Serving the Un-served

Perhaps, due to our obsession with filling the yawning supply and demand gap, I find the products and services for the un-served are at most times, only adequate, when they could be delightful.

I remember the story of a middle-aged woman walking into a shining community sanitation center in one of the slums of Mumbai and almost turning back, thinking the center was not for her. The toilets were clean, working and very ‘dignified’. Her disbelief turned to joy.

Of course, her family, friends and neighbors must have learnt about her experience within minutes and would have lined up the next day.

Deliver joy – be talked about – get more trial – deliver more joy. Joy creates a virtuous marketing cycle for innovative product and services.

On the other hand, ‘adequate’ and ‘just-enough’ products and services are parasites for business models in any sector. Over a period of time, unseen, while you are chasing the demand-supply gap, they can debilitate the business.

Focus on serving joy. It is quite simple and relative to its many benefits, requires very little incremental effort, investment and cost.

At the Toilet Board Accelerator, we often spend time with entrepreneurs in helping them distinguish between ‘what they make’ and ‘how they serve’. In this fine, but profound, gap, I think lies the secret recipe for a ‘loved’ business.

A community sanitation center could define itself as ‘toilet services’ or as ‘serving a rich sanitation experience’. I think the Mumbai sanitation center uses the latter definition. Because, today, it not only provides laundry services but child-friendly toilets too. In fact, people from the community run this center and it is a popular hangout place.

Plus, it is a profitable business well positioned to serve joy to a market of 65 million[1] people who live in Indian slums.

[1] India 2011 census

Venu Gupta, Toilet Board Coalition’s Director of the Accelerator Programme India

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