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

  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
  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

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

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
sure why not?)

But seriously, how many people really know all the India-specific
social bookmarking

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
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

  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
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.

6 thoughts on “Vegetable 2.0

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 ..


  5. @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?

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