We started building Banihal in 2012 and in the very first meeting at a top tier VC on Sand Hill Road, I was asked “What is the unique story for the user?”.
I replied with our strategic advantage and the investor cringed in his chair. This feedback stood frozen in my mind till last
week when I was meeting R Balki, the legendary ad man of India and Chairman of Mullen Lowe Lintas. We were chatting about why the company was named Banihal and while brainstorming on ideas to broaden the reach for Banihal, he said the story about Banihal’s name is something we should have Kareena and Arjun from the movie “Ki and Ka” talk about.
Till that point I had been criticized for naming a company that finds the perfect life partner as “Banihal” and not something familiar with our competition so that we are easily understood. It was a master story teller recognizing an opportunity which others saw as a flaw. I encourage you to go see “Ki and Ka” and focus on what the core story is and how it is presented to the audience.
Entrepreneurs are product people and rarely good at communication. Google was a good product and Facebook and twitter were also good products and that’s all that matters. Your user does not use the story so why spend scarce resources on it.
The common objective of product and storytelling is “changing the world”. To have a product and story feed on each other is a lollapalooza.
More than half the patients in the 1800s that underwent major surgeries died because of sepsis or infections. In 1860s, an Edinburgh surgeon Joseph Lister perfected the use of carbolic acid for disinfecting the operation instruments and surgeons to reduce death of the patients. He published his finding in 1867 in The Lancet about his antiseptic method.
Even after 2 decades the surgeons in the major hospitals were rarely washing hands and still wearing coats from prior operations. The value proposition of this new method was that the patient’s life would be saved and it would be easier to get paid for the surgeon. One would think that this idea should have spread rapidly because it saved human lives and was cheap to implement. However at this time the germ theory on which it was based was thought of as illogical just like Darwin’s theory about evolution was when it was proposed. As an entrepreneur you might be attacking big problems with good results but the ideas are still stalled.
Consider how changing the narrative can change perceptions very quickly. Bill Bernbach the founder of the ad agency DDB won the account for Volkswagen in the US. Selling a car from Nazi Germany with the recent memory of World War II was an uphill battle. The Beetle was a small car coming to the US market where everything big is good is a philosophical belief. Big cars, Big organizations, Big meals, Big opportunity, Big ambitions. DDB decided to tell the truth that Beetle was a small, noisy and ugly car but it was reliable and well made.
DDB did the “Think Small” campaign and turned around the fortunes for Volkswagen and making Beetle one of the most successful cars in history. DDB told the true story of Beetle in a fun and witty way with lines like
“After we paint the car, we paint the paint”.
At Banihal we have a neuroscience based recommendation engine for finding the perfect life partner. Any user who hears about Banihal for the first time, makes a decision about whether Banihal is a dating site for youngsters or it is a matrimonial site for parents to find matches, we are neither. We help individuals make the decision of finding the perfect partner like Kia and Kabir in “Ki and Ka” by making that introduction. We focus on 25-30 year professionals who are well educated and successful in their careers.
These individuals would not be on dating sites or matrimonial sites but rather would use something like Google to answer this question and keep them in control of building a fulfilling family life. Banihal is the Google for partner search for individuals. To communicate this we need to work on our storytelling just like the VC had asked me when starting out. This is a problem that the product cannot fix. When looking at your startup think about the problem you have to fix and if product or storytelling is the right tool to address it.
Entrepreneurs should understand what makes John Lasseter and R Balki great story tellers, the same way they should understand what makes Sequoia and Accel great investors. For those getting started, Warren Buffett has this to say –
‘You can hold a rock concert, and that’s OK. And you can hold a ballet, and that’s OK. Just don’t hold a rock concert and advertise it as a ballet.’
[Guest article by Ishdeep, CEO of Banihal.com]
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