What I learned from working remotely with cross-cultural teams

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For about six years now, I’ve been working in a cross-cultural environment. Our teams are split across offices in India and the US, with the majority of our development efforts based out of India.

I work remotely out of New Delhi, whereas most of our India teams work from Chennai. To give you an idea of how far these two places are:

In this unique situation, I’ve had the opportunity to work with teams across different locations and time zones. These differences no longer come in the way of teamwork and collaboration. In fact, they ​help us evolve and adapt our own business apps to make this combination work – no matter where you are and what time zone you’re working in, you’re always connected and in sync with other people.

What could get in the way though, are cultural differences.

It’s usually good practice to mix people from different cultures. Everyone brings in their own cultural perspective to the table, and people get to learn from each other.

But it’s tricky for people from different cultures to work together, especially when they’re not all working at the same time, under the same roof.

Tricky, yes. Impossible, no.

Here are a few things that can make it possible: Read more

The Paradox Of Choice: What Do Jam, Apple & Zoho Have In Common?

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“There are now 9 different kinds of bread being sold at the store? I don’t like having so much choice in life. It’s frustrating!”

When my friend told me this, I thought he was crazy. How can too much choice ever be a bad thing?

Let’s explore.

The paradox of choice states that the more time you spend analyzing your choices, the less happy you are with them. We deal with this paradox everyday.

Psychologists have tried to understand this paradox more.

paradox-of-choiceThe Jam Analysis:

This was a popular experiment by Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University, in 1995. ​Professor Iyengar and her team set up a booth of Wilkin & Sons jam in a market. Every few hours they changed the number of varieties they put on display from 6 to 24 jams.

They found that about 60% of people sampled from the larger selection as compared to only 40% from the smaller selection.

But what about purchases? Only 3% of those who sampled the larger selection of jams made a purchase. In comparison, 30% of those who sampled from the smaller selection made a purchase.

For those interested, this New York Times article covers the research in some detail.

This paradox of choice is something the software industry has also been wrestling with for some time. Apple released a simplified version of its wireless router software that removed many of the advanced menu of choices that users found too confusing.

Another famous example is the “Off” option on the old Windows Vista. From the start menu there were a staggering nine different options to choose from. 2 icons, plus 7 menu items. 9 different options to shut down your computer? That’s bonkers!

Samsung is now on overdrive launching numerous tablets. Since the start of 2014, Samsung has announced 11 models of Android tablets. In addition, ​Samsung still sells 11 different tablets that they launched earlier. For those who haven’t lost count yet, that is a remarkable 22 tablets! I’m probably forgetting a few too. Just imagine how much stronger Samsung, ​and its vaunted support, would be if they focused on just a few products.

Looking internally, ​we at Zoho, too were guilty ​of overburdening and confusing our customers with numerous choices. Zoho projects used to have 8 different pricing plans broken down into monthly, quarterly, half yearly and yearly. That makes it 32, ​yes, 32, different pricing plans!

zprojects-old-pricingWe learned from our mistakes, and reduced the pricing plans down to a simple 4.

So, what’s the solution?

Here’s the thing: choice is useful only when it means something. Flooding consumers with hundreds of variations of the same basic concept, a la Samsung, simply causes confusion and dilutes the brand. There is no exact science that says you should limit your product offerings to 5 or 7 choices. More important is to offer choices that have some unique value in their own way and to make the ​decision-making process effortless and enjoyable.

Too often, products do not have a clear well-established value proposition. Consumers will always pay for what they find valuable. The key is in clearly establishing what the value of the product is.

A good example of this is the way in which Apple markets the iPhone. Their commercials show the product being used in a situation or use case, thus clearly establishing its value.

If you’re struggling with deciding how many choices to offer, a good practice to follow is continuous A/B testing. Launch your product or plan one at a time, gauge the response to it and make a decision accordingly. ​That way, you avoid overburdening your customers with too much, and you give them a simple option with a well-defined value proposition.

P.S: If you’re interested in learning more about the paradox of choice, here is a great TED talk by Barry Schwartz.

Intuit lobbies against small businesses

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With tax day behind us, small businesses across the country can finally move on to enjoying the warmth of spring. Unfortunately, the tax system has grown increasingly complex and burdensome for small businesses. According to a 2014 NSBA survey, more than 40% of businesses spend over 80 hours dealing with Federal Taxes. So, who is to blame for the pain small businesses endure year after year?

It’s not (entirely) the government’s fault

You can’t blame the federal government for not trying. However, past attempts by the federal government to simplify this nightmarish process have been futile. There has been no action on President Obama’s proposed legislation on return-free filing or pre-fill tax filings, where the IRS would compute your tax or pre-fill your tax forms based on the information already collected from employers, banks and other institutions.

The party pooper

As with any groundbreaking legislation, there is opposition and criticism. Some say that the already overly burdened IRS is not in a position to take on this monumental task. Others say that the complex US tax laws prohibit such a filing system. With any contentious legislation, it is always interesting and surprising to see who opposes seemingly obvious reform. In the case of return-free tax filing, one of the biggest opponents is the tax preparation software maker, Intuit. According to opensecrets.org, Intuit had paid several million dollars to stymie moves by the government to offer return-free filing. A Forbes story says Intuit had derailed the California’s free electronic filing program and was influential in putting to sleep a similar program at Virginia.

What is Intuit afraid of?

Intuit generates a major chunk of its $4 billion in revenue from sales of TurboTax, its popular tax preparation software package. Intuit certainly has a lot of reasons – over one billion of them - to keep the status quo. If there is a free alternative to Turbotax, Intuit’s ultimate revenue machine will be punctured.

Hey Intuit, leave the government alone

While offering tax preparation software solutions is not a core mission of the government, in this particular case its demanding citizens to comply with a complex tax code, and hence it’s obligated to offer all technological means to reduce this unwelcome burden. The idea of return free filing is not new; In fact, it’s prevalent in European countries like Denmark and Spain.

Resistance to changes in our tax system comes in many forms – no doubt it has been a political hot potato for decades. But, in the case of streamlining the arduous filing process for small businesses, the feet dragging is coming from big business – Intuit. We urge Intuit to allow the government to proceed with return free filing.

 

Zoho and the Heartbleed Vulnerability

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Quick note:
All Zoho servers are patched, and your data is safe.

The details:
Soon after the information about this vulnerability became known, we started patching all our servers using the newer, protected versions of OpenSSL. This operation was completed in a few hours after the news broke out. We renewed our SSL certificates too. So, we are no longer vulnerable.

As of now, we have no indication that the vulnerability has been exploited against any of the Zoho applications. However, we would like you to follow these safeguards.

1. Change your Zoho account passwords immediately.
2. To be doubly safe, enable Two Factor Authentication (TFA) for your accounts.

We will update this post, as and when we have more new info about the vulnerability.

Zoholics — Zoho Creator Hackathon

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developers-logo

Join us for the very first Zoho Creator Hackathon!

 

We’re kicking off our first Zoholics Developers event with a bang!
This will be an exclusive hackathon offered to our conference attendees before we meet up Thursday and Friday.
We are very excited for an occasion to celebrate the creative genius of Creator users, and there will be large prizes for the top three winners!

How do I start?  
If you haven’t already, register! Only conference attendees are eligible, and you can’t use an app that you made earlier.

What should I build?
We’re looking for new apps built with Zoho Creator that will be interesting to the community.

Submit your app:
Submit by sharing your apps with hackathon@zoholics.com by Thursday, March 20, 9am PDT. The Zoho Creator team will review all submissions and announce the winners at the event.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Questions?  hackathon@zoholics.com
-Team Zoho

Official terms and conditions are here.

Get the Most Out of Your SXSW Interactive Experience

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sxswi-2104Every year it’s the same. You spend months looking at the schedule, planning your every move and RSVPing to dozens of parties; then, like footsteps in sand at high tide, SXSW Interactive is gone, and with it, your chance at networking with some of the most influential people in the world.

Where did the time go? Did you make the most of your week? Are you coming home with relevant connections that will move you and your business forward in the coming months and years?

If you’ve been to SXSW Interactive in the past, you know the pandemonium that is about to ensue starting today and lasting through next week. If this is your first SXSW, get ready for one of the most unique, exciting and physically draining experiences of your life.

In its 27 years, SXSW has gone from a music conference with roughly 300 badge holders to a music, film and interactive festival with over 50,000 attendees. There are movie stars, rock stars and technology stars who have launched some of the most celebrated works of art and creative ideas of the last decade.

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Gunning for Gold: Why Owning a Business is Like Training for the Olympics

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As a small business owner, one needs to stay inspired at all times. Everything around you motivates you to follow your dream and do anything you can to keep it alive. Watching a sporting event like the Winter Olympics, is a great reminder to stay committed to your business goals.

When we watch the Sochi events on YouTube or read about it in the news, rarely do we think about the preparation, the intense training these athletes had to undergo to be eligible for competing at the greatest sporting event in the world. We remember only the winners, the people who performed exceptionally well. We forget about the years, the decades of hard work that come down to just a few seconds.

Ever thought what you and a sportsperson training for the Olympics have in common?

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