal 7 is to be used; if Magento – then am not sure if this zipping is possible or no.

Extensive “Reporting” would be made available for “seller”, for their own-orders. Different set of Reporting would be available for “portal admins” to ensure that the Sellers are shipping their orders in time, etc.

Initially, we’ll use PayPal/CCAvenue for Merchant Banking.

Payments would have to be routed to Seller and a commission routed to Portal owners. As far as i know, this can be done only using AmazonFP. For this a company has to be registered in the US, to utilize this service. If so, a company can be registered easily in the US for this sole purpose.

Sales and Marketing
The biggest challenge will be to bring Sellers onto the portal. We will have online demos available, and bring non-profits to help setup shop on behalf of local suppliers. They would be the only ones who could have capacity to organize packaging and shipping of products.

Funding
If a prototype can be created and the concept demonstrated, this is a business aptly suited for funding by Aavishkar or Ennovent, and such similar “social  venture funds”. Rajneesh would be a great candidate for leading this portal as CEO, if we can get funding; and a great resource for helping acquire funding from these sources. Infact, with the sudden frenzy of E-Commerce companies suddenly getting funding the time for launching this product is ripe.