What’s been going on since my last broadcast?
The monsoon season has long past and the dry season is upon us. The reservoir is low and water supply timings have changed from once every 3 days to once every 4 days. Scheduled power outages and the number of tankers on the street have increased.
Our team has been tinkering away developing minor innovation improvements and executing them as soon as we can.
A few weeks ago there were local city elections. A large flux of people. An opportunity for us to market. We had recently developed some new tech to allow text messages to update our database. It gave us more control and visibility over our operations. And it was cool, this hack was updating our database so Melwyn didn’t have to do data entry anymore, this was in real time. The format was something like this:
“nd bill 9095242885 30”
Three days before the election we sat down and were interested to know how many people would reach out and tell us they want the NextDrop service. Initially, our experiment was to see how many people would text into our number something like, “nd new”. At this point we believed that people would tell us they wanted the service. They were telling us in other ways, referrals from other NextDrop users, catching our representatives while they were billing in their neighborhood. They just didn’t have an easy way to communicate with us.
The day before the election, I remember getting a call from Nishesh.
“Hey man, so we were discussing what’s going on tomorrow. Instead of the customers sending a text message, Anjana suggests we give a missed call.”
“That sounds great, let’s do it.”
“Do you want to talk to Devin about the tech?”
“No, he can handle it.”
Within 24 hours we had a missed call number and if you’ve never called the number before it would log you into our system and then send you a demo SMS immediately. The demo looks something like this:
“Demo: Water will arrive in your area in 30 to 60 minutes.”
We pushed marketing hard for those two days. Fliers, people on the field, and we were persistent when they told us we couldn’t be on the streets. The first positive feedbacks were people taking the fliers home and calling from their landlines. On those two days we had 14 people on the field pushing out this phone number and 80 people called in. Over the weekend, we had no one on the field. Five people called into our missed call number.
With additional marketing, this number has grown. Around 8 to 10 people call into the number daily, and we see spikes over the weekend, around 30 to 40. It completely changed how we acquire customers. Not everyone who calls in signs up for the service, they’ll say things like “What, I didn’t give a missed call? My children must have.” Some will not be interested after they find out it costs 10 Rs per month, but almost half provide their address information without hesitation.
This actually helped us out a lot, we were able to focus all of our time on delivery good content to people that would pay for the service.
As more and more people called in, some of them were calling from areas we didn’t provide service to. For the first time in Hubli, there was one single phone number residents could call into and consistently find out when they would receive clean drinking water. Each phone call questioned how well do we understand water in this specific area. We can tell you this this and this or we can’t tell you that. The market has spoken and we need to know water so well that we can tell you an hour before it’ll arrive and we need to know every time it comes. This is the future.
It’s an interesting exercise to think about if there was one phone number in the world to call if you needed to know when you’d get water. It’d be revealing to find out where people would call from. Now imagine a place where no one needs to call into this number. This is easy. Most suburbs and major cities in the United States, no one would call into this number. But for every place else, you’d probably get at least a few phone calls.
How did this all happen? How do you manage innovation? If its a process, then can it be observed, studied, stimulated and replicated? I don’t have a concise answer to these questions, I wish I did, and there isn’t a whole lot of documentation on the topic. But here is what we’ve found helpful so far.
- Focus on the largest opportunity at hand.
- Develop a culture engaged in knowledge work.
- Use the Customer Development Methodology.
- Learn Python.
- Read a lot.
- Exchange problems and solutions with other people doing similar work.
- Share your knowledge.