Perhaps this toilet would appeal

Happy Monday everyone, hope you each had a lovely weekend! I just moved into a new apartment so mine was an interesting mix of home goods shopping and Ikea furniture building (fine, watching my boyfriend’s Ikea furniture building), plus a bridal shower. It was probably one of the most grown-up weekends I’ve ever had.

Today I was all set to write a stock analysis piece and headed to Bloomberg for a little inspiration. While perusing the site I stumbled upon one of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a while, regarding India’s issues installing toilets.

If you were to ask me what I think are the greatest inventions of all time, a toilet would be high on the list. Apparently, that opinion is not shared throughout India. The Prime Minister is attempting to solve the nation’s serious sanitation issues by building 5.3M latrines by the end of his first 100 days in office. Turns out the toilets are getting built but not one wants to use them.

Instead, people head outdoors, to fields and jungles to do their business. Apparently it’s a great gossip spot as well. Their reasoning? “Feces don’t belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep.” That pleasure is reserved for India’s lowest caste.

Perhaps this is a marketing and education issue, and pamphlets or lessons should be distributed along with the toilets. Although when such a thought is ingrained in a culture’s psyche, it is hard to imagine a few educational materials or a lecture will change their mind. Perhaps instead this is a product design issue, and toilets should better accommodate fears of trapping filth inside.

I thought this article was worth sharing as a fascinating insight into how other cultures think. I love the idea that something that seems so normal to us in the developed world, and which we often take for granted, can be seen as so abnormal by someone else.

On top of that, the situation with India’s toilets reinforces a key business principle: know your audience. This is a principle promoted in The Lean Startup, and one which I whole-heartedly agree with. The author, Eric Ries, argues that a start-up should operate as a bit of a testing model for a while in order to understand market demands.

He saw companies spend a ton of time honing a product and making it as perfect as can be before they release it to the masses. The issue with this is that they are assuming what customers want rather than asking them. Instead, businesses should release the first viable product they can, get customer feedback, and adjust to meet customer demands. This creates a better product for the market with less development time.

This concept is particularly true when a product is being developed for a foreign market. We saw dominant US companies like Starbucks (SBUX) struggle when they expanded internationally because they needed to better understand and adapt to the new culture (in Starbuck’s case, the European café culture). The same concept can apply for toilets; the Indian government clearly needs to better understand and adapt to the needs of its target “customers.”

One company they may want to take a note from is Apple (AAPL). Apparently, the rose-gold iPhone color that came out with the 5s was developed because gold is a prestigious color in China. The gold iPhone turned out to be a hit in the country, exceeding even Tim Cook’s expectations and nicely boosting earnings.


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