Vikas on his experience at the “The Web Excellence Challenge”
I want to start off by saying hats off to Rafi and the team for taking up the Microsoft Indimix Design Challenge. What’s the big deal about it??? Its the first time that the Webby Award has come to India and well we won and we got to shake hands with Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft, and get the chance to attend the Webbys in New York on June 14th for an idea well presented.
The whole thing started with “let’s participate and see what turns out” and then when we were selected in the top 10 we said “let’s make the prototype, add few more ideas and hope that we get through to the finals”. We were sure there were lots of other smart teams in the competition. All said and done it did not come easy and we had burned the mid night oil several nights to polish up on our ideas. Well it turns out that we were one of those smart teams 🙂 .
Just a little recap before the entire Indimix episode. Rafi on his birthday came up with an idea that we should build an application for facebook which will allow users to send actual, physical gifts to their friends on their special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, etc., etc. Users will have a wish list wherein he keeps a list of things he desires. His friends can come in and buy those gifts and that will be delivered to him. His logic was that even if 1% of his 500 odd friends chose to gift him, he would have 5 more gifts than otherwise. We even thought that we would christen it as Zool Gifts. Now there is another story. Premjit bought a wireless headset from an online store to enjoy watching the IPL (Indian Premier League) in the night without disturbing his wife who goes to bed early. His experience while purchasing the product was not praiseworthy. The TV jack for the product was missing when delivered but he could still connect to the laptop. On the other hand he loved the product. He shared his reviews of the product with his colleagues and Bala, Srini and Saravanan also bought the same product. We never knew that these were going to be the foundation of our award winning story board. Our entire presentation actually revolved around these two seemingly insignificant experiences and that too surprisingly with indiatimes shopping itself.
And now back to Indimix. The news came one Friday (21st May 2010) evening to pack up our bags to be in Mumbai the following Friday (28th May 2010), as we were selected for the final pitch at Mumbai. We were now in the finals and then the thinking changed from “let’s give it a shot” to be “in it to win it.” Everybody remembers the first person who landed on the moon. But how many of us remember the second person? These were the words Rafi used to encourage and motivate us because our selection for the final pitch wrecked the hell on our nerves (atleast mine) especially because I honestly couldn’t remember the name of the second person who landed on the moon. I must also thank my friends who helped me with words of encouragement to hold my nerves, who said that your hard work will speak for itself.
We got down to preparing the final pitch presentation and the practiced a few dry runs with our team till late into Wednesday night. We got pointers from the team on where we needed to improve and work on our coordination etc. Guys! You are the best audience any day. So it was decided that Rafi and I would go to Mumbai to make the presentation as we had worked closely on the project and were best suited to represent the ideas.
So we landed up in Mumbai and made some changes at the last minute to get the flow right, went through the presentation a couple of times where we stumbled, fumbled, crumbled, went blank a couple of time and even got distracted even at the drop of a pin as we raced against the 8 min clock (as per the presentation rule only 8 mins are allocated and there would be a hard stop after 9 mins irrespective of the state of presentation’s completeness). Thought a good sleep can calm me down. Did I get the good sleep? Naah!! I was sleepless, and I don’t know how many times I rehearsed the presentation in my mind before the few hours I finally dozed off. And for the first time Rafi was awake before the wake-up alarm rang. He should definitely get an award for that 🙂
Finally the day came, 28th May 2010. It started on a very good note with motivational wishes like –
“Have a very good and lucky day. My intuition says you will win and come”, “Win and come, otherwise don’t come” (of course Saravanan didn’t sound like he was joking) from some of our coolest friends. Thanks guys for following us on the live stream and SMSing us throughout the event – before and after, telling us that we had done a good job.
We went on stage to setup our presentation and check if everything was in order. When we sat back to think through our last strategies, the only thing on our mind was what Joey (from Friends – the One with Joey’s New Brain), where Jessica says the essence of the character is rooted in the confidence…. then you feel like you own the room. So I tried to play that part, got out of the auditorium but came back slithering in as my mind was still pre-occupied. So Rafi and Bala, asked me to get out – and walk in like I really OWN the room. I put on the jacket, which gave me the warmth that I needed in the below freezing Taj Lands End’s Grand Ball Room. I guess, when you believe in yourself that you are there because you are meant to be, then it’s easy to face up and take it on.
The event started and it was time for us to get on stage. I have had my fair share of being on stage playing guitar with my brothers and friends on concerts in front of huge crowds. I knew for certain that if we get the right tempo we can create magic else we are just another set of wannabes trying to get music out of metals, woods and electronics.
Back to the presentation, at the last minute we were informed that we had to say an intro brief about the project in 30 seconds before actually starting the presentation. That was something new and we weren’t prepared for it, but thought we would take it as we go. While we were lost in that thought, Rajeev Makhani (who hosts Net 3.0 and Gadget Guru on NDTV) went “and the first team is Zool”. Wow… The last thing I remember thinking was to just get up there onstage, support Rafi and see what comes. The esteemed panel of judges included Eric Shaffer (CEO – Human Factors International), Pradeep Srivastava (CMO – Idea Cellular), Rishi Khiani (CEO – Times Internet Limited) and Vikram Chandra (CEO – NDTV).
Rafi was asked by Rajeev if he felt confident and he went, “No”, then quickly said a loud “Yes” and that set the tempo, his confidence took over. Everything went smooth and as rehearsed. The presentation spoke for itself, it presented out Story Board and gave insights into the breadth and depth of our understanding of both Design, Retail Scenarios and Technology Challenges. By the end of the presentation I was very happy to hear the response and applause of the audience there. Thanks to all who liked our presentation and applauded for us, Love you Mumbai!!!
Then the Q&A round came and there too Rafi was quick on his feet and his witty self showed its colors. When Dr. Eric asked, why would I want to share my shopping details with my Dad who is on my facebook. Rafi quipped “What are you buying? ” with a smile. Never be aggressive or rude he had always told me, but be sharp and sensitive. Here’s another one, why would you want your friends on your banking site. “Well – that would make it easy for you to borrow money’, he replied without blinking an eyelid. Well, that surely broke the ice and got the crowd laughing and applauding even more. Even Dr. Eric who we thought was the Simon Cowell of this jury softened with a smile and said “That was a good one”. Some technical questions and again all were well answered and received. So the 8 minutes that stood in our way to win this Challenge was now over. What a relief!!! We had presented our idea and it was well received, by the judges, the audience and even our fellow competitors who stepped up to say “Good Job, Guys – you have nailed this category”.
Next up was “Sapient “. Their presentation and prototype clearly showed that they have worked hard and congratulations to them for making it to the finals, but somewhere they fell short and it showed in the Q&A and we surely had the trophy in the bag and we were confident all over again. “We now owned the stage” 🙂
Key take-away for me from the Indimix – “Intelligence is important to get you on stage, but knowledge and wits can get you through that extra mile.”
And ofcourse special thanks to our dear friend Bala for flying down to Mumbai just to support us. It was really good to have you there knowing that even if we completely messed-up our presentation we would have had atleast one guy who would have clapped for us. That helped our nervous systems a lot. Thanks mate!
Here we were seated in the front row, with some of the most esteemed members of the industry who were waiting for a chance to go up and meet Steve Ballmer after his, as always electrifying talk as he was talking about User Experience strategy, the wave of opportunities and creating new experience. We love that guy, he is a fellow Arian. (Rafi and I are both Arians and we get along well –we are guessing Mr. Ballmer’s blood group too might even be O+ve 🙂 )
When the time for the awards came, Rajiv was back on stage, and he did what every anchor does, take that big pause – and to us all the letters in the alphabet didn’t matter at that time, except Z – Z for Zool and when he finally said it, we were by his side, at the wink of an eye. Steve Ballmer shook our hands as he gave us the award and whispered a very heartfelt “Congratulations”. We quickly posed for the cameras and came jumping off the stage. That’s the last I can remember of what happened, so I’m going to stop here for now. We were back to Bangalore the same night, overjoyed, thrilled, elated and feeling rather proud of ourselves.
Next we want to be shaking hands with Mr. Obama (that’s President Barrack Obama) and getting an award from him, if we have to top this achievement. 🙂 Finally, I am feeling sleepy now, so over and out!